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:

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 colours 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.

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  • theconsolegamer
    Gaming in a 2500x1440 panel @ 1280x720 resolution..... Genius!

    Watching movies in a 2500x1440 panel @ 1920x1080..... Revolutionary!

    Bragging about a 2500x1440 panel that won't be really used..... Priceless!
  • mi1ez
    Got to have the hardware before the software makers will design for it. Also, hopefully this will push Android and W8 tablets to push up their resolutions. Maybe even desktop monitors!
  • testerguy
    theconsolegamerHaving the choice to game in a 2048x1536 panel @ 1024x768 resolution..... with 4x the FPS of the fastest equivalent Android tablet. Genius! As well as having the ability to game at the highest resolution on any tablet ever created.

    Watching movies in a 2048x1536 panel @ 1920x1080..... necessary if you want to have the appropriate format for portrait use which is the majority of the time. !

    Bragging about a 2048x1536 panel that won't be really used..... except for everything including web browsing, photo editing, emails, recording videos, gaming, and every single app which comes out which is designed specifically for that resolution, Priceless!
  • techpops
    Brilliant article. Finally I get some real details. After spending so much on a PC upgrade recently, I'm not in a position to spend on an ipad3 but eventually I'll get around to it if there isn't a suitable alternative by then with equally high resolution.

    What I'd like to know, not having owned an ios device before is how satisfying is it to use an ipad3 as a device for managing and reading all your comics, technical manuals, magazines and books in a variety of different formats. All my magazine are in PDF format but books are mostly mobi, comics in a variety of formats. How well does ipad support all these formats?

    Really for many years now I've wanted a tablet like device that would allow me to read my huge collections of comics and PDF's in a resolution high enough to do them justice. This is the first device that seems to fit that dream spec at least in terms of hardware but just how much fun is it living in the Apple universe managing all your content? Under Windows I have such a great time accessing anything with the written word in it . With Directory Opus I've been able to create libraries of my stuff that's instantly searchable, looks beautiful with huge thumbnails of everything and is all arranged in sensible hierarchies of folders so I can jump straight to main categories of stuff I want. How does ipad compare here and if it's lacking with file management, is that something that can get better once you jail break the device?

    Finally I'm really curious how well ipad handles accessing data beyond the memory of what's built into the ipad itself. My comics collection is 50gb alone so it's not like I'd be able to copy everything onto the ipad locally. Can it deal with stuff on a network? I'd be buying into the cheaper lower memory ipad as the premium on the higher memory models seems absurd. I'd much rather use cheap memory cards and usb sticks for storage.