Fact and Fiction

Thoughts about a funny old world, and what is real, and what is not. Comments are welcome, but please keep them on topic.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Widescreen laptop computers

My veteran laptop PC is a (less than 1 GHz) Pentium 3 powered Compaq Presario 1800, which has a mere 320MB of RAM and a 30GB hard disk, and it even needs an expansion card to enable it to talk to a wireless network. The real reason that I bought it around 5 years ago was the quality and size of its LCD screen; it has a 15 inch LCD screen which comfortably runs at 1400 by 1050 pixels (16 bits per pixel).

The LCD screen makes heavy duty technical wordprocessing relatively painless to do, especially as I use Publicon to do my technical writing. So, despite being an old and underpowered laptop PC, it creates worthwhile results because it is well-matched to the needs of the software that I run on it.

However, it would be nice to upgrade my laptop PC now that its processor is two generations out of date, having been overtaken by the Pentium 4 and the Core 2 Duo. A new laptop PC would also have a much larger RAM and hard disk, which would make the computer more generally useful to me.

So off I went to PC World to do some window-shopping, and I was really disappointed with what I discovered there (and at various other places that I also visited). Every laptop PC on display had a widescreen format. That would be fine if the height of the screen was as good as what I already have on my 5 year old laptop PC, and some extra width had been added to give it a widescreen format. However, none of the screens used the full height that was available in its clamshell lid housing. Instead, they had a thick plastic border area both above and below the screen to act a "filler" for a missing area of screen, so that the overall effect was to make the screen have a widescreen format (i.e. more like a letter box than a window).

It seems that the laptop PC manufacturers think that the aspect ratio of the screen itself is more important than fitting the largest possible screen in the clamshell lid housing, even in their top-of-the-range laptop PCs. The only reason that I can think for doing this is that it is fashionable to have a widescreen format LCD screen, and that the laptop PC will sell only if its LCD screen satisfies this criterion, even if there is room in the clamshell lid to fit a larger (i.e. higher) LCD screen.

I will never buy a laptop PC that doesn't allow me to do heavy duty technical wordprocessing with maximum facility. Currently, I have 1050 pixels of screen height on my 5 year old laptop PC, and I will not settle for fewer pixels than this. There was not a single laptop PC on display at PC World that satisfied this criterion; I also looked in various other places with a similar lack of success, so this comment is not a criticism of PC World. Later, I checked on-line and I found a few models of laptop PC that were OK for my purposes, but they were in a tiny minority.

Another thing I noticed at PC World was that all of the laptop PCs on display had highly reflective LCD screens, whereas I am used to using LCD screens that are not very reflective. I checked how easy it would be to use these LCD screens when there was a lot of light coming from behind me. My conclusion is that this sort of highly reflective LCD screen is unusable, unless the lighting conditions are of the sort that you would get in an ergonomically designed office. You certainly couldn't use it if there was a significant amount of light coming from behind you. Worse still, you certainly couldn't use it outdoors on a sunny day, especially if you were wearing a light-coloured shirt.

I'm glad that I went on my window-shopping expedition to PC World. My interest in upgrading my laptop PC has now definitely been put on hold until the manufacturers get the ergonomics of their laptop PC designs sorted out.

I didn't even try to put to serious use any of the laptop PCs that were on display; no doubt I would have found other things to moan about if I had tried them out. I'll leave it for 6 months before I do another window-shopping expedition, and hope that things have improved by then.

Update: 6 weeks have now passed by, and I could not resist trying out Windows Vista on some of the laptop PCs - the ones with 2 Gbyte of RAM. Superficially, there is a lot of "eye candy", but I hoped that I would find it was more interesting underneath. Sadly, I didn't get very far, because I was astounded at how slow Windows Vista is, even on a fairly powerful laptop PC (e.g. the ones costing around £1000 from Sony and HP). I deliberately booted from cold to see how long it took to start up, and I thought something had gone wrong because nothing seemed to happen for a long time. The whole booting process took at least a couple of minutes! This sluggishness was not limited to booting the PC; the whole user experience was that you were being held back by a PC that was unable to keep up with you. I now have even more reasons (see my complaints above about the latest types of LCD display) to stay with my old 2001 vintage 1GHz Pentium 3 laptop running Windows XP in a paltry 320MB of RAM.


At 28 June 2008 at 01:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo yo, romeotv rob here, u cheap bastardo, ya can't even buy a laptop 2 do ur sheatty wordprocessing. All u need is a pentium 1 and windoze 3.11 and wordpad. Dat shoud satisfy a picky technophobe geek like u. So take ur white cracka-ass pasty gangly hermit body an go watch some pr0nage on ya betamax vcr.

At 28 June 2008 at 08:32, Blogger Stephen Luttrell said...

Why don't you try to actually read and digest my blog posting? I said near the top that I do "heavy duty technical wordprocessing", but I presume that the meaning of this phrase eluded you. You need a large screen to make this sort of wordprocessing convenient to do.

Of course, if all you want to do is to write illiterate text-style rubbish, then I suppose that the technical specification that you proposed in your comment would suffice.

At 6 February 2009 at 02:15, Anonymous Sony laptop lcd screens said...

Stephen Luttrell,
I have to start off this comment saying that was a very informative and interesting blog, probably one of the best ive read today! I also have a computer which i use for wordprocessing ONLY. Its refreshing to know that somebody else in this world is going through the same stuff that i go through on a daily basis. I completely agree with you when you wrote, "My conclusion is that this sort of highly reflective LCD screen is unusable, unless the lighting conditions are of the sort that you would get in an ergonomically designed office." I dont know why they started manufacturing laptops with a very reflective screen. it is the most annoying thing ever when u are working outside a starbucks on a sunny day. anyways keep on the great work.

At 8 February 2009 at 20:01, Blogger Stephen Luttrell said...

I eventually took the plunge and bought a laptop PC with a widescreen format, but I find the limited screen height to be an annoying problem. It prevents me from displaying a full A4-sized (or letter-sized) page at a zoom factor that makes it comfortable to view. The high reflectivity of the screen has turned out to be less of a problem, because I use the PC in a fixed location that I have carefully optimised.


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