20 Great Retina-Ready New Apple iPad Apps

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The new iPad’s retina screen has stunningly high resolution. These 20 apps take advantage of the new power.

Apple’s new iPad ($499-829, 4.5 stars) has the highest-resolution screen we’ve ever seen on a tablet. And while all the existing iPad apps run just fine, apps with graphics designed for the new Retina display look especially spectacular.

Retina apps are currently flooding into the iTunes store as app developers redraw their graphics for the higher-resolution screen. Unfortunately, there’s no central place to search for them; Apple highlights some Retina apps on the front page of the iTunes App Store, but doesn’t give a comprehensive list. So we sorted through all the Retina-ready apps we could find to locate our favorites. The list is in alphabetical order. All of these apps also run just fine on the iPad 2 (we tested them).

Obviously, this list isn’t comprehensive, and it will grow with time. If you have additional Retina-ready apps you like, add them to the comments below.

Asphalt Adrenaline 6 ($0.99)
Of the two Retina-ready driving apps—this and Real Racing 2 HD—I pick Asphalt Adrenaline 6 as my favorite.It’s full of power-ups, great landscapes, illegal shortcuts, and rewards for hideously dangerous driving. That makes it less of a pure career driving game than a Burnout-style death-defier, but that’s the kind of game I like to play. Real Racing 2 HD is much more realistic; it uses courses where you don’t run into regular street traffic, and you’re not supposed ot try ot crash your opponents’ cars. But where’s the fun in that?

Comics+ (free)
Comics really benefit from the Retina screen, provided they’ve been scanned at high enough quality. Comics+ is the first Retina-enabled comics app, and I give it extra points for a huge selection of independent publishers beyond the Big Two. Marvel (but not DC) is represented, but look further and you’ll find great titles from third-party publishers like Mark Waid’s dark superhero epic Irredeemable, the delightful kids’ comic Johnny Boo, and IDW’s often-entertaining expansions on TV series like Doctor Who. Most comics cost the same as their print editions.

Day One ($1.99)
If your iPad is your faithful companion, Day One helps you chronicle your life with it. Simple, clean, and classic, this journal app encourages you to write down your thoughts – not create a multimedia collage – file them by day and time, and sync them with other devices. Yes, you could do all this in the Calendar app, or Evernote, or Pages. But Day One’s day-and-time filing system, plus other small features like timed reminders to write, make it a much more convenient and easily organized way to keep a journal.

Evernote (free)
The omnipresent note-taking app looks even sharper on a 2048-by-1536 screen. Evernote, along with its drawing-centered sibling Skitch, have both been updated for the new iPad’s display. That means both your text and graphic notes appear super-sharp. As always, Evernote syncs with almost any device you can think of—there are versions for the PC, most mobile platforms and anything that connects to the Web.

Flight Control Rocket ($0.99)
Air-traffic control games are super-popular because of their simple yet intense gameplay: you draw trails to park planes on a runway without crashing them into each other. Flight Control Rocket gives you the same gameplay with a retro-60s space-age vibe, narrated by a blonde space stewardess and accompanied by surf music. And of course, the Retina-quality graphics are absolutely beautiful.

Flipboard (free)
The definitive Web-based, virtual-magazine app now has Retina-quality text and graphics, at least to some extent. Flipboard is still heavily dependent on pictures borrowed from Web sites, and if they aren’t providing high-res images, you won’t see high-res images. But text, which is entirely under Flipboard’s control, is noticeably more readable than on the iPad 2. We rated Flipboard 4.5* and Editor’s Choice; you can read our full review of Flipboard for iPad here.

Galaxy on Fire 2 HD ($9.99)
A bunch of in-depth, adventure-style games have already been updated for Retina, including Infinity Blade II and Modern Combat III. I’m picking GOF2 HD because of its deep world, available mission expansion pack, and complex gameplay. It’s not just, or even mostly about shooting things. There are star systems to explore, various aliens to interact with, and plenty of side missions to occupy your time. Accelerometer controls are pretty easy to use, and the universe looks crystal clear in Retina.

