The most overlooked component when purchasing a laptop is (in my opinion) one of the most important and noticeable in day to day usage. This is sadly a component that a lot of manufacturers will skimp on in order to reach that “too good to be true” price point, making everything else on paper look perfect. I’m going to briefly touch upon each aspect that I think is important and everyone should be aware of when purchasing a laptop, while hopefully not overloading you with too much information.
TN vs. IPS
This is probably the single most important thing to look out for. TN panels have notoriously bad viewing angles – ever had a laptop where you look at it at a slight angle and everything appears distorted? On top of that, they have bad colour reproduction (you won’t want to be doing any photo editing on these). The main benefits of TN panels are well, they’re cheap to make.
IPS panels are becoming increasingly common on laptops to the point where they’re almost becoming the standard which is great. They have really good viewing angles so you can share your screen with someone and they’ll actually be able to see what you can see. You won’t have to constantly adjust the screen so you can see what you’re doing. On top of that, IPS panels offer colour reproduction which is far superior to the TN panel.
Don’t misunderstand me though, I’m not telling you to never purchase a laptop with a TN panel, they are much better than they were 10 years ago. But, do consider what you’ll be doing with your laptop, where you’ll be using it and make the decision whether paying a bit more for the IPS is worth it to you.
On a side note, if gaming is your primary reason for purchasing a laptop then in some instances a TN panel can be preferable. They usually have faster pixel response times which will greatly reduce blur when you’re going for that juicy flick shot. However, even most gaming laptops with higher refresh rates tend to have IPS screens as they are often also used as portable productivity workstations for the likes of video and photo editing.
Compulsory pun about head lice aside, NITS in simple terms basically means how bright your screen can get. Again, an often overlooked feature. If you intend to use your laptop outdoors, or in a well lit room with a lot of direct sunlight this may be something you want to consider when looking at a potential laptop purchase.
Usually your average laptop will come with a display capable of 250-300 nits. 300 nits is good enough for most situations, however if you are going to be working in an environment with direct sunlight it is best to aim for one capable of 350 nits or above.
There are other factors that will affect how legible your screen is in different lighting situations which I am going to touch on below.
Matte vs Glossy
Laptop screens will come in either a matte or glossy finish. Both have their pros and cons and it’s up to you to decide what will suit you best.
Matte screens have an anti glare coating applied to them, which greatly reduces any reflections on the screen – great for brightly lit rooms or working outdoors. However, it does come at a cost. The coating does make the display lose some of the vibrance from colours and can appear somewhat dull when compared to a glossy display.
Glossy displays will look much more vibrant, colours will look richer and blacks will appear deeper. Unfortunately, they are extremely reflective and bright lights or sunlight will cause very noticeable and distracting glare and in the worst case scenarios are barely usable.
Again, neither option is perfect but try to think where the majority of your time will be spent using the laptop, if it’s going to be sitting on your desk in a dimly lit room or office with no direct sunlight then you can go ahead and enjoy the rich and deep colours a glossy display will provide.
However, If you’re going to be quite mobile with your laptop, maybe using it on trains or in coffee shops (though probably not any time soon) or even offices with strong overhead lighting, I would recommend a Matte display.
Resolution refers to how many pixels a screen can display, you may have heard of ppi (pixels per inch) or pixel density, this is calculated by the resolution of your display and the size of the screen. For example, a 17 inch monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 will have a lower pixel density than one with a 13 inch screen. Keep in mind, more pixels isn’t always better. Higher resolutions put additional strain on your laptops graphics which will result in a higher power draw, heat and noise and in turn shorter battery life.
Performance wise, if you’re doing just solely web based tasks, up to date, current integrated graphics shouldn’t have much of an issue powering a 4k display. Although for most people, 4k on a laptop screen is overkill. Keep in mind, if you attempt to do more taxing tasks on 4k, you will have a bad time unless your laptop has a decently powerful dedicated graphics card powering it.
I’d advise to stay away from 1366 x 768 if possible as it offers a noticeably inferior experience due to the low pixel density, it will even affect things like web pages not displaying correctly and causing you to have less screen real estate. 1920 x 1080 is the standard resolution for most laptops and for good reason, it offers a respectable pixel density while also not being too much of a strain on your graphics.
Some other considerations
I’m not going to go into detail here because there’s already a plethora of amazingly in depth articles revolving around solely these topics, but it’s worth a mention for those who don’t know.
How many Hz? Hz or screen refresh rate is how quickly your display can refresh the image. A higher refresh rate is usually only seriously sought after by people with a passion for gaming, as it does offer some competitive advantages while gaming and makes the experience overall smoother and more enjoyable. For day to day usage, it offers little benefit aside from making your mouse cursor glide like butter across your screen.
Lastly, colour accuracy is again something that is only a serious consideration if you’re planning to do serious photo or video editing on your machine. Obviously, the more accurate display the better but it comes with a serious premium. The most well known standards to look out for are sRGB, NTSC and AdobeRGB.
Hopefully you found this useful and it gave you some things to keep in mind when shopping for your shiny new laptop. Stay tuned for the next blog post on ‘Internals of Laptops’. I’m going to take a similar approach to this one and explain what does what, so you can decide how much, or how little you are willing to spend to find the perfect laptop for you.