Why am I losing screen height on each new laptop?

My first hi-res laptop was a Dell I8000 which had a, huge at the time, resolution of 1600×1200. It was quite expensive because of this but also a wonderful and productive experience.
My next laptop was also a Dell, a I8600, which had a “wide-screen”. This means it had a 1680×1050 resolution. The switch was not so heavy even if I lost 150px in one shot. I moved the panels (as in gnome panels) to the right and gained some extra space. The following laptop, a Dell D820, also had a 1680×1050 resolution. There was no problem adapting until the new Lucid Lynx appeared this year. Due to a bug, the panels did not worked vertically. In fact they were not even designed to be used vertically. I ditched one and moved everything in the other but still lost at least 16px. Not so much. It was just a bit frustrating that the interface is so badly designed from this aspect and also that nobody seems to see/acknowledge that there is less and less vertical space.
Now as I am searching for a new laptop I seem to find only laptops with 1600×900 thus facing the option of losing 150px again. This is called HD and is should be a feature. If you need to read a A4 page in a pdf reader, or a normal web page in a browser or a long function body in eclipse you start to scroll often and often. Not to mention that there are more and more horizontals bars (menubars) which do not offer any option for vertical positioning. If you have a 1600×900 resolution and a standard install you will lose in a shot: 16px for the panel (taskbar), 16px for the windows title, 16px or more for the menubar and most likely another 16px for some sort of tab bar. You are then left with around 800px of working place in a good case which generates 2:1 ratio (1600×800). Even worse case: you probably have a status bar, or 2 ore more menubars. As an example in Firefox on a 900px height you have 684 usable pixels even if your panels are hidden (auto-hide) because of the title, menubar, navigation toolbar, bookmarks toolbar, tabbar and status bar.
I do not use Windows but I was talking to a friend who works on autodesk and otther cad software and he was complaining about the same tendency of having horizontal menus which take more and more height (in the image of MS Office ribbon) and this starts to be difficult even on the large 24” monitors he is using. So what’s the reason for this shrinking tendency and the lack of vertical bar support? I cannot believe the vendors are thinking everyone is just watching dvd’s on their laptops. And even so, having 2 black margins is not horrible. Or is just about making an extra 2$ for the 2sq inch of screen which is cut from the production cost. What’s the solution for getting the extra height we need to be productive?


  • I agree with the fact that you can use an external display which you can eventualy rotate 90 degrees but I am talking here about a laptop not a fixed workstation. It can of course be argued that a laptop is only for travel but what about consulting work, what about working in a coffee shop or on the balcony? And the question is in fact not to adapt but why this was possible 10 years ago and not anymore when you can see all these super sharp, super resolutions screens on mobile phones while the laptop screens are dull and gray from the dinousaurs age.
  • I’ve also created a facebook group related to this “frustration”

    Lost screen height

33 Responses

  1. Adam Jorgensen

    Try using KDE4 or some other WM. KDE4 and Enlightenment DR17 both support vertical panels just fine.

  2. Hi Adam, thanks for the tip. For now I use the auto-hide feature for the panel I cannot use verticaly. I did a research on the other WM’s and was expecting at least some would also know vertical titlebars. It seems only FVWM knows :) I miss the old days when I was using WindowMaker.

  3. Doing serious work on a computer is not important. It’s more important that we all can view a movie in the right screen size.

  4. Hello Adam, I cannot believe it but you are the first I have seen to complain about the switchover to wide-screen format.
    As a gamer, a geodata terrain modeler, I cannot see why it would benefit to loose so much real-estate.
    My solution was to purchase a second monitor, a standard resolution 17″ 1280×1024 VGA to read .pdf files, e-mail, open extra Explorer folders, etc.
    But I have to say, Windows Media Center in “side-by-side(Restore Down)” mode has a larger picture than my 20″ 1600×900 DVI wide-screen!

  5. While I understand your frustration with laptops at least you can put stand alone monitors into portrait – giving you oodles of lines of code.

  6. Get a 24″, or a 27″ for that matter, and stop whining about pixels on the internet. A laptop is to do work on, when traveling or abroad. Your normal work should be done on a nice big screen with plenty of space.

