Apple iPad: The Retina Display Redefines the Tablet


This iPad is the first tablet we've tested to score Superior marks, our highest rating, across our subjective screen-quality evaluation. On our grayscale test pattern, it produced the best balance of blacks and whites we've seen; on our color-bar chart, it exhibited a lovely spread of colors, with no colors blown out at the far end of the scale (something we see often on Android tablets). The colors looked rich and warm, more so than on the iPad 2. The richness of the colors made our images seem just shy of being oversaturated, though that could be in part because we're not used to seeing the images on such a high-resolution display anywhere.

Most telling to me were the results of our still-image tests. In a group-portrait photo that matches the iPad's native resolution, the new iPad showed the most realistic skin tones and the best handling of neutral browns we've seen yet; for one person in the photo, the reddish highlights in the hair were evident for the first time on a tablet (usually, those highlights simply blend into brown). On a 4K-pixel still image that we let iTunes optimize for display on the iPad, we saw outstanding detail and more subtle color gradations than we've seen on any other tablet to date. The image popped with a sense of dimensionality we haven't seen on tablets.

Text was crisp, with no jaggies in sight. However, while text universally looked lovely on the display--not surprising given its outstanding 264 pixels per inch--we quickly noticed that the iPad's Retina display and Apple's upscaling can't perform miracles. Web images, as well as graphics in games, apps, and many magazines in the Newsstand, looked disappointingly fuzzy and overblown on the new iPad. The apps will catch up, eventually; it's a simply a matter of developer time and resources. Until then, be prepared for mixed results with your apps.

To be honest, I decided to focus so much on the display in this review because anyone who is buying a new iPad is likely doing so for that feature alone. Some people will rave about the 4G speeds, should they take that option; others may point to the quad-core graphics engine, which should make iPad gaming even better than it is today. For anyone considering the upgrade quandary--whether an iPad with a Retina display is worth the money, versus an iPad 2 at $100 less--the answer is yes, the display alone is worth the extra outlay. You'll feel the difference every time you read on the tablet, every time you use an app with optimized graphics, and every time you view your pictures.