More PPI, please
The Infinity's screen scores points for being a little bit larger than the iPad's Retina panel. However, it has fewer pixels. The Transformer spreads 1920x1200 pixels over 10.1", while the iPad squeezes 2048x1536 pixels into 9.7". 1080p video can still be displayed on the Infinity's screen with space to spare, but the iPad has 37% more pixels in a smaller area, resulting in a much higher PPI.
You've seen us use DPI to describe high-density displays. That standard is really meant for print. PPI is the hip new lingo for displays; it refers to the number of pixels along a diagonal line drawn between opposing corners. The iPad's Retina panel is 264 PPI, while the Transformer manages 224 PPI. The 10.1", 1280x800 screen typical of Android tablets is just 149 PPI.
Boy, does it make a difference. Text and images look much sharper and cleaner on a high-PPI display. The delta between the Infinity and iPad is less apparent than between those two and a 1280x800 display. After a few days of using nothing but the iPad and Infinity, I'm starting to see jagged edges everywhere on the older Transformer tablets floating around the Benchmarking Sweatshop. The jaggies are more glaring with text than with images. To illustrate, we've taken a few close-up shots of the two high-def tablets and the Transformer Pad 300, which has one of those typical 1280x800 panels.
The Transformer Pad 300's larger pixels are clearly visible. Only a faint pattern is can be seen on the Infinity and iPad 3 screens. Naturally, the text looks much crisper on those displays. Jaggies permeate the 300's output.
Although the iPad's pixels don't look much smaller from this distance, the Apple tablet's text output is definitely superior. The thickness of the lettering is more consistent than on the Infinity, and fewer jaggies slip through. Let's zoom in for a closer look.
The Transformer Pad Infinity simply doesn't have enough pixels to match the iPad's clarity. Close up, the difference is readily apparent. At arm's length, it's harder to tell. The iPad's text looks a little bit better to my eyes when I'm lounging on the couch, largely because the letters are slightly wider and have what looks like more consistent spacing. The truth is, the Transformer's text still looks great; it's much more inviting at the end of a long day than the text produced by the Transformer Pad 300.
Of course, there's more to a display than its ability to draw the alphabet. Accurate color reproduction is vital, and the Infinity's screen looks pretty good to the naked eye. The underlying IPS technology offers true 24-bit color with excellent viewing angles. That said, the colors aren't quite as lush as those painted by the iPad's Retina panel.
My subjective assessment comes after viewing gigabytes worth of vacation photos, but you don't have to rely on it. We tested the displays with our colorimeter to get objective readings. Below is the color gamut graph for each screen at a brightness level of ~120 cd/m². The graph will switch between the two tablets when your mouse cursor moves over the image. It takes a few seconds for the second image to load, so be patient.
The triangle outlined in white represents the range of colors covered by the panel. The Infinity's triangle is smaller, indicating a narrower gamut. Simply put, the screen has fewer colors on its palette.
When viewed in a vacuum or versus the Transformer Pad 300, which covers slightly less of the spectrum, the Infinity's colors look bright and vibrant. Put the Transformer next to the new iPad, and it's clear the Retina panel produces slightly richer tones.
At the medium brightness level we used throughout most of our testing, the Transformer's whites look a little cleaner than those of the iPad. To my eyes, the iPad has a faint yellow tinge, while the Infinity has the slightest hint of blue. Fortunately, we can measure the color temperature more accurately. The temperature graph below has the same mouseover mojo as the gamut plot above.
That line along 6500K indicates the temperature of typical daylight, otherwise known as the daylight illuminant. The Transformer comes closer up to about 60% gray, but it clearly has a higher color temperature at the darker end of the scale.
Remember that wicked-bright backlight mentioned in the intro? That's the ace up the Transformer's sleeve or, more accurately, behind its panel. According to our colorimeter, the display cranks out 409 cd/m² at maximum brightness. Activating the SuperIPS+ mode boosts the backlight's output substantially, generating a whopping 626 cd/m². The Retina display, meanwhile, tops out at 435 cd/m².
If you're just surfing around the house, you'll rarely need much more than half of the brightness on tap in either tablet. Take them outside, and reading becomes challenging at even full brightness. The Transformer's SuperIPS+ mode is designed to make the screen more visible in outdoor light. It definitely helps, but that doesn't necessarily make the screen readable all the time. Here's how the ultra-bright mode looks next to the iPad at full brightness on a hazy day.
The Infinity is brighter, but it's still hard to make things out in this kind of light. Let's take them into the shade.
With its SuperIPS+ mode enabled, the Infinity looks great in this lighting. The iPad is certainly usable, though. Perhaps someone should design a smart cover that acts as a sun shade. I want 10% of the Kickstarter proceeds.
Expecting the SuperIPS+ mode to, ahem, transform the Infinity into a daylight warrior is unrealistic. We're not talking about an e-ink display like the Kindle's. That said, the SuperIPS+ mode should extend the Transformer's reach into environments that would overpower the Retina's backlight. For what it's worth, the two look evenly matched when the Infinity's turbo-charged backlight is disabled.