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Goodbye and good distance to the ratio 16: 9



One of the biggest trends coming out of this year’s CES was not something people will necessarily notice at first glance unless they look closely. After enduring many years of cramped, “widescreen” laptops, it seems we are finally starting to say goodbye to the 16: 9 ratio.

Here is the new Dell Latitude 9420.
Image: Dell

An aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of the screen to the height of the screen (in that order). For example, a screen with a resolution of 500 x 500 will have a aspect ratio of 1: 1. Think of it as simplifying a fraction: a 1080p screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which splits to 16: 9.

The aspect ratios you normally see on laptops are 16: 9, 3: 2, 16:10 (which for some reason is called 16:10 instead of 8: 5) and (sometimes) 4: 3. 16: 9 is the most common option, and also the one with the lowest amount of vertical space relative to the horizontal space.

The Acer Aspire 5 is open at the front.

Here is a 16: 9 Acer Aspire 5.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Surface Book 3 is a powerful, portable desktop PC.

And here is a 3: 2 Surface Book 3. Do you see the difference?
Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

If you have a modern Windows laptop, there is a good chance that your screen is 16: 9. If you have a gaming laptop, the panel is almost certainly 16: 9. (It is unusual to find panels with high refresh rate with other proportions.) There are some notable exceptions: Microsoft’s Surface products have been 3: 2 for quite some time, while Dell’s latest XPS 13 models and Apple’s MacBooks are already 16:10. But traditionally, Windows laptops like these have been few and far between.

16: 9 screens are cramped – at least compared to other options. I usually can’t work comfortably in multiple windows side by side without zooming out or doing lots of vertical scrolling, and when I multitask in Chrome, the tabs get very small. If you are used to using a 16: 9 monitor and trying a 16:10 or 3: 2 monitor of the same size, you probably will not return. You just have a lot more space, and it’s a much more efficient use of screen space.

But this CES showed that 16:10 and 3: 2 screens are approaching mainstream. These are some of the largest laptops announced at the show that offer non-16: 9 display options:

  • HP Elite Folio (1920×1280, 3: 2)
  • Dell Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (2560 x 1600, 16:10)
  • Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 (2560 x 1600, 16:10)
  • Lenovo Legion 7 and Legion 5 Pro (2560 x 1600, 16:10)
  • LG Gram 17 and Gram 16 (2650 x 1600, 16:10)
  • Lenovo IdeaPad 5 Pro (2560 x 1600, 16:10)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga (2256 x 1504, 3: 2)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 and X1 Yoga Gen 6 (up to 3840 x 2400, 16:10)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Removable (1920 x 1280, 3: 2)
  • Asus ROG Flow X13 (up to 3840 x 2400, 16:10)

That doesn’t mean there aren’t 16: 9 monitors left – many laptops still use it, and probably will in the foreseeable future. And some of these devices, like the LG Grams, were already 16:10.

But it’s important that a large number of flagships we see in the first half of 2021 will be either 16:10 or 3: 2. When you include MSI’s 16:10 Summit E13 Flip and Razers 16:10 Razer Book 13 (both of which were announced before CES), I can not think of a regular laptop company that now does not sell a non-16: 9 flagship level machine. It’s clear that companies across the board are moving towards laptops with higher aspect ratios, and I fully expect to see more of them in the years to come.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Removable in portable mode, angled to the left.

Here is the X1 Detachable (currently attached).
Image: Lenovo

Again, this may seem like a boring change. But it will make a big difference in the lives of this year’s laptop buyers, especially people who shop for a home-made device. I switched from a 16: 9 laptop to a 3: 2 Surface Book 2 back in 2017, and it was one of the best purchasing decisions I have ever made. If you’re using a 16: 9 monitor now and want to upgrade this year, I encourage you to give one of these new devices a shot. You will not return.


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