In my search for a replacement workstation recently, someone asked the question: “Do you want a laptop?”. In the past, that answer has been a clear-cut ‘no’ for me, but let’s back up a few years and see why…
My first ‘pro’ monitor was a 23” Mitsubishi. It cost a pretty penny and weighed about the same as one of their cars, but the great color reproduction & screen geometry made those negatives bearable. It served me well for design projects. As LCDs became more and more mainstream I stubbornly hung onto my beast of a CRT. Color accuracy was so lacking on those LCDs that none of them were suited for graphic design work.
Fast-forward a few years and there was word on the street about affordable LCDs that had not only great color, but excellent viewing angles and latency that was still good enough for video and games. “IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels” - could it be? A couple clicks and a few days later, Dell had one sitting on my doorstep. I parked it on the desk next to my trusty black monolith, held my breath, and fired it up.
Blacks were much improved over the CRT, and obviously sharpness & geometry were perfect. Calibration toned it down a bit, but the color was incredible from any angle. Most impressive though, was comparing it to ‘normal’ LCDs, using TN (Twisted Nemantic) panels. There simply was no comparison; it blew them all away. This ‘IPS’ LCD panel tech married the best aspects of both CRTs and flat panels – great color, consistent color ramps all the way down to black, energy efficiency, small desktop footprint, and I could still game on it! I happily sold my other monitors, kissed the Mitsubishi goodbye, and stepped into the future.
Or so I thought.
Even years later, “IPS” is just now becoming a mainstream term (thanks in large part to Apple’s iPad marketing). It’s generally available only in high-end consumer or professional-grade desktop displays, and still commands a serious price premium over the TN panels that dominate the market. It seems smartphones & tablets are the only devices to consistently feature IPS panels. This brings us back to the question…
“Do you want a laptop?”
I dove in and did some research, reminding me of my CRT-era searches for a “holy grail” of LCDs. And hey, that story ended happily… eventually. This time though, my findings were disappointing - IPS displays are still very rare in the laptop market. Even the highest-end MacBook Pro models still use TN panels, which seems especially odd since the current iPad/iPhone, iMac line, and 27” Apple displays all proudly bear the “IPS” badge. For laptops, IPS displays seem reserved for the “mobile workstation” segment from the likes of HP and Dell, as well as a few random models from Lenovo and a handful of other manufacturers. And even in that segment, you’ll have to look closely to find any mention of “IPS”: they choose to hide it behind “premium” display marketing labels. You’ll often need to find 3rd-party confirmation that a specific model has it, and even that can vary from year to year. Another downside is that these models are priced according to the professional segment they’re aimed at (read: expensive).
It seems that today, the answer is still ‘no’. I hold out hope that (with increasing consumer awareness of IPS LCD panels) the next time I go hunting for a laptop, the answer might be a ‘yes’!