iPad Pro nano-texture glass

Flight testing the new iPad Pro nano-texture screen

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One of the major headlines from Apple’s recent iPad announcement was the introduction of a new screen technology on the latest iPad Pro models. Whereas the updated iPad and iPad Air feature a traditional backlit LED screen, the new iPad Pro features “tandem OLED” technology that promises sharper images and more vivid colors. There was even an option for “nano-texture display glass” that Apple says dramatically reduces glare in bright light.

We just received our new iPad Pro 13″ with this nano-texture screen and promptly took it up for a test flight. Is it deserving of the hype? In short, yes. While it doesn’t completely eliminate screen glare, it does make a big difference in direct sunlight. Read on for more (expensive) details.

New display technology

OLED diagram

Apple’s stacked OLED technology simulates having two panels.

OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode, a newer display technology that delivers brighter whites and darker blacks at extremely high resolution. It’s the current state of the art in consumer tablets, so we were excited to see this finally come to an iPad. Apple uses a stacked OLED structure (not really two panels but a system that approximates that setup) to deliver a beautiful picture, especially for videos and games.

While the resolution is essentially the same as previous generation iPad screens (2752 x 2064 at 264 ppi on our 13″ iPad Pro), it delivers much higher brightness levels: 1000 nits maximum vs. 600 nits on older units, with a peak of 1600 nits for HDR content (think photos, not ForeFlight). That is noticeable, especially in the cockpit where direct sun can wash out even the most vibrant displays.

The nano-texture glass is an additional feature, separate from the new screen technology. While the OLED has to do with the miniature lights that create the color image on screen, the nano-texture affects the glass on top of the iPad. This is where glare becomes an issue for pilots: since the iPad is basically a giant sheet of glass, it will reflect bright light quite easily. One solution is to crank up the brightness to overpower this, which the new OLED screen does well. But the other solution is to cut the glare in the first place, and that’s where the nano-texture comes in. As Apple describes it, “Precisely etched at a nanometer scale, nano-texture glass maintains image quality and contrast while scattering ambient light for even less glare.” It’s almost like having an anti-glare screen protector permanently attached to the iPad.

Flight test

So much for the technical specs. How does it work in the real world? To find out, we went flying on a clear day in a Citabria, a two-seat tailwheel airplane with a skylight window—which means there’s always sun on an iPad. We flew with a brand new iPad Pro 13″ with nano-texture display glass, as well as an older iPad Pro 12.9″ (third generation). Both have the same basic screen size and resolution, but the new model adds OLED and nano-texture glass.

The picture below sums things up well. In direct sunlight, the older iPad Pro (left) had much more glare than the nano-texture screen (right):

iPad Pro nano-texture glass

Both iPads were usable, and the nano-texture glass did not cut all glare, but the difference was dramatic. There was far less glare at all angles and we could read the map in ForeFlight even in the worst sun conditions. The etched screen has a flatter overall feel, perfect for this airplane (although obviously the 13″ model is far too big for everyday flying in a center stick airplane!).

The nano-texture glass also seems to make the display look a little different on a day-to-day basis—not really less sharp (HDR photos look amazing) but just different. Some reviewers claim the nano-texture glass attracts more fingerprints, but we haven’t seen that yet. In fact, we’ve been using a nano-texture iMac desktop computer for over two years and have had no issues. Once you get used to the slightly flatter look, it’s a great everyday screen.

Is it worth it?

Apple’s latest screen technology is very impressive, but as you might expect, you will pay for it. For a start, the OLED screen is only available on the iPad Pro models, not the less expensive iPad and iPad Air. On top of that, the nano-texture glass is only available on the 1TB and 2TB models, which is really overkill for pilots (256GB of storage is plenty). Then there’s an upcharge for the nano-texture glass. Here’s the math:

  • The iPad Pro 11″ starts at $999 (a $400 premium over the iPad Air 11″).
  • Jumping up to 1TB of storage will add $600 over the base 256GB model ($1599 for the 11″ and $1899 for the 13″).
  • Then add $100 for the nano-texture glass (for a final price of $1699 for the iPad Pro 11″ and $1999 for the iPad Pro 13″).

That $1100 difference between the very capable iPad Air and the loaded up iPad Pro is significant (some might even say crazy). If you fly an airplane with a bubble canopy and you can’t seem to solve the glare problem, it might be worth the money. And of course these iPad Pro models are incredibly capable computers, easily replacing a MacBook for daily use. For most pilots, though, this fancy new screen is a luxury: nice to have, but hardly required.

For more information, visit Apple’s website.

6 replies
  1. Josh
    Josh says:

    One thing I am curious about is what’s the difference if you were to put an anti-glare screen protector on the standard glass screen. Obviously, the nano texture glass is better than the standard, but would it be better than the standard with a high-quality anti-glare screen protector?

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      We’ll try to get a photo of that. I would say it’s similar to that look, but maybe a little brighter with the nano-texture screen – there’s just one less layer to distort or darken things.

  2. James Hanlon
    James Hanlon says:

    The OLED displays on the newest iPads allow the pilot full use of Foreflight features in out-of-cockpit situations; thus, checklists and logbook entries can be done in daylight. Really enhances the utility of the app.


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