iPad mini vs. iPad 2 vs. iPad 4 vs. iPhone 5: Display density macros

The iPad mini is the first non-Retina display iOS device Apple has introduced since the iPad 2 in the spring of 2011. The iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5 are all Retina devices, as are the iPod touch 4 and iPod touch 5. There's are a lot of technical reasons why Apple made that choice. Lighting, powering, and paying for a 2048x1536 panel would have resulted in a substantial thicker, heavier, more expensive iPad mini. But how much of a difference does it really make?

For some people even the idea of a non-Retina mobile display in 2012 is deal breaker. For others people it's the idea that Retina even matters at all that's ridiculous. Still others want retina but will live without it for now. Everything is relative and everyone has their priorities.

I've been using an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPad 3 for the last 7 months so those chunky pixels are like sandpaper on my eyeballs. My mom's only ever owned an iPad 2 so she thinks the iPad mini is a good step up. Georgia's always cared more about performance than display, and she thinks the iPad mini's portability trumps any concern about screen resolution.

Yet display density is a real thing. It can be measured and compared. Whether is matters to you or not, whether it's a priority for you or not, it's something to be recognized and considered.

So here is it, looked at through a macro lens. First, the Safari icon. From left to right, iPad 2 at 132 ppi, iPad mini at 163 ppi, iPad 4 at 264 ppi, and iPhone 5 at 326 ppi.

Obviously, the iPad 2 has the largest, most easily discernible pixels, and the iPhone 5 the least. The iPad mini, while better than the iPad 2, is still close enough that it looks about the same. Likewise, the iPad 4 isn't as good as the iPhone 5, but it's good enough that it's hard to tell the difference.

Here's some web text and graphics, same order of devices.

Here's iBooks text, again same order of devices (though I didn't have the same books available on the iPad 2).

And here's some iBooks graphics, just to highlight the difference between the iPad mini (top), iPad 4 (middle), and iPhone 5 (bottom).

Personally, I find small text noticeably pixelated and more difficult to read on the iPad mini. While it's denser than the iPad 2, it's also smaller. Going from the iPad 3 or iPad 4, and especially from the iPod touch 5 or iPhone 5 to the iPad mini isn't quite as bad as going to the iPad 2, but it's close. Going from the iPad 2 to the iPad mini is a small upgrade in terms of display, as is going from the iPhone 3GS or iPod touch 3 which have identical density but nowhere near as good color or panel quality.

Fast moving video and video games hold up much better across the range of devices, simply based on how we perceive and process motion. So, if that's your primary use case, you won't notice the difference as much.

I notice the lack of Retina on the iPad mini a lot. It bothers me. But unlike some of my designer friends who won't even look at it, much less buy it, it's not a deal breaker for me. The compactness, the thinness, and especially the lightness are profound enough that I'll put up with the lack of Retina for now.

Apple had to compromise on the Retina display in order to make a lighter, thinner, smaller, less expensive iPad, and I'm willing to make that same compromise to own one.

