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Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb? (theverge.com) 411

"After years of phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens converging on 16:9 as the 'right' display shape -- allowing video playback without distracting black bars -- smartphones have disturbed the universality recently by moving to even more elongated formats like 18:9, 19:9, or even 19.5:9 in the iPhone X's case," writes Amelia Holowaty Krales via The Verge. "That's prompted me to consider where else the default widescreen proportions might be a poor fit, and I've realized that laptops are the worst offenders." Krales makes the case for why a 16:9 screen of 13 to 15 inches in size is a poor fit: Practically every interface in Apple's macOS, Microsoft's Windows, and on the web is designed by stacking user controls in a vertical hierarchy. At the top of every MacBook, there's a menu bar. At the bottom, by default, is the Dock for launching your most-used apps. On Windows, you have the taskbar serving a similar purpose -- and though it may be moved around the screen like Apple's Dock, it's most commonly kept as a sliver traversing the bottom of the display. Every window in these operating systems has chrome -- the extra buttons and indicator bars that allow you to close, reshape, or move a window around -- and the components of that chrome are usually attached at the top and bottom. Look at your favorite website (hopefully this one) on the internet, and you'll again see a vertical structure.

As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the matter of tabs. Tabs are a couple of decades old now, and, like much of the rest of the desktop and web environment, they were initially thought up in an age where the predominant computer displays were close to square with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's to say, most computer screens were the shape of an iPad when many of today's most common interface and design elements were being developed. As much of a chrome minimalist as I try to be, I still can't extricate myself from needing a menu bar in my OS and tab and address bars inside my browser. I'm still learning to live without a bookmarks bar. With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.
What is your preferred aspect ratio for a laptop? Do you prefer Microsoft and Google's machines that have a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, or Apple's MacBook Pro that has a 16:10 display?
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Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb?

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  • Let's get it vertical!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:17AM (#56487479)

    I've thought the same. Most content is designed in a portrait orientation, including good 'ole paper. The benefit of widescreen formats though is in multitasking. I can easily keep a document open with a web page on the other side or any other application. On phones and tablets, typically you aren't multitasking so the portrait orientation generally works better.

    • On laptops, that's great. On desktops, 21:9 is awesome because you get a similar area to dual monitors but without the bezel. But on a desktop, that would be overly long. On TVs, I don't see them getting away from 16:9 screens anytime soon. There is a legitimate market for screens of several ratios. I'm glad we have a options now. It didn't use to be that way.
    • I've got a 16:9 widescreen both on my desktp and on my laptop, and I definitely wouldn't want anything narrower exactly because of multitasking; I often have multiple PuTTY-windows open, possibly some documentation in PDF-format or whatever, if I want to, I can have two web-browser windows open side-by-side and so on -- widescreen lets me have multiple windows easily accessible and visible.

  • move to the side (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thePsychologist ( 1062886 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:18AM (#56487483) Journal

    If you can move the taskbar/start menu to the right side in a widescreen laptop like on XFCE, it's great. That being said for creating content like programs or a LaTeX document, it's actually better to have a longer screen so you can have two windows (code/results) side by side.

    • Two windows for side-by-side is fine, but I've sort of arrived at the conclusion that 16:9 screens are too wide for a single window and too narrow for two windows.
      • It works great on my 27" 2560x1440 desktop monitor. Most of the time, I use it as two virtual 1280x1440 monitors, which is a very comfortable size.

        On laptops, I figure you would need a 15" model with at least 2560x1440 to make it work equally well. Personally, I don't mind the 1366x768 panel in my X220. It does what I need it to do, and if I need more space, I'm probably at my desktop anyway.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I find that a 5:2 split works well on a 16:9 screen. I might have a terminal window and a PDF viewer side-by-side, with the terminal being the narrower one.

        The ideal size is 27", because then you really can get two good size documents side-by-side on a 16:9 monitor. It helps if you have 5k resolution, but the standard 2560x1440 is okay.

        The benefits of high DPI shouldn't be underestimated. While everything may appear the same size, you can more easily read small fonts and thus zoom out slightly more. It migh

  • A 15" laptop is made mostly by empty space.
    A 15" screen should be no less than 2K. Most of them is instead less than FHD.

    • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:28AM (#56487529)
      A laptop is the size it is to make it physically workable for human hands and eyes. Just because the electronics gets smaller doesn't make you hand smaller. The keyboard needs to have usable spacing. A larger size "box" of the laptop provides structural strength. That's why you pay so much for thin ones, it takes a lot more engineering to make a thinner box strong enough. A computer also needs some empty space to allow for airflow. There are reasons why things are the way they are.
    • Empty space? Are you talking about the palm rest, where you can't actually put anything because you'd constantly be hitting it as you type? Or are you advocating for wildly inconsistent keyboard layouts with super odd key spacing or many keys that require special drivers and become a compatibility nightmare, to say nothing of the cost of manufacturing snowflake components?

      Maybe moving the keyboard down the palm rest, displacing the trackpad and making carpal tunnel even more likely due to the wrist angle

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        (snip)

        As it turns out, people that design laptops actually think about these things.

        Well, sometimes not. Style sells even if it isn't logical :/

    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      You have obviously never opened a 15" laptop. There are some designs with some free space - often a model with an optional 2.5" HDD. But even then the variant without the HDD will often have a larger battery.

      But sure if you search for the cheapest design you can find and go for the lowest specifications yes there may be some free space. Even then it will mostly _not_ be empty space.

  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:19AM (#56487487)
    I'm currently using a 16:9 screen with the Windows taskbar underneath, at the top the window title bar, the Firefox menu bar, a tab bar and the address bar. It does not seem tight at all.
  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:21AM (#56487495) Homepage Journal

    16:9 is a compromise.

    Phones just expanded the screen to cover the bezels because that looks good, they didn't really think about the aspect ratio.

    Laptops are often used for watching video, so 16:9 makes sense for consumer ones. The real issue with documents is that the screens are too small to have two pages side-by-side like you can have on desktop. The text is too small to read if you do that.

    Many apps are badly designed and fail to take advantage of wider screens. Web sites are the obvious example, but things like office apps could learn a lot from image editors where the toolbars are traditionally on the sides.

    • Laptops are often used for watching video, so 16:9 makes sense for consumer ones.

      16:9 also works well for spreadsheets.

      The real issue with documents is that the screens are too small to have two pages side-by-side like you can have on desktop. The text is too small to read if you do that.

      The issue you are having is that you are displaying two printed pages side-by-side, with four side margins taking up way too much screen space, forcing the text to be very small. Try the other view options for reading two pages side-by-side.

    • I'd prefer the compromise to be a 3:2 ratio. I'm just afraid the last laptop sold with that ratio was a Macintosh fifteen years ago.

      4:3 is too high (for a laptop), 16:10 is passable, but 3:2 (15:10) would be about right.

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      16:9 is a compromise.

      Phones just expanded the screen to cover the bezels because that looks good,

      No, they didn't. They actively made the phones both narrower, and taller. Not just filling the bezel areas. There's only one reason I've been able to find for the current trend of 2:1 aspect ratio phones (or worse), and that's simple marketing. A phone that now brags a 6 inch screen can have fewer square inches of actual screen than one that bragged a 5.7 inch screen before. It's win-win for the manufacturer, they get to claim a bigger number in marketing, while paying for a smaller one in manufacturing. Of

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:31AM (#56487555)

    You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.

    Engaging with content? That sounds awful, no thanks Farmville. I'll stick with scrolling through as I read it.

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      While we're at it - let's change the way books are made, I am wasting countless hours endlessly flipping pages - pages should be much, much taller than they are wide, fitting two or three old pages on a new page. Who cares if it looks like I'm reading a restaurant menu, and it makes shelving books almost impossible, think of the time savings!

      • Re: Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

        by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @10:04AM (#56488091)
        What if you printed the entire book on one long piece of paper, then just rolled it up? Maybe using two sticks or dowels. An individual reader could then "unscroll" ,if you will, as much of the book at one time as he or she likes. This would get rid of the need to flip pages and would fit on standard bookshelves.
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:32AM (#56487557)

    It should be 16:10

    golden ratio is about 1.61803

  • I prefer a 16:9 phone over an 18:9 phone. I think the 18:9 (or taller) on a phone is a poor fit, and really want to have phone manufacturers start to bring out 16:9 premium phone. I really really really really really hate the screen on my Samsung S8+, and the only reason I have is because there was no other screen choice available with the phone features I wanted (the Samsung won out because it had a headphone port).