  7. full ack!
    it really is annoying that the screens get smaller and smaller (vertically). same history: dell -> t42 -> t60 and now t410s (1600×1200 -> 1400×1050 -> 1400 x 900) and same experience: try to read/write documents or code… :-(
    the worst thing is that all devices get cheaper because of the mass-market panels (cool so far, I don’t care if kids want to watch movies or play games), but you can’t even buy an expensive laptop with higher vertical screen anymore, even if you wanted to! w510? higher resolution but same physical height of screen. hp elitebook has a bigger screen but really is no laptop (at how much, 4.5kg!?) anymore.

    really, really, really frustrating :-(

  8. I see your main point and I agree that 1600×1200 (1.92M) clearly gives you more desktop real estate than either 1680×1050 (1.764M)or obviously 1600×900 (1.44M).

    There’s rare cases where you get 1920×1080 (2.073M) which is actually better than your initial 1600×1200, although it may be less convenient for the kinds of applications you want to use.

    But I think the main advantage of the widescreen format on portable computer is the fact that the screen more closely matches the space needed for the keyboard. As laptops get smaller, they get thinner, but they also need less extra space around the keyboard. If a laptop has a normal sized keyboard, with a simple mousepad sitting directly below it, you end up with a surface that’s closer to 16:9 than 4:3. 16:9 being the same format as used in HD video is a nice bonus.

    I’d like to see more 1920×1080 screens on high end (and large) laptops and would accept 1600×900 (or even 1280×720) on a smaller (or cheaper, or less power hungry) device.

  9. The other subtle aspect here is that more and more mid/higher end screens come with a rotate feature. When you rotate a 1920×1080 screen to portrait mode (1080×1920) it just looks silly IMO. My favourite monitor (own a software company) is my old 24″ Dell that did a full 1920×1200 – and rotated. It didn’t look like a bulemic when rotated either.

  10. Hi Len, In my Laptop I use XFCE4, with bars in both sides of the screen, and they work just fine, not to mention that it´s also pretty lighter then Gnome. :-)
    I also use the Tiny Menu extension for Firefox, trying to get back a few extra pixels.

  11. Couldn’t agree with you more. My latest Thinkpad, which I bought online, came with an HD screen, which is 1920 by 1050 or something. It looks weird. And I have all this extra space on the left and right when viewing a page, but not enough to see to the bottom of the page without scrolling.

    I can’t remember ever saying “I sure wish this screen was wider.” I have often wished the screen was longer, so I could see a Java class or complex method in its entirety. Ugh!

  12. The salesman who told you “laptops with 1600×900 … This is called HD” was lying. HD TV is 1920×1050. But we shouldn’t be surprised – how many “HD Ready” TVs have 768 vertical resolution?

  13. I’ve been complaining about this for years! Vendors market widescreen as an upgrade, but you actually loose screen space at the same size. I have a 21″ 4:3 monitor, and I have to replace it with a 24″ WS monitor to get the same number of pixels.

    Most screen items on a PC are based on a 8.5×11 paper format. Word processors, web browsers, pdf viewers, file managers, IDEs, etc…
    1920×1080 is great for watching movies, and maybe for spreadsheets, but for nearly everything else, it’s not ideal.

    Also, since the public is convinced that Full-HD is the ultimate resolution, Vendors don’t make many (if any) higher resolution monitors.
    Who still makes the 25″ 2880×1800 and 2560×1600 monitors that were available a few yeas ago? You can find some 30″ monitors that are 2560×1600, but they are huge.

    As for high-end laptops, I’d like to see 1980×1200 as the default resolution. 1600×1000 for middle-range laptops, then 1280×800 for low-end.

  14. I forgot to mention. Why do vendors push widescreen?

    Widescreen panels fit better with the physical layout of a laptop. Remember 15 year old laptops that had 2″ plastic bezel on each side of the screen?

    As for standalone monitors, I it’s a marketing decision. If one vendor is selling a 21″ 4:3 monitor with 1600×1200 (1.9M) resolution for $500, and another vendor sells a 23″ 16:9 monitor with 1750×1050 (1.8M) resolution for $450, then the second vendor can say “you should buy ours, it’s 2 inches bigger and costs less!!”. More sales = more profit.

    Also, when the panels are manufactured, they are made in big sheets and cut into individual panels. It’s easier to get a defect-free widescreen shaped panel than a big, square chunk. So, they are cheaper to make. Remember, it’s ALWAYS about the money.

