The new iPad: Gorgeous Retina Display, but disturbing heat issue

How bad are the heat issues of the new iPad?Boy was I excited about the new iPad! Judging from its specs, it seemed to me the best iPad yet for academics, and so I went ahead and ordered one. However, the heat issue cooled of my excitement considerably. The Retina Display and the new camera perform well, pretty much as expected. What I didn’t expect, and what nobody really saw coming until the first units arrived at people’s doorsteps, was that the new iPad runs considerably warmer than its predecessors.

At least for me, the heat is an issue, and this is why I am returning my new iPad. In the rest of this post, I am discussing the pros and cons of the new iPad in more detail. Hopefully this helps you to decide whether buying one now is worth it for you, or whether you want to sit this one out.


Retina Display: You will love it!

The Retina display is definitely the number one reason why the new iPad could be such a great tool for academics. Reading PDFs on the first generation iPad (or the iPad 2, as they have the same screen resolution) is okay, but the text is pixeled. I often find myself zooming in when I am reading a text for the first time; not just because it is easier to highlight, but also because it is much more friendly on the eyes.

Luckily, Papers is already Retina Display ready (a Sente update is promised to arrive within the next few weeks), so I was able to test the Retina Display side-by-side in a “real world, academic situation”. I bet you haven’t seen these four words together in the same sentence before!

You can already see the difference in the pictures below (click for full resolution), but believe me, the effect in real life is even more astonishing!

Comparing iPad 1 vs iPad 3

There is no doubt that text is displayed much sharper on the new iPad! The text seems rounder, less fuzzy, and somehow thinner. Even smaller text, for example a block quote, is easily readable without zooming in. The contrasts are very good, and it is very similar to reading a printed page.

Some people on the net talk about a yellow tint on the new iPad. While the white background of the PDF looks a little bit more yellow than on my first-gen iPad, I am not sure whether this has not more to do with a blue tint on the first iPad. If you did not see them side-by-side, my guess is that you wouldn’t notice a difference with respect to the white point at all. However, you will notice the difference in sharpness immediately.

Comparing PDF in iPad 1 vs new iPad close-up

A PDF displayed on an first-get iPad (left) vs. a new iPad (right). You can see the difference immediately: text on the new iPad is much more like a printed page.

One thing I notice is that the white background of the page changes in color more drastically depending on your viewing angle. If you are looking right at the screen (from a 90º angle), it is a very bright light, almost as if you were looking into a flashlight. If you are looking at the screen from a 40-50º angle (for example, if you put the iPad on the table in front of you), the white becomes a little bit darker, as if you would turn down the brightness of the device. I am not sure yet whether this is good or bad, but my first impression is that it does not impair your reading experience. If anything, it rather makes reading easier.

Overall, the Retina Display is stunning and will make reading on the iPad much more pleasant. For academic use, the Retina Display alone would justify buying (or upgrading to) a new iPad with ease, if it wasn’t for the heat issues. But before we go down this road, what else is good with the new iPad?


The camera is decent

From what I hear, the camera of the new iPad is about on par with the one used in the iPhone 4. In my opinion, this is about right, as it takes grainy but nonetheless decent pictures. Bottom line is, the camera is good enough that you don’t have to search for a photocopier or scanner in order to archive a few pages of a book or your scribblings on a whiteboard.

I photographed a page in a book and uploaded it to Evernote, where it was made searchable without any problems.

The new iPad as a scanner

You can use the new iPad's camera to quickly grab a copy of the book you are reading.


The Dictation function

I would rather have seen Siri coming to the iPad, as it is my main daily/weekly/monthly organizer. Unfortunately, Apple kept Siri on a short leash, and instead only added a Dictation function to the new iPad.

I am surprised how well it worked for me, given that English is not my mother tongue. While it still was far from flawless for me, you might get much more use out of it if English is your native language (or if the dictation function supports your mother tongue).

But is it more than a gimmick? For example, would you be able to use it for transcribing an interview? Clearly not. First of all, the original recording is not saved anywhere, so you wouldn’t be able to check back with the original interview recording to correct mistakes in the transcript. Also, I don’t think that you would save much time if you “re-speak” the interview recording instead of transcribing it by hand. For this, the iPad needs too much time processing your speech inputs.


Speed (in comparison to iPad 1)

As you would expect, the new iPad is much faster than my old first generation iPad. I wasn’t able to compare the speed to a second generation iPad, but from what I have read, there is no big difference in speed.


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Battery life and re-charge time

To be honest, I didn’t have the iPad long enough to give good advice here. I didn’t perform an accurate test of whether the battery life is really 10 hours, but it brings me through the day. I am also used to charging my iPad over night, so I have no troubles with a longer charging time.


The heat issue

The things discussed so far have been to my liking, and the Retina Display, (improved) camera, and the faster processor (in comparison to the first-gen iPad) make the new iPad a fine machine for academics. I don’t mind that it is slightly thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, as I am coming from the first-gen iPad which seems clunky and sluggish in comparison to the new iPad. I have no concerns about the longer time it needs to charge, as I need more sleep than my iPad needs the power-grid.

However, there is the issue about the heat.

The heat issue surfaced soon after the first new iPads found their way into the hands of consumers. And soon after, Apple and tech reviewers started to frame the heat as a “non-issue”, comparing it to the Antenna-Gate and the Death Grip of the iPhone 4 (remember that one?). You can read online that the iPad is bound to run hotter with the higher energy demands of the Retina Display (caused by a more powerful GPU and more backlighting), but that it is running within Apple’s specifications and that laptop computers produce even more heat. Apple tells you:

“The new iPad delivers a stunning Retina display, A5X chip, support for 4G LTE plus 10 hours of battery life, all while operating well within our thermal specifications. If customers have any concerns they should contact AppleCare.”

