Guide to Tablet Displays

Tablet screens vary in size and quality

Tablet manufacturers love to boast about the size and technical specifications of their displays, but what is a good screen resolution for a tablet? Here's everything you need to know about displays before you buy a new tablet.

Information in this article applies broadly to a wide range of devices. Check the specifications of individual products before making a purchase.

Tablet Screen Sizes

The dimensions of the screen determine the overall size of the tablet. The advertised size of a tablet is a diagonal measurement of the screen, so two 10-inch tablets may have slightly different dimensions. Some screens are as small as 5-inches while some tablet-based all-in-one systems have screens that are 20-inches and larger.

Larger tablets are less portable, but they typically offer longer battery life and easier-to-read screens. Smaller tablets offer better portability, but they can be more difficult to use for reading, playing games, and watching movies.

Woman using tablet surrounded by plants
Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Aspect Ratios

The aspect ratio of the display is another thing to consider. Most tablets use the 16:10 aspect ratio that was common for early widescreen computer displays. This makes them very useful in landscape mode, especially for watching videos. On the downside, the wide display can make the tablets very top-heavy when being used in portrait mode, which is often used for reading ebooks.

The other aspect ratio used is the traditional 4:3, which sacrifices the wide display in landscape mode for a more balanced tablet that is easier to use in portrait mode. Such displays aren't ideal for watching movies, but they're perfectly fine for reading.

Screen Resolutions

Screen resolution refers to the amount of detail on the screen at a given time. Higher resolutions are better for watching videos, viewing photos, and browsing the web.

Display resolution is expressed as the number of pixels on the screen measured horizontally and vertically. Specific screen resolutions are classified under different standards:

Standard Resolution in Pixels
WVGA 800x600
WSVGA 1024x600
XGA 1024x768
WXGA 1280x800 or 1366x768
WXGA+ 1440x900
WSXGA+ 1600x900
WUXGA 1920x1080 or 1920x1200
QXGA 2048x1536
WQHD 2560x1440 or 2560x1600
UHD (4K) 3180x2160

High-definition videos come in the 720p or 1080p format (based on the number of vertical pixels). Videos that are 1080p can't be fully displayed on many tablets, but some can output video to an HDTV via HDMI cables and adapters. They can also scale down a 1080p source to be viewed at a lower resolution.

Although 4K, or UltraHD video, is growing in popularity, it is not supported by most tablets. In order to support such video, tablets need incredibly dense displays. The higher resolution displays generally require more power, which reduces the overall running time of the tablet. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for a person to distinguish 1080p from 4K on a 7-inch or even a 10-inch display.

Pixel Density (PPI)

Pixel density refers to the number of pixels-per-inch (PPI) on the screen. The higher the PPI, the smoother the rendering on the screen will generally be. If a 7-inch tablet and a 10-inch tablet both have the same native resolution, the smaller screen will have a higher pixel density, which means sharper images.

Newer tablet screens are advertised as having between 200 and 300 PPI. At typical viewing distances, this is generally considered as detailed as a printed book. Beyond this level, consumers generally will not be able to tell the difference.

Viewing Angles

Manufacturers typically don't advertise the viewing angles of tablet displays. The fact that they can be viewed in portrait or landscape modes means they must have wider viewing angles than a laptop or desktop display. However, some tablet screens offer better viewing angles than others.

There are two things to look at when testing a tablet's viewing angles: color shift and brightness. Color shift refers to how the colors on the screen change when the tablet is shifted from a straight-on viewing angle. The best tablet displays should remain bright enough without color shift at the widest range of angles.

Some tablet displays are incompatible with polarized sunglasses designed to reduce glare.

Tablet Screen Coatings and Brightness

Most tablet displays are protected by a hardened glass coating such as Gorilla Glass. Such surfaces are highly reflective, which can make them difficult to use in certain lighting conditions.

If a tablet has a glossy display and low brightness, it can be extremely difficult to use outdoors in bright sunlight. Brighter displays help mitigate this problem, but the downside to extremely bright displays is that they tend to shorten the battery life.

Because the interface is built into the display, the coating on the tablet PC is going to get dirty. All tablet displays should have a coating that allows them to be easily cleaned without the need for special cleaners or fabrics.

Take special care when cleaning an anti-glare display.

Tablet Screen Color Gamut

The color gamut refers to the number of colors that a display is able to produce. The larger the color gamut, the more colors it can display. This is only going to matter for those who use their tablets for video editing or production purposes. Not all companies list the color gamut for their displays, but more tablets will likely advertise their color support as this feature becomes more important to consumers.