Monday, January 19, 2009

WTF laptop displays; and my reluctant bowing down to Steve Jobs

I mentioned a little while back that we bought Alisa a new laptop. Well, that was the first of three.

We first bought a Sony VIAO, which was a nice, sleek, $800 machine. However, the glossy screen was impossible to use in our house. Returned the laptop to Frys (on day one of our snowstorm a while back, but that's another story).

So we start shopping for laptops with non-glossy, matte finish screens. You can't find them. They pretty much all switched to the new glossy screen. The exceptions being the $2700 17" macbook pro, which offers it as a $50 add-on, and a number of the mini 10" things, neither of which met our needs.

Further complicating the problem is the non-standard terminology around this. Some refer to the glossy display as non-glare, but that's exactly the opposite depending on your lighting conditions. More on this in a minute.

So our second purchase was via the internet, and it was a Lenovo Ideapad, also around $800, but offering a non-glare screen. Surprise, it's a glossy one. Returned to manufacturer.

We finally settled on the out-going model Macbook Pro, which I got for $1700, cause hey, once you are spending that kind of money you might as well buy the loaded model. It's a *very* sexy machine, but still, it's like a $700 premium over the equivalent model PC. Is there no one that can do an effective copy of their design at a cheaper price? *sigh*

Anyhow, here's my take on the display thing:

  • Glossy screens have a glass-like, smooth finish.
  • Matte screens have a dull finish, like a piece of frosted glass.
  • Matte screens are aweful in places with a high degree of very bright ambient light. The most obvious of which is outdoors, or any place where you are close to a lot of windows letting in the outdoor light from numerous directions (a single window 20' away could be considered a directional light). So, outdoors, coffee shops, etc.
  • Glossy screens are great where you have high ambient light, OR, where you have a small number of directional lights (like a desk or ceiling light) that might cause a reflection but you can position the laptop accordingly.
  • The problem with glossy screens is that many office environments, or houses such as mine, have a large number of ceiling lights. This makes it difficult to position the laptop in any way that doesn't end up with at least one or two very bright mirror-like reflections distracting you from your work. In these environments, a matte display is far better.
Anyhow. Think about where you are going to be using it before you buy it.

Not sure why the sudden industry shift to the smooth ones, but my hypothesis is that (a) they for some reason they are cheaper, (b) the show well at retail (where there are a large number of lights, but they tend to be really high up. Also you don't tend to work for an extended period at the machine at Best Buy), and (c) maybe more people are using their laptops at starbucks, outside, etc. :-)

In searching for the matte display, I found I'm not the only one to have the complaint. There are even some places that will "matte" (yay verbification!) your glossy display for a couple hundred bucks. The image below from the site I just referenced illustrates the point quite nicely.


1 comment:

Marc Majcher said...

I've been cursing the super-glossy display on my HP Pavillion for a while now, and while looking for a suitable replacement, came across the same problem you have. This plague of glossy screens gets me down. I finally broke down and just got a custom-fit adhesive matte screen overlay for around thirty bucks - aside from a couple of small bubbles that I haven't been able to squish out (which aren't really visible while the screen is lit), it's a remarkable improvement. If you don't feel like dropping a bundle on a high-end mac or sending the screen off to a grinder, that's not a bad way to go.