Laptops come in all shapes and sizes. For the most part, the size of a laptop is determined by the size of the laptop’s display. The reason for this is fairly obvious – a 13 inch display is a 13 inch display, and it can’t be miniaturized or changed without being a smaller display!
The size of a laptop screen determines so much about a laptop that deciding the size you’d like should be your first order of business when shopping for a new laptop. You can’t make your decision without knowing how the size of a laptop screen changes a laptop, however, so let’s take a look at a few things you need to consider.
The Best Size for a Laptop Screen – Portability!
Remember this rule – the bigger the screen on a laptop, the less portable the laptop will be. There are some minor fluctuations and exceptions to this rule – for example, the MacBook Pro 15 has a fairly large display but also has impressive battery life – but the catch, of course, is price. There is really no way to get around the fact that laptops with large screens or less portable than those with smaller ones.
The average 15.6″ laptop has a battery life of around three hours and weighs over five pounds. The average 13.3″ laptop has a battery life of around five hours and weighs under four pounds. Adding or subtracting just over a pound to a laptop may not sound like much, but it does make a big difference if you intend to travel with a laptop frequently. Obviously, the physical size of a laptop with 13.3″ screen is smaller than that of a laptop with a 15.6″ screen, and this also impacts portability. If you have a smaller laptop you’ll have more space in your bag to fit other things.
This doesn’t mean that you should buy the smallest display size possible, however. If you did, you’d end up with a netbook that has a 10.1″ display. Netbooks are extremely portable, but laptops with very small screens tend to sacrifice a lot of functionality and performance. I find that the 13.3″ laptop screen size is optimal for most travelers.
The Best Size for a Laptop Screen – Performance and Functionality
Figuring out how to cram lots of power into increasingly tighter packages is one of the main engineering challenges in modern laptops. Some laptops do it better than others, but there is no way to defy the laws of physics. Computer hardware makes heat, and if you concentrate the heat into a smaller area the energy builds higher unless you do something to flush it out. And while laptop cooling is better than ever before there is only so much can be done.
As a result, laptops with larger screens are often times much quicker than laptops with smaller screens. Price, of course, must also be considered – you can walk into most Best Buy stores and purchase a 15.6″ laptop that’s barely more powerful than a netbook – but chances are that, should you compare two laptops of similar price, the larger one will be quicker. That’s why people who want gaming laptops and mobile workstations will often find that the best size for a laptop screen is largest they can afford.
Functionality is also often better on laptops with large screens. Laptops with screen sizes below 13 inches are usually very cramped. They have to reduce the size of some keys in order to fit a full keyboard, and the trackpads are often slender as well. Laptops with 15.6 inch screens often manage to pack in a numpad, but it’s usually crammed in close quarters with the keyboard, making it a pain to use. Laptops above 15.6 inches, on the other hand, usually have no problem including a full-size keyboard and a numpad.
The Best Size for a Laptop Screen – Display Quality
Most people assume that large displays will automatically look better. This is a logic that usually works well in the realm of television, and so folks often apply it to laptop displays. Unfortunately, this assumption usually backfires.
Here’s the issue – laptop display quality is determined as much by pixel density as display size. A laptop display has a certain number of pixels on it – most modern laptops have a 1366×768 display, which means there is a total of 1,049,088 pixels. That’s a lot!
But laptop manufacturers almost universally use this display resolution in all laptops between 11.6 and 15.6″ inches in size. The result of this is that laptops with a large screen size have larger pixels, and larger pixels tend to produce poorer image quality. In fact, many laptops with a 15.6″ screen size suffer from what is known as the “screen door effect.” Bright images on these displays literally look as if you’re viewing them through a screen door. This is because the manufacturer has to spread the same number of pixels over a larger space, and this makes each individual pixel – as well as the tiny gaps between them – more obvious.
If you want the very best display quality you’ll want to look at either laptops with a small screen size (13.3 inches or below) or a large screen size (16 inches or above). Laptops of 13.3 inches or below should have a resolution of 1366×768 or higher, while laptops above 16 inches should have a resolution of 1600×900 or higher.
So, with all of this detail out of the way, let me lay out a few basic recommendations.
If you want a portable laptop with good battery life the best size for a laptop screen is 11.6 to 13.3 inches. These laptops are relatively small and light, but also are big enough to offer usable keyboards.
If you want a basic laptop that is somewhat portable but also offers solid performance, a laptop with a screen size between 14 and 16 inches is the way to go. These laptops offer a lot of bang for your buck but are also still small enough to easily take to your local coffee shop for a few hours of mingling and web surfing.
If you want a very powerful laptop with a lot of usable screen real estate, buy a laptop with a screen size over 16 inches. These laptops are barely portable, but they are nearly as quick as desktop computers.