Lenovo Yoga C940.Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central
Spring is upon us, which means I’m cleaning and packing up laptop review units to send back. In the process, I’ve been reminiscing about what trends and features I like, and what I think some PC makers are missing.
While there is no perfect laptop, Dell’s recent XPS 13 (9300) comes the closest, thanks to a combination of some features other PC makers could stand to implement. Here are five things that all laptop makers should be doing, and a few they should be considering in 2020.
Display aspect: 16:10
XPS 13 (9300) looks like this because of its new 16:10 display aspect.Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central
A 16:10 aspect falls between traditional 16:9 and 3:2 but leans more towards the latter. With the taller aspect, viewing web pages is more satisfying because you see more information. The same applies to using Word.
I’ve been banging the drum on this topic for a while, including in this article from 2018. That piece goes more in-depth on the reasons why a taller aspect is preferred.
The only exception for this advice should be gaming laptops, where 16:9 is still favored due to the default resolution of those games. Gaming on 16:10 or 3:2 is possible, but it gets problematic on older titles.
But I don’t care if it’s 3:2 or 16:10, either one is a win for getting a larger display without a bigger laptop.
Silver keys? Pick a better backlight.
HP Spectre x360 13 looks great in silver, but those keys are hard to see at night.Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central
The use of silver or white keys looks excellent right up until nighttime when the lights go down. Using a white LED to act as a backlight on silver keys? Big fail.
But the solution is more divisive: use a different color LED. Red, green, blue pick your color, they all look better than white. The issue is, we all can’t agree on what tint would look OK. Razer solves this with its Chroma RGB zone lighting, but this solution drives up the cost of a laptop.
PC makers can resolve this by merely using extremely high quality and bright white LED lights. Many do not.
Amp those speakers
Turns out, edge-speakers can be great if they are amped and high-quality.Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central
Amps drive more power to the speaker and let them achieve more without side effects. They do add some hidden costs to laptops, and HP is quick to note they use more power too (HP has different battery estimates based on headphone or speaker use).
The tradeoffs are worth it. Companies like Samsung, HP, and even Dell have become particularly good at audio. Lenovo also added quad speakers to its ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which is a significant improvement. And let’s not forget Lenovo’s creative Yoga C930/C940 “soundbar.”
While speakers are getting better on Windows laptops, they still have some room to gain on Apple. Let’s see that get corrected.
HDR, anti-reflective, fast refresh displays
Anti-glare and Dolby Vision make consuming media a better experience.Source: Windows Central
The use of high-dynamic-range (HDR) display technology gets tricky. Technically, an actual HDR display would hit 1,000 nits of peak brightness, but instead, we see a few laptops that “only” hit 500+ nits for an HDR400 certification. Dolby Vision is also a proprietary version that promises deep blacks and brighter peaks.
I do not care what it is called or how bright it gets. If a display can peak over 500 nits (average is 300-400 nits) and it can give a greater dynamic range, I am all for it. Movies and images look better, and that is all that matters.
And while almost all laptop displays are 60Hz, there is now a push towards higher refresh rates, including Razer’s latest Blade Stealth, which does 120Hz. High refresh rates make using Windows a much better experience with smoother animations and a higher frames per second gaming.
The downside of higher refresh rates is a hit on battery life and cost. But it sure would be cool to see 90 or 120Hz become standard if companies can solve that problem using a variable-refresh.
Ginormous trackpads: Do it
Source: Windows CentralSurface Laptop 2 (left) vs. Surface Laptop 3 (right) reveals a larger trackpad.
Windows PC makers have been slowly enlarging their offerings, including Microsoft, which not long ago bumped its trackpad size in Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro X. Dell is doing it too with the XPS 13 and rumored XPS 15.
Part of the solution to this challenge is the larger display aspect ratio mentioned earlier. By making a display taller, PC makers must make the keyboard deck longer. Consequently, they can put in a taller trackpad.
It’s a win-win, folks.
All PC makers need to know is this: there is no such thing as a trackpad that is too big. Use all that space up and put in a high-quality one with Microsoft Precision drivers. Better yet, someone should invent a non-physical clicking trackpad like Apple.
Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central
Better web cameras were something not demanded by many in 2019. In 2020, it is suddenly a highly valued feature due to the surge of people now working from home. Microsoft never lost sight of this feature, though. Surface PCs have the best native web cameras available. Indeed, the Surface Pro X is the king, with some of the brightest and sharpest images yet.
Meanwhile, companies like HP and Dell have been so focused on “micro” cams to fit thin bezels they sacrificed quality. Huawei didn’t even care and put it in the keyboard, and ASUS flat out omits webcams in some of its gaming laptops. That needs to change.
HP ENVY 13 users a hinge-lift mechansim that lets more air in and allows for angled-typing.Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central
Is anyone still using MicroSD cards in 2020? I’ll leave that open-ended, but I’m using Microsoft’s Your Phone to wirelessly transfer photos to my PC, or I shoot using an SD card or newer XQD.
Thunderbolt 3 is excellent, but it is also overhyped. Most people who bring up external GPUs (eGPU) never actually buy one. Sure, Thunderbolt 3 has its place, but forthcoming USB4 is much more interesting even if still confusing (it can vary on data speeds).
Finally, let’s hear it for more AMD options. AMD’s Ryzen 4000 U-series could upend Intel while bringing lower cost and better performance to Ultrabooks. If the hype is real, PC makers should begin offering more of its premium light laptops with the new processors.
Anything else I missed? Let me know in comments what you want to see in premium laptops.