Most Business Laptops Still Have Horrible, Low-Res Screens. Here's Why.

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In 2018, you wouldn't expect to start a new job, be shown to your desk and find an electric typewriter sitting there instead of a computer. You'd be shocked if the IT staff handed you a gray-scale BlackBerry 6230 and said, "This is your corporate-issued smartphone; carry it at all times." And even if your company's CIO was foolish enough to want to buy electric typewriters and 15-year-old handsets for employees, he or she wouldn't find a company that still manufactures and sells such outdated technology.

image001Unfortunately, in 2018, laptop makers are more than happy to make business laptops with old-fashioned, productivity-draining 1366 x 768 screens, and there are corporate customers foolish enough to purchase them. According to analyst firm NPD, in 2017, 51.7 percent of laptops that businesses purchased had screen resolutions of less than 1920 x 1080 — most commonly, 1366 x 768, the lowest number of pixels you can get on a modern laptop.

"Everyone has to make choices around specs, and screen resolution tends to be one of the areas that businesses are comfortable trading down on." — Stephen Baker, analyst, NPD

The difference between having a 1920 x 1080 (aka 1080p) screen and one with a 1366 x 768 resolution is the difference between being able to edit documents, read web pages or multitask without constant scrolling and window switching and not being able to do any of those things. Just try reading a web page or paging through a report with only 768 pixels of vertical real estate. After you take away space for menus, window bars and the taskbar, you barely have room to see a few paragraphs of text at once.

If you have 1080 pixels, that's 40 percent more text and graphics than 768. With 1920 horizontal pixels, you can stack two full-width windows side by side for multitasking, whereas if you have only 1366 of those, it makes it difficult to multitask. And what business user wants to edit a spreadsheet with only a few columns showing at once?

We've said for years that 1366 displays on laptops are a bad joke and that manufacturers should be ashamed to continue selling them. Still, if you look at the leading commercial notebook manufacturers — Dell, Lenovo and HP — all of them offer systems with 1366 displays, and some of those notebooks can't even be configured with 1080p screens.

Just as one can no longer buy a business laptop with a floppy-disk drive or a trackball, one should not be able to purchase a notebook with a 1366-resolution screen.

For example, Dell recently started shipping the 12-inch Latitude 7290, a premium business laptop with a starting price of $1,498 (currently on sale for $1,049) and configurations that cost as much as $2,070. There is no option to get this pricey laptop with anything but a 1366 display. 

Our favorite business laptop of 2017, the Lenovo ThinkPad T470, comes with a 1366 x 768 display on the base model, but it costs just $70 to upgrade to 1920 x 1080. HP's ProBook 650 starts at $899 and defaults to a 1366 display, though it costs only $39 to upgrade to 1080p.

If it costs the customer only $39 to $70 to get a decent screen on a business laptop, it probably costs the manufacturer a fraction of that. Rather than nickel and dime their customers, the companies should make 1080p the lowest standard resolution on any business laptop and raise their base prices accordingly.

The flip side of the argument is that business customers sometimes want to save that $39, and if they're buying 10,000 laptops, the savings add up. Speaking off the record, representatives at a couple of manufacturers told me that they continue to offer these low-resolution displays because corporate clients still want them.

"Road warriors need full features, and we are gradually seeing everyone get a better screen," NPD analyst Stephen Baker told me. "But price is still very important in business as well, and not everybody can get a top-of-the-line product. Everyone has to make choices around specs, [and] that [screen resolution] tends to be one of the areas that businesses (and consumers) are comfortable trading down on."

It's understandable that consumers who are on tight budgets would want to pinch every single penny, but businesses that aren't willing to spend a few extra dollars to make their employees more productive are shooting themselves in the foot. And laptop vendors are helping them make their workers less efficient.

What business user wants to edit a spreadsheet with only a few columns showing at once?

