21 Comments

Summary:

It is an exciting time for tablet enthusiasts, and I am firmly in that camp. There are tablets beginning to appear with screens from 7 – 10 inches. Unfortunately, screen resolution is more important than size. This is where most Android tablets now appearing fall short.

Aigo-N700-Chinitech

It is an exciting time for tablet enthusiasts, and I am firmly in that camp. I have long realized the utility a slate device provides when the proper attention is given to details affecting usage. The screen on a touch tablet is the most important feature of such a device, as it determines how a gadget can be used. There are tablets beginning to appear at a rapid pace, and most of them are slates with screens from 7 – 10 inches. This is a decent size range for slate devices, but even more important than this is the display resolution supported. This is where most Android tablets now appearing fall short.

Most netbooks today have a standard screen resolution of 1024×600, and anyone who has used one will admit that’s not enough. Running apps in a full screen window can often just get by with this resolution, and web browsing can be frustrating as not enough of a web page is on the screen at one time. The same frustration will be felt with tablets running this display resolution, maybe even more so as tablets are often used in portrait orientation. Now imagine how fast that frustration will ratchet up if that slate is only capable of 800×480. That’s what most Android slates being produced today can handle, and that is frankly not enough.

The screen resolution coupled with the physical size of the display directly determine what can be done with a slate tablet. A 7-inch slate running at a measly 800×480 won’t display enough in landscape orientation (800 pixels), much less in portrait with only 480 pixels for the width. One of the greatest frustrations inherent in the Origami UMPC devices was the 800×480 screen resolution. It was impossible to see enough on the screen at one time, and some programs were practically unusable as a result.

There is no reason to expect Android tablets displaying this resolution to fare any better. That’s especially true for accessing the web, a function that such devices are particularly suited for. Most Android smartphones display this resolution on a sub-4 inch screen, so why is it appropriate for 7-inch displays (or bigger)? I don’t believe Android can handle resolutions bigger than this yet, so that may be the main factor affecting this. For the consumer it doesn’t matter what is behind the low resolution in use; it only matters that it’s not enough to be useful.

Image credit: Chinitech

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  1. Steve 'Chippy' Paine Monday, May 3, 2010

    I have to dissagree with you here James

    The problem with 800×480 screens and Origami was that the OS was written for bigger pixel dimensions, not that there weren’t enough pixels on a WVGA screen.

    Think of Android in 800×480. It isn’t a problem, it’s a joy. In 5″ it’s better than 4″ In 7″ it’s better than 5″ (Same content, more readable, smaller % of screen space used for finger-sized icons)

    Think of a full web page at default font sizes and you have enough in 800×480 to provide a good experience AND a good default font size in the web browser.

    I’m not saying that 1024×600 isn’t better but…

    Saying that 800×480 is a problem for Android is wrong IMO.

    800×480 on 7″ is 133 PPI which is exactly the same as the iPad. A good, readable, usable pixel density.

    Chippy.

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    1. I hear what you’re saying and if I was discussing readability I would agree with you. I am simply referring to the amount of information on the screen at any one time. Constant scrolling up/down and left/right is not enjoyable to me, anyway.

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      1. “Constant scrolling up/down and left/right is not enjoyable to me, anyway.”

        That’s never been an stated issue for your iPhone that I can recall. It seems like you’re applying a desktop mentality to today’s mobile slate tablets — I think that’s where I see the hangup.

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  2. I also completely disagree. You forget that the Android browser reformats text as you zoom in/out. I have a 5 inch Archos Internet tablet and the browser looks very good, much better than on my 3.7 inch phone, so I would expect it to be even better on a 7 inch screen. You can’t just extrapolate the netbook experience, you have to take into account the browser.

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  3. Flintstone Monday, May 3, 2010

    Maybe the 800×480 screen resolution is Google’s way of keeping Android on the small form factor devices, and making Chrome the OS for larger devices.

