Which iPad?
April 25, 2013 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Is a Retina display on an iPad worth the extra cost?

I bought a refurbished 2nd generation iPad from Apple for my daughter.

I found that the display doesn't look crisp to me. I never felt that way with my first generation iPad, but perhaps having an iPhone 5 has changed my expectations.

If she's going to play (generally educational!) games and watch (AskMeFi-recommended!) movies on the iPad, would they look considerably (i.e., noticeably) better on a Retina display?

I can still return/exchange it and would be willing to pay for a model with Retina display if it's definitely better. Because what I bought is 2nd generation and refurbished, I saved $180 compared to a new 4th generation iPad. A 3rd generation refurbished, which has a Retina display, would be $60 more than that (and 4th generation refurbished $70 more than 3rd generation).

Thank you for sharing your experiences with these two types of displays.
posted by Dansaman to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
Can you go to an Apple store and test-drive a display unit for yourself? They'll all be fourth-generation iPads, but the display is the same.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:58 AM on April 25, 2013

If you are comparing in-store and don't have your current iPad with you, you can compare the Retina display with the iPad mini. It is smaller and so looks a little sharper, but it has an identical resolution to your 2nd-generation iPad. Play some sample videos and load up complex websites like the New York Times to compare text. I know I found that even the iPad mini was nowhere near sharp enough to consider when compared to the Retina display. (I too had expectations set by the iPhone's display.)
posted by stopgap at 9:03 AM on April 25, 2013

Everyone will have a different experience, so comparing in person is the way to go.

My own experience: I've had an iPad 2 for a couple years. (I also have an iPhone 4 with Retina display.) I recently got the latest iPad provided by work. I honestly can not tell a difference, at least no difference that makes me think "Oh, the one at work is SO much nicer!." Maybe if I compared side-by-side I would see it, but I just don't.

Caveats: 51 year old man with not-horrible, but not-perfect vision; I definitely see better close-up, like iPad-distance, than I do far away, like TV-distance.
posted by The Deej at 9:05 AM on April 25, 2013

The non-retina display on my iPad2 bothers me now. (I can see pixels -- the horror!) The iPhone retina display and even the smaller display of my iPad mini (which I think is totally fine) have ruined it for me. Personally, I'd definitely go Retina on the big iPad, especially if it's only a $60 difference to upgrade to the 3rd gen. But it's definitely a personal preference.
posted by cgg at 9:10 AM on April 25, 2013

I have an iPhone 4S and a 2nd generation iPad. The 4s has retina display, but it's not as good as on my husband's iPhone 5. It doesn't bother me to switch back and forth, although if I were buying now I think I'd get an iPad mini.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2013

My impression, based on reading others' experiences of the difference between retina and non-retina screens (like The Deej above), is you're going to have to compare them side by side yourself and decide if the difference is worth it to you.

FWIW, I definitely appreciate the retina screens on newer iPhones and big iPads. I guess perceptions differ a lot -- for me, non-retina phones (3GS) and iPads (iPad 2, mini) look noticably less sharp than their retina counterparts. I'd say the biggest benefits come when reading small-ish text but everything including games also looks much better to my eyes.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2013

I have both. I had no complaints with the 2. I can see that the 4 is better, but not enough better to make me care. I upgraded because I do some ePub development and needed to make sure it looked good on there.

I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2013

For reading books, I'd say yes, spring for the retina. For everything else... maybe not so much. My video playback quality is more constrained by the quality of the playback software and my network. For example, the ABC and Amazon players generally look great. NBCs is constantly falling back to chunky low-rez video.

The big score with the retina iPads is they have roughly twice the horsepower. Therefore they will have a longer useful life as software gets more demanding.

Oh- ask your daughter. It's her eyes that matter, not yours.
posted by chairface at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2013

I have both. I find my non-retina iPad really irritating visually and the added benefits of having a retina device (faster processor, etc) have made upgrading really worth it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:55 AM on April 25, 2013

Movies aren't going to look vastly different. As for games, it really depends on the game.

My own experience is that the first gen iPad looked a little coarse, but was generally ok for most of its life. Getting an iPhone with Retina display changed my opinion of the iPad screen downward. When I got a a retina display iPad, I thought it looked great and the old iPad's screen was terrible. I thought the IPad mini screen was terrible too when I first saw it, but now my wife has one and when I use it, it certianly isn't as nice as it would be with a retina display, but it isn't bad.

If it were my daughter, I don't think I'd bump her up to a retina iPad, but I might have chosen an iPad mini in the first place due to its lower cost and lighter weight.
posted by Good Brain at 10:00 AM on April 25, 2013

I couldn't handle reading books for long periods of time on my iPad 2, but I love reading on my Nexus 7, because of the of the higher dpi and small size. For other uses, though, I don't think high dpi displays on tablets are worth the extra expense. The iPad mini might be a good option if you think reading will be a primary use. The dpi of the mini is better than the iPad 2, but it's still a low dpi device, so it's not ideal.
posted by zixyer at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2013

Apple seem to be absolute masters at pricing their product options just below the critical point of #ohgodthatstooexpensive. Considering the spec. nothing they sell is egregiously expensive and equally nothing is a complete bargain.
There are two ways to buy Apple gear: either decide which features you need/want and just pay whatever they cost, or decide in advance how much you are willing to pay and stick to that, bearing in mind that a newer shinier thing will be out next year.
posted by Lanark at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013

We have both. For the larger iPad, the retina screen is a worthwhile upgrade. I can't really tell the difference between the retina screen and the non-retina Mini screen without squinting, though.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2013

Having had a retina iPad for awhile, going back to an iPad 2 does feel a little blurry, less beautiful. But only a little, and if I weren't used to the retina screen I'm not sure the iPad 2 would have ever looked bad to me. The difference is most noticeable in text rendering, less so in graphics for games (if they have retina graphics at all), and not at all in moving video. If the money is valuable to you, I'd save it and put it towards something else useful/fun.
posted by Nelson at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2013

The retina display is the only must have feature on the entire iPad line.

posted by blue_beetle at 1:30 PM on April 25, 2013

In short...

If viewing a lot of text (books, websites, news, tweets, etc.), the retina display is very nice.

As the percentage of time spent viewing text decreases and the time in games or watching media increases, the need for the retina display goes down. They may look nicer with a retina display, but not a lot nicer. Text on the other hand, is a ~LOT~ better on Retina.
posted by Leenie at 3:54 PM on April 25, 2013

For $60 more, yes, absolutely.
posted by Xany at 4:23 PM on April 25, 2013

What are you gonna do, upgrade it later? It's $60.00. Buy the correct one.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:34 PM on April 25, 2013

If you read the question its $240 more
posted by Lanark at 5:13 PM on April 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all your advice. Based on your comments and my gut feeling, I decided to return the 2nd generation one and get the 3rd generation Retina one, which is indeed $60 more.
posted by Dansaman at 5:20 PM on April 25, 2013

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