There’s a point at which the human eye literally can’t tell the difference — and we’ve reached that point. For a device held 18 inches from the face, that number is 300 PPI. Depending on how close you hold the tablet, the Kindle may look a little crisper but there are other factors at play that affect overall viewing experience — like color reproduction, contrast, viewing angle and brightness — that aren’t accounted for in that number.
We’re at a place where a smartphone like Google’s (GOOG) Nexus 5 — with its 5-inch display — has the same 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) as the 60-inch HDTV in your living room. That gives the smartphone a PPI of 445. It’s a great big number, great for marketing, but overkill.
The real problem for smartphone and tablet manufacturers is that both of these markets are mature enough that you have to try reasonably hard to find a recent device from a brand name company that’s truly horrible. It’s that stage in the market where most of the products are “good enough.”
Design can help them stand out — a strategy that Apple employs quite successfully to keep up the premium pricing on its iPads and iPhones. Lowball pricing is another model. Amazon is known for pricing its tablets at or below cost in order to get buyers hooked on its digital offerings. But most consumer electronics manufacturers are looking to make money on hardware, and that means falling back on trying to overwhelm consumers with impressive sounding specs.
That’s why when you look at the product page for Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, the very first feature you see spiked out is its four million pixel display (double the number found on an HDTV).
As an informed consumer, your reaction should be that the technical achievement is impressive, but not any reason to choose it over any other reputable full-sized tablet. Samsung is betting that you won’t bother finding out how many pixels an iPad Air has. And even if you do, it’s hoping that you’ll do the math and immediately drop Apple’s 3.1 million pixel piece of junk and grab that Galaxy Note 10.1 before it sells out.
So the next time you think about buying a new tech toy, remember: It’s not the size of the specs — it’s how you use them.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.