    Anyway, I rant -- the question here is relating to 16:9 on a laptop. Personally, I'm happ

  • Just a square would be fine, and would allow for a decent palm rest as well as whatever bar at the top/bottom while leaving room for work.

  • cheap TV Parts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:42AM (#56487599) Homepage

    Yes, in theory ratios less wide than 16:9 (like the 16:10 the used to be popular back during the first wide screen LCD pannels for computer : 1280x800, 1600x1000, 1920x1200) give more screen estate for tool bars, etc.

    (And despite all the criticism Ubuntu's Unity is otherwise taking, at least their idea of a side dock is definitely a good one to conserve screen estate in the vertical direction.
    And why KDE-based linux distro tend nowadays to reduce the taskbar to a much thinner size.
    And why "tabs and menus in the title bar" (like chromium and some firefox versions) are getting popular.)

    The problem is that, for manufacturers, these resolutions are weird and unusual.
    TV world has standardized on 16:9 a long time ago as the ratio for wide screen.
    Keeping the same 16:9 ratio on computer monitors enables flat-screen panel makers to use the same parts in both TVs and computer screens, instead of needing to produce smaller separate runs of panels with "weird" resolutions just for the computer screen line of products.

    That's why most of the common mass produced cheap computer screen use the same ratio as TV screen : reusing cheap TV parts.

    Which is also the reason why most of those cheap computer screens also stick to common TV resolutions : 720p, 1080p, etc. and why until the recent "4k" TV resolution fad these computer screen were stuck at sucky low resolutions that CRTs had already surpassed a decade ago.
    a.k.a the quest ion"Why are we stuck qith 1080p ? My CRT from early 2000s did already 1600x1200 !"
    (you used to need to fork a significant amount for more expensive pro models to get beyond 1080p - simply because these used custom parts and not mass-produced TV pannels).

    also, ob. xkcd [xkcd.com] ref.

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      So if that's truly the case, why is it that about the smallest TVs are in the 42" range, meanwhile the largest monitors are in the 32" range? If they're using the same display panels, you'd think the overlap between TV sizes, and monitor sizes, would be quite prevalent.

      I'd love it if that were actually the case though, because I can buy any TV at about half the price of a similar sized monitor, so I'd love to find a good 4K TV in the 30-40" range to replace my dying 32" QHD monitor.

  • for my clients i always always made sure that they ordered 19in 4:3 aspect ratio screens, because they do document editing (invoices) full-screen, and run a web browser full screen as well, switching between the two.

    not even 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio screens make *any* sense - laptop or no laptop - when all you are doing is a single *BUSINESS* related activity.

    the exception to that rule as i've discovered when using an Aorus X3 Plus V6 is: 3000 x 1800 resolution laptop LCDs when running fvwm2 with a 6x4 vi

  • The only real choice for a tall/square Windows laptop is a Microsoft Surface.

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kenh ( 9056 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:50AM (#56487641) Homepage Journal

    The current "wider than it is tall" format for laptops is based on the physical size/shape requirements of that human interface below it, the keyboard.

    The default orientation for a tablet is "taller than it is wide", because it has no keyboard - add a keyboard and you'll typically find yourself turning the tablet on it's side.

    It's not unusual for a developer to turn a large, high-res second display 90 degrees to have a two foot+ tall screen sitting on their desk like a tower, to allow for seeing huge swaths of traces, logs, or source code without having to scroll.

    Please, explain to me the benefit for the average computer user of a display that is "taller than it is wide" - don't forget, many 'average users' do a lot of work in spreadsheets, an application that lends itself to a "wider than it is tall" display.

    • > turn a large, high-res second display 90 degrees to have a two foot+ tall screen

      Yup! The monitor in portrait mode (90 degrees) has a few, sweet, advantages:

      1. You can see LOTS of code -- since code tends to be WAY more vertical more then horizontal. (80 - 132 columns.) You can even vertically split the view to see multiple locations WHILE maintaining a nice big (or tiny) programming font.

      2. Makes reading PDFs enjoyable -- you can zoom the page to "page width" or have a page take up the *entire* scree

    • I was wondering why the rather obvious keyboard factor was being ignored by people, but it seems like at least someone realized it...

