iPad 3's best feature is also its worst enemy: the Retina display

iPad 3's best feature is also its worst enemy: the Retina display

Summary: With the new iPad containing cutting-edge technology (namely, the Retina display), some early adopters are experiencing strange issues. Read my experiences, then chime in with your own!

TOPICS: iPad, Mobility

Credit: Apple

Credit: Apple

All within an 8-day span of owning my new iPad, I've gone from absolutely loving it; to critiquing it; to having strange issues with it; to wanting to return it; to, finally, accepting it for what it is. Even if you don't read the post, please take part in the poll at the bottom and let us know if you're experiencing any issues with your new iPad (if you have one, that is).

Ultimately, I've come to find that while the Retina display is certainly a fine piece of technology, it doesn't come without its share of oddities and heartbreaks. Here are a couple I've experienced:

Of brightness and battery life

Put simply, the Retina display sucks the battery dry within a matter of a few hours if you keep the brightness cranked up. This has caused me to keep the iPad 3 plugged in during use when spending any more than 2 hours gaming. Not only that, but when you have it plugged in, don't expect the battery to charge very much while still using it for gaming or viewing video. I ran my new iPad down to 17% while playing Chaos Rings II (an amazing RPG that I highly recommend) recently; then, after hooking it up and continuing to play for somewhere ~3 hours, the battery only charged up to 38%. Yikes.

[Related: 7 critiques of the new iPad]

All that to say, if you hoped to use the iPad 3 like the iPad 2, you're going to be sorely disappointed if -- like me -- you like full brightness. On the iPad 2, I always kept the display on full brightness, and no matter what I did on the device, I always maintained consistent use of it for ~9 hours before depleting the battery. Always. On top of that, it would charge almost as fast while plugged-in during use as it would plugged-in and not in use. Now, the display has to push so many pixels that, the brighter you push them, the harder the battery has to work -- even when plugged in, I presume. I completely understand it, but I don't have to like it (and I don't -- like it, that is).

Defiant pixels with odd behavior

One of the rather odd behaviors I experience at-will is flickering pixels on the home screen if I play the game Espgaluda II for any longer than 10 minutes. There's a gold flashing/spinning animation that stays in the same location throughout the majority of game-play which seems to leave the pixels in that space with some odd flashing behavior when exiting the game. It finally goes away after about 15-20 minutes, depending on how long you play the game beforehand. I can even power the device down, then power it back up and still see the behavior! To note, I've tried to record this on an HD camera so that I can just show it, but it won't capture it, unfortunately.

Also, it took me some time to figure out what was causing this seemingly random flickering on the home screen. Initially, I was ready to return the device, since I thought the issue was due to having a lemon iPad 3; however, since narrowing it down to a cause I can now replicate, I've sent an email to Cave (the developers of Espgaluda II) asking for their feedback on the issue. I'm quite curious to see if they have a more comprehensive/technical explanation for what's happening. Until then, my best guess is that the pixels on the new Retina display are capable of retaining certain behavior for some amount of time before returning to normal.

I have no idea if this type of thing is fixable via a future update or what, but in the mean time, I'm interested in seeing who else out there has experienced similarly odd behavior.

Now, it's your turn

After the growing pains I've experienced with the new iPad, I'm curious to see if any of you out there have experienced any growing pains of your own -- be them similar to mine, or completely different altogether. I know plenty of people who haven't had a single issue with theirs, but they all have one thing in common that differs from my situation: they don't keep the brightness cranked up to the max at all times. Whatever the case may be for you, please take part in the following poll:

[poll id="284"]

Once you answer, let me know your thoughts in the comments below! If you've experienced issues, what are/were they? If not, then exactly how do you have your iPad configured for brightness? Also, how has the performance of your battery been for the most part? Feel free to be as thorough as you'd like in your comment!


As most with an iPad 3 will agree upon, the Retina display looks absolutely fantastic. Though it's currently limited with the number of apps that really show off the best of its abilities, it's a bit disheartening to learn that operating the new iPad at full brightness will cut the battery life by a drastic margin from the 10 hours Apple stated in their keynote. It almost makes me scared to think of how much more the battery life will be drained when future apps/games are released that really push this device to its limits.

