Laptops in the 1990s and all the way through the mid 2ooos had screens with a 4:3 aspect ratio. However, as laptops turned into multimedia machines, the aspect ratios changed to match HD television screens. Most had (and still have) either a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio. This definitely needs to change and is already starting to.
In 2014, Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3, which had a 3:2 aspect ratio and felt more like a pad of paper than the previous Surface Pro units, both which had 16:9 inch screens. When viewing the screen of the Surface Pro 1 and Pro 2 in portrait orientation, they looked very strange. Many users complained, Microsoft listened, and raised the bar for future laptops.
Of course, screens shouldn’t be too square. The 4:3 aspect of the iPad has always been a little too square since the device is used a lot to watch movies. Because of this, you see the two huge black bars on top of and below the movie you are watching. However, others who use their iPads primarily to read books or surf the Internet think the aspect ratio is perfect.
The 3:2 aspect ratio you get on the Surface Pro (and the new Surface Book) makes a compromise so you can do it all. Holding the screen in portrait orientation is great for taking handwritten notes and reading books. Holding the screen in landscape orientation is great for watching films. You do get the black bars above and below widescreen movies, but they are minimal.
The 16:10 aspect ratio on the MacBook, the MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air is okay This isn’t a device you can normally hold in portrait mode, so viewing the screen in landscape mode looks wide, but not too wide. Still, it would be great if Apple would release a laptop with a 3:2 aspect ratio.
As laptop displays are becoming more square, they are also becoming more crisp. Just three years ago, a laptop with a 1080p screen was considered top-grade. Now, a 1080p screen is considered low resolution. The Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book, and the Dell XPS 13 have screen resolutions that are close to 4K. Samsung’s upcoming ATIV Book 9 has a 15-inch version that has a 4K screen. Dells XPS 15 also has a 4K screen. Perhaps, within a year or so, 4K screens will be the normal screen resolution, even for laptops that have screens 14 inches or less.
The laptop has certainly evolved over the past twenty years. It’s hard to figure out how we accepted perfectly square laptop screens. However, it’s also hard to figure out how we accepted perfectly rectangular screens in the 2000s. Somewhere in the middle is the hot spot.