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We compared the characteristics of state-of-the-art mobile display systems based on reflective and transmissive liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and an organic light-emitting display with respect to physical characterization metrics and observer studies. Physical performance factors provided information on the differences among display technologies. Observer studies resulted in different system ranking between the task-based performance and user-preference approaches. The results of the physical characterization and preference study showed that the reflective LCD ranked lower. We also found that ambient illumination played a lesser role than previously seen in large-format workstation displays. The methodology developed in this study provides an initial insight into the comparison of alternative technologies for display of diagnostic images in small portable devices.