If I wasn't already ruined by the amazing visuals on the Retina display, I would make no bones about reverting back to my iPad 2 in a heartbeat. But, I am ruined; and instead of going back, I'll simply find myself with an extension cord draped across my couch so that I can play Chaos Rings 2 all day on a lazy, rainy Sunday. Oh well. C'est la vie.

-Stephen Chapman

Related Articles:

Topics: iPad, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • My impressions and a question.

    I noticed that durning my initial use of the new iPad that the battery charge lasted as long as my other two iPads did. Then I noticed that Apple shipped the iPad with the screen brightness setting near 50 percent of the max brightness. I have noticed the type of battery drain rate Stephen described when the screen brightness level is at it's max brightness setting. After awhile, I noticed that a display brightness setting around 80 to 85 percent of maximum returns the best compromise between user satisfaction with display images and battery charge duration times. (Also turning off Bluetooth connectivity preserves battery charge significantly.

    When Stephen stated that his display anomaly observed while game playing could not be recorded I first suspected some kind of optical sensory effect akin to those examples that most, if not all of us, have experienced. For example, looking at some circular static images long enough will fool the mind into seeing a perceived movement of those images. Perhaps this is what is happening with Stephen and not a physical effect of this new display. (Pure speculation on my part but it is curious that HD video can not document this effect.)

    Finally, I have noticed a few effects with this new display screen not written or commented about yet. (At least I have not read them yet.)

    One - This new display seems smoother to the touch than previous iPad displays and that fingerprints are much less noticeable.

    Two - With the display brightness setting set at max brightness, this display can actually be useful outdoors. Whereas the original iPad deserved all the criticism for it's very poor viewability in outdoor settings, the new iPad is quite functional when used in that environment. It still isn't as good as a gray scale e-ink tablet display but it's far from useless either.
    • Hey, Kenosha.

      Thanks for the suggestions. I'll try the 80-85% brightness, as well as turn off Bluetooth (if I haven't already). As for the display anomaly, I ruled out the optical illusion possibility by having my girlfriend look at just the home screen when the flickering occurs. She sees it. Also, I had my step-father take a gander the other night and he could see it as well. Lastly, this is a game I played like crazy on my iPad 2 and never had the issue.

      As for your two observances with the new screen, I, too, have noticed those very same things. The clarity of the Retina display really does seem to cut through the fingerprints. I've also tried taking pictures outside with the sun glaring, and, like you said, you can actually see the screen outdoors now (at max brightness, for sure, but I haven't tried lower yet).

      • My guess is you're seeing some LCD burn-in

        and it also happened on your iPad 2, but because of the denser display on the iPad 3, you can actually see the ghost image.
      • LCD burn-in?

        I thought the new iPad had a high quality LCD screen? Only the poorest of the poor LCD screens suffer from burn-in, especially after only a few hours of useage.
      • Not LCD Burn-In

        It's not LCD burn-in because Stephen described it as flickering. LCD burn-in would show a static rendition of whatever image was last persistently displayed long enough for the burn-in to take effect. Since this is wasn't a static effect, I'm guessing it's a bug in the display drivers.
        Joey Indolos
      • Similar pixel effect on Kindle Fire

        I don't have an iPad, but I've noticed that remnants of an application's graphics will remain on the home screen of my Kindle Fire, sort of like a 'ghosted' image especially along the left and right edges of the home screen. It will go away if I run another app or navigate off the home screen some other way (like opening up Books for instance).

        I'm curious to know how a display driver issue could manifest itself this way, but I replied here just to confirm that this isn't necessarily an optical illusion (if one tablet can do it, presumably others can too).
      • Your fingerprints are less noticeable on your iPad screen because...

        your iPad screen has an "oleophobic" (not sure of spelling) coating.

        I interpret "oleophobic" as "fat fearing" which means the screen's coating somehow repels the natural oil on your skin.
    • It always shocks me how people like Stephen can use 100% of brightness, ...

      ... because it burns your retina away.

