Acer’s Series 7 ultrabooks with 1080p screens: Too many pixels?

There might be such a thing as too many pixels… at least when it comes to Windows laptops. Companies have been duking it out to see who could pack the most pixels into smartphone and tablet displays, and Apple’s latest 13 and 15 inch MacBook Pro laptops also have “Retina” displays.

But those phones, laptops, and tablets generally take advantage of those extra pixels to keep text, pictures, and other graphical elements the same size… while looking sharper. Microsoft Windows 8 does the same thing… but only when you’re using the new “modern” user interface.

When you jump back into the traditional Windows desktop, a higher resolution display means you can fit more content on the screen. And that’s a great thing if you have a large display. If you have a small display… it can make it hard to see anything on the screen.

And that’s why I have mixed feelings about Acer’s new Series 7 ultrabook with an 11.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display.

Acer S7 1080p ultrabook

On the one hand, the display looks great when you’re viewing the Start Screen or apps designed for the new modern UI.

When you try to run a desktop web browser, on the other hand, everything looks very, very tiny. If you don’t plan to hold the laptop as close to your face as you typically hold a smartphone, that could be a problem.

Fortunately, the 1920 x 1080 pixel screen looks a lot better on larger Series 7 ultrabooks. Acer also offers a model with a 13.3 inch screen, and it’s just enough larger that the higher resolution display feels a little easier to use.

In a perfect world, Microsoft (or Acer or another hardware partner) would come up with a way to do what Apple’s done on its latest MacBooks: use pixel doubling tools so that everything looks sharper and more clear on a laptop with a high resolution display, without necessarily looking smaller.

But it’s not clear whether that’ll happen anytime soon… so while it’s nice to have the option of a 1080p screen, if you’re thinking of picking up an ultrabook with a full HD display, I’d recommend checking it out in person before pulling out your wallet. You want to make sure that you can read comfortably on the display.

Acer’s 11.6 inch and 13.3 inch ultrabooks are available with up to an Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor, USB 3.0, and a solid state disk. The notebooks weigh less than three pounds and have touchscreen displays with edge-to-edge glass.

The smaller model features 2 USB ports and a microSD card slot and micro HDMI port, while the larger model has full-sized ports including 3 USB ports.

  • getti evan

    Hi Brad,

    Only been reading liliputing just recently as it would seem that this site is able to report on new items quite well.

    Your review here made a point which I believe is counter-productive to trying to get higher resolutions on notebooks.

    > When you jump back into the traditional Windows desktop,
    > a higher resolution display means you can fit more content
    > on the screen. And that’s a great thing if you have a large display.
    > If you have a small display…
    > it can make it hard to see anything on the screen.

    See Linus comment from Google+ which I wholeheartedly agree with.

    https://plus.google.com/+LinusTorvalds/posts/ByVPmsSeSEG

    > Linus Torvalds
    > Oct 30, 2012 – Public
    > So with even a $399 tablet doing 2560×1600 pixel displays, can we please
    > just make that the new standard laptop resolution? Even at 11″? Please. Stop
    > with the “retina” ****, just call it “reasonable resolution”. The fact that
    > laptops stagnated ten years ago (and even regressed, in many cases) at
    > around half that in both directions is just sad.

    > I still don’t want big luggable laptops, but that 1366×768 is so last
    > century. Christ, soon even the cellphones will start laughing at the
    > ridiculously bad laptop displays.

    > And the next technology journalist that asks you whether you want fonts that
    > small, I’ll just hunt down and give an atomic wedgie. I want pixels for
    > high-quality fonts, and yes, I want my fonts small, but “high resolution”
    > really doesn’t equate “small fonts” like some less-than-gifted tech pundits
    > seem to constantly think.

    > In fact, if you have bad vision, sharp good high-quality fonts will help.
    > #noexcuses

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Well sure… but at this point my goal is to prevent customers from being seduced by the idea of a higher resolution screen only to find themselves spending big bucks on a laptop that might actually be difficult to use.

