In this article, we will explain what an average laptop, 2-in-1, and tablet PC buyer should pay attention to when it comes to displays of these devices.
Laptop, 2-in-1, and Tablet PC Display Sizes
Size of a notebook display is one of the most significant computing experience factors, with bigger screens obviously being more comfortable for everyday work, multimedia, and gaming. But, a bigger display means device carrying it is heavier and bulkier. It also means a greater power consumption, since bigger screens require more power for their backlight. The most popular mobile PC form factor nowadays is 15.6-inch laptop with a great balance of size and portability for the vast majority of home and office users. Laptops with larger 17.3-inch display diagonals, known as desktop replacement notebooks, aren’t meant to be carried around much. There’s an even larger laptop display size of 18.4” but models with it are quite rare.
For folks who travel frequently or take their laptops (and 2-in-1 hybrids) from home to workplace and vice versa on daily basis, there are smaller models with 14”, 13.3”, 12.5”, and 11.6″ diagonals. Mobile PCs with even smaller 10.1” displays available on the market are actually 2-in-1 computers with detachable screens and standalone tablets. Besides 10.1”, another popular tablet PC display size is 8” and is found on affordable Windows slates.
Display Aspect Ratio
The predominant display aspect ratio on today’s PC market, including laptops, hybrids, tablets, and monitors, is 16:9. Also referred to as widescreen aspect ratio, it is suitable for movies and YouTube videos. Narrower screens such as those on Microsoft Surface 3 Pro and Surface 3 with 3:2 ratio are better optimized for productivity. The latter are closer to aspect ratios of paper documents and have ability to display more rows of text than the comparable 16:9 panels. Another widescreen aspect ratio you can find on mobile computers today is 16:10, but it is used on small number of devices. Primarily 8-inch tablets.
Resolution refers to the number of pixels that make up the image on a screen. A higher pixel count on a screen means sharper pictures, movies and text, as well as more space for displaying web pages, applications, and side-by-side program use. Display resolution is expressed using horizontal and vertical pixel counts. The most frequently used resolutions on laptop, 2-in-1, and tablet PCs nowadays are 1366-by-768 and 1920-by-1080, also known as 1080p or Full HD. The majority of notebooks on the market have 15.6-inch 1366×768 panels, although 1080p is more suitable for that screen size. The same applies to the 17.3” machines, which usually have a 1600×900 pixel count. But inclusion of a Full HD display means a higher overall cost of a device. On the other hand, on smaller notebooks such as the popular low-priced 11.6-inchers, 1366×768 provides an acceptable crispiness due to higher pixel per square inch (PPI) value.
Some newer high-end notebooks, regardless of screen size, come with above-1080p resolutions, such as 3200×1800 and 3840×2160, popularly known as QHD+ 3K and Ultra HD (UHD) 4K. They have 3 and 4 times more pixels respectively than Full HD. 3K and 4K deliver breathtaking sharpness of displayed content, but there are some of disadvantages too. First of all, user interface elements of Windows and programs appear by default very small on 3K and 4K resolutions. In order to make them better visible, users must use Windows’ built-in scaling functionality, allowing enlargement of UI elements. But, not all programs and parts of Windows itself respond well to scaling, which results in blurry fonts, menus, buttons, and dialog boxes. Another way is to decrease the native resolution using Screen Resolution settings in Windows’ Control Panel, but that makes investments in expensive high-res screens absurd and Windows environment might still look blurry. Furthermore, displays with huge amounts of pixels require more graphics computing resources and tend to consume more power, thus reducing power autonomy of systems.