      Normal brightness should be adjusted by putting blank white sheet of paper along the iPad, and checking how bright the screen is comparing to this sheet of paper.

      I can assure you that under normal circumstances you will never use more than like 50% of brightness (typically lower). This is [b]the only ergonomic option.[/b]

      And no wonder that after setting crazy brightness people complain that iPad does not fit as reading device, that eReaders with e-ink are better. Of course they will be better -- they do not burn your eyes comparing to the brightness you yourself have set on the iPad.

      By the way, normal brightness level also [b]completely solves Stephen's battery problem[/b]: DisplayMate tests showed that under normal brightness the new iPad works just a bit shorter from the battery comparing to iPad 2.
      • You work for Apple?

        First, "You're holding it wrong."

        Next, "Brightness, stinking brightness, we don't need no stinking brightness."

        DeRSSS: Good thing we aren't required to live in your world.
      • What's 'Normal brightness'?

        is that where it's bright enough to hide the yellow tint, but dark enough not to give you a sunburn?
        William Farrel
      • William: Now that one made me laugh

        Yours should be the top rated post of the day.
      • so 100% brightness is a design flaw?

        Why would Apple supply the higher brightness level if it was not usable? Are you trying to say that allowing the iPad display to be set to a brightness level over 50% is a flaw in the design?
  • The only difference I noticed was when I first connected it to....

    My notebook to load a back up while plugged into the USB port the ipad was actually losing battery power. I was glad that I did not have more to load because I was worried that the battery would run down before the reload was complete.

    After that first day I've not had the issue and the iPad stays at the same percentage level while plugged into my notebook.

    I find 100% brightness too bright in most circumstances and therefore don't use it because it washes out the blacks. For me the most noticeable issue is the longer charge time. But I found that sleeping while it is charging is probably the most healthy thing to do anyway. An iPad in bed just keeps me awake anyway.

    They are way too fun to put down.
    • Nothing new here...

      You need a 10 watt power source to charge the new iPad and other iPads. Some USB ports don't have enough power. Nothing new and Apple says to use the charger included.
      • That and the battery is 80% bigger

        than the iPad 2.
      • Doesn't Charge, but Shouldn't Drain Either

        Most USB ports can't charge an iPad, and you're correct in pointing out that this was true since the first model. But it doesn't drain while connected. What ShockMe described was a drain when it was first plugged in. However, it has since then exhibited the usual iPad behavior of neither charging nor draining when plugged into a USB port, so that first-day observation was probably some break-in issue.
        Joey Indolos
    • That makes sense...

      Well, a USB port can only deliver 500mA, while, at 'normal' brightness - Apple's 50% brightness, if the battery lasts 10 hrs, it means that the current draw on the battery is 1.165A (It has an 11,650 mAh battery - have a look at one of the trear-downs of the iPad 3). It will drain a bit slower while plugged into the USB - should now last about 17.5 hrs, depending on birghtness of course ;)
      • Sort of...

        The difference is that Apple's USB charging solutions require a resistance across two of the conductors (you can fake it with a resistor) before they will allow the device to charge - so, although USB ports could, in theory, provide enough charge to give an ipad/iphone/ipod a boost, Apple's modified the USB standard so it won't charge unless it sees that resistance.

        Cheap USB charger makers have all worked this out, and put a resistance across those conductors to trick ithings into thinking they're apple-approved chargers.
      • It's normal to have some sort of protocol

        So, you suggest the iPad tries to suck 2.1A from an normal USB port? So that the USB port will either turn off power or your laptop will burn in flames?

        When you extend the basing functionality, you always need to have some sort of protocol to signal the other end that you are requiring something "special", such as 2A on USB like in this case. Apple only did good, that they made it simple with the resistance and did not require the charger to talk some (computer) protocol to negotiate this condition.

        By the way, what about 'powered USB' ports? Do these charge the iPad properly?
  • Power-hungry!

    Yes, the new iPad is quite power-hungry, and runtimes are shorter even with the larger battery. More frequent charging is also going to mean that the battery will wear out sooner on the new iPad than the older models. After paying $700+ for mine, I will not be happy to pitch it in the trash a mere year later!
    terry flores