Best gadgets in bright sunlight

Ah, summer! Warm days. Ocean breeze. Bright sunlight…uh-oh. Suddenly that beautiful display on your favorite gadget is just one big square of glare.

When it comes to bright light, not all displays are created equal. We combed our test data for smartphones, cameras, tablets, laptops, and smartwatches to find the screens that won’t fade out when you let the sunshine in.

—Donna Tapellini

Smartphones. You take your smartphone with you everywhere, so a screen you can see in the sun is particularly important. We measure how well you can see a tablet outdoors by viewing it at different angles under a light that mimics bright sunlight. The Apple iPhone 6 ($300) has a large 4.7-inch display that looks great in the sun (and anywhere else—we rated it excellent). If you’re committed to the Android world, the Samsung Galaxy S6 ($300) and LG G4 ($550) are also good choices. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the brighter the display, the more you’ll see it in bright light. Remember that to make the display look its best in the sun, turn on auto-brightness.

Tablets. We measure tablet performance in bright light the same way we do smartphones. Apple’s iPad Air 2 ($500), a 9.7-inch model, is the best we’ve viewed under bright light, thanks to the anti-reflective coating Apple added to this model. Looking for a smaller tablet, or an Android model? The 8-inch Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet ($500) performed really well in that test, and it’s got one of the brightest displays we’ve ever measured on a tablet. It’s also waterproof, a plus for beach bums.

Digital camera. It’s tough to frame the perfect shot when you can’t see the camera’s LCD in the sun. The best way to overcome that problem is by getting a camera with a viewfinder and an LCD that swivels. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 iii ($800) has both. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FC1000 ($800) also has a viewfinder and swiveling LCD.

Laptop. Laptops are less easy to manipulate than tablets and smartphones if you’re stuck in the sun. We determine the amount of glare you see on a laptop screen by shining a light bulb on it and measuring the reflection with a light meter. The 13-inch Toshiba Portege Z30-BSMBN22 ($900) did really well in bright light, thanks largely to its matte screen. An alternate choice: Apple’s MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina Display MF839LL/A ($1,300) which combines a very bright screen with anti-reflective coating.

Smartwatch. The Pebble Steel ($130) is the only smartwatch that earned an excellent in our tests for readability in bright sunlight. Most of the others were just good. On the other hand, most of the other watches in our Ratings were excellent in low light, while the Steel was only good. If you don’t mind using your hand to shade your watch in the sunshine, stick with the Apple Watch ($550 to $600) or the LG G Watch R ($300), both of which we recommend.

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