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Displays Portables Hardware

Tablet PC's in Bright Sunlight? 37

Posted by Cliff
from the it's-all-about-the-visibility dept.
chadma asks: "I'm developing a program to be used on a Tablet PC; the unit will be used outdoors >80% of the time. I've seen some tablets from ViewSonic and MotionComputing and wondered if anyone had any experience or suggestions in the best screen for high sunlight conditions. Has there been any study or anyone with experience that could suggest the colors we use in the design? Would a white background with black text be most appropriate?"
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Tablet PC's in Bright Sunlight?

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  • by ajagci (737734) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @04:31AM (#8097817)
    Look at NEC or Fujitsu's pen-based computers; they predate TabletPC and they have offered displays that can be used in direct sunlight for years. They probably have updated them to TabletPC software by now.

    Many PDAs are also usable in direct sunlight, so if your software is portable, you could run it on something like the Sharp Zaurus.
  • by Drakin (415182) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @04:56AM (#8097893)
    But have you considered oh I don't know...

    Allowing your users to choose the colour scheme of the program, to provide the best visability in whatever conditions they're in?
    • I'm sure that plenty of users would just stick with the defaults or even not know how to change them no matter how easy that is or how bad the defaults are. Therefore I do think you should find good defaults.

      I also think that alowing users to change the colour scheme is a great idea.

    • most users wouldn't know how to answer this questions any better. Best to do the homework for your user base.

      Remember - giving the user options they can't understand *isn't* choice. It's a burden.

      It's also abdicating your responsibility as a UI designer. This guy is asking exactly the right questions.
  • Use more contrasty colors (black and white are good) in order to make your text stand out from the background. Let the TabletPC owners and makers worry about glare, but make sure that your text is easily visible through polarized sunglass lenses.
  • The Brightest Color (Score:5, Informative)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @05:21AM (#8097961) Journal
    chadma sez: "Would a white background with black text be most appropriate?"

    You'll get the higest contrast with the brightest and darkest color. Black is, of course, the darkest. The brightest is that slightly chartruse yellow you see on some emergency vehicles and safety gear. It's the brightest because it stimulates the most receptors in the eye (the maximum overlap between the red receptors and green receptors). For the same reason, it'd also be the most efficient for a given visual level.

    Higher contrast is harder on the eyes, but you'll be fighting sunlight so the contrast of the screen will be relatively much less than that of the environment.

    To keep the glare from the screen down, wear polarized sun glasses You might even be abloe to combine them with a polarizing filter on the screen to make it more visible while the environment appears darker.
    • I see a few issues with this advice.

      Black on yellow is the most likely to catch our attention, particularly in our peripheral vision. But the eye is most sensitive to green. I wouldn't recommend black-on-green, though.

      Higher contrast may be harder on the eyes, but I'm not sure how that matters when viewing a laptop in sunlight. The contrast will be so poor if the bright bits of the screen are illuminated by a backlight as opposed to the sunlight. Try getting one without a backlight at all (like the *o
      • by DynaSoar (714234)
        The Mayor (6048) sez: "I see a few issues with this advice...But the eye is most sensitive to green."

        The eye IS most sensitive (ie. has lowest threshhold to fire) to green. There are more green receptors or the green receptors are more sensitive than the red, and definitely more so than the blue.

        But yellow (slightly to the green side) is the brightest apparent color, because of the overlap of red and green cones. It sounds like it contradicts what you said, but it doesn't. Yellow can be from yellow (wavel
      • It is well accepted (and easily measurable) in HCI that yellow/black edges are the easiest and most accurate to perceive.

        In terms of the glare I would suggest that you do not use a dark background. Glare is by definition reflected light so by using a dark background you increase the perceived glare.

        On a different vein, my glasses are treated with an anti-reflective coating that allows people to see my eyes instead of white discs (and makes night driving a pleasure instead of a stress). Does anyone kno

  • Trans-Reflective (Score:2, Informative)

    Look for a trans-reflective display.
    These work best in bright sunlight, although can appear washed out in dim indoor use.
  • by croddy (659025)
    who even uses these, ahem, Tablet PC's ??
    • "who even uses these, ahem, Tablet PC's ??"

      I will be when they improve a generation or two. I'm an artist and a tablet PC would be great for my drawings. The problem is they're the price of a laptop, but have about half the power and screen quality of them. When that equalizes a bit, I will likely purhcase one.
  • Just in case your are developing with Linux, here is a list of Linux installation reports on Tablet PCs, Pen Pads, Convertibles and WebPads [tuxmobil.org]. This might as well serve as a concise overview about available Tablet PCs in general. There are also pointers to Linux applications for such machines.
  • Places to ask... (Score:4, Informative)

    by dmayle (200765) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @06:24AM (#8098097) Homepage Journal
    A much better place to ask this question would be the forums over at Tablet PC Buzz. [tabletpcbuzz.com] It's a great forum for Tablet PCs, and almost all of the people there own one, so you'll get a better representation from them...
  • Cholesteric (Score:4, Interesting)

