MacBook: About the glossy screen

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 30th, 2006 • 11:25 am

Here are a few notes about the screen, now that I have had a chance to use our new MacBook for a few days:

  • The gloss is definitely noticeable and will take some getting used to. It’s not one of these fairly subtle changes that can be blown out of proportion in Internet discussions. It is a pretty significant change, and I am not convinced it’s for the best.
  • That being said, given the way that our MacBook is going to be used and the environments in which it will be used, it will not be a major problem for us. The main location, i.e. my wife’s office, only has fairly diffuse incandescent lighting, and the higher reflectiveness of the screen will not really be a problem in that environment. But I can definitely see that it could become a problem in some environments. For example, we have a fairly big sun room with many skylights, and in that room there are problems with the glossy screen (whether it’s sunny outside or not). But then, we never were able to use the PowerBook G4 (Titanium) in there either, because the screen was never bright enough, even when it was brand new. At least we can try to use the MacBook in that room, and might be able to find positions where it is indeed usable. But I wouldn’t want to be use the MacBook in such a room on a regular basis.
  • The brightness of the screen is obviously much better than the brightness of the TiBook, especially when you put them side by side. But it’s not blindingly bright. In other words, I don’t have to turn the brightness down from the maximum setting to make it usable. When I got my new 30″ display back in November with the new G5 Quad, I was surprised at how much brighter it was than my existing 23″ display, which was three years old. I now use both screens side by side as an extended desktop, and I have to turn the brightness of the 30″ screen down several notches to bring its brightness within the range of the 23″ display, on which the brightness is turned up to the max. (Otherwise my eyes constantly have to adjust to the change in brightness when they jump from screen to screen.) Maybe because of the experience with the terrific brightness of the 30″ display, I was not particularly impressed with the brightness of the MacBook’s glossy screen. It’s good, but it’s not amazing, and it’s definitely not as good as the 30″ turned up to the max. That’s probably normal for the thin screen of a laptop, and I don’t have any points of reference other than the 5-year-old TiBook, so I don’t know how the MacBook’s screen compares to the latest matte displays of the most recent Apple laptop generation in terms of brightness.
  • The glossy finish definitely has an impact on the screen’s viewing angle. The impact that I notice the most is on the vertical axis. The laptop is on a desk most of the time, and there is a major difference between looking straight at the screen when you are sitting at the desk and looking down at it when you are standing up in front of the desk. This is a fairly common situation: You leave your laptop open and running on your desk, and you go do something, and you come back to take a look at the screen, but without sitting down. Well, in such a scenario, you’ll definitely notice a difference. Looking down at the screen from above, you lose a lot of contrast. The greys are washed out, and it’s not particularly comfortable to read text. In other words, this is not a machine that you will want to be using while standing up in front of it. (The problem might also have to do with the design of the hinge, which prevents you from opening the screen at a very wide angle. The TiBook’s hinge was much more flexible in that respect and you could almost achieve an angle of 180 degrees. Not so with the MacBook: The angle is limited to approximately 135 degrees. It’s fine when you are sitting down at your desk, but not really usable when you are standing up in front of it.)
  • The glossy finish does definitely have a positive impact on the blacks, which are always a challenge with LCD displays. On the MacBook, the blacks look much closer to what they would look like on a CRT or a plasma TV. It’s also a rather nice display to look at digital pictures. I am not necessarily saying that it’s as good as or better than my 30″ display (which has a matte finish, of course), because it’s really hard to compare due to size considerations. But iPhoto slide shows look really nice on the MacBook, as do the visual effects used by Apple for Front Row.

The bottom line here as far as I am concerned is that, overall, the MacBook’s screen is nice, and I am sure my wife will have no problems with it. It is undoubtedly an improvement over the TiBook, and in most situations she probably will not even notice the gloss. I, however, work with two large LCD displays with a matte finish all day long and, when switching to the MacBook, I definitely notice the difference. If the laptop were my main work machine and I had to use it in a variety of situations and environments, I would definitely have reservations about the glossy screen. I would probably have opted for a display with a matte finish for my own machine. (But then I would also have wanted a bigger screen, so I wouldn’t have bought this model anyway.)

Unless providing the option to buy a MacBook with a display with a matte finish would represent a logistical nightmare for Apple, I feel that they really should have considered offering this option, as they now do for the MacBook Pro line. I also do wonder how many Pro customers are actually going to opt for the glossy finish. Hopefully the numbers will show Apple that this switch to glossy should definitely not be extended to the entire laptop family!

3 Responses to “MacBook: About the glossy screen”

  1. MacBook not bright enough  »Technology News | Venture Capital, Startups, Silicon Valley, Web 2.0 Tech says:

    […] Note: I wish I had read this months ago. […]

  2. danridley says:

    I have been pleasantly surprised by the versatility of the glossy screen on my MacBook. Where I use it most of the time, in a home office with diffuse lighting, I’d prefer the matte screen — but the glossy screen is actually far more usable in weird lighting, outdoors, or near skylights and picture windows. The glare is mildly distracting, but it remains only mildly distracting in situations where matte screens just end up completely washed out. This is the first notebook I’ve ever owned that I can use outdoors on a sunny day without having to find shade and still squint.

    I’d still definitely want matte on any desktop displays that I bought, but at this point I’d go with glossy without a second thought on a new notebook. This position would have really surprised me-from-a-year-ago.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for sharing. I definitely didn’t keep the MacBook for long enough (that mooing thing) to acquire the kind of experience you have.

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