Where are the high resolution laptop displays?

As someone who has closely watched the laptop industry for a decade, I’m astounded by the current state of laptop displays.  This isn’t where I thought we’d be 6 years after I left PowerNotebooks.  To understand what I’m talking about, let’s look at the laptop world of 2005 and compare to today.

2005

  • Average price:  $1000 est.
  • Windows XP is the only OS
  • Glossy screens are starting to show up everywhere because it’s what manufacturers think we want… oooo shiny.
  • All screens use TN panels.  Good enough, but relatively low viewing angles.
  • The 4:3 screen’s days are numbered while the 16:10 widescreen form factor is taking over
  • Common 15″ screen resolutions:
    1280×1024 (4:3 SXGA — the cheapest laptops only)
    1400×1050 (4:3 SXGA+ — the most common resolution)
    1600×1200 (4:3 UXGA — nearly all Dell 15″ laptops could be upgraded to this resolution along with many tier 2/3 laptop manufacturers’.  Most common resolution for 17″ laptops)
    1280×800 (16:10 WSXGA — cheapest laptops and most common)
    1600×1050 (16:10 WSXGA+ — very common upgrade, especially on Dell.  I think every Dell widescreen laptop supported this resolution)
    1920×1200 (16:10 WUXGA — Several laptops Dell sold could get this resolution and with a few tier 3 manufacturers.  Not terribly common outside of 17″ laptops)
  • You could get 1400×1050 on a 14″ screen but very rarely 1600×1050

Now the reason the x1050 resolutions were most common were because it was the highest resolution you could fit on a 15″ screen and still have readable text for the vast majority of users at the native resolution.  If you didn’t use a screen at the native resolution, the sharpness of the screen suffered noticeably.  You bought a laptop based on what resolution you wanted.

2010

  • Average price: $500 est.
  • Windows 7 has completely taken over from Vista and XP.  With Vista/7, increased screen resolution doesn’t hurt (seriously, look at this) because the size of widgets/icons/text can be rendered independently of the screen resolution and thereby made larger to compensate.  So we could have extremely high resolution displays.
  • Glossy screens are everywhere.  Dell has figured out that not everyone wants a glossy screen, and many (most?) of their upgraded screens specifically say they are not glossy.
  • Screens still use TN panels so quality has not improved except in the $2000 range you can get one or two laptops with IPS or MVA displays.
  • LED-backlit screens have replaced CFL backlit screens.  This results in a brighter display, thinner/lighter lid, and better battery life.
  • High Definition is dominant in the home theater and that has trickled into laptop displays.  16:9 displays have displaced 16:10.
  • Most common laptop resolutions:
    1366×768  (“720p” or “HD”– The resolution of every display from 11″ to 14″ and nearly every display at 15″ and even 16″)
    1600×900 (“900p” or “HD+” — The most common 17″ resolution and very rarely available on 15/16″ displays)
    1920×1080 (1080p or “Full HD” — Quite a few 17″ laptops and the occasional high end Dell or other manufacturer 15/16″ laptop)

And to throw insult to injury, the most common 3.5-4.5″ smartphone LCD resolution is 720×480.  That has roughly 3x the pixel density of the typical 14-15″ 720p laptop display.

In case you’re wondering, lower resolutions limit how much information can be displayed on the screen at one time.  A higher resolution screen can make everything smaller.  The advantage of Windows 7/Vista is that you can control how much smaller or if it gets smaller at all.  So a higher resolution is always better now where it used to be “get the highest resolution you can stand/afford”.

But now instead of SXGA+ screen price only about $50 more than SXGA screens, 5 years later, we have to get a much higher end laptop to get a 1080p display and there’s very little in between.  Even Dell, which has traditionally offered just about everything to every laptop, is holding the 1080p screens back for their Studio and XPS lines, and even then you might have to go with a higher end configuration.  It’s actually getting worse.

And on top of that, we now have an OS that can handle extreme resolutions very well, but we no longer have the displays to match.  It’s absurd to me to think that 11″ netbooks have the same resolution as nearly all 15″ laptops even though they have about half of the screen area.

The result is that I’m now looking at 13-14″ laptops heavily.  If a 13″ laptop has the same resolution as a 15″ laptop, why get the 15″ laptop?  Previously, I’d gotten 15.6″ WSXGA+ screens because that was the largest screen I could handle toting around and the largest resolution I could handle on that screen.  Even 1600×900 sounds like something I’d rather run on a 14″ screen and adjust Windows 7 dpi as needed… but I’ve never seen a 1600×900 14″ laptop.

This isn’t what I imagined when Vista’s high DPI settings arrived.

There is reason for optimism, though.

