Wallpaper showdown

Bottom line readers won’t want to download every wallpaper app to find the perfect wallpaper for their iPad. Neither will they want to read a review of every wallpaper app. The good news is they don’t have to. I will look at many, but only give Wallpapers HD Pro the nod.

Wallpapers HD Pro

  • Has a good selection of images.
  • Provides a nice user interface.
  • Makes sure the images are sized correctly for your iPad.

Jenny Manytoes is letting me know she’s displeased. Her message is very clear. She comes up and snuggles next to me, and then as soon as I pet her she stands up, walks to the foot of the bed and stares at me. Then she returns and starts the same act over again.

What did I do to earn her displeasure? It seems that earlier I was typing this blog and Jenny wanted to cuddle. One of our foster cats “disappeared” today and whenever that happens she wants to make sure she’s not next. So she cuddles.

Jenny has watched every foster cat disappear for years and she’s still here, but she always wants to make sure things don’t change. So she climbs into my arms and doesn’t leave until she thinks her future is secure. Tonight I let her hang out until I absolutely had to go to the bathroom. Then I passed her to Carol so she would still feel the love.

She was having none of Carol.

And now, it turns out, she’s having none of me. This is her way of letting me know I’m her pet and she’s displeased. Now she’s grooming Pumpkin with one eye on me to make sure I know who she really loves.

But I’m not worried. Carol’s about to bring in her homemade blackberry cobbler with ice cream. In a moment or two, Jenny will be curled up next to me looking to lick up any dribbles of ice cream.

I bring this up because personal gestures lie at the root of today’s blog.

Adding wallpaper is one of the most personal gestures you can make with your iPad. It’s like putting on your wedding ring. Or marking your territory. You have to come up with the perfect image for your iPad wallpaper. Two images, in fact, because you can use a second image for your startup screen.

If you want to show off your own mojo, the best way to add a wallpaper is to create your own. But that can be a hassle and if you don’t know what you’re doing the results can be surprising. So a number of developers have stepped up to the plate with wallpaper apps. Some are free, one runs as much as five dollars (and I didn’t download it to review here). You can find apps for clown wallpapers, animal wallpapers, nature and even 3D wallpapers.

I will look at the following programs:

  • Wallpapers
  • Cool Wallpapers and Nature Wallpapers
  • iWallpapers
  • Wallpapers HD Pro
  • Image Pro

Of the lot, Wallpapers HD Pro, which sells for a whopping one dollar, is the only one that really delivers iPad ready HD wallpapers. This doesn’t mean you’d be wasting your time with others, but the odds of finding the right image for your iPad are just as good using stock image sites from the web as with the also rans.


This is probably the only name for a wallpaper app that hasn’t been used. I’m using it here in case some poor developer comes up with it and then he will have to share any download fees. Unless he makes it free. Then I will have wasted my time.

Wallpaper apps tend to work on the same principle: You download images from the app to your iPad camera roll and then install the image using your system settings. With so many apps to choose from, you can spend a lot of time downloading and sampling apps to download and sample images.

The search interface may differ, but the approach to downloading wallpapers is the same.

One standalone, Granimator, allows you to make your own wallpapers from bits of clip art. I will review Granimator later in the week.

More images than you can possibly use

The odds of your finding the exact image you want with a wallpaper program depend on how picky you are. You could download a wallpaper app, search the entire catalogue of hundreds of images, and not find a single image that makes you happy. On the other hand, you might find yourself so overwhelmed with images you can’t possibly choose one of them.

This happened with Carol. She downloaded several apps and then dithered over what images would really work best. So, being the loving husband that I am, I spent a couple of hours searching with my trained designers eye and sent her half a dozen that I knew she would love.
She loved them all, agreed that my recommendation for the best wallpaper would really be the perfect wallpaper. It stayed on her iPad for half an hour, then she downloaded a halfway acceptable horse picture from the web to replace it. She reassured me that she would have never have found the right image without all my preparation.

I felt so much better.

You can narrow your search with apps like Cool Wallpapers or Nature wallpapers, which sort images by category and then narrow your search to smaller categories.

Cool and Nature Wallpapers belong to a series of apps
that sort photos thematically

You can also use a search engine based app like Image Pro to perform highly restrictive searches based on a number of criteria. I have to admit, ImagePro looked promising when I first saw the search filter window. However, when I realized that criteria such as “colors included” simply meant some colors (gif files), black and white images or full color, I lost my initial enthusiasm. I thought they meant predominantly blue, or red, etc.

