Test Notes: iPhone 4 Screen

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When I try to look for the pixels, I get close. Then closer. Before I can discern them, my vision goes cross-eyed, blurry. Eyes: 0; Retina Display: 1.

Android has larger screens on phones like the Droid X. But no one's screen is as sharp. The Retina Display is a peach—except without a hint of fuzz.

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Look at a word splayed across the Droid X, iPad and iPhone 4. (Click to make much bigger.) The pixels are practically indistinguishable, offering print-like fidelity. The Retina Display makes the iPad's screen look tragically last-generation, pixels separated by troughs shimmering like canals at sunset. (A microscope makes this even more clear.)

Illustration for article titled Test Notes: iPhone 4 Screen

Here's a screenshot from my iPhone 4 displayed in standard size on my 13-inch MacBook. At 100% zoom it almost fills the notebook's screen. There are 4x as many pixels on the 960-by-640 pixel, 3.5-inch screen as were on the original iPhone's display.

Old icons still look decent, with the auto-doubled resolution. Until you get really close, and see them next to new icons. The same goes for yet-unoptimized apps—the text is crisp, but graphics, especially logos, can be a little jaggy and pixelated.

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I spend my days looking around at things. Glancing. My work computer, cresting waves, cars that pass by too fast outside my windows like my street is a drag strip. I don't even bother to look at their license plates to report them to the police. Tired eyes.

But when I look at the iPhone's screen, my eyes inhale to focus. It's like getting Lasik. My TV, my iPad, my old iPhone, my 24-inch monitor, my laptop—every screen I had ever owned or seen up until now were grainy premonitions of this one. All I could see on old screens were crusty pixels. Aliasing. Dull brights. Lazy blacks. Jaggies. Off-color, off-kilter viewing angles. Dots. Little squares. Like Dad's old Trinitron. Red, green, blue rectangles that shocked you with static. Screen doors in the summer, nose pressed against.

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In the sun, it's usable, unlike trendy AMOLED screens found on phones made by Samsung and HTC. (Though not much more so than the Droid X or iPad.)

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Yellow. A few people had screens with yellow markings and blotches and bars, just like the hard-to-manufacture high resolution iMac screens we saw this spring. Manufacturing by Apple is ambitious, and if you complain, I'd like to believe you'll get taken care of. When they're back in stock. Mine was not bruised.

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The clarity lends itself to a sense of depth, of layers. Interface elements seem to float. Even thin text remains legible on plains of white.

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Icons almost cut your cornea. Thumbnails of precious videos or images shout out for a indulgent revisit.

But there's no need. Loom close—about 6 inches—and you can see the ski trip photos and the puppy whiskers and the glint in everyone's eye from the thumbnails alone. Just a sideways glance is now enough.

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DISCUSSION

I thought the Droid X screen looked good. One factor to consider is that you may have the sharpest image but if it is small it can be hard to read. Size does matter especially when you get older.

When you hit 40 it becomes harder for many people to focus and larger font sizes are the order of the day. The Retina display is beautiful but I wonder if it is like the age-old argument about video frame rates above 60 fps?

At a certain point isn't the display good enough?