  1. Apple has started pushing high DPI on the iPhone 4 with the “retina display.”
  2. Apple has started pushing IPS (amazing screen quality) on the iPad and iPhone 4.
  3. Tech companies often copy Apple since Apple has great sales and push innovative form factors and technology.
  4. Windows 7 high DPI is still there.
  5. Eventually, it could become like the megapixel race again since 15″ laptop displays are hovering around 110 dpi while the iPhone 4 is at 300 dpi.
  6. Dell’s bringing back matte screens and promoting them over glossy screens could be the beginning of a manufacturer turn against glossy screens.

It’s hard to say it will happen soon but here’s hoping.

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74 thoughts on “Where are the high resolution laptop displays?

  1. Had an accident with my Dell Vostro 1510 with a screen res of 1920 x 1200 put in an insurance claim for it and they tried to fob me off with a basic replacement that they said was a close match ….. it was 1366×768 … have refused to take it as a replacement … still waiting to see if they can come up with a better option but not too hopeful 🙁

  2. I truly hope the new iPad will push the resolution standards back up with 2048×1536 in a 3:4 aspect ratio. It seems Apple is definitely setting a new bar. Now if only the laptops would follow suit.

  3. Posting on iPad3. Glory to R E S O L U T I O N !!!
    Perhaps somebody will overlook now. Hi-res brings so better experience even surfing, mailing. Idea that only power users benefit from high resolution is plain bullshit. Dont like iOS. But significant part of my computing will move from laptop to ipad thanks to screen quality.

    Somebody on HP – yours crappy shity screen quality made me switch to somebody willing to listen our needs.

  4. I never wanted to be an Apple fan, but the backward step in screen resolution in the MS laptop realm is about to change me. Once I, and many like me, go that route HP, Dell, etc will lose us likely forever. By this time next year, it appears Apple will have a line of laptops that will make even WUXGA seem low pixel count. I cannot see the MS world catching back up. Buy Apple stock. It is high, but it is going higher.

  5. typing this on a matte 1920×1200 samsung lcd MANUALLY swapped to my laptop. Came across this after a google search of “Why do laptops have horrible resolutions now?”

    This nice thing about LCDs is if the replacment screen is the same size and has the same LVDS connector, the screens can be upgraded in some cases to 1920.

  6. Wow, a surprisingly high number of alike-thinkers! I thought you were all extinguished and that I was the last non-sheepish consumer, disgusted with glossy screens and 16:9 resolution.

    LCD manufacturers jumped on the widescreen technology bandwagon so quickly because they make more money at same diagonal length: a 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen has over 10% less surface than the old 4:3 screen. Less pixels, same price, more money for them. Aside from watching new movies (the older having the 4:3 academy format, just like the iPad) or pictures and websites of snakes and funerals, there’s nothing else where 16:9 format is beneficial. The 4:3 format (or even 3:4) is much better for document reading and barely any website fully utilizes the widescreen.

    Below is a link to good widescreen rant page with side to side comparison of various screen formats (see examples at the bottom of the page to which, of course, you must scroll if you are using a widescreen POS). http://activityworkshop.net/rants/widescreen.html

    By the way, Samsung has recently released a number of matte screen laptops, some higher end 15.6″ LED screen with 1600×900 resolution. Of course, still widescreen, but hopefully soon there will be more options on the market.

  7. It’s really a shame that the computer industry has gone 1080p crazy … when we already had an excelllect 1920×1200 WUXGA standard. I’ve had my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop for what seems nearly ten years now, and I hope it never dies … with WUXGA packed into a 15.4″ screen. Admittedly, it’s hard to read at a distance, but it’s incredibly sharp. Truth be told, I often have it connected to my 25.5″ Samsung T260HD monitor – which is yet another nearly impossible-to-get item – being 1920×1200, with a TV tuner built in. And I dread the day that this monitor dies as well. I picked up a second one a few months ago, after searching for months …

  8. Update from my comment on February 28, 2012… The “unthinkable” happened and my Sony AR 670 17″ laptop with 1920×1200 resolution broke beyond repair. I could not find any working models on ebay or craigslist. I needed something to hold me over until retina displays on mac book pros or the equivalents come out. I was pleasantly surprised by a 15.6″ HP Envy 15-3040NR I purchased. It is only 1920×1080 but the smaller screen gives me a perceived notion of a higher resolution then the larger sony it replaced. I would still prefer 1920×1200 or better but with good specs at just about $1200 this will do for now- the screen is excellent aside from some dead pixels which I will have to get HP to deal with if they don’t come back. I strongly suggest anyone needing a temporary high res PC laptop check it out- the display blows away anything else out there right now.

  9. I have an IBM bought in 2002 with a 1600×1200 resolution screen, this has been a fantastic Laptop but is well past it’s usable life.

    Today, I can’t find anything without any decent resolution to replace it. When you look at the processors of 2002 vs today it’s like bear claws and stone knives vs a machine gun, but in the graphics world we have seemed to go brain dead? Why? Is it become of the dumbafacation of America with products like the Ipad, ok, granted it has a high resolution graphics display, but what can you do with it? Surf the web, watch an HD movie? Who cares!

