Fonts on Retina: Good or bad?

Hello everyone.

I am a big font enthusiast. These days I am looking for a laptop. Since Retina MacBook Pro has very high pixel density (220/227 ppi) I went to the store to test it.

But to my surprise, the font looked somehow unnatural, strange, too sterile, maybe even too sharp and not so pleasant to read. Of course looking at the words and characters, the curves were perfectly displayed. Like on a paper. Hardly a pixel was found (unless looking very near display).
Then I started to search about that and found these thoughts:

"It needs organic noise, otherwise it all looks like dead plastic"

"Sharpness of type is being celebrated. But that’s not a quality in itself. Just looks cold. Type needs a certain amount of fuzziness. Warmth"

"New iPad is almost ‘too’ sharp. Fonts were never meant to be so crisp. They’re not on paper."

I have 3 questions:

  1. What are your experiences regarding this sharpness and “unnatural” feel on Retina? Is it maybe that some must get used to it?
  2. As pixels on such great resolutions are smaller, the curves are more regularly displayed. Many people said fonts on Retina displays are thinner than on Non-Retina ones. What is your opinion? Are they too thin? (If yes, there is also an option to change the thickness in Mac OS.)
  3. Mac OS uses subpixel-rendering while iOS (iPad, iPhone) doesn’t. Some people like one more than the other. What is your opinion (if you can compare)?
Thomas Phinney's picture

1) I can't say how you would feel about it after living with it for a while. I liked it from the beginning.

2) Text can be slightly thinner, but generally is just crisper. I don't find it too thin, just clear. I do not know of any way to change the boldness of the rendering (there are some such settings in iOS 7, though).

3) I like subpixel rendering. iOS avoids it for two likely reasons: performance, and what happens when the screen is rotated 90 degrees.

sefosete's picture

Thank you Thomas. As of changing the boldness of the rendering in OS X, you just have to type in Terminal:

Light:
defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1

Medium
defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2

Hard
defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 3

(probably without subpixel rendering):
defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 4

Bahman Eslami's picture

I'm working with retina display and have never seen typography as thin or plastic like on the display. I loved it and everyone around me when sees the display they wished they had it too. It makes other displays or medias look blurry and fuzzy.

William Berkson's picture

I'm a fan also of the retina screen on my iPad. I'm actually shocked that moving from 96 to 135 dpi has made such a dramatic improvement. Are other things going on to improve the look?

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