Professionals need our 4:3 screens

02-18 19:20

Hinges start to creak, colors begin to fade, and windows barely open anymore. It is that time again. I need to replace my old notebook with a new one.

So I start looking for a new laptop to suit my needs, an appropriately capable machine. What does such a one entail? Sure, it is neat to have a built-in bluetooth capability or maybe a spare USB port to plug in tea warmer, but these are just extras. When it comes right down to it, I find only these two things to be of paramount importance:

  1. the highest possible screen,
  2. the lowest possible weight.

The weight, I think, is an issue everybody understands. No one likes to lug around more than they absolutely have to. But what is so important about screen height? You see, like a many other academics and IT professionals I spend a lot of time reading web pages and various documentation and writing a plethora of papers, documents, and code. Most of these are oriented vertically rather than horizontally, meaning that they usually have a set width, but are scrolled downwards to reveal more content. So the higher the screen is, the more content you see. And on the other hand the width of the screen matters very little beyond a certain value. Extra space to the side is rarely used for displaying content and in effect does little more than drain precious battery life. This is why my desktop LCD monitor is mounted vertically the whole time, and this is also why I would like my notebook monitor to be positioned likewise. Or as close to that ideal as I can get: a 4:3 ratio monitor laptop.

So why aren’t there any?!

Notebook monitors are almost exclusively panoramic. This is fine if you want to watch HD movies on them, as I’m sure many people do. In fact it increasingly seems that notebooks are designed for that specially. But there are still some of us who own a TV set for movies, and we use our notebooks for work! Why should we be neglected all together and by all producers?

Look at it from my perspective and in practical terms. My current notebook is the ThinkPad X60s . It has a 12.1” screen that is 184mm high and has a 4:3 ratio. It weighs only 1.3kg and it suited me very well. But what if I want to upgrade it to a higher screen? The screen in the laptop I’d get would be panoramic, so it would have to be at least 13.7” in case of a 16:10 ratio, or possibly 14.8” in case of a 16:9 ratio! And one of those notebooks would weigh at least 2kg, most of which would be dead weight as far as my usage was concerned. So my new notebook will be heavy, large, and will eat batteries.

Please consider the needs of such user as I and many of my colleagues. Academics and various assorted IT professionals are not an insignificant group of users. And even if only a part of them are having the same frustrations as me when buying notebooks, this is still a large group, I’m sure. Please consider providing such people as us with a little choice in the matter of screen ratios. There is our money in this for you. Lots of money!

(Thanks to K. Siek for helping me with the composition of this letter.)

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