|Common Laptop, 2-in-1, and Tablet PC Screen Resolutions|
|Screen Resolution:||Commonly Found on:|
|1280×800 (HD, WXGA), 16:10||Budget 8-Inch Windows Tablets|
|1366×768 (HD), 16:9||Budget 15.6-, 14-, 13.3-, and 11.6-Inch Laptops and 2-in1 PCs|
|1600×900 (HD+), 16:9||Budget 17.3-Inch Laptops|
|1920×1080 (Full HD, FHD, 1080p), 16:9||Entertainment-Oriented Mainstream Laptops, Gaming Laptops, Higher-End 2-in-1s and Tablets, with Various Display Sizes|
|1920×1280, 3:2||Microsoft Surface 3|
|2160×1440, 3:2||Microsoft Surface 3 Pro|
|2560×1440 (WQHD, QHD), 16:9||Select High-End Ultraportables and 2-in-1s|
|3200×1800 (WQXGA+, QHD+, 3K), 16:9||Select High-End Ultraportables and 2-in-1s|
|3840×2160 (Ultra HD, UHD, 4K), 16:9||Select High-End Entertainment and Gaming Laptops|
How good viewing angles on a display are, depends on panel technology. Two most common types are IPS (In Plane Switching) and TN (Twisted Nematic). IPS provides great viewing angles, close to 180 degrees, so picture on IPS displays looks good from any angle. Older and cheaper TN panels have problematic horizontal viewing angles. If you look at a TN display from a low perspective, color inversion will occur. For instance, black color will look gray, as shown on the first image below. Also, if you look at a TN display from a high perspective, content will appear washed-out.
Usability in Bright Environments: Anti-Glare versus Glossy Displays and Brightness
There are two types of LCD panel coating: anti-glare or matte and glare-type or glossy. The former does a good job of preventing light reflections which are present in bright environments, such as well-lit offices and outdoors. Anti-glare displays, however, tend to show less vibrant colors than their glossy counterparts. The former are usually found on business-class notebooks, while the latter are used on consumer-oriented and touchscreen machines, with a few exceptions. What can help with outdoor usability is good display brightness, preferably above 300 cd/m². Many mainstream and budget laptops, 2-in-1s, and tablets have brightness of around 250 cd/m² and sometimes even as low as 200 cd/m².
Touch Input Support
Touchscreen on a Windows PC is an admirable feature, especially on those based on touch-friendly Windows 8 OS. Touch displays make use of touch-optimized software very simple and intuitive. However, not all Windows user interfaces and programs are optimized for touch, primarily those running in Windows’ traditional desktop environment. On the negative side, touchscreens are usually glossy, meaning they reflect a great deal of surrounding lights and easily attract fingerprints. In addition to that, touch displays are heavier, thicker, and more power-hungry than their non-touch counterparts. They are pricier too, adding around $50-$100 on top of overall price of a computer (laptop).
A special kind of touch panels are those with active digitizer technology, supporting pressure-sensitive pen input. An example of pen-enabled device is Microsoft’s Surface series.
Other Specs: Color Gamut, Accuracy, Contrast Ratio
Other laptop, 2-in-1, and tablet display specifications such as color gamut coverage, color accuracy, and contrast ratio, are also important, but PC makers usually don’t list them in their product descriptions. An exception are models with quality displays as their main selling points, such as mobile workstations for professional photographers / designers and select high-end entertainment-oriented mobile PCs. If you’re interested in these characteristics of your next mobile computer, the best way to find them out is to check out reviews with in-depth display analysis. A good source for that is NotebookCheck website, which uses professional hardware for display analysis and has a large base of reviewed devices.
Besides the aforementioned characteristics, it’s good to additionally pay attention to response times and screen refresh rate. Low response time and low screen refresh rate can cause ghosting effects and stuttering during fast on-screen movements in games and sport shows. These issues generally aren’t present on modern mobile computers.
To sum things up, a quality display in our opinion has at least Full HD resolution for sharp picture and IPS technology to enable wide viewing angles as bare minimums. Lower resolutions are acceptable only on devices with small screens. Getting premium-priced PC devices with 3K or 4K resolutions doesn’t make much sense currently, due to the aforementioned scaling problem and still limited availability of 3K/4K multimedia content. Folks planning to use their computers outdoors should additionally require a high-brightness screen, preferably with anti-glare coating. Imaging professionals and multimedia enthusiasts, should be interested in the rest of the specs, primarily color gamut, accuracy, and contrast, but also willing to spend more money since notebooks with top-quality displays wear hefty price tags.