    by reluctantengineer (557965) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @08:08AM (#8098414)
    Actual, much better than trans-flective is the cholesteric [google.com] display. It actually looks better in direct sunlight than it does indoors! And it takes very little power, power consumption is proportional to how many rows you redraw (power is only consumed when you update the image, unlike a normal LCD which is related to time and brightness). Downside is refresh rate, you can about 4hz full-screen, or 8hz half screen, or 16hz quarter screen, etc. You will have problems finding these displays in commercial products, but if daylight readability is absolutely critical it may be worth paying to have some installed after-market.
  • I know there's value in asking people about their past experiences with similar problems, but all too often what you get is people's opinions about your problem, experience-based or not. Another approach would be to mock up a couple of interfaces and get some honest-to-god users. Take them all on a field trip outside and test the various color combinations. Finally, as Drakin suggested, consider providing a small range of reasonable color choices, make the default the one that tested the best overall, an
  • Advice from a user (Score:5, Informative)

    by JackAsh (80274) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:30AM (#8098733)
    I have an actual Tablet PC that I use every day, the Acer C110. It's a wonderful tool, but it is not designed for use in the sunlight. Heck, it's not even that good when I sit at a conference room with bright lights above the center of the table - sitting at the edge of the table looking down on a horizontal reflective screen reflects the lights overhead... However, I have the ability to prop up my screen with my old PDA, which solves the issue quite nicely. The angle is just enough to avoid the lights. :)

    The TabletPC is a wonderful tool. I wouldn't give mine up for anything in the world. Well, maybe something with a greater monetary value that I really wanted, as I would then go and buy myself another TabletPC - they're not in short supply. ;) Anyway, this is not your best forum for TabletPC advice. I suggest you try heading over to TabletPCBuzz [tabletpcbuzz.com] and use the forums there, you will find a TON of experts on the TabletPC.

    Regardless of that, there's really a couple solutions:

    a) If your application is a commercial app, designed to be run by just about anyone that chooses to purchase it, I'd suggest creating a "skins" menu for it, similar to the option within Franklin Covey's [franklincovey.com] tabletplanner 3.0. This will allow your outdoor mostly users to pick a high contrast scheme, whereas the indoor users (or users who avoid using it until they are indoors) will pick a different one. Heck, even allow some form of button mapping to different schemes, mapped by default to your presets that test best under different conditions.

    b) If you're targeting a vertical market and intend to design the whole solution, start to finish, I recall someone designed a TabletPC designed specifically for use outdoors. You could work that particular model into your design specs, and test your app out with the PC in question and the best looking/working colors, etc.

    I apologize, as I do no recall what the specific model or maker was - I suggest you ask your question in the general forums at TabletPCBuzz [tabletpcbuzz.com]. They will be able to provide you with further information.

    Best of luck,

    -Jack Ash

  • get one of those camera hoods from around the turn of the century...

  • A circular polarizing filter might be the solution to the display problem, but there's a catch: LCD screens emit polarized light, so the linear polarizer must be matched to the LCD's polarization after it has traveled through the circular polarizer.

    Anyone know if circular polarizing filter material is available in sheet form?
  • by holland_g (651151) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @11:56AM (#8100192) Homepage
    I work in the general aviation market. Whenever you put LCDs in the cockpit, you have to consider sunlight and take the appropriate steps to enhance the LCD and backlight.


    For LCD viewing in sunlight conditions, you want to have a brightness of at least 150 foot Lamberts. Generally the CCFTs will degrade over time, so derate that by 50 foot Lamberts. You are looking at a spec of 200 foot Lamberts in your backlight brightness. Not common in off the shelf laptops.


    The contrast ratio needs to be greater than 200:1. The higher the better.


    You also want Anti Reflective coating applied to the front of the LCD. This causes reflections in the screen to be diffused and blurry, instead of sharp and clear.

  • by Descartes (124922) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @12:05PM (#8100314) Homepage
    I have a tablet PC, so I feel like I should know the answer to this. The problem is I live in Seattle, so I don't acutally know what direct sunlight is.

    I have a motion computing M1200, and it is passable in bright overcast skies. I'm curious of whether it would actually perform better in direct light compared to the diffuse depressing grey that is standard here.

    If I ever see the elusive daystar, I'll bring my computer outside and give it a try.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm a vampire you insensitive clod!
  • Myself and all my friends have an original run Motion Computing tablet (M1200, 800mhz, 1gb ram). The tablets themselves are the greatest things in every way other than their screens. The backlight is horrible and makes the colors washed out and hard to see at an angle even in low light conditions. In sunlight, forget about using it at all.
  • by smatthew (41563)
    Motion computing makes a version of the M1300 tablet pc that uses a transflective display. That display works wonders outdoors. Call them up at 866-MTablet and ask about it. I've got the normal version of the table (writing this post on it right now) and LOVE IT!!! Only think i wish i could get was ink-enabled AIM. That would rock.

  • Only tablet with tranflective display that I know of.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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