  15. I’m in the same boat as you. I’m a consultant and my laptop goes with me everyone. It is my primary work platform. Having high resolution screens has always been a priority for me. I’ve pretty much just use Thinkpads since I use Linux and need the third mouse button the track point gives me. So way back my first real work Thinkpad had a 1280×1024 screen which was the highest resolution you could get at the time. Next came my A31p which had a 1600×1200 screen. I held onto that laptop for over five years because the screen was so good. Then new Thinkpads were release that were wide screen using the 1680×1050 screen. No thanks. I waited another two years and finally the W500 came out with 1920×1200 16:10 screen. Perfect. I still kept my pixels. Now it seems all the laptops are transitioning to 16:9 screens and the highest resolution I can get it 1920×1080, which removes 120 vertical pixels. I’m not happy about that. So it looks like I’ll be keeping my W500 until hopefully we’ll start seeing some 16:10 panels again at 1920×1200.

  16. I completely agree. I enjoy both 1920×1200 and 1680×1050 lcds at home and hate how everything is 16:9 now. Vertical space is important to me!

  17. Ridiculous. A widescreen is more tuned to our natural field of view. With it, you can see TWO A4 pages side-by-side.

    Also, minus points ofr buying Dell laptops. Yuck!

  18. since moving to a tiny macbook I’ve found myself writing smaller and smaller and smaller functions. Basically separating every important bit of the function into other functions then calling them in sequence in a main function so that the main function is only a dozen or so lines long…. of course this led me to unnecessarily making full blown Classes for lots of things that didn’t need it. :(

    Did a quick survey:

    Of the 30+ monitors on the ground floor of my building I don’t think any of them can be physically rotated.

    I did see 2 people whose laptops display settings could rotate the screen and they often would turn their laptop on its side like a book to read/write legal documents. One of them often works from a coffee shop on the weekends to make minor edits and without his extra keyboard he works with the screen sideways. Gets lots of stares.

  19. I feel your pain. My old Dell was also 1600×1200 and I’ve also lamented the loss of high vertical res panels. If you’re willing to spend the money, there are a few Full HD panels which give 1920×1080. Whilst still 120 less than the old 1200 panels it’s a 30 pixel improvement over the 1050 panels. I’ve recently had a Dell Latitude E5610 with this screen res. Some Studio machines can also be specified with these screens too. The preimum can be £2-300 over a machine with a standard 768 or 900 panel.

    Crazily enough my Vaio 10″ netbook has a 1366×768 screen so you’d expect to go quite a bit higher on a 15″+ panel!

    The fact is you never could just pop to your friendly local electrical retailer and buy a laptop for the great unwashed which had a nice panel even when they did make the 1200 screens! They were always hard to find or on special order.

  20. Thanks everybody for the comments. I think the issue of less and less vertical space in laptop monitors affects lots of people and for some of us an external monitor is not the solution since in many ways it eliminates some of the reasons we bought a laptop in the first place. There were many examples in comments on /. for various reasons why a laptop should be both portable and have a large enough screen to work on it without an external monitor (eg. http://hardware.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1810714&cid=33812136) As a simple personal example: I was sick at the begining of this week and worked from my bed in order to keep it warm. A bit difficult to bring a 20” LCD there. The only solutions I see for now are to hold to our existing laptops hoping for larger screens in the future and minimize lost vertical space.

  21. My current laptop is a Dell i8600 and it has 1920×1200. I was shopping for a new one and was about 24 hours too late to order a E6500 with 1920×1200.

    The move to 16×9 only happened around the start of this year. Last year and even in the first couple of months of this year, it was not too hard to find a Dell laptop that did 1920×1200 (E6500, etc). Then came the E**10 models and and all of a sudden, WUXGA is gone from everything except for 17″ screen systems. So I’m sitting it out, waiting to see what comes out to replace the E**10 models – hopefully something with a 15.4″ screen and not 15.6″!

  22. I agree, completely! We need our vertical space. I spend a lot of time studying engineering datasheets, which are .pdf files of 8.5″ x 11″ pages. It’s a real pain to see only a little more than half of the datasheet at a time. Yes, the lack of vertical space is a severe issue in laptops, but you encounter the same problem these days when setting out to purchase an LCD monitor at an office-computer store. I deal with the issue by purchasing old 21 and 24″ monitors on eBay. Sheesh! When are they going to wake up?

