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Glossy and shallow (with megabezels). This pretty much describes the laptop market today.

Nearly all the affordable “consumer level” laptops have glossy screens: “and that is not everything: for the same price, you get a shaving mirror” (in TV-shop voice). You have to go for expensive business laptops to get a matte/anti-glare screen, where you can see more than your own ugly face amidst spots of reflected light.

Aspect ratios providing sufficient height for comfortably viewing text documents and code at small laptop display sizes, have been completely eliminated. Everything is 16:10 or even 16:9, designed for shallow film viewing experiences, not for doing any actual work on. You won't even find an expensive business laptop with a 4:3 screen anymore.

An A5 paper is ~21cm tall. Most documents written to be printed on A4 paper are still readable scaled down to A5 size. But scale down any more, and the text becomes unreadably tiny – irrespective of resolution (DPI), which is largely an orthogonal issue. And scrolling page-oriented documents in particular sucks. Significant screen height is also nice for editing the LaTeX source code of those documents, or other code.

A 4:3 14.1" screen, with 21.5cm height, can display an A5 document in normal screen orientation. For the purposes of viewing vertical documents, the 16:10 14.1" laptop, on the other hand, is essentially just a stretched bulky version of the 4:3 12.1" ultraportable with 18.98cm and 18.44cm respective screen heights. Scaling down a document from 21cm height to 19cm height, i.e., to about 90%, results in squared reduction of the area of the document to about 80%. It's a huge reduction, often resulting in text too small to read. (And you don't want to print every document on paper.)

Even a 15.4" 16:10 screen is slightly shallower than 21cm (although not significantly at 20.7cm). Such a computer is getting rather bulky at about ~36cm wide. A 15.1" 4:3 screen, on the other hand, has a rather substantial 23cm of height in a package narrower than a 14.1" shallowscreen laptop. To get the same vertical working space in shallowscreen format, you'd have to go for a massive (nearly 40cm wide) 17" dragtop. (At this point the widescreen format finally, however, starts to make some sense on a mostly stationary computer, as the height is already tolerable.) Both 14.1" and 15.1" 4:3 laptops suffice as your only and travel-ready computer; with a shallowscreen only 15.4" is worth even considering, but in essence bigger although with a shallower screen than either of the former

Some Thinkpads for comparison:

screenwidth (cm)depth (cm)screen height (cm)
T4x14.1" 4:331.125.521.5
T4x15.1" 4:332.926.823.0
T40014.1" 16:1033.523.819.0
T50015.4" 16:1035.725.520.7

(Screen heights based on calculations, not official data.)

The shallowscreen models waste space on their lids for huge bezels! The screens have much shallower dimensions than the devices themselves. This is even more annoying than the shallow screen dimensions themselves. It can easily be observed to be a general trend in the industry not limited to just these models. Indeed, some are even worse.

As you see, the T500 loses only 1.3cm of depth compared to the 15.1" T4x, yet loses 2.3cm of screen height, thus wasting one extra centimetre in the bezel. Compared to the 14.1" T4x, it loses no depth, but loses 0.8cm of screen height. The T400 loses 1.7cm of depth compared to the 14.1" T4x, but 2.5cm of screen height. And all of the shallowscreen models are wider than the 4:3 models. Consider this: the 15.1" T4x is 0.6cm less wide than the T400, and 3cm (13%) deeper, but has 4cm (21%!) more screen space vertically, and only 0.3cm less horizontally. It packs a much more useful screen, yet is not significantly bigger and still quite easy to lug around, staying among the range of sizes of folders for A4 papers. (The T500 doesn't.)

Both of the above-mentioned shallowscreen models actually have about √2 ≈ 1.4 aspect ratio for the device dimensions. This is the aspect ratio of the ISO 216 paper system. With a bit of effort (and perhaps marginal changes in device dimensions), the 14.1" model could fit a much more useful A4-sized screen (21cm × 29.7cm) -- A4 in landscape orientation is indeed marginally narrower than a 15.1" 4:3 or 14.1" 16:10 or screen, and has the intermediate height; that of an A5, of course. It could be a tolerable compromise screen size. But, no, the bezel is huge and the screen shallow these days.

An image at notebookreview.com of the current Thinkpad X200 (12.1" 16:10), X300 (13.1" 16:10), and the older X61 (12.1" 4:3) ultraportables is an excellent demonstrations of technological regression. The bezel of the 4:3 x61 is tiny; almost all of the lid is used for the screen. Both the X200 and X300 have a tiny shallow screen on a huge lid. Another image provides further comparsion of the x61 and X200. Look how the X200 does not have any less depth despite the shallower screen. Yet it's wider (and thus with slightly better keyboard), although even the sides of the screen have lots of unused space.

Now, of course, for actually reading documents a tablet or, better yet, electronic paper would be ideal. But most of these devices also tend to waste space on huge bezels. There aren't yet many e-paper devices that would offer even an A5-sized screen, let alone A4. And yet many of the devices have external dimensions in the range of an A4! Megabezels to the power of two. And without a proper keyboard, they aren't very good for writing documents yourself. Pivotable displays might also help, but I haven' seen a laptop with one yet, and the pivoted shallowscreen displays are awkwardly narrow in any case; pivoted, they take such a small portion of your horizontal field of view, yet are tall.

It seems that if one wants a laptop with a semi-decent screen – albeit missing latest improvements in brightness and battery life, such as LED backlights – one has to look into the 2nd hand market for devices from less shallower times.

Nipples. Before getting the laptop I also thought of acquiring a docking station to be able to connect my old el-cheapo PS2 keyboard and mouse to the laptop. Most laptops have awful keyboards, after all, and even separate keyboards in many computer packages are degrading to that level.

But no need. The keyboard on the T43 is the first good laptop keyboard I've used – indeed it's better than my old bulk keyboard. And the Trackpoint or nipple mouse – it's a magnificent device. It's better than the real computer mouse, unlike most substitutes. It almost makes the WIMP interface tolerable. It turns the pointing device into an integral part of the keyboard, instead of a cumbersome distinct device. Yet the consumer lines of laptops – as well as all Apples – only come with the horrid touch-or-even-approach-me-and-unleash-hell-pad, which is the first thing to disable on a laptop.

I guess the availability of matte screens isn't the only reason to stick to expensive or 2nd hand business laptops. But when will they have decent screen dimensions without too much unused space on the lid again?