Televisions have 16:9 aspect ratios. For the last several years, so have some of the best ultrabooks and laptops. And while that may be fine for watching TV or consuming other video, it is to the detriment of productivity. Slowly, over the last year or so (and especially as of this year), we're seeing more laptops with panels that have 3:2 and 16:10 aspect ratios. Those taller screens show more work, more words, more spreadsheet cells and more code. We should never go back.
As a quick refresher, a screen's aspect ratio is the relationship between its height and its width. So when we say a screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, it is three units wide for every two units across (in this case, the units are pixels).
And that makes a difference; Because when there are more pixels in height, a screen can show more. In most productivity work, height is what matters. I'm writing this article in Google Docs, and the amount of my text that I can see is limited by the height of the screen. That's similar for coding or for reading. Heck, I know people who turn their secondary desktop monitors sideways for longer Twitter columns.
16:9 displays came down from the popularity of widescreen TVs. And yes, widescreen TVs are great. I remember when they were 4:3, and very few people prefer those unless they want a truer experience for Super Nintendo emulators. But with the exception of those who use their TV as a monitor, those displays are really meant to consume entertainment that is presented sideways. That's not always the case with work.
And let's remember, 16:9 wasn't how it always was. We had 4:3 displays for a long time, which mirrored CRT desktop monitors. Those were taller than they were wide.
There have been two evolutions from 16:9 - 16:10, which largely preserves the same chassis size for laptops, and 3:2, which is far taller and a bit more square.
I like them both. 16:10 adds a meaningful amount of space, and can be found on the Dell XPS 13 and Apple's entire line-up for basically ever (Apple never went to 16:9, which is one of its best design decisions of all time). Lenovo is even using the 16:10 ratio on its upcoming Legion gaming laptops. Microsoft uses 3:2 displays on its Surface devices, and HP has utilized it in one of our latest favorites, the Spectre x360 14.
Using the Spectre x360 14 was luxurious because of that vertical space. But see for yourself. I captured three samples: code, a website and a video so you can see what you're missing out on with 16:9 screens.
For the code, the 3:2 display showed seven more rows of code than the 16:9 screen. The 16:10 display showed four more lines.
It's a big deal on websites, too. On a 16:10 display, you get a full paragraph over a 16:9 screen. The 3:2 screen even gets into the paragraph after that.
If you hate letterboxing on videos, maybe stick with 16:9. Movies are often shot in slimmer aspect ratios. You'll see in this still from the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer that 3:2 has thicker black bars. I'm of the opinion that this is not enough of an annoyance to forgo all of the productivity benefits.
This evolution to taller screens is one of the best things to happen to laptops in a long time. Sure, Microsoft and Apple have been doing it for years, but a fuse has been lit under the rocket, and there's more choice than ever. Honestly, I'd love to see desktop productivity monitors go back to at at least 16:10.
The internet, most software and most workflows go up and down. They weren't meant to be squeezed horizontally (games on ultrawide monitors are an exception). The return of tall screens is a good thing, and the more 16:10 or 3:2 notebooks, the better.
Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team.