  23. My own suspicion (unsupported by any facts or research) is that we are seeing the devious hand of marketing. Monitors and TV’s are sold by diagonal measurement, not square inches. A square screen has the maximum area for a given diagonal. As we deviate from square (height = width) to “wide”, we can sell less area of screen as the same diagonal measure. To wit, we can sell a smaller monitor advertised as the same as a larger monitor.

    For example, a “21 inch” monitor:
    a 15″ x 15″ monitor has a 21.21 diagonal and 225 square inches or screen
    a 13″ x 16.76″ monitor has the same diagonal, but 217 square inches.
    a 11″ x 18.14″ monitor has the same diagonal, but 199 square inches.
    all the way to a 1″ x 21.21″ monitor with the same diagonal, and 21.21 square inches

  24. There’s nothing about what’s more confortable for the human eye, here… We have A wider horizontal field of view than a vertical one. I wonder what the proportions are…

    Aren’t there studies about it?

    As many others, I just rotate my 1920×1080 monitor.

  25. […] Made curious by len’s install, I could not resist and tried the new Ubuntu Netbook edition on my 11z, in search of perfect use of my 16:9 display, with incredible 1366 horizontal pixels but only 768 vertical ones. […]

  26. […] wide-screen is certainly nice, but please, don’t take away my vertical space, to get it! I spent top dollar on my laptop (back in the day) to get a higher resolution than […]

  27. The reason why ALL the vendors are selling only devices with a big pile of crap which they call display is: idiots! What idiots? The kind of idiots, that manage to screw up their devices over and over again and will either ask their tech-friend to fix it or will buy a new one. This kind of idiots with more money than braincells who will buy anything as long as it sounds good. And crystal clear display, HD movie resolution, extra wide blabla, … do sound good if you don’t have a clue.
    Those idiots and their money are the reason why people who really need to work with their computing tools can’t find hardware that is suitable for productive use or will at least have to pay a fortune to get it.

  28. Apologists for Capitalism love to say that the market meets demand, but in this case, consumers have a clear demand for more vertical screen resolution, but the LCD manufacturers don’t offer it. The LCD manufacturers have lost money for the last 5 quarters according to DisplaySearch and are operating at 70% capacity. While the global recession is sure part of the reason, another reason that they loose money is because they do not offer consumers a compelling reason to buy new LCDs and the fact that everyone now uses 9:16 means that they can’t distinguish products and charge higher prices for the less common 10:16. In my case, I know that I will hang onto my Thinkpad T410 as long as possible and resist buying a new notebook if possible because I hate the 9:16 screen size.

    I have read that it is cheaper to manufacture 9:16 than 10:16 screens, because you can cut more 9:16 screens than 10:16 screens out of the big slabs of motherglass produced by LCD fabs. Having investigated this, it appears to have certainly true that the move from 3:4 to 10:16 was made because more 10:16 screens could be cut out of motherglass than 3:4 screens. For example a generation 4 fab produces eight 14″ screens with a 10:16 aspect ratio from each 680x880mm motherglass, but only six 14″ screens with a 3:4 aspect ratio from the same glass. Likewise, a generation 5 fab produces twenty 14″ 10:16 screens from each 1100x1300mm motherglass, but only sixteen 14″ 3:4 screens from the same glass.

    Nonetheless, the move from the 10:16 to 9:16 aspect ratio did not bring the same economic benefits at all screen sizes. For example, in a generation 5 fab, twelve 19″ 10:16 screens can be produced from a 1100x1300mm motherglass, whereas only ten 19″ 9:16 screens can be produced from the same glass. Therefore it was more expensive to produce 19″ 9:16 screens at generation 9 fabs. In generation 5.5 fabs, the same number of screens are produced per motherglass. In generation 6 and 7 fabs, however, 19 9:16 screens cost less to produce. A generation 6 1500x1850mm motherglass can produce twenty 19″ 10:16 screens whereas it can produce twenty-four 19″ 9:16 screens. Likewise, a generation 7 1870x2200mm motherglass produces 32 19″ 10:16 screens versus 35 19″ 9:16 screens.