Just out of curiosity, I looked briefly at an app called 3D Wallpapers which promised to deliver real 3D images. It was free, so it couldn’t hurt. As I suspected, the images weren’t really 3D but rather flat 2D images of 3D objects. Some of the images were cool, but no cooler than some of the 2D images of 3D objects I found in other apps.

There is a difference between a 3D wallpaper,
and a 2D wallpaper of a 3D object.

If I had to choose an app on interface alone, it would be Wallpapers HD Pro, even though I rated it highest for a much more important reason. The interface is elegant with well-designed side tabs for navigation and another tab at the top to open the download and save features.

Wallpapers HD Pro sports an elegant interface.

Its all in the translation

The real problem with most wallpaper apps is image quality and proportion. Ideally you want a wallpaper image that is 1024 pixels by 1024 pixels at 132 pixels per inch (ppi). This allows you to rotate your iPad without losing any quality in the transition from portrait to landscape mode.

If an image is taller than it is wide, landscape mode crops the image. This isn’t a problem unless the image is pushing resolution. Some of the images available through these apps aren’t really 132 pip but a lower resolution. In landscape motion the edges will look pixelated and artifacts may appear that you didn’t notice in portrait orientation.

You may also discover that some of the elements you enjoyed about the image were cropped to make the image fit the screen horizontally.

If an image is 1024 wide but only 728 tall, the image will appear letterboxed in portrait mode, much like playing movies on older televisions. When laser disks and the occasional VHS tapes were first released in the original screen aspect ratio in the late eighties (the way a movie was seen in the theater) some of my friends would see the black bars at the top and bottom and complain about how their picture had been cut in half. No amount of explaining could convince them they were actually seeing more of the original image than they would have in standard display.

In the case of the iPad, there simply isn’t enough vertical information to fill the screen. Hence the letterboxing.

Of all of the apps I reviewed, only Wallpapers HD Pro routinely insures the images have the proper 1028 x 1028 ratio. Even the five dollar app Wallpaper makes it clear in the app store that their images are only sized for portrait orientation.

You can see the difference in image aspect ratios by viewing thumbnails in Photos.
An iPad wallpaper should be perfectly square.

Even ImagePro limits size search to landscape or portrait orientation.

Or you can make your own

Truthfully though, it isn’t hard to make your own wallpapers with high quality images from the web. Here’s how:

  1. Subscribe to a high quality free stock image site. I recommend StockXchang. The images are posted for downloaded with the owners’ permission and you can search from thousands of images.
  2. Search for images whose horizontal and vertical dimensions are both larger than 1880 pixels (this will match the screen resolution of the iPad).
  3. When you find the image you want save it to disk. On an iPad, you press the image until the “Save Image” dialogue appears.
  4. You can save an online image to your iPad
    by pressing your finger on the image until the save dialogue appears.
  5. Crop your photo to 1028 x 1028 by 132 ppi in Photoshop or a similar program. Or, use an iPad app like Photogene and crop to 1028 x 1028. The app will automatically make the resolution 132 ppi.
  6. Save the image to the iPad images folder.

You can also scan a photo of your kid or puppy. You could even scan one of those special photos you took for that special someone. Just make sure you’re over 18 and that you don’t show it to anyone else, and that you’re never breaking up with this person lest it end up posted all over the internet. Even more important, remember to scan the file large enough to make sure the image will be 1028 x 1028 x 132 after you crop.

From there you can load the image as a wallpaper using your system settings app. My own wallpaper is a high resolution image of a Mondrian painting I downloaded from the web.

I made this Mondrian wallpaper myself.
Not the painting, the wallpaper.

If you want to download every wallpaper app in the app store just to find that perfect picture, feel free. But if you want a perfect fit, and don’t want to expend the energy making it yourself, Wallpapers HD Pro is the best bargain at only a dollar.

Jenny Manytoes rates wallpaper apps

Jenny Manytoes purrs over Wallpapers HD Pro. The rest she can take or leave. They don’t belong in the litter box, but she would leave them on the floor for Carol to sweep up after her.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad.
Please email me at iPadenvy@me.com.

About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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