Home > Reviews > Tablets vs Ultrabooks on the display front – End 2012 update

Tablets vs Ultrabooks on the display front – End 2012 update

With over 3-megapixel in the 3rd and 4th generation iPad, followed by 4-megapixel Google Nexus 10, tablets have definitely overtaken any kind of current notebooks, including Ultrabooks and except Apple, in display resolution, not to mention the superior 16:10 format. Any chance for Ultrabooks to stage a comeback on this important front?

If you look at the current tablet market, you’d be positively surprised how many pixels have the vendors squeezed into the most popular ~10-inch format.

The “New iPad” with its 9.7-inch 2048×1536 wonderscreen was the first in the line, getting praises even from professional photo and filmmakers for its display quality and colour fidelity. As a typical high end camera photo is in 4:3 format anyway, now all the photo buffs around finally had a portable photo viewer with both matching format and as-close-as-it-gets resolution to view your hi-res photos.

The Google Nexus 10, with its Samsung 10-inch 2560×1600 screen, was there then to quickly outdo the Apple entry, crossing the 4 megapixel line for the first time in a tablet, while still keeping the ideal 16:10 ‘Golden Ratio’ format.

And such resolutions shouldn’t be a surprise, knowing that ~6-inch phablets coming from the Chinese vendors such as ZTE, Oppo and Huawei will bring Full HD 1920×1080 format into an even more compact form factor. Takes some really good eyesight – or good glasses – to peek into those, but well, the market wants them, it seems.

Hold on a second – that same Full HD 1920×1080 resolution is the best you can hope for from the high end crop of current UltraBooks in the 13 to 15 inch screen format, and even that is if you’re lucky, as most of them top out at 1600×900 at best. The Asus ZenBook line was usually the early leader in display resolution here.

Then, these are productivity and content-creation oriented laptop PCs, where the 16:9 format is far less acceptable, as explained here zillion times, compared to the smartphones which can be long and narrow to be held in the palm comfortably, and are usually used only for content viewing – even then, tablets are far batter for that type of use.

Again, this time Apple is the positive stand-out, with their MacBook Pro line offering proper, more productive 16:10 aspect ratio in their high end, with 2560×1600 4-megapixel 13-inch and 2880×1800 5-megapixel 15-inch models. And, even in the words of one of Asus’ regional honchos, “Apple can sell their Macbooks higher because of, among other reasons, much better display resolution and aspect ratio than the PC competition wants to use”.

Look, unlike trying to, say, copy iPhone or iPad, getting the same – or better – resolution display for the laptops is not a too hard job. After all, if we had 22-inch 3840×2400 LCDs at 16:10 in 2001, it wouldn’t be too hard to have, say, an 18-inch or so gaming or workstation superlaptop – or supertablet – with that same resolution nowadays.

On their side, Intel has also helped by finally enabling Quad HD level resolutions like 3840×2160 and 3840×2400 in their Ivy Bridge display support this month. The upcoming Haswell generation will, of course, support these resolutions by default anyway, as Nvidia and AMD GPUs did for years in any case.

So, from a hardware standpoint, there is nothing to prevent PC vendors from exceeding the tablets – or Apple – in the notebook display resolution and quality. Oh yes, quality here also means non glossy display, as US$ 1K++ Ultrabooks are usually not bought for watching movies or being used as a mirror, but for productive work.

As for the usual ‘no guts’ PC vendor behavior in avoiding to demand from LCD panel vendors the right displays for their laptops’s use, rather than just taking what panel makers throw at them to “save on glass cutting costs” and such dumb excuses for the pathetic 16:9 format, the only party who can correct the problem are the vendors themselves – the users have already voted with their money, looking at the dwindling notebook, including Ultrabook, sales, and exploding tablet sales, even without the “PC application base”.

Or, maybe, Intel can be the one to gently, or less gently, nudge the PC vendors into solving this issue. Because, once Apple really moves into 64-bit ARM-based laptops as they likely will in a year or two, they will make sure these are vastly superior to anything in the PC marketplace, and then Intel will suffer far more too. And, it seems, Intel – not the users – is the only ‘shepherd’ that PC vendor sheep lot listens to, at the end of the day.

Nebojsa Novakovic
In the spare time over the past two decades, editor and writer of high-end computer hardware and design features and analysis for European and US media and analyst houses. Reviews of high end hardware are my specialty for 28 years already.

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