How much better?  Being more expensive does not automatically mean that it’s better.  It depends on what you need.  They are not generally easier to install, but in some cases they are.

Most people will agree that beaded liners are much nicer looking and more expensive looking.  All inground pool liners are beaded.

A standard liner, also known as a “hung” or “overlap” liner, is made a little taller than the pool.  The excess material is hung over the top of the wall, which is admittedly a little sloppy looking.  However, it does not have to stay that way.  A few days after the pool is filled and the liner has settled into place, the excess material can be tucked up under the top rail, cut off with scissors or a knife, or even both.  If you cut yours off, don’t lose it.  Some day you might want to make a patch with the same material, particularly if you have a printed pattern to your liner.

Professional installers generally do not plan on making a trip back to do this, since it’s just a matter of personal preference.  Also, they all think you should never cut off the excess, because they are afraid that they may need to return someday to adjust something.  Let’s say to remove a rock or tree root that came up.  If you trim off too much, they may not be able to get the liner to fit again, and that would mean buying a new one.

Beaded liners are attached right to the top of the wall, by fitting into a track along the top, or clipping directly to the top.  Beaded liners are not beaded because they are better.  They are usually beaded because the liner has a horizontal or regular pattern near the top of the liner – usually as some sort of tile-type border.  Remember that the top of the water is automatically perfectly level – in fact, it’s the definition of level!  If the pattern on the liner at the water level is the slightest bit crooked, it will be perfectly obvious to everyone.

Standard overlap liners normally have no pattern or a completely random pattern.  That means that you can install it crooked – by as much as a foot sometimes – and no one will ever know.  That also means that if you need to pull on one side more than another to get the wrinkles out – no one will notice.  Particularly for an amateur, that makes overlap liners much easier to install.  You can even change the pool’s bottom, cove size, and bottom thickness, and still the liner can be made to fit.

Beaded liners have no room for adjustment.  You either built the pool right, or you didn’t.  If you install the liner and it has wrinkles, you either live with the wrinkles, or pull it out, change the cove or bottom, and try again.  If the liner is too tight, you have to fix the pool or try installing on a warmer day.  Obviously beaded liners have to be purchased in the correct depth.

For a professional installer, this is not a problem – they know how to adjust the stone dust to make up for how sunny it is on installation day.  In fact, most installers see both types of liner as equally easy or difficult.  How do you know?  Look at a price list.  You rarely see anyone charging more for one or the other.

There is one exception, when replacing a liner and there is something strange about the top rail.  One type of beaded liner (regular, or snap bead) that snaps into a track does not require removing the pool’s top rail when you install future liners.  That’s a big deal if your top rail is unusually difficult to remove: with a fence or walk-around attached, someone built a deck over the top rail (which was a dumb move for several reasons), or the top rails were held on by non-stainless screws and they rusted into place.  In this instance, a regular or snap bead will be easier for future installations.  A J-hook or V-bead liner won’t help – that still sits on the pool wall.

A few additional notes:  it’s not actually the liner that makes the difference; it’s the existence of the track on the wall that the liner goes into.  Buying a snap bead liner ten years form now won’t save you work if you didn’t install the track for it this year.

There is also a beaded liner type called Unibead.  It actually has two different beads on it.  The top bead is a J-hook that does not require a track.  That can be cut off with a pocket knife, and there is a regular bead below it that can fit into a track.

If you have a unibead liner and want it installed as a regular bead, let your installer know to look around for the track.  If he doesn’t notice it, he could think that you just wanted it installed as a J-hook.

I hate to make this seem even more difficult, but you know how the term “regular coffee” means something different in New England than it does in the South?  Well, there are regular beads (that go into a track) and regular regular beads (that go into a track and are the size that most manufacturers use).  The other sizes are not common, and are not interchangeable.  An important question:  “If I use your track, where can I get a liner to match – besides from you?”  For instance, Delair / Esther Williams / Johnny Weismaeller tracks do not fit regular beads.  There are very few places where you can buy a matching liner, and they are all expensive.  That may become even more difficult in the future, since Delair went out of business.  Not right away, since generic liner companies made their liners anyway.  However, in ten or twenty years it could become a problem.  The regular size bead is available everywhere, in a wide variety of prices and qualities.

So does this all mean that beaded liners are too complicated and too expensive?  Not at all.  They look great on the inside and they look great on the outside with no additional work on your part.  On some pools, they are easier to install as replacements.

Overlap liners are probably easier to install for the do-it-yourselfer.  However, be careful of the few pattern choices that you have in them.  Non-random patterns (including a patterned bottom with a plain side, for instance) are really difficult to install if you care about the appearance of the outcome.