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. 

iPad 2
iPad 3
Galaxy Tab 10.1
Transformer (Original)
Screen Size
Aspect Ratio
Native Resolution
Pixels Per Inch

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:

iPad 2iPad 2iPad 3iPad 3

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.

iPad 2iPad 2iPad 3iPad 3

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.