Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Biggie Smalls

I wanted to take some time to digest the two biggest announcements of yesterday’s Apple event before I hopped on them, and I think my patience has been rewarded with new and relevant information.

Let’s start with the iPhone SE, which is very nearly an iPhone 6S inside an iPhone 5S’ body. That comes with a lot of benefits, especially in terms of performance and battery life. If the A9 in the SE is running at the same speed and has the same specs as the one in the 6S, it’s going to be a screamer with great battery life — there are fewer pixels to push and a smaller backlight to drive.

I’ve always been a fan of the 5S’ form factor, too — to my eyes and hands, it’s the prettiest and most comfortable iPhone ever.1 But the drawbacks of an SE are not insignificant, compared to a 6S: its display panel isn’t as good, the cover glass isn’t as durable, the Touch ID sensor is the much slower first-generation version, it doesn’t have 3D Touch, and it isn’t available in a 128 GB storage configuration. These are all deal-breakers for me, though they may not be for you.

I’m curious to see how the SE finds its place in Apple’s lineup over the coming few generations. Will it be like the iPad Mini, lagging one generation behind? Will it eventually get redesigned to look a bit more like a 6(S) generation iPhone, or will it perpetually look like a 5(S)? Does it have a permanent place in the lineup, or is it a stopgap?

I hope my needs one day intersect with what the SE offers, because it’s a compelling product in so many ways. My 6S remains uncomfortable in my pocket most of the time and it’s nerve-wracking to hold onto. But it’s a better balance for me right now than the SE.

My iPad Mini is another story altogether. It’s coming up on three years old this year, and it shows it in software and performance: I don’t get the sweet split-screen multitasking in iOS 9, its display isn’t laminated and of poorer quality than that of any of Apple’s other iOS products, and it lacks the RAM to keep up with daily tasks — a problem that has plagued iPads I’ve owned since their introduction.

The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro seems very attractive to me. It’s not as gigantic as the other iPad Pro, but it packs a similar punch in a normal-sized body. It seems to resolve many of the issues I have with my ageing Mini, too: it has a powerful processor that supports split-screen multitasking, among other things, and its display kicks ass — with the True Tone feature, it’s quite possibly the best display Apple has shipped on any device. During the keynote, I was damn near sold.

But I have a couple of concerns that I’ll need to research fully before committing. First, it has 2 GB of RAM, as opposed to the 4 GB in the bigger iPad Pro. After my experiences using iPads over the years where switching Safari tabs would regularly trigger a refresh of that tab, I’m hesitant to pick up a new one with anything less than the greatest amount of RAM possibly available. This is doubly true now that it has the capability of running two apps side-by-side.

Moreover, I’m waiting for WWDC to see what kind of features are coming to the iPad before making my decision. I’m hoping for a higher grade of professional software with even greater multitasking abilities, which might tip the scales in favour of picking one up. But I’m also going to wait for reviews and pay attention to the RAM and usability sections, because the low RAM in all the iPads I’ve owned has undermined my experience with them.

Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to trying it out. It might very well be my next iPad.

Update: The iPhone SE also lacks a barometer and has a crappier front camera, but it does get phenomenal battery life.

Also, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro supports only USB 2 speeds; the bigger iPad Pro supports USB 3.

If you were looking for the wallpaper shown on the iPads at the event, it appears to be of the Cargill salt ponds just outside San Francisco and was potentially photographed by Robert Campbell, though I don’t have confirmation of this. If someone has the actual images used, especially in wallpaper size, I’d be very grateful if you let me know.

Update: The wallpaper photograph is actually by David Burdeny, and was shot in Utah, not San Francisco. If you’d like to see his salt pond photography in person — including the image from the iPad — his exhibition at Bau-Xi Photo in Toronto closes today.


  1. I was taking some photos over my balcony recently. I live several storeys up. At that time, I would have given anything for corners less rounded and a body less slippery than that of my 6S. ↩︎