Confession Time: I Hate Hi-Res Screens

By Chris Mills on at

Ever since Apple stole every geek's eyeballs with the Retina display, PPI's been the name of the game in computing. But I've got a secret; perhaps the grubbiest, dirtiest secret a tech writer could have right now: I hate hi-res screens.


Hi-Res Screens Are Ruining Windows

Ok, so I've got bad eyesight. I've worn glasses since I was six; the Royal Marines rejected my poor vision, and contact lenses are even more vital to me than micro-HDMI cables. But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who hates the current crop of tiny Windows ultraportables with 1080p screens. Yeah, Microsoft Surface Pro, I'm looking at you.

The problem, you see, is that as the pixels get smaller (the obvious result of cramming a higher-res screen into the same size area), the stuff on the screen gets smaller too. Windows, unlike OS X, doesn't have a hi-DPI mode. And as a result, any 'nice' screen is utterly terrible when you plug it into Windows. I'm typing this on a 13" 1080p screen, and as much as I know I should be revelling in £800's worth of tech, I just can't wait to get back to my crummy, cheap 19" monitor. Squinting hurts.

The problem's exacerbated on a touchscreen laptop. On the aforementioned Surface Pro, cramming two million pixels into just ten inches of screen has made everything impossibly small. Trying to hit a tiny icon with your big fat fingers isn't possible.


It's Not Just Microsoft Though

The problem isn't just contained to Windows, though. The PPI race is becoming stupidly untenable, with 1080p now the standard for smartphones. Like the megapixel wars before, it's got to the stage where the most hardened tech journos struggle to tell the difference between a screen with 330 PPI and 440 PPI. After a point -- and that point is somewhere around the iPhone 4's 330 PPI -- there's honestly no difference in crispness.

But there's a bucketload of harm from maxing out the resolution. A high-res screen draws more power, and taxes a device's GPU more than a lower-res screen. Look at the iPad Mini, a tablet with a good 12 hours (or two days of real-world usage) battery life, in no small part due to a 'low-res' screen that the critics lambasted in reviews.

Ok, so maybe saying I hate hi-res screens is a little strong; I don't hate hi-res screens themselves -- in the right application, and used in the right way, without trade-offs, they're one of the best things to have happened to smartphones. But I hate the spec war that they've inspired. I hate that I'm struggling to find an Ultrabook that lets me click my bookmark bar without a frigging magnifying glass. I especially hate that manufacturers are making screens which are hi-res, at the cost of being washed-out and over-saturated; or screens so over-PPId they could've probably squeezed an extra couple hours of battery life in there, if they'd only had the balls to stand up to the MOAR PPI culture.

So maybe this is a tad harsh. Maybe I'm way out of touch, or just have an 80-year-old's eyeballs stuck in my head by accident. But either way, it seems that there's a needless vicious circle going on, where companies are too afraid to point out that the Emperor's not wearing any clothes. HTC stuck it to megapixels with the One; I'm just hoping someone will be equally brave to call an end to the PPI madness.