iPad's Display Both Impressive And Short-Sighted

While the ‘Retina Display’ is vivid and sharp, there are a lot of trade-offs. A lot.

Bigger. Sleeker. Faster. More powerful. That was how Detroit used to sell the same car models year after year, making them an inch longer, increasing the engine horsepower, changing out the grille.

And now we have the new iPad. Bigger, though that's not usually a good thing. Sleeker, with its “Retina Display.” Faster, with its 4G LTE data networking capability. More powerful, with the A5X quad-core graphics processor.

Even Apple seems to have acknowledged this iPad is not exactly a game changer, dropping the version number in favor of just calling it the “new iPad.” If it had stuck with version numbers, it most appropriately should have been called the iPad 2.5.

And while the Retina Display is certainly a marvel, cramming a million more pixels into the iPad's 9.7-inch display than you would find in a 50-inch HD television, it has its drawbacks. In fact, the single most important new feature on the new iPad is also, indirectly, its Achilles' heel.

The display is why the new model is thicker and heavier than the old one.

It's why it has a beefier graphics processor than the old one, reportedly running 10 degrees hotter so that the back of the new iPad can get has hot as 116° F.

It's why the 16 GB model is no longer adequate capacity, and why Apple should have dropped that model altogether.

It's why a lot of websites and games actually look worse.

It's one reason why, along with the LTE network capability, users reportedly are blowing through their data plans.

It's one reason why, along with LTE, its beefier battery takes longer to fully charge, reportedly as long as nine hours.

Straining to get the fancier display into a tablet had a lot of ramifications that might not be readily apparent. The biggest one is the amount of data required to feed the 3.1 million pixels.

Most apps and games have yet to be adapted to take advantage of the new display, but there are at least four game titles already that take up more than a gigabyte of storage: EA's FIFA '11 and FIFA '12, and two of Gameloft's Modern Warfare titles. Pick up eight or nine of these and you have little room for anything else if you have a 16 GB iPad model.

Vogue is one of the first publications to launch a new version of its iPad app to take advantage of the Retina Display. Vogue's premiere issue was 408 megabytes, or approaching a half-gigabyte–for a single magazine issue.

The flip side of this is that magazines and other publications, if they use image files for rendering their pages, look terrible on the new iPad if the current issues formatted for other iPads and tablets are viewed. And many publications do use image files to reproduce at least some of their pages, including Conde Nast titles like The New Yorker.

For the same reasons that storage is an issue, new iPad users with data plans are finding that it's easy to exceed their plan limits downloading apps and media for the new iPad.

Pushing all those pixels to the screen meant upgrading the graphics portion of the iPad's processor, and when it's working hard, say in a 3D game title, it runs hot. Consumer Reports measured the temperature on the back of the iPad at 116° F when pushed this way, which may be a tad uncomfortable to hold after awhile.

And running that faster processor meant a bigger battery was necessary to maintain the 10-hour battery life of the earlier iPads. Tests show it takes seven hours to recharge the battery to where the battery indicator says it is at 100 percent, but apparently the indicator is faulty, according to Dr. Raymond Soneira of Displaymate Technologies. It actually takes an additional two hours of charging before the battery is fully charged, for nine hours total, Soneira says.

Accommodating the bigger processor and battery means the new iPad is actually thicker and heavier than the old, too.

Was the Retina Display worth it? Millions certainly think so. In just the few days the new model has been available, so many have sold that already 1 in 15 iPads being used is a new iPad.

The screen certainly is impressive. Looking at the iPad display at a local Best Buy, I was wowed. It is stunning. Beautifully sharp and vivid. Then I looked at an iPad 2 and was wowed. It is stunning. Beautifully sharp and vivid.

You really have to have the two tablets side by side to tell the difference. With all the trade-offs, I'm not sold. Yet.

Santee Mike March 28, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Also my Ferrari gets awful gas mileage. ...problems of a first world country.
Batman March 28, 2012 at 04:28 PM
It's best not to jump in on "the cutting edge" of any technology. That's where all the bugs are. Let other fools debug the product for you.


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