GarageBand ($4.99)
Apple’s music app uses the iPad’s new resolution to show extremely realistic models of drums, keyboards, and other instruments. We rated the app four stars and Editors’ Choice. As we say in our full review of GarageBand, “GarageBand is a stunner, with excellent sound quality, expressive new string instruments, and just enough note editing to be truly useful for composing and recording music.” It’s not a replacement for professional digital audio software, but like some of Apple’s other creative apps, it’s an easy to use and high-quality way to get people into creating digital music.

iMovie ($4.99)
The new iMovie operates in 1080p, taking advantage of the Retina screen to play back full-HD movies and to show 1080p clips captured with the new iPad’s rear camera. The new version also comes with a “movie trailers” template that walks you through making a quick movie that resembles a theatrical trailer. For more details, check out our full hands-on with the new iMovie for iPad.

iPhoto ($4.99)
If the built-in Photos app isn’t quite capable enough for you, download iPhoto. iPhoto combines photo management with editing, letting you quickly select the best photo from sets of similar images, retouch the photos or add effects, and publish them to handsome, Web-based journal pages. The Retina screen makes a big difference here, because you can see up to 3-megapixel images pixel for pixel. For more details, check out our full hands-on with the new iPhoto for iPad.

Kindle (Free)
Amazon’s Kindle app uses the Retina screen to display very sharp text and images, whether you’re reading a book or a magazine. Reading is one of the best advantages of the Retina screen; while you might not think so initially, the smoother edges on the letters make the experience a lot easier on the eyes.

Mint.com (Free)
The award-winning financial app gets sharper on the Retina display. In our review of Mint.com for iPhone, we rated this app 4.5 out of 5. Like the iPhone app, this is a companion to the Mint.com site rather than a replacement for it. It lets you enter geotagged expenses, track your spending and check your accounts, but to change your budgets, for instance, you still have to go to the main site.

NBA Game Time Courtside (Free)
No, it doesn’t stream NBA games for free; for that, you need the $24.99 League Pass add-on. But even without paying a penny, this app gives you moment-by-moment-updated scores and play-by-play information for live games, stats, news, and video recaps and clips. The court diagrams look particularly attractive on the Retina display, although the video clips aren’t 1080p HD.

Pages ($9.99)
The dean of iPad word processors, Pages is a full-fledged document processor and page layout program that works best with a keyboard stand or case. We rated the previous version of Pages 4 stars and Editors’ Choice; you can see our full review here. The new version, 1.6, adds the ability to include charts and better iCloud syncing as well as support for Retina graphics and text.

Pulse (Free)
Pulse vs. Flipboard. Flipboard vs. Pulse. Pulse vs. Reeder? I’m a news junkie, which is one of the reasons we have three news apps in this list. Pulse fits squarely between Flipboard and Reeder when it comes to digesting information from a broad array of sources. It’s more visually elegant than Reeder, and keeps your set of sites and chronology clearer than Flipboard does. Since they’re free, why not install all three?

Reeder for iPad ($2.99)
I find Google Reader syncing to be a critical feature in an RSS reader app, because it’s much, much easier to add feeds from a desktop browser than by typing in complicated XML URLs on a tablet. Reeder delivers. This RSS reader syncs with Google Reader, offering the full range of features: favorites, multiple categories, sharing and images. It’s quick, clean, and looks gorgeous on the new screen.

Sketchbook Pro ($4.99)
The new iPad’s retina display practically begs to be used to create art, as you can now draw lines that taper and fuzz beyond the level of human vision. Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro is the first professional-level art app to be enhanced for the retina screen, which puts it ahead of Photoshop Touch and Procreate for now. If you intend to use your iPad to create art, take a look at our roundup of iPad styli, which we tested with Sketchbook Pro.

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy ($4.99)
One of Apple’s demonstration games for the Retina screen, this air combat game has breathtaking graphics. It’s a fight-and-flight simulator, where you battle 40 different kinds of planes over cities, farmland and water. The high-res graphics are absolutely spectacular, and the game plays smoothly.

Star Walk ($4.99)
What is that thing up there? Star Walk beats its sibling, the $2.99 Solar Walk to this list because of its utility: you can point it at the sky and it will help you figure out what stars you’re looking at, in an augmented-reality mode. Beyond that, this is just a gorgeous virtual planetarium, with stars, planets, constellations, satellites, and a calendar that shows you when and where the next unusual astronomical events are happening.

Tweetbot ($2.99)
Tapbots’ popular third-party Twitter client is better than the free default client in several ways. It lets you filter by lists, exclude certain hashtags, and easily follow conversations. It supports user-configurable tap shortcuts. And it uses the full 10-inch, landscape-format screen a bit better than the standard app does. All of the graphics and text, meanwhile, are fully Retina-upgraded here.

By Sascha Segan, PCMag

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