      As for why smartphones are the way they are also has to do with trying to ensure you can reach every part of the screen with the thumb of the hand you're holding the device in. When you turn the device on it's side to view video you also stop fiddling with the screen (you're watching video, not scrolling up and down a web page) so not being able to reach the other end of th
  • by shatteredsilicon ( 755134 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:51AM (#56487645)
    16:10 was a much better aspect ratio than 16:9 for just about any workload - including movies. It's all about marketing - the less square the aspect ratio, the fewer pixels you get for the same width (e.g. 1920x1200 vs. 1920x1080, or 3840x2400 vs. 3840x2160) and diagonal size, the two main metrics by which screens are marketed. The manufacturer gets to sell you fewer pixels, resulting in better yields, and less surface area, resulting in lower cost to them, all while getting to charge you a higher price because the numbers look the same or better. This is in part why now, after a few years of manufacturers having shaped the market by making 16:9 the norm, we are now seeing an increase in ultra-wide screens which take this to the next level.
  • What I prefer is as much of a screen estate as possible. A phone is used vertical, as PC and laptop is horizontal. A tablet could be used both ways.

    I liked the 1920x1200 I used to have. I now have 1920x1080 and it is not that much different. I personally rather have 3 screens at 1920x1080 than one screen that is 5760x1080, but that is because I see each screen as a different workspoace. That way I can watch a movie on one workspace and still use different workspaces on different screens.

    As I am not a gamer,

  • As a long time hater of almost every turd Apple craps out, I'm going to give them some props here. 16:10 is in my opinion the way to go. It's perfect to split in half if you'd like to use two windows at a time. I often have source code open on one side and a result display on the other. Yes, I do multiple monitors like everyone else, but having two windows perfectly laid out on the main screen is still very useful. I do it every day. I'm using a decade old LG 30" panel that I paid through the nose to
    • by dfghjk ( 711126 )

      16:10 long predates Apple and was the widescreen monitor standard before HDTV came along. 16:9 replaced it for economies of scale, not for function. Apple simply retained the better format, it did not pioneer it.

      3:2 is largely the same as 16:10, so it's not as though Apple stands alone here. 16:9 is an inferior format for computer display, although for the desktop it is now moot due to 4K and huge monitor sizes. For laptops there's really no question.

  • by Ulfilas2000 ( 4576737 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @08:58AM (#56487687)

    With a widescreen laptop, you get a numeric keypad. With a numeric keypad, you can play Nethack efficiently. What more can be said?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If we called them shortscreens instead of widescreens, we'd see that the answer is obvious.

    I personally think that the 16x9 ratio is for one thing....movies. People seem to have forgotten that to get work done, taller screens are typically better. Granted Word benefits from a tall screen while Excel might be best off on a widescreen.

    matters on your use case.

    I personally prefer LARGE laptops when I but them. I almost always go after a 1080p 17" widescreen.

  • There are a variety of reasons for widescreen laptops, here are just a few of them:

    Keyboards - a laptop with a tall and narrow screen will have a tall and narrow keyboard, which will feel cramped... A wider keyboard is better for typing on.

    Availability of screens - widescreen format panels are mass produced for tv use, they're cheaper and more widely available.

  • If you're writing a lot and/or reading a lot you want vertical space, because long lines are much harder to read than lots of shorter lines. If you're working with video or photos or with complex apps with lots of panes and tools around, a wider screen is better, since you can arrange your tools horizontally and if your tools involve lots of lists of things it's hard to stack them vertically anyway.

    Since less and less people read and write a lot and instead consuming video content seems to be what people li

  • With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.

    I have a different take in that it doesn't really matter. Basically, who cares? Most of my work is done at my desks at work or at home so I have desktop PCs with 2 or 3 large monitors on each one. I also rotate one of the monitors 90 degrees so I can view an entire page of a printed document without scrolling. I lose a TON of efficiency trying to work on a single small laptop screen. Not saying laptops are bad tools (they're great) but worrying about whether 16:9 or 4:3 is marginally better kind of mis

    • You are right. Since you do your work at home on a desktop PC with 2 to 3 large monitors, it doesn't matter. Lets go on to the next article.
      • You are right. Since you do your work at home on a desktop PC with 2 to 3 large monitors, it doesn't matter. Lets go on to the next article.

        No lets continue to fuss and argue over an insignificant design detail with no clear right answer which makes no discernable difference in our work flow and over which we have no influence. Much better use of our time.

        Or did you think that laptop makers are eagerly awaiting a verdict about what to do from slashdot readers?