For my mom, the iPad mini will be an upgrade in every way, and for Georgia, who doesn't care about screen density, it's not even a compromise.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I went to my local Apple store this afternoon, to see for myself. I have an ipad 3 and an iphone 5, so I'm all in with the retina display. But as soon as I held the mini in my hand, and felt the lightness, thinness, and beautiful build quality, I was sold. I came back home and ordered two. My wife will get hers for Christmas.
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  • I've kept my 1st gen iPad around since upgrading to the iPad 3 on launch day. Going back and updating it has routinely been painful to my eyes. This was my biggest fear about the minis display and the primary reason I didn't preorder it. I was totally surprised when I saw the display in person last night at the apple store. You can certainly tell that it's not retina when looking at websites or iBooks but my impression was that it was much much nicer than the iPad and iPad 2's screen. Honestly when I returned home and picked up my 3rd gen iPad my first thought was "why is this thing so heavy?" I'm not purchasing a mini yet but as soon as I sell my 1st gen those proceeds are going towards a mini.
  • Once you got retina you can't go back.
  • for me screen resolution is not important. i wouldn't pay all that extra just for a retina on a macbook pro for instance. i used them side by side and the slight difference doesn't justify the price. maybe i'd pay $50 more but not like $500 or whatever the price difference is. my feelings are similar in a tablet.
  • How about never before apple owners. We walk in and pick up a mini and compare it to a playbook or a 10" acer a500. We probably will be like OMG you know.
  • Rene, are you sure you have those pictures in the right order? A couple of examples the iPhone 5 looks worse, not better
  • I wanted retina because one of the things I want to do with the iPad is edit photos. So my choice was the new iPad. Almost got a refurb 3 but decided I'll standardize on Lightning and the speed will be useful. That said, eye distance from the screen matters. I didn't like the pixels on the mini, whichh I don't mind on my MacBook because I sit further from it. My iPhone 4 is a thing of beauty. While the iPad 4 is not quite as nice, I suspect that since I will almost as far away as from my laptop, I will be a very happy girl for a few years at least.
  • Good read, Rene. From a person who has an iphone5, retina macbook pro- it irritates the eff out of me that the mini is not retina. And whats even more irritating- I can't put the darn irritating thing down. :) Have a great one, fellas.
  • I checked one out in-person today and the text on the Mini is horrendous. Although, I can see how it might be bearable for someone not accustomed to retina.
  • The horrible text rendering kills it for me too. I'll take this iPhone 5 any day. And the even more superior HTC Rezound screen really shames this one. If Apple was going to go this size, even after Steve Jobs declared it a dead zone (oh the irony), you can't go with this fuzzy & blurry mess at this price point. The Nexus 7 kills this thing.
  • Hey Sam Skung Kim... stop pretending being an Apple fan... everybody here know... that U're an korean androtroll.... DUDE... so crawl beck to your green garbage bin and enjoy the sweet waste there
  • Your parents let you stay up this late? What has the world come to?
  • And your grammer skills are still barely at grade school level. Maybe you should try one of those other languages your claim to know. You suck at this one.
  • sorry .... Same Skunk Lol... never learned korean... DUDE...never even felt a compulsion to do so... what's : " grammer skills" or " outer languages" .... does U mean grammatic skills and other languages or so.... why don'tch ya consult Ur local village teacher first ... before posting something on an adult website ... if you love to fight about eloquence or language facility... than U're on a completely wrong blog ... also try to avoid being grammatically incorrect your self next time ....bobby Y
  • Adult website? I think you think that means something that it doesn't mean. And for what it's worth, both of you make many grammatical errors in your posts. But who cares. It's a f-ing comment thread.
  • I appreciate your admiration.... DUDE... but U have some letters missing there.... don't worry its an adult website.... or U think that I think that U think that that means what it suppose to mean but actually it doesn't mean that at all, don't U think ? LoL : )
  • SORRY... I couldn't let this go.... Criticizing somebody vocabulary/grammar when yours is worst ??????
  • Between you & okli we have a few language majors. Proofreading is your friend.
  • Hey.... Bobby Y.... you did correct :*outer* for other ... but forgot : *grammer *
    its grammar.... did you pass the first grade already ???.... what....
    you have just one grade in your village school..... DUDE..... I see : )
  • You're still trying to get a rise out of me? Sorry kid it's not going to happen. Your internet bravery is well established so congratulations (golf clap all around). Real life is another story where your insults about a particular race (I'm not Korean by the way) would get you hurt. So cower behind your internet anonymity & just leave it alone. I'd surmise your pretty close to the ban hammer coming down as is. Have a nice day! ;-)
  • are U trying to threaten me or something .... DUDE.... didn't know that android is a race ;-)
