What’s the best laptop screen size for poor eyesight?

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “What’s the best laptop screen size for poor eyesight?” was written by Jack Schofield, for theguardian.com on Thursday 21st March 2019 09.30 UTC

For home use, would a 17in Full HD laptop screen be better or worse than a 13in or 14in model? Will the clarity and crispness be better for my pensioner eyes? Chris

According to my pensioner eyes, clarity and crispness are less important than size. And in one of life’s little ironies, increasing the resolution of a screen, to make things look crisper, leads directly to a decrease in size.

Fortunately, we can fix this in Windows 10’s software settings by changing the scaling, as I’ll explain later. However, programmers need to follow the rules, and even today, not every Windows program scales correctly.

Screen size vs resolution

Both screen sizes and resolution started small, growing over the years as display and graphics technology improved.
Both screen sizes and resolution started small, growing over the years as display and graphics technology improved. Photograph: Graham Turner/The Guardian

Go back a few years and most of us were using PCs with VGA (Video Graphics Array) screens, which had a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. VGA was a major advance in 1987, and some feature phones and laptops still have cameras with VGA resolution.

Screens kept improving and the next major standard was XGA (Extended Graphics Array), with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels and the same 4:3 aspect ratio, like a TV set. Now your 640 x 480 photo no longer filled the screen and if the screen was the same size, it would be smaller.

Windows laptops moved on to widescreens with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which sounds odd but isn’t. Manufacturers simply retained the depth from XGA (768 pixels) and extended the width to fill a flat panel with an aspect ratio of 16:9, which was efficient for manufacturing. The result was W-XGA (Wide Extended Graphics Array). Now you could fit two of your 640 x 480 pixel images on screen side by side with room to spare, but again, each image was smaller.

The same thing happened each time screen resolutions increased. A 1920 x 1080 pixel Full HD screen can display two rows of three 640 x 480 images. A 3840 x 2160 (4K) screen can display 4.5 rows of six 640 x 480 images. What used to fill the screen now occupies only 3.7% of it.

Of course, if the screen resolution stays the same, everything is bigger on a bigger screen.

If you buy a PC with a 10in screen and a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, everything is really small and hard to read. Plug it into a 24in screen with the same 1920 x 1080 resolution and everything becomes dramatically bigger and easier to read, even though it’s not as crisp.

In my experience, people with poor eyesight prefer big, slightly fuzzy text to small sharp text but you will have to find the compromise that suits you best.

Windows scaling

windows 10 display settings
From the Display settings in Windows 10 you can change the screen’s resolution as well as the scaling, which makes things bigger while preserving clarity. Photograph: Jack Schofield/The Guardian

One way to make everything bigger is to change the resolution of the monitor. Right-click on the Windows desktop and select “Display settings” from the drop-down menu. This will bring up the Display section of the Settings (cogwheel) app, which shows the screen resolution. It may say something like “1920 x 1080 (Recommended)”. Clicking the down-arrow will let you to select a lower resolution, going down to around 800 x 600. Every reduction in resolution makes everything bigger, though it also means the screen displays less information.

But reducing the screen resolution rarely works well. LCD screens have a fixed grid of pixels that forms their “natural resolution”. Setting a different resolution can produce very blurry results.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative. Look for the box that says “Change the size of text, apps, and other items”. This should read “100% (Recommended)”, but the down-arrow will allow you to change this to 125%, 150%, 175% or even more. (My 4K monitor offers up to 350%.) This type of scaling makes everything look bigger without changing the screen’s native resolution.

If you click on “Advanced scaling settings” then you can type in any number you like for percentage size increases between 100% and 500% (not recommended).

In general, the smaller the screen and the higher the resolution, the more scaling you will need. Try the 125% and 150% options to see which suits your eyesight best.

Changing icon and text sizes

You can also change the size of parts of Windows. Right-click on the desktop and select View from the drop-down menu. This lets you select small, medium or large desktop icons.

Alternatively, you can click on the desktop, hold down the Control key, and use the mouse-wheel to change the size of your icons. This technique works in some other programs too, including web browsers, File Explorer and Microsoft Word.

To make other things bigger, start typing “make everything bigger” in the Windows 10 search box and click the top result. This will bring up the Display page in the Settings apps’ Ease of Access section.

“Make text bigger” is the top entry and it’s controlled by a slider. Drag the slider to the right to make the sample text easier to read and stop when you like the result.

Finally, type “clear type” into the search box and select “Adjust ClearType text”. This pops up a wizard that lets you select the text sample that looks best to you. ClearType uses sub-pixel rendering to make text look sharper. It made a big difference with low-resolution LCD screens and doesn’t make as much difference today – or so it seems to me.

Screen sizes

Cheap Windows laptops generally have 13.3in to 15.6in with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. This is acceptable for most home uses. Better laptops usually have sharper screens with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels or more.

You should find a 1920 x 1080 screen easier to read on a 17.3in laptop than on a 13.3 or 14in laptop because everything on the screen will be bigger.

The problem with 17.3in laptops is that they are big and not very portable, and their weight is a challenge to the hinges. Consider getting an all-in-one PC with an even bigger screen – usually from 21in to 27in – or a smaller laptop with a separate 24in monitor instead. Standalone 24in 1920 x 1080 monitors are cheap and usually much better than the screens built into laptops.

An all-in-one could provide a bigger, better screen for around the same price as a cheap 17.3in laptop, and a much healthier, more ergonomic working position.

Possible options

I recommend visiting PC World, John Lewis or another retailer where you can look at laptops of different sizes, as well as some all-in-ones. After that, it depends how much you want to spend.

For best results with Windows 10, you should buy a system with an Intel Core i3-8100U or AMD Ryzen or better processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. If you decide on a 17.3in screen, something like a Dell Inspiron 17 5000 would fill the bill at £699. This has a Core i5-8250U, AMD Radeon 530 graphics, a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive.

My pick would be the HP ProBook 470 with a Core i7-8550U, 8GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce 930MX graphics, 256GB SSD, 1TB hard drive and three years of on-site service for £969.60. However, ebuyer.com has a version with a lower specification for £675.99.

The silver HP 17-by0511sa is a budget option with a Core i3-8130U, only 4GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive for £529. According to Crucial, you could add more memory later but this pushes the cost too close to the superior ProBook 470.

The all-in-one options include the Acer Aspire C24-865 (i5-8250U/8GB/1TB HDD for £599), Dell’s Inspiron 5000 (i5-8100T/8GB/1TB HDD for £699) and Lenovo’s 520-24ICB (i5-8400T/8GB/16GB Optane/1TB HDD for £749). All three have 23.8in screens, which is a great size for ageing eyes.

I’ve linked mainly to Currys PC World for convenience but there are many other suppliers both online and offline, including Amazon and Argos. Dell, HP and Lenovo also sell direct from their own websites, where they offer good support deals, flash sales, and student discounts.

Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com

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