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iPad Mini 4 outshines iPad Pro in display performance

The two new tablets are both lauded for their displays by screen tester DisplayMate, but it's the little one that comes out on top.

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The iPad Mini 4 takes first place, getting marked as "Best" in every category except contrast ratio.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's new iPad Mini 4 outscored supersized sibling the iPad Pro in screen quality, according to new testing from DisplayMate.

In its latest lab tests, DisplayMate analyzed the screens of the new iPad Mini 4 and the iPad Pro as well as last year's iPad Air 2. All three received high marks for their displays, but this year's models outscored the iPad Air 2, and the iPad Mini 4 topped them all, according to the findings released Tuesday.

The report offers surprising results on display quality given the high-profile nature of the iPad Pro, released last week and priced starting at $799. The quality of a tablet's display is critical as the market has been flooded with a number of competitive devices. Customers look at such factors as the appearance of photos on the display or its readability in sunlight when choosing among different products.

Released in early September, the iPad Mini 4 took first place and was marked as "Best" in every category except contrast ratio, where it earned a score of "Very Good," according to DisplayMate President Raymond Soneira. Compared with other tablets, the Mini 4 broke records for color accuracy, contrast rating in high ambient light and lowest screen reflectance. The small tablet, which starts at $399, was considered close to offering a "textbook perfect LCD display," according to all of the lab tests. The Amherst, New Hampshire, company tests all manner of consumer electronics' displays, from smartphones to big-screen TVs.

"The iPad Mini is small but has a gorgeous display -- unquestionably the best and most accurate LCD tablet display that we have ever tested," Soneira said. "If a 7.9-inch display is big enough, the iPad Mini 4 is the best!"

And what of the iPad Pro ? The 12.9-inch Pro model is Apple's attempt to offer a tablet large and powerful enough to replace your laptop. The iPad Pro comes with a high-resolution screen designed to be antireflective and fingerprint-resistant.

In Soneira's testing, the Pro did very well, earning scores of "Very Good" to "Excellent" in all categories. It didn't perform quite as well as the iPad Mini 4. The Pro either came in or tied for second place in every test except for true contrast ratio where it was the winner.

The iPad Pro's performance was "not quite stellar" in two categories. The first was intensity scale, which controls the contrast of all images as well as the red, green and blue primary colors to create all the on-screen colors. The second was absolute color accuracy, in which it fared better than the iPad Air 2 but not nearly as good as the iPad Mini 4.

On the plus side, the iPad Pro was dubbed the most power efficient of the iPads. Its metal oxide back increases the light that comes through the tablet's panel and the display's refresh rate decreases when static images are on the screen.

Soneira didn't hesitate to recommend the iPad Pro for users who need a large tablet with almost double the screen area of the iPad Air 2, and almost triple the area of the iPad Mini 4.

"If you need a large professional-grade tablet with very good to excellent image quality and accuracy, the iPad Pro delivers a top-tier professional display," Soneira said.

Apple declined to comment on the report.