  • At first when the rumors were circulating about the mini being an ipad 2 but smaller I was convinced that it wouldnt be for me. But then I saw the keynote and read the first impressions I knew I just had to have it! The lightness/portability factor won out over my retina snobbishness. I couldnt be happier with my mini. I have noticed in just the one day I've had it that the battery life is superb! Dont get me wrong, I'm still in love with my iPad 3! I just dont plan to leave the house with it ever again! LOL From now on It lives propped up in a zagg folio by my bed or plugged into my speaker dock from brookestone. Bye bye huge purses!
  • What you have created is a quadruple moire distortion (featured device resolution, resampled by camera photocell resolution, down-sampled by image compression, resampled by viewing device resolution). To avoid moire distortion the images must be displayed at many times their actual size, as is the convention for such comparisons.
  • +1 it must be viewed by everyone in person
  • There is no doubt that the lightness and portability of the mini triumphs everything. This tablet is just amazingly comfortable to use. I think the screen is good, far better then I actually thought it would be. My iPhone 4 feels like a brick compared to this.
  • As someone with a 1st GEN iPad and a 4yr old MBP (and that does not have an iPhone) all of the retina talk means little to me. I had never seen a retina screen until this week at an Apple store. I wanted to see the iPad mini person and right next to it was the iPad 4. Honestly, I didn't see much of a difference in resolution. Maybe its because this was the first time I saw a retina screen...? All said, my eyesight is not great, so when I do upgrade, I'll want the best screen for reading books/text. I imagine that will be retina. So I'll use my trusty iPad 1 until they release a retina iPad mini. Reading books on my large iPad for any length of time can be a drag due to the size.
  • I have an iPad 3 and my wife has an original iPad. When I first got the 3 I couldn't see the big deal with Retina. Now after 6 months of constant use I look back at the original and the text looks fuzzy and unreadable. I'm going to the Apple Store later today to check out the Mini since I want to see it for myself. I probably won't be buying a Mini though. I have a phone with a 4.7 inch screen for my on the go needs and the 3 for when I'm at home.
  • It's funny how perceptions are so warped, depending on the device We're discussing. Tech blogs are making such a huge folly over the iPad Mini screen when the (largely praised) Microsoft surface at 10", along with most of the Laptop computers on the market from 11" to 14" are sporting a 1366×768 display panel of much lower pixel density than the iPad Mini. Yet, all the reviewers are trashing the 7.9" iPad Mini screen at 1024×768. I mean, REALLY? I own a 3rd Gen iPad with Retina and just picked up an iPad Mini yesterday and you know what? I think it's terrific. The size and weight are absolutely perfect, and retina display or not, it’s frankly not as important as I thought it would be. I’m staring at my 27" desktop monitor at 1920 × 1080, and my iPad Mini looks a hell of a lot better. I’ll gladly trade the pixels for the smaller form factor and less than half the weight of my iPad 3. Had the Retina display not been introduced this year, no one would be having this discussion. The Retina display may be nice eye candy, but it doesn't mean the iPad Mini display is bad. Unless you're holding a device 6" from your face, pixel density becomes less of a factor with viewing distance.
  • I have an iPhone 5, iPad 3, iPad 1, and now an iPad mini. I love the mini. Outstanding size, weight, build quality. The retina display thing is way overblown (although Apple started it by emphasizing retina on their other devices!). I can tell the difference between the iPad 3 screen and the mini but it's really only when you compare them directly. In normal use the mini's display is great. When I go from the iPad 3 to the iPad 1, the display difference is really noticeable to me. The mini is just enough better than the iPad 1 to make the lack of retina a non-issue for me. If Apple can do a retina mini with the same weight, thickness next year, I'll love it, but I wouldn't want to sacrifice any of the mini's weight to get it. Most iPad apps now have the ability to change the text size so you can easily get to a size that is very comfortable to read. I do easily notice the lack of resolution on my 20 inch, 1680 X1050 PC monitor (that's only about 100 ppi). So, it's not like I don't notice resolution limits. I don't notice a problem on the mini, though.
  • +1 who ever complain over non retina iMini, should just go closer to their's TV sets to see what is pixelation really about... DUDES
  • First off, the iPad 3 isn't THAT much heavier/thicker than the iPad 2. It may be nice that the iPad mini is lighter/thinner that it would be with Retina, but that isn't why Apple left it out. The promise of Retina display in the future allows them to get money from first adopters this year, then get it all again next year when they introduce Retina.
  • We doubt that the iPad mini will get a Retina-class display until Apple switches screen technology. It looks like IGZO-based OLED will be the next step, if the rumors of a Sharp-Apple partnership are true. Supposedly Sharp has developed a new, high-yield "printing" process for making touchscreen panels. Transparent IGZO conductors are 40 times (not just 40%) more conductive than the current amorphous silicon technology. That will enable brighter, more energy-efficient screens. OLED will eliminate the need for LED backlighting, for further energy efficiency. Apple may be planning to add a Retina-class screen to the iPad mini if and when their IGZO/OLED process is ready for production. We also don't expect iPhone, iPad, or iPad mini to get any thinner until some new, more energy-efficient screen technology is available. That, plus a possibly more energy-efficient custom Apple-designed ARM-based 64-bit AX SoC, could help reduce the need for battery power. The 64-bit ARMv8 spec was released a year ago, and ARM just announced the Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 64-bit cores this week. So, maybe by 2014, Apple will release a Retina iPad mini.
