Why did Laptops go Widescreen? Time to embrace 3:2 displays

25th February 2019
Why did laptops go widescreen? 16:9 or 3:2 ratios

The MacBook Pro went widescreen in 2006, and many others followed suit, but while the 16:9 ratio is great for gaming and streaming videos from Netflix and YouTube, it’s not so great for anyone looking to be able to see more content on their display in our web-focused world.

IBM Lenovo 700c front view
IBM Lenovo 700c

Most laptops sport the cinema-like 16:9 ratio, although in general, they range from 4:3 in some older displays through to 16:10 in others, such as the first IBM (Lenovo) ThinkPad 700c. There have even been a few ultra-wide laptops, like the Toshiba Satellite U845W with it’s crazy 21:9 ratio.

While there are benefits to the ultra-wide displays if you love to watch movies on your laptop, or are a huge spreadsheet fan and love Excel, 16:9 has become the industry standard since 2012, despite it feeling cramped compared to 3:2 screens and for many users, their laptop is a tool for them to write, create,
read, connect, communicate, and earn a living, so 16:9 isn’t always the best fit. 

Microsoft’s Surface range leads the way on ‘Square’ displays

Microsoft started a new trend to the 3:2 ratio with the launch of the Surface Pro 3, and giving it a place in between 4:3 and 16:9, which was smart because we’re already familiar with this aspect from printed media. We like to read web pages from the top down and this gives the reader more visible text, rather than having to scroll down so often. The Surface 3:2 ratios and smartphones both make displays taller so that you can see more content, the orientations are just different.

Front and back view of the Surface Pro 6 in Platinum
Surface Pro 6 uses a 3:2 Aspect Ratio

The 3:2 ratio is common throughout the Surface range but few other manufacturers followed their lead, in fact, the only other one producing 3:2 aspect ratio laptops is Huawei and the MateBook Pro, who often echo Microsoft and Apple’s design inspiration.

Why aren’t other PC manufacturers getting on the 3:2 aspect ratio?

Most displays aren’t made by laptop manufacturers, they have to source them from LG, Samsung, and other low cost producers, so getting mass produced displays to a new or custom ratio can be cost prohibitive for them. Manufacturers like Dell also recycle their chassis, so moving to a new display aspect can have a huge impact on the design and this can be a risky experiment for them.

For the time being at least, it looks like the Surface range, and now Huawei, are our only options for a 3:2 display ratio, until consumers start putting pressure on giving feedback to other manufacturers. Of course, we’re not saying that the widescreen laptops should disappear, what would all the gamers and many business users do without them? Perhaps it’s just time to give consumers a real choice.

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Compare Microsoft Surface display resolutions…