Apple's iPad 3, Part 1: The Complete Retina Display And A5X Review

Why We Need (Or At Least Want) HD Tablets...

Tablets are often regarded as cheap notebook replacements, and we often excuse their low-resolution displays as a result. However, this expectation may also have delayed significant improvements in tablet display resolution and image quality.

For example, the iPad 2 had a screen resolution of 1024x768 on a 9.7" screen, resulting in 132 pixels per inch. Samsung's gorgeous SuperPLS display is only slightly better; 1280x800 resolution on a 10.1" display results in 149 pixels per inch.

Why does this matter? A screen's native resolution directly corresponds to its ability to display fine detail. Recall a time when 20" CRT monitors were limited to 1024x768. The output was less than impressive on a screen that large. But later 20" screens supporting higher resolutions looked far better. Apple is the first to take this resolution leap, if you will, in the tablet space.

At 2048x1536, the iPad 3's 9.7" screen yields 264 pixels per inch, which better than almost every desktop display. A22" monitor running at 1080p has a pixel density close to 100 ppi. In fact, iPad 3 displays such fine detail that it is near the 286 ppi limit of what a human eye can resolve under ideal conditions. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
ModeliPad 2iPad 3Galaxy Tab 10.1Transformer (Original)
Screen Size9.7"9.7"10.1"10.1"
Aspect Ratio4:34:316:916:9
Native Resolution1024x7682048x15361280x8001280x800
Pixels Per Inch132264149149

In order to give you an idea of how much more detail to expect, check out the side-by-side comparison of the "Maps" icon on the home screen:

It's startlingly easy to see the difference. The small red way-point and individual roads are incredibly pixelated on the iPad 2 when you zoom in close.

You're never going to magnify the screen like this in the real-world. However, the difference is still pretty clear from a foot away. Smaller pixels help make edges and borders appear sharp and clear, and help define colors more accurately. You can see all three effects quite easily in the side-by-side comparisons. The interstate sign is very sharply defined, and the blue looks more vivid. But are smaller pixels the only improvement made to the iPad 3's display? Let's break out our microscope.

  • Would an alternate browser affect image display at all?
  • tomfreak
    the requirement to use adapter to use usb and sd card = minus 50% score for any tablet. Period.
  • joytech22
    On the CPU and GPU performance page, there's a typo.

    When comparing the three iPads, the iPad 2 and iPad 3 are both said to be using PowerVR SGX545 GPUs (core-count is correct) while the table below it comparing SoCs the models are completely different and listed as SGX543.

    I smell something fishy, dinner must almost be ready! :D
  • acerace
    love apple ..................... crap android *** copy tabs and phones

    Fail troll.
  • Tc17
    I have a bridge to sell you if you believe this retina nonsense, on a tiny 10" screen.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Tomfreakthe requirement to use adapter to use usb and sd card = minus 50% score for any tablet. Period.
    My thoughts exactly. I don't care that it outputs 3x FPS over Transformer Prime; the latter can actually integrate into my devices' ecosystem and that's what matters. I'm not buying any tablet or phone without inbuilt memory card reader.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Though, of course, it's really sad that Apple is beating Asus on the graphics front. Really, really sad.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    tc17I have a bridge to sell you if you believe this retina nonsense, on a tiny 10" screen.
    After playing around with most hi-end Android devices AND iPhone 4S/iPad 2, I happen to believe this "nonsense". Everything looks so much more hi-res... but that's only Android's fault. When are they going to fix the menu animation lag and make everything more hi-res? ICS kind of did a good job on it, though, and now it actually looks NOTHING like iOS and is beautiful.

    Of course, the menu animation lag and low-res icons can't make me shift to Apple, especially now that I run ICS on my netbook (try that, Apple... oh wait, your toy MacOS IS already like a tablet OS, lol) - same way that MacOS's ability to take screenshots of a selected area of the screen can't make me shift from Windows/Ubuntu. It's just not nearly enough to compensate for the important features I'll lose. Sure enough, there're tons of people to whom all of them don't matter and they'll just go with the most hyped thing out there, but I prefer to know what I'm paying for. It's a habit that pays off on the long run.
  • killerchickens
    I wish toms would stop using the bs retina display term considering the ipad 3's display isn't even close to the original standard.
  • bernardv
    2048x1536 on a 10" screen? This is a joke, 0 value to 99.9% of end users. A fanboy excuse for throwing money away.

    The author comments it is suitable for watching movies. Which movie is even available in such a resolution??? For watching movies in your lap on 10", 720p is more than enough.