    PC professionals use keyboards and mice, create cad/cam plans, make complex spreadsheets, write detailed documents and write code. I guess laptop/tablet makes no longer care about pushing the envelope and developing high res laptop with a decent dot pitch for those of us who actually use the technology and not just play on youboob.

  10. If a laptop LCD isn’t WUXGA, I simply wont even consider buying it! I had an Inspiron 8200 well past it’s prime because I couldn’t get a laptop with equal to better LCD resolution. Now I have a Thinkpad w500. Even the new w series thinkpads don’t have 1920×1200 which isn’t all that great. My cheap chinese android tablet has better pixel density than my expensive laptop has.

  11. interesting trend… supposedly HD is great for viewing movies. Has anyone noticed the dropping of Blu-ray drives from laptops? This is all about increased profit. Until a manufacturer breaks ranks or too many jump ship to retina displays on Apple laptops, theyr’e goign to drop the specs and attempt to prop up the prices. It’s a sad world. I hope someone get’s the memo.

  12. Lenovo and the other idiots think all we do is watch movies on our laptops.
    I had to move from my old x200 to new x220 only to find its inferior in nearly every aspect but the resolution reduction to 1368*768 is the worst. They wonder why we don’t buy laptops. BECAUSE YOU ARE MAKING THEM WORSE EVERY YEAR!!!!!
    Hurray to new Apple machine. I would so buy it if Apple would not be useless for people who actually create content on their machines rather than only consume it. You cant even connect a projector without a $100 dongle and a PHD.

  13. I spent a good deal of time researching how to get a high resolution 4:3 display with the best performance specifications. I ended up buying an IBM T60p. With an SSD, it well outperforms my new Lenovo work laptop.

    I love the display so much, I’m going to take this machine as many years as I can go. I have already purchased replacement parts, LCD, etc, for future repairs.

    I WILL NOT use less than 1200 vertical resolution! And I greatly prefer 4:3. I dread the day when I have to buy a new machine with the dismal choices out there. Wide screen sucks. 16:9 is just plain POS.

  14. I though about replacing my ageing HP 8510w (WUXGA 1920×1200 16:10 display). So far could not find anything in roughly 15″ format with near the resolution of the old brick…. Seems I’ll have to keep it a bit longer!!

  15. Like many of you in this thread, I’m stuck with an old Dell simply because of the screen. I need a long battery life and hi-res screen, so I’m toting around 11 pounds of Dell Precision Laptop M4400 with the added battery slice to have 1920×1200 wuxga in a 15″ form factor and 9 or so hours of battery. I swapped out its hard drive for a flash drive last year which made a huge difference in performance but it’s still not the best cpu and 11 pounds sucks. I’m going to do what had previously been unthinkable for me and look at a Macbook Pro 15 w/Retina this weekend. Supposedly there’s a freeware tool that will let you use resolutions above the 1920×1200 ‘preferred’ maximum where it can scale up to native, so you can actually do a bit higher than 1920×1200 and still have it be very usable. You can also disable the GPU to easily get 8+ hours of battery, all in a 4.5 pound package. Other than the price, it’s a win win for me, I get more screen real estate and chop almost 7 pounds off my laptop bag. I use mine for mostly terminal-based apps, so I’m just looking at lots of text all day, which doesn’t require windows.

  16. I recently bought a used Lenovo W500 with UXGA 1920×1200 screen to update my aging Sony GRX560. It’s a decent display, albeit angle sensitive and not terribly bright as the newfangled displays. However, I can do basic video and sound production editing with it, so it’s not all that bad. But it is a pity that newer Lenovo laptops have dropped this display resolution in favor of lower numbers.
    Rather ironic that TVs are going to the 4K ultra HD standard, while laptops have been going the other way. My LG 730 phone has about the highest pixel density of all the displays I own–about 270dpi. Text on it looks like laser printed. With Windows 8 and Metro apps, I would not expect an upgrade of laptop resolution any time soon though.

  17. Well, I’m back. I’ve commented above [ http://www.kleppinger.com/2010/09/where-are-the-high-resolution-laptop-displays/comment-page-2/#comment-531 ] and wanted to report that I have chosen and purchased a laptop.

    Since my quest for a “portable” higher resolution laptop has turned into getting a system with the best screen and best updatability available. This includes processor, RAM, storage, and future components.

    I’ve chosen the 15″ Dell Mobile Precision M4700. I was originally going to get the 17″ M6600/M6700, but figured the 15″ was big enough. Below are the quick key items I’ve chosen:
    IPS guaranteed screen (1920×1080)
    Windows 7
    i7-3820QM Quadcore CPU
    8GB ram (up to 32GB!)
    10 key keyboard
    54mm expresscard slot
    Firewire (400 only, but purchased FW800 Express card)
    USB 3.0
    3 display capable undocked and 4 when docked (with nVidia video card)

    I’m pretty happy with it.

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