Companies that don't buy their employees laptops with 1080p screens often cheap out on other features. In 2017, the average selling price of a business laptop with a 1080p screen was $1,275, but for low-res screens, that number dropped to just $571.

lenovo_thinkpad_13However, a low budget is no excuse. You can get a Dell Latitude 14 3000, the lowest-end Latitude, with a 1080p screen for just $550, or a ThinkPad 13 (pictured above), one of Lenovo's cheapest, for around $680. Granted, these notebooks have low-end processors and storage, but that's to be expected of any business laptop under $800.

Some people I talked to both inside and outside of the computer industry suggested that, for business users who connect to docking stations with large monitors at their desks, laptop screen quality doesn't matter. Of course, we have a name for a computer that sits on your desk all the time: "desktop." If screens don't matter, neither do keyboards or battery life or anything else.

Even if employees only carry their notebooks to meetings and on the train, they need to be able to get work done. And if they can't be productive on their business laptop because it has a terrible screen, that will affect their opinion of the brand when it comes time for them to buy their own computers.

Vendors need to understand that the customer isn't always right. If a Fortune 500 CTO asked you to manufacture a laptop that gives the user a painful shock after 15 minutes of inactivity, would you make one? Just as you can no longer buy a business laptop with a floppy-disk drive or a trackball, you should not be able to purchase a notebook with a 1366-resolution screen.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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8 comments
  • Evan the Wise Says:

    Higher resolution is not always the answer. I wouldn't want 2k on a 13 inch portable laptop. The questions is what resolution provides best productivity for most users that also still provides good productivity. For most business users 1080p should be sufficient. Also, keep in mind that most projectors/screens are still primarily 1080 which is perfectly fine for most presentations. so yes, 1366 x 768 actually will cause a loss of productivity for most employees and cost the company far more in the long run.

  • Garry Masters Says:

    Freddie Kruger, you are scary and miss the point- 1080p is NO LONGER HIGH RES now 2k and 4k screens are high res and if we can agree on that then I can agree with you. 1080 is virtually a wash on cost to manufacturers vs these old 720p ($10-20) and if they eliminated cost of carrying multiple screens in stock/parts/docs/etc it would even save that ! 1080p should now be a basic right, not an option...we are in 2018 not 2005 -move on !

  • Joe Bean Says:

    More than 10 years ago, I was buying only Dell Latitude D with the optional 1920x1200 IPS screens. Those were great and I kept them for about 8 years...

    1366x768 is an insult to any productive user. And I had many laptops with hard disks instead of SSDs where the hard disk broke after 3 years, so another reason to use SSDs.

  • Zamorano Says:

    Nicely argumented. But I'd put my vote against "low-quality" screens (as in TFT or low-contrast) rather than against "low-res". IPS screens should be standard by now.

    Then again - I have a much bigger issue with keyboards. Most laptop screens are tolerable, but the fashionable keyboards with thin and flat keys that are undistinguishable by touch are very bad.

  • Andrew Says:

    Why should we pay more for high res displays? To read websites like this one that waste space left and right and waste even more space with ridiculously large pull-quotes?

  • Freddie Kruger Says:

    This feels a bit out of touch. The reason businesses generally dont opt for high res displays is because largely they are a luxury item. A low res screen will not make businesspeople any slower at producing spreadsheets or documents, because high res is really only required for high level media creation (photo/video editing), or media consumption (which isnt the point of a business laptop.) If companies are trying to keep costs down they are extremely justified in not shelling out for high res

  • Garry Masters Says:

    I think this article is RIGHT ON- For $39 or less everyone can benefit from 1080p sometimes- if you want a larger type font or lower res there are option for that- but once stuck at lower res no options available.

    SAME thing is true for SSD in 2018- NO REASON to not have at least a small M.2 as the difference in night and day- if someone needs a terabyte or more then that should be drive 2 option--- even small laptops that put in a hdd have room for both or just SSD.

    When standardizing on these- the additional volume discounts and simplified manufacturing/parts inventory should also help to dive these items down in price further.

  • Eirik Says:

    Laptops are intended for on-the-go. My 12.5" business laptop would not benefit from 1080p at all.

    If I'm in the office, I prefer a 34" super-widescreen with an additional vertical monitor. No laptop is going to beat that, so I'd rather go cheap/portable/replaceable.

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