    For 21″ screens, generation 5 and generation 5.5 fabs produce the same number of 10:16 and 9:16 screens per motherglass, however a generation 6 1500x1850mm motherglass produces 18 10:16 screens, but only 12 9:16 screens. Similarly, a generation 7 1870x2200mm motherglass produces 28 10:16 screens, but only 24 9:16 screens. Basically, 9:16 is more efficient at some sizes of motherglass and some sizes of screens and 10:16 is more efficient at other sizes and at many sizes it didn’t make any difference.

    According to DisplaySearch, in the third quarter of 2010, 36% of LCD monitors were fabricated in generation 5 fabs, 7% in generation 5.5 fabs, 33% in generation 6 fabs, 21% in generation 7 fabs and 4% in generation 8 fabs.

    In other words, the LCD manufacturers didn’t decide to change their aspect ratios because of great efficiency in cutting out screens. A 2006 report by DisplaySearch confirms that point:

    A common misperception about the LCD industry is that panel builders strategically adopt the most efficient approach to cutting panels, by determining the maximum number of panels they can extract from a single substrate, using their existing generations of glass substrates. In truth, each company decides the product sizes before it even builds the fab. First the product development people and the marketing respondents at TFT LCD companies gauge the market forecasts and identify the next target sizes for their products. Then the process engineers and fab builders choose the optimum generation, after considering the investment risk and the equipment capabilities. Yes, an efficient cut is essential, but it is not the only consideration.
    Furthermore, panel suppliers themselves define many of the panel sizes that become market standards.

    The LCD manufacturers can define the size of their motherglass. If they wanted to produce 10:16 they could have built fabs which cut that size efficiently. In some cases they even produced 9:16 screens on glass where it doesn’t cut efficiently. If we want to understand why the LCD industry decided to force consumers to use 9:16 screens, we need to look at marketing trends. They wanted the whole world to buy HD televisions with 9:16 aspect rations, because it would mean junking millions of old 3:4 televisions and buying new products. It appears that they wanted to force the computer users to move to 9:16 screens for the same reasons.

    “Gen 8 Now the Most Important Fab for LCD TV Panel Production”, DisplaySearch, 2 Dec 2010.
    David Hsieh, “LCD Demand, Panels, Substrates: All Move From Large to Larger”, DisplaySearch
    , 2006, http://www.displaysearch.com/cps/rde/xbcr/displaysearch/DD_spring06.pdf

  29. I am much less productive on a 16:9 screen, since it forces me to constantly scroll. I have to remove most toolbars from applications and make the bottom menu popup. For a while, I moved the GNOME 2 panels to the right and left margins of the screen, but I found it too disorienting. In the end, I reduced the GNOME 2 panels down to just one panel. GNOME 3 is better designed for 16:9 screens, since it only has one top panel.

    After months of working on a 16:9 Toshiba laptop, I went out and bought a discontinued Thinkpad T410 with a 1440×900 screen, which was the last Thinkpad model to use a 16:10 screen. The enterprise laptops resisted the switch to 16:9 far longer than the other models, but with Sandy Bridge, both the Latitude and Thinkpad switched to 16:9. Lucky, they still offer non-glare screens, but even those are getting harder and harder to find.

    The only manufacturer still offering 16:10 laptops is Apple, a company who I am currently boycotting due to their patent policies attacking free software, their restriction of user freedom, their anti-environmental design decisions and their abuse of worker rights.

  30. Bastard manufacturers just wanna push HDTV. We should boycott 16:9 !

  31. Its because of an Idiot named Steve Jobs, who’s now dead, who thought 4:3 is not aesthetic and 16:9 is aesthetic. The industry followed his lead. May his 4:3 soul rest in a 16:9 space!!

  32. To the IDIOTS who say “we have a widescreen field of view” please shoot yourselves.

    We do NOT have a widescreen field of view, we have an extremely narrow field of view; BUT, we have great short term memory.

    What is the point here? We don’t “see” the world around us, we REMEMBER it, and construct an interior “picture” that is representative of what we look at. If you focus up and down you will “see” the world up and down. If you focus left to right, you will “see” the world left to right. If you focus on a rectangle in front of you, you will SEE the world as a rectangle in front of you.

    The eyes subconsciously dart to various objects in our surroundings more times than you recognize. You aren’t seeing “widescreen” you are REMEMBERING the world around you.

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