Yes, that is nice to know, but there is one problem: I am not holding my laptop in my hands for an extended period of time!

For me, the heat is an issue, not a “non-issue”, because the new iPad is noticeably heating up even under light use such as reading a PDF article. How much? Enough to bother me. Here is a very subjective account of the heat issue while reading an article:

  • 8:15 – Started reading an article on Sente.
  • 8:20 – Noticeably warmer in the lower left corner. Bothers me a little, especially when comparing it to cold upper left corner. The screen side also heats up a little.
  • 8:50 – The heat in the lower left corner bothers me, especially on the back, but also on the front.
  • 9:15 – Pretty much the complete left side (except the upper left corner, 4 fingers wide) is uncomfortably warm. I can also feel the heat on the screen, when touching the iPad’s bezel. My hand stays warm after holding the iPad.

Note that the iPad was fully cooled down before I started reading the article, and that I read the article with the screen set to full brightness. I did not hold the iPad in my hands for the whole time, as I was also writing at the same time. Whenever I did not hold the iPad, it was lying on some sheets of papers on my desk.

Another example: Since I have started writing this post, the iPad lies next to me on the table (running at full brightness). Whenever I am picking it up, I immediately feel the heat on both sides. The upper half is not as warm, but still noticeably warm.


Good use for the new iPad's heat (via mashable)

Academics around the world use the heat of the new iPad to warm up their coffees. Perfect!


Reading an article or having the iPad displaying a PDF / webpage / calendar next to you are two of the most important use cases for academics. Even though these examples are far from being graphic intense (don’t get me started on the heat while playing Real Racing 2), I can still feel the heat to an extent that is bothersome.

I am not saying that my hands are getting burned. However, I am saying that holding the new iPad over a longer period of time is uncomfortable. The heat distracts me from my task and leaves my hands warmer and slightly sweaty. Oh and by the way, it is only March…


My heated affair with the new iPad is over

Remember that this is my own personal, totally unscientific, and entirely subjective experience with the new iPad and its heat issues. It might be that my new iPad is especially hot or that I am especially sensitive. I also have not tested whether a case would alleviate the heat issues – although I doubt it, as the heat would just be trapped in between the iPad and the case, no?

All I am saying is that the heat bothers me even while I am just reading an article (and I did not even hold the iPad for the entire hour). The fact that laptop computers are even hotter in my opinion misses the point, because iPads are devices that are meant to be touched and to be held!

I am truly enjoying the Retina Display, but $700 and sweaty hands is a price I am unwilling to pay. This is why I am returning my new iPad.

Maybe I will jump back at the new iPad if it turns out that my device was just faulty, or maybe I will wait and hope for a fix in the next version. We will see…

What are you doing? Are you sticking with your first-gen iPad as well, do you re-consider the iPad 2 (which I think now might be the better interim tablet for heat-averse academics, but beware of the storage capacity), or do you wear oven midgets while reading PDFs on the new iPad? Please let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: Coffee warmer image by mashable. All other images by academiPad.

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  1. Vinicius says:

    The source of the text you are displaying on the comparision of the new vs classic Ipad is derived from a scan of a real book page or it´s really a pdf rendering true type fonts?

    I´m asking this this because, I can assume that for rendering graphics, the retina will make a real difference, but I wonder if for rendering text as in kindle software for Ipad, the difference will be noticed.

    • Jo says:

      I am not very familiar with the details of true type fonts, but I would say it is a true type font PDF. In that image I used an article from I believe 2010. The file is straight from the publisher. Its not a scanned document saved as PDF, but a PDF produced digitally. I used the Papers app to display the PDF.

      I don’t have a retina iPad any longer, but I remember that kindle looked better too. Web looked better too. Everything I saw looked better on this display.

  2. Yann says:

    In almost every app you can turn the iPad upside down, thus rotating the screen 180° as well, does this not allow you to put your hands in a less heated zone?

    • Jo says:

      That is clever and true, Yann, but I consider this a poor fix. The whole thing for me is about that I don’t want to think about anything else but the task at hand (e.g., reading a journal article). That includes thinking about heat as much as it includes thinking about what way I should hold the iPad.

  3. Avi says:

    next time can you feature my articles rather than Karen’s.
    What about for watching films and playing games does it still heat up?
    Think I’ll get an Air…

    • Jo says:

      Hey Avi,

      To investigate whether the heat impacts gaming, I just played an hour Real Racing 2 (very graphic intense, awesome game!) – just for you, no procrastination here! Yeah, it heats up, maybe even more compared to just reading.

      However, the heat while playing bothered me less than the heat while reading. I am so picky about the heat issue because reading and annotating is what I have the iPad for. For these task, I want to have as little distraction as possible, and my iPad 1 stays nicely cold the whole time (I tried out iPad 2: gets a little warm, but not as much as 3rd gen iPad).

      I haven’t watched a movie on it, but it should heat up similar to gaming, as it is quite graphic intense processing. I wouldn’t think though that heat would be a big problem for watching a movie, since you probably won’t be holding the iPad in your hand for the full time.

      Best thing you can do is to walk into the next Apple store and check it out. Good luck!

  4. Ben says:

    I’ve noticed some warmth with the new iPad but nothing at all uncomfortable, even with graphics intensive programs (read video games). I don’t have a previous model for comparison. I can say that for me, reading PDFs on the new screen has been a delight.

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