    That said, there are at least two tablets that run Android and have a higher screen resolution: The Notion Ink Adam (1024 x 600) and the ICD Gemini (1366 x 768). The Compaq Airlife 100 isn’t a tablet, but it runs Android with a 1024 x 600 screen. So 800×480 is not an absolute limit.

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  4. I see the intended point, but count me in on the “don’t quite disagree” camp for a reason I’ve stated before (and is mentioned in the comments above): any perceived resolution issue can be compensated for quite effectively with proper zooming and rendering. The iPhone is a perfect example as are the two Android items already mentioned.

    This actually ties into the mobile OS vs desktop OS theme — if UMPCs offered true mobile browsers and environments with proper zooming and scaling, the 1024 x 600 displays could have worked out quite well. Instead, they’re hampered by a desktop UI that’s only effective on higher resolution displays.

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  5. resolutions in a desktop vs mobile environment arent comparable because desktops scale were as mobile doesnt.

    remember when WinMo 1st supported VGA? in the physical world all the UI elements stayed exactly the same size but everything just became ALOT more crisp. which while it helped for browsing it didnt do much else (besides looking pretty). in Windows, if the screen size stays the same but the resolution is doubled then everything becomee 1/2 the size.

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  6. I am firmly in the disagree camp…

    Web browsing is usable on a HTC Magic with a 3.2″ 320X480 pixel screen. Most of the new 5″ & 7″ screens are 480 x 8something (800 – 852) which provides a lot more screen real estate.

    With an OS and browser written specifically for these types of resolution you end up with an enjoyable experience and a very usable device.

    I would not expect it to replace the browsing experience I get on my large high res laptop (15.4″ @ 1440×900) but it provides ample room for mobile work and makes for superb ebook reading.

    I also firmly believe that 5″ is the sweet spot for a mobile device. Any larger than that and it becomes a backpack type device or a couch surfing tool. Not that there is anything wrong with that but if it cannot fit in a pocket or in a reasonable belt case, it is not mobile for me. 1024×600 on a 5″ screen is rather pointless… incredibly crisp but I cannot use a small font to take advantage of the extra pixels and still be able to read it easily. With 480×850 I can zoom out for web page navigation and still have enough resolution to see the page.

    I do agree that I would like 1366×768 on a 10″ tablet, but I can’t see ever carrying one around. I have a nice 12″ netbook with that resolution, and an 2.6 lb it is not much heavier or larger than a 10-11″ tablet.

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  7. I think with the zooming ability of andorid and iphone os the resolution is a not as big of a problem as it used to be with umpcs.

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  8. I agree that the screen resolutions on tablets and even on computers these days are ridiculously blocky. Some have said that Android is better at low resolutions than Windows and I guess to some extent that’s true, but it certainly won’t make surfing nearly as palatable as it does on a high res device.

    I’d like to see 1600×960 or something on a 7-inch slate, and ideally more than that. Why not 2400×1440? It’s about time we stop making OS:s that are resolution dependent and start making text size constant regardless of underlying resolution.

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    1. “I’d like to see 1600×960 or something on a 7-inch slate, and ideally more than that. Why not 2400×1440?”

      Is the market willing to pay for such a high resolution on a 7″ device? I don’t think so, at least not right now.

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      1. And think about how such a high resolution would impact battery life. BTW, I think battery life is even more important than screen resolution for this type of devices.

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  9. GoodThings2Life Monday, May 3, 2010

    OK, James, I’m here to back you up on this one since no one else will, and you’re right.

    Web sites are designed for 1024×768 resolution as a minimum and many are even bigger than that now. Scroll bars suck, and even with pinch-zooming, when you zoom in you just don’t see enough of the content to be useful.

    I agree with the folks who disagree that readability is important, but if you can only read 3-4 words at a time without having to scroll around, what’s the point?

    I’m very firmly in the group of users who will not attempt productive work on less than 1280×800 resolution, and I certainly prefer higher resolutions like my 1440×900 laptop (14.1″ display). Even my Touch Pro 2’s 800×480 res isn’t enough, so I won’t even use the browser on it.

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  10. exactly!!

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