  • You'll want to remember why 16:10 existed in the first place. Movies were 16:9, and there needed to be room for professional controls.

    16:9 didn't enter the computer space until computers were mostly used as entertainment devices instead of as tools.

    Welcome back.

  • the "ribbon" format for menus in Office many years ago. It was dumb back then and it's still dumb.

    But who uses a computer to do any work anymore? Computers are media consumption devices, or more correctly, advertising consumption and surveillance/data gathering devices. Who cares where the users think the tabs and chrome should be located?

  • Paul Thurrott wrote an article about his love of 3:2 displays a few weeks back: https://www.thurrott.com/hardw... [thurrott.com] (Premium, requires membership to read the full article)

  • by jcochran ( 309950 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @09:25AM (#56487871)

    Some years back I had a very nice laptop computer with a screen resolution of 1920x1200. But technology advances and I eventually needed to replace that laptop. So I started searching for something with the same or better screen resolution. And discovered that they simply did not exist anymore and the best that could be obtained at a reasonable price was 1920x1080. WTF!?!?! Only thing I could imagine was economies of scale and that all too many laptop manufacturers think that the only thing people use their laptops for was watching videos and actual productivity use was non-existent. And with that mindset, It becomes easy to imagine those brain dead idiots purchasing lots of 1920x1080 panels since "that's the resolution used for hi def video and no one needs anything more than that. Besides, they're cheaper."

    I really miss the vertical space for dealing with text.

  • i am on the hunt for one of those rugged outdoors type of cellphone with physical buttons, no touchscreen, but it has a flashlight, and a BIG 10000 mha battery that can last a month before recharging
  • I suppose 16:9 works well if you are consuming or producing media in that format. However for most productivity apps like wordprocessing or coding, I would rather see more vertical pixels in order to display more and scroll less.
  • by ledow ( 319597 )

    Yes.

    If you're talking about 13" "laptops" then they are dumb to have widescreen.

    15" is... pfft.. maybe acceptable. But 15" was small even under 4:3.

    17" or higher or just forget about it, especially with modern stupendous resolutions.

    The first ever ThinkPad had roughly a 10" screen. At 4:3 that gives you the same height as a 12.2" widescreen. Pathetic. But then that was the 90's and those things were new and expensive.

    Selling something not-much-bigger nowadays is a con. Just advertise it as a tablet and

  • News papers are portrait aspect ratio. Almost all the books are portrait aspect ratio. Further newspapers reduce the aspect ratio by a factor of 6 or 8 by using multiple columns. For reading text, we need to move the eye from right edge of one line to the left edge of the next line. Scan through. We know from even before the days of Gutenberg the best aspect ratio for reading text.

    It was Hollywood movies that started with a wider format, and it reached the 70 mm film format and went for this wider format.

  • All the wide-screen laptops which I've tried had really stupid keyboards. The manufacturers seem to figure that as they've got extra width they'll shove lots of extra keys in at the side, and move standard keys around. I'm reduced to hunt-and-peck typing because as soon as I stop looking at the keyboard I start typing nonsense.

    Give me a decent keyboard like on my Lenovo T420 and you can make the screen as wide as you like.

  • "Tabs are a couple of decades old now,"
    What? How is this a criticism?
    Explain to me why this sentence has any meaning in a criticism of screen formats? The age of a UI element has NOTHING to do with its utility (except, perhaps as a second-order validation: older UI elements must be doing something RIGHT to have been kept around).

    Shoes are a millennia-old concept, yet we happily keep using them.

    Amelia Holowaty Krales - whoever that is - is a dumbfuck. There are lots, and lots and lots of people who use ev

  • Simple solution: Turn your laptop sideways.

    Now, I'm joking, but honestly, that's an option with phones, and it's frequently an option with desktop monitors (the one I'm looking at now does this). This seems like a great option, as wide screens are (or at least seem to be) really good for gaming and watching video, but tall screens are better for reading or editing documents.

    The only problem, of course, is that on a laptop, you have a keyboard attached to your screen, and one of those orientations is going

  • I put my app bar on the left, and I don't run every window full screen. For this, the ratio is fine. I see no reason for a laptop to go over 16:9 however. The HD ratio is a practical standard to settle on. Mobile devices arguably should extend that to account for their notches, and I imagine that's what we're mostly seeing there.

  • Just put your laptop sideways and BOOM! You have a 9:16 display that's a much better fit for websites.

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