Recently, I’ve been on the market to buy a new 13″ Laptop. I ended up buying a HP Spectre x360: i7, 8GB RAM, 1080p touch screen and the usual gizmos. I’ll talk about the huge headache I went through (not counting the hours spent searching reviews) in order to actually determine what I’m going to buy.
I was quite sure on what I wanted – a lightweight 13″ laptop with an i7 and 8GB of RAM and stuff like that. In other words, a really portable machine which won’t slow me down on the go. There were several contenders in this department, the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo Yoga 910, Razer Blade Stealth, the aforementioned HP Spectre x360 and some others which were quickly eliminated from the list. The biggest question was always : 1080p or 4K screen?
People had mixed feelings about this, some said go for 1080p and some said 4K. Here are my thoughts on this subject. Oh, by the way – this argument is only for Windows Based laptops. This does not apply for non-Windows based machines.
Let’s start by the biggest problem that screen size carries. If the pixel count grows and the screen does not, this means that the actual pixel size gets smaller. So, this means that a 300 pixels on a 13″ 1080p might be 4cm long, but 300 pixels on a 13″ 4k might be just 1 cm long. Most (older) applications were designed to work with pixels, so they do not cater for big resolutions on small screens.
Fortunately, Microsoft have realised this problem and provide a feature to scale the size of the display accordingly. So, old applications will scale up to the appropriate size, but this comes at a cost. Most of the time, the bigger the scale, the blurrier the window will actually look; I’ve illustrated this below. One can “clearly” see that the D is quite blurred out.
This problem is acknowledged by Microsoft themselves and provide some workarounds for this. Fortunately, as time goes on, more and more applications are being designed with this problem in mind and scale quite nicely. Also, the new UWP applications (such as the new looking applications on Windows 10 – Settings, Calculator and such handle this problem natively; they will not suffer from these problems.
In my case, my 1080P 13″ display came configured out of the box to use 150% scaling. This means that applications that do not handle such scaling will be multiplied by 1.5 times in order to scale appropriately. So the problem with scaling and blurring already exist with a 1080P display, let alone a 4K display! Those apps which scale poorly will simply exhibit worse symptoms since the scaling needs to be bigger at a 4K resolution.
This problem also exists in games; Linus played Half Life on a 16K monitor; scaling was just laughable.
My end verdict? If you’re buying a Windows-Based machine, don’t opt for a 4K on a 13″ display. It will make the scaling problem just worse. Let’s just hope for a better future where all applications scale correctly! I hope I’ll save some time and headache for anyone who is in the market for a 13″ laptop.
I have not mentioned too much technical details on what actually is going on; I do not want to confuse potential non-technical readers. This post will be followed up by a technical blog post explaining what is actually going on and as a programmer, how to program against this problem. If interested though, the problem mostly lies in the domain of DPI and DIP.