  • "chunky pixels are like sandpaper on my eyeballs"... I couldn't have said it any better. Well done Rene. I checked out the mini yesterday and while the form factor is frickin' awesome I could NOT get over the pixels (especially since I've been on retina since June 2010... over TWO YEARS!!!). I understand why it was done for cost reasons but hopefully they comeout w/ a retina version next year.
  • We were hoping for (but not expecting retina) on the mini. We do notice the difference and it is a bother. However, what is more of a bother to us is that they did not put the A5X in the mini. A new product with a chipset that is two generations behind is a bit upsetting. Still, we too have a hard time putting it down.
  • The A5 chip is no slouch. Remember, they put the A5X - same CPU, but with a Quad-core GPU, in the iPad Retina, just so it could push 4 times the pixels at the same level of performance as the A5. According to some of the benchmark tests online, the A5 can hold it's own against the A5X, or even the newer Tegra 3 in Android Tablets, given the 1024x768 resolution of the iPad 2/iPad Mini.
  • Retina display makes a difference. Apple should've waited until they could cheaply put a Retina display in iPad Mini until they released it. They also should've put the latest A6 Chip inside iPad Mini.
    Just my opinions.
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  • It's only a disappointing display if you have an iPad3 t compare it with... which unfortunately, Apple does in every store. If the mini sat on the shelf next to your average netbook, it would be a pretty good screen. It's hard to judge how good a screen is for the long haul in the Apple store, though, since the ambient lighting in your average Apple store is so bright.
  • I recall a time not so long ago: January 2010? Tech geeks were speculating that Apple's new tablet might cost just under $1,000, and preparing to buy it. If we had then walked into the Big Keynote and confronted this iPad Mini - - at $329! - - we would have wet ourselves with excitement. But we have been royally spoiled in the past 12 months with an unfriggingbelievable string of product intros, starting with the first Kindle Fire at $200, racing through the iPad Retina, Asus Transformers, the Asus Nexus 7 I'm using now, Samsung Galaxy SIII and other Samsungs too multitudinous to mention, TWO MacBook Pros with Retina, Amazon's breathtakingly cheap line of NEW Kindle Fires, Google's breakthrough-priced trio of new Nexi and - - oh yes, I iPad Mini. I for one like it - - like it even more than my Nexus 7, which will be seeing a lot less action now - - but I've got a gadget hangover so bad, I swear I'll throw up if I have to react to even one more touchscreen this year, and am grateful Microsoft booted the Surface Pro into 2013. For the record, Rene, I'm a screen snob too, but think brightness, color, contrast and smart use of fonts together trump DPI. My biggest disappointment with my otherwise beloved Nexus 7 came the moment I booted up the device and could hardly believe how dim and muddy this high-res screen turned out to be. I finally found an app that lets me tweak things to more acceptable levels, but this of course cuts battery life so drastically that I eventually gave up and adjusted. So when I turned on the iPad Mini, it was like stepping out of Uncle Henry's cottage into Oz. I'm with Georgia here - - and OF COURSE I'd rather have retina, but I'm smitten with just about everything else and am considering donating a bunch to a nonprofit for whom I give tech advice. Haven't conferred with the head honcho yet and will let her choose iPad 4 or iPad Mini, but this is a cash-hungry outfit (aren't they all) that needs to get stuff done out in the field instead of agonizing over screen esthetics, and I'm pretty sure she'd rather arm her entire staff with feather-light iPad Minis than have fewer folks lugging iPad 4s. I
  • thank for entertainment.... DUDE..* iPad Mini was like stepping out of Uncle Henry's cottage into Oz*
    couldn't say it better ;-)
  • PS Also disagree with @Ryan on your iMore podcasts about iPad Mini being down market. It's flat out gorgeous - - possibly the niftiest piece that Jony Ive turned out in Apple's biggest year of product debuts ever - - and for the foundation I support, it will seem an almost-sinful luxury. It's also an invaluable tool that will require little training and may save lives.
  • Great article but as I use my ipad2 in a professional capacity (as most people do) and not just to play games or read articles, I would appreciate some image comparisons between all the devices on 'text' from Pages docs, Word and Keynote not just web pages. I make a lot of presentations and like the idea of being able to hold a smaller device but I would like to know if I am going to be able to read my notes just as easily on the smaller screen before paying out the big price.
  • kinda glad i didn't read this before buying iPad minis for myself and kids for christmas. personally not having any issue with the screen resolution, but then again i'm coming from a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, which is only 1280x800 on a larger screen. The size is much better for smaller hands and the weight of the thing is wonderful. btw, i'm reading this on my iPad mini, seems pretty clear and easy to read.
  • ipad mini and i phone and ipad all are awusome because they give a good quality and new effects of new technology
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  • I sure like imore when you post comparison's like this I got the Ipad 2 for Chirstmas this year and it's my first ipad and I LOVE IT, I would like the retina display but WOW im sure enjoying the one I have for now, I'll shoot for the ipad 4 next year. LOL