4K laptops definitely still have quite a few problems that need to be worked out, so let’s discuss some of them and find out if they’re a gimmick, or game-changer! So a friend of mine recently stopped using this 15” laptop with 4K display because he’s finally become so sick of the problems associated with 4K. He’s swapped back 1080p laptop, so I thought I’d test out the 4K one for myself to either see just how bad it is, or find out if it’s the future.
On first use I put my eyes as close to the screen as I could, comparing it with a 1080p screen of the same size. The 4K screen is definitely noticeably nicer close up, it’s easy to see the pixels on the 1080p display this close but still very difficult on 4K. That said, when viewing either at a normal distance I wasn’t able to tell the difference, but that’s definitely personal, maybe I have crap eyes. This particular laptop only has an Nvidia 970m, so to actually game at 4K there’s a fair bit of sacrifice in terms of quality.
Personally I’d prefer to have both higher settings and better frame rates in game with 1080p at this screen size, on a larger monitor it might be more worthwhile but so far at 15 inches 4K isn’t providing me with any real benefits yet. For example in Rise of the Tomb Raider I can run with medium settings at 1080p and get 58 FPS, but at 4K the same test on the same hardware only gets 21 FPS. Even if we take it to minimum settings 4K only got 26 FPS. In 4K it’s both performing worse, and overall looking worse. A higher resolution is probably quite nice, once you’re able to run at acceptable frame rates with decent settings, to me those things come ahead of higher resolution.
At this screen size it just doesn’t seem worth it. What about 4K on a larger external monitor? Sure, I can see that being a decent experience if you’ve got a good graphics card, but in a small laptop screen? Probably not. Of course you’d have a better experience with a better graphics card, but there’s still the fact that running at 4K uses more power when compared to 1080p, and as a laptop is designed for portability this is kind of a big deal. Even if you’re not gaming, you’ll still be using slightly more battery just to power the extra pixels, and of course a more powerful graphics card will in itself use more battery power too. But those aren’t the only issues, even just day to day use of the laptop for normal tasks has all sorts of weird inconsistencies.
By default when the resolution is set to 4K, Windows defaults to scaling to 250%, if we set it to 100% we can see that it’s just horrible, the user interface is way too small to use. So we leave it at 250% and everything should be fine right? Nope. Not all applications are affected by this setting, for example here I’m opening a few different apps and the sizing is just all wrong, more are a lot smaller than they should be and you basically have to squint, it’s a pretty bad experience compared to 1080p. This gets much worse if you have a 1080p external monitor plugged in, if you move a window that appears to be sized properly from one to the other, it completely changes and just looks stupid.
Many websites aren’t designed with the 4K resolution in mind either. Long story short, modern software still has a problem making use of all the available pixels that 4K provides in a way that translates to a good user experience. As this is primarily a software based issue, it should be something that can at least be fixed in the future, so if you have bought into 4K, don’t worry too much, things should only improve from here, I mean surely they can’t get any worse.
With that said I think there are still some important aspects to be aware of, such as the extra graphical power you’ll need to push so many pixels, which will drain your battery faster. In the future as interfaces and websites improve the experience will get better, even gaming at 4K should become easier as hardware improves, but for now I find 4K on a laptop a tough pill to swallow all round.
So what do you guys think about laptops with 4K displays? Would you get one? I’ll definitely be staying away from them for now, at least until the software side of things has improved a bit. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, and leave a share on the post if you found the information useful.