      The point is that the Windows desktop has always done a bad job of working with small, high resolution displays. So while Acer (and Asus) are pushing these new 1080p 11.6 inch notebooks at very high prices, the truth is that if you plan to use traditional Windows apps on them, you get a kind of usability nightmares.

      There are a few solutions. You can just opt to use the don’t-call-it-Metro user interface, at which point you might as well have gotten a cheaper laptop.

      You can get a larger laptop or a small notebook with a lower resolution screen.

      Or you can hope someone comes with a good app that allows Windows 8 users to adjust pixel density the way they can on the latest MacBook Pro models so that you can toggle between insanely tiny text but more screen real estate and text, images, and icons that look the same size as they would on a 1366 x 768 pixel display, but which appear much more clear.

      Personally, I’m hoping for that last one. But until that happens, I probably wouldn’t buy a 1080p Windows laptop with a screen smaller than 13.3 inches.

      • getti evan

        > Well sure… but at this point my goal is to prevent customers from
        > being seduced by the idea of a higher resolution screen only to find
        > themselves spending big bucks on a laptop that might actually be
        > difficult to use.

        I assume Win8 has a similar option in the desktop mode as Win7 to set a higher DPI. I am in Win7 at the moment so I cannot check.

        Could you check and update your review if you find it to be an acceptable solution?

        http://windows.microsoft.com/is-IS/windows7/Make-the-text-on-your-screen-larger-or-smaller

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        a) It’s not a review. It’s a hands-on article after having spent a few minutes with the laptop at a trade show.
        b) That’s a crappy solution. It’s what Microsoft has offered for years, and it only affects text in some menus and programs, but not others and gives Windows a horribly uneven look and feel. Ideally you’d want an option to scale *everything* on the screen the way Android, iOS, or OS X does… not just some elements of the user experience.

      • getti evan

        > a) It’s not a review. It’s a hands-on article after having spent a few
        >minutes with the laptop at a trade show.
        Review was a bad choice of words

        > b) That’s a crappy solution.
        > It’s what Microsoft has offered for years,
        While a crappy solution it is still a solution.

        As you are trying to “prevent customers from being seduced by the idea of a higher resolution
        screen only to find themselves spending big bucks on a laptop that might
        actually be difficult to use.” including the comment that there is a DPI scaling option that may be suitable for some users, but there mileage may vary would not go astray.

        I was going to mention the DPI scaling in my first comment but I forgot.

    • Jeff

      Linus’ didn’t give any actual reason to the higher resolution. He
      didn’t even have a counter point to the small font issue on desktop
      OS’s.

      Maybe he could encourage UI developers to make Linux DEs resolution independent. Then he’ll have an argument.

      • getti evan

        As a developer I was able to infer why he wanted it and didn’t need a counter-point. My Alienware M11X only has 11.6″ screen with a 1366×768 resolution,

        As a developer having a high resolution on a small notebook is invaluable as you can have more windows visible.

      • James

        With small text or did you increase the font size and thus negated the higher resolution and screen real estate? Maybe you kept the small text and have your face an inch away. That way you would actually still have more lines and columns of text.

        Kind of sounds like those people who want 16×10 instead of 16×9 so they can see a couple of lines more code.

  • getti evan

    Did Acer mention at all when the 11.6″ was going to be available?

  • Jeff

    So any info on the second battery for the 11.6″

  • jb82

    I struggled to see anything but drawbacks to the 1600×900 sony vaio 13.1″ i bought several years ago. Tweaking dpi etc helps somewhat but then it messed with some of my work apps and I had to return the laptop. Windows just isn’t built for high resolutions and I am glad at least someone is trying to make that point.

  • Mark

    The main point of this article for me is that desktop OS’s need to be resolution independent like mobile OS’s. So then as the pixel density gets higher, everything actually looks better.

    Too bad MS kind of did this in their crap Modern UI and not for the desktop. Linux desktop environments are just as bad as the Windows desktop where even font scaling messes up everything. I guess Apple has finally moved towards resolution independence but after giving OS X a shot for 3 years, resolution independence was the least of my issues.

    • modport

      I agree. There are just some physical limits to the human