Here’s the theory: matte-finish screens combat glare and reflection by reducing the amount of light that gets bounced back to your eyes, however, that technique also reduces the amount of light that emanates from the display. Glossy screens approach the problem from the other side, by allowing more light to "come through" the screen. The downside is that they also allow more light to be reflected.
The newer, glossy screens look very attractive. Much like a deep and rich metallic paint can make a car look more attractive. Until recently, I assumed that these sparkling displays were better than the matte screens that came before.
A few weeks ago, my mom asked me to come computer shopping with her. She’s 68, recently retired, and uses glasses for reading and computer work.
We headed to Best Buy and Future Shop so that she could look at all of the options in person (there was no way she’d make a decision like this shopping online). The first thing my mom noticed was the glossy finish on all of the laptops. Since the laptop display counters are all roughly at waist-height, the screens had to be angled upward so that you could see them from a standing position. Unfortunately, that meant the overhead lights reflected off their surfaces, right into your eyes. The effect was quite pronounced and made the screen quite hard to see.
I could see from the look on my mom’s face that this was going to be a deal-breaker. I started to scan the other laptops to see if I could find one with a matte screen. We found a Sony model that wasn’t shiny but the price was out of her range, coming in at close to $2,000. But the difference was dramatic – glare and reflection was almost non-existent on the Sony.
So we went back to the other models and I tried to angle the screens up and down so that the reflections were minimized. After playing with them for a few minutes, and increasing the system font size, my mom felt she’d be able to live with the glossy screen. I was relieved. After all, glossy was better and she’d thank me later.
We took the machine home and set it up. I spent the next couple of hours staring at the screen. It drove me crazy.
When I compared the glossy screen to the matte screen of my current laptop, two things were apparent: The glossy screen’s colour, contrast and brightness were superior to the matte screen. But glare and reflection were also far worse. I simply couldn’t get over the constant presence of reflected light on the glossy screen.
Interestingly, when the two laptops were running off battery and each screen switched to their lower-brightness settings, the glossy screen was much harder to see, whereas the matte screen felt quite comfortable.
Frustrated, I started searching the web to see what the consensus was amongst users. Glossy screens: good or bad? Turns out the debate is alive and well, and reminiscent of the Blu-ray/HD-DVD discussions with most folks landing firmly in one camp or the other. Many discussions centre around Apple’s switch to glossy displays from matte in their latest versions of the MacBook laptop.
One fascinating page is from Lenovo’s public blog in which they ask people their preference – glossy or matte? An amazing 86% said no to glossy. The poll was opened in October of last year and it would be interesting to see if people’s opinions have changed now that glossy screens are becoming the norm.
Where do you stand? Are you a fan of the latest hi-gloss displays or do you find yourself wishing there were more matte-finish options in the laptop market?