Ultrabooks should be Setting the Example on Pixel Density

Updated on 29 August 2013 by

Is it for people with bad eyesight? For more ‘impressive’ gaming FPS? Or is it just stupid and cheap?

I’m looking at a newly announced 15.6” Haswell-based Ultrabook, with a 1366×768 screen and shaking my head.


Clearly there are cost-savings to be made by using low-resolution screens. I suspect that research shows that people gravitate towards larger screens too so when low-price and large-screen come together it looks like a bargain.

When it comes to multimedia, pushing less pixels can have an advantage in performance and battery life too so if we take these advantages, maybe there is a space for low PPI on a laptop.

  • Higher framerates on games.
  • Big screen, low price value.
  • Multi-person film and picture viewing experience (if screen capable of wide-angle viewing.)
  • Longer battery life.
  • Easy-to-read Windows
  • PPI irrelevant if laptop used with external screen (as desktop)

So what’s the problem with 1366×768? The problem is that most people can get an advantage from higher pixel density. While I personally have a problem with 1920×1280 on a 13.3: screen, there’s a happy medium in there. 1600×900 on a 13.3” screen perhaps? For some, FHD on 13.3” is optimal and gives the most usable working space. Being able to run two Windows side-by-side is one of the key advantages of a windowing operating system.

Pixel density doesn’t have to be over 200 on a laptop. Because of the viewing distances involved, retina density (or pixels per degree) is reached at a lower PPI figure. 

Pixel density of 100 ppi is, however, sub-optimal and here’s the thing, Ultrabooks are supposed to be leading the way. Ultrabooks should be setting an example, not following 3-year old mainstream. Clearly Intel’s research (or feedback) tells them that pixel density should not be part of an Ultrabook specification. Strange, then, that array mics are part of the specification. I rarely get customers specifying that as a requirement.

So who’s interested in the new Toshiba U50T then? I have no problem seeing this laptop on the market but I do have a problem when it’s called an Ultrabook.

Toshiba Satellite U50t-A-100 Touch Ultrabook

  • Core™ i5-4200U. HD 4400 GPU
  • Display: 15,6” , Multitouch, IPS-Panel, 1366 x 768, 16:9
  • 4GB RAM
  • 750GB HDD
  • 32GB SSD
  • Win8
  • Price: 799 Euro

9 Comments For This Post

  1. JohnCz says:

    U50T is not for me. I had considered Toshiba’s 14″ variant – E45T but it had the same resolution. I agree, there should be a baseline vertical resolution of 900 pixels for displays under 16″. I’m hoping that as OEMs refresh their product lines for haswell & baytrail they will use this as an opportunity up their game. We’ll see who leads in this regard.

  2. Dan Ridenhour says:

    For me, any machine larger then 11.6″ needs higher resolution than 1366×768. Anything less than 1600×900 is an immediate ‘move along, nothing interesting here’ for me. I prefer 1920×1080 or higher for that matter.

    You can always scale up if text is too small, but you can’t zoom out if the resolution isn’t there to begin with.

    I work in desktop publishing (infinitely scalable pages), 3d rendering (more res is always better) and programming where high res screens give me room for code and app side by side.

    I made the decision a couple years ago NEVER to buy anything without a hires screen again. I broke that a few months back when I picked up an envy x2 for testing how apps run on low end hardware, and as a carry along. I like the device, but the even on 11.6″ I find the 1366×768 display far less than ideal.

    I find if funny that google can release a $229 7″ 1080p ips display tablet and yet all the windows makers seem forever married to this 1366×768 garbage.

  3. realclear says:

    the problem with windows is that its desktop is not resolution-independent. so the higher the ppi, the smaller the elements get. you can scale the text up, but the experience is not that great.

    i’ll be happy to get a high-ppi display once microsoft gets this right, until then i’m sticking with 14″ 1366×768 (programming and web graphics, normal eyesight).

  4. Steve Chippy Paine says:

    Good to hear an argument for lower PPI which is simply that higher-PPI doesn’t work well on the desktop. I agree. Example: Steam login window on a 13.3″ at FullHD is just unreadable for me.
    I’d still recommend looking at 1600×900 for your next upgrade though.

  5. Dan Ridenhour says:

    It all depends what you are doing. All the apps I use scale well, and pinch/zoom works well. The desktop itself can get smallish but I just use the ‘modern’ launcher. I do a lot of work programming and a lot of desktop publishing… Those editors scale well, so the only difference to me is how crisp and clear the text is as I scale it to the same size on either screen.

  6. Mark C. says:

    I agree, the Windows OS and many apps don’t scale well when changing the DPI. Text, graphics and windows get cut off and/or get blurry. It’s a horrible experience. You can increase font sizes or zoom in for certain apps but the menu system is still dependent upon the OS DPI scaling.

    However, I do feel that 1366×768 on a 14″ is a little low. On an 11.6″ screen I feel that any higher than 1366×768 or 1600×900 is pointless on today’s desktop OS’s for a few years.

  7. xyz says:

    That’s so completely right! These 1366*768 displays are horrible…

  8. Ghost says:

    i’d say that 1600×900 on 13,3″ is the sweet spot, any lower resolution is worse and higher doesn’t always make it better ( FHD scaling issues in windows and overall super small text/icon in editing software )

    but i agree, it’s absolutely unacceptable to still bring out 1366×768 15,6” screens.

  9. Mark C. says:

    For me a PPI of higher than 125 on a desktop OS based device starts hitting diminished returns and actually starts becoming less useful at some point (I guess at 200 PPI). Unless you’re the kind of person who hunches over and leans towards their screen all the time.

    At a certain point, other factors become more important like viewing angles, color accuracy, contrast, sharpness, outdoor visibility, etc. You don’t have to be some sort of professional artist to notice the benefits of these.

    Too bad these other kinds of screen quality measurements aren’t given or tested often by OEMs and reviewers. It seems the average person has become trained to look at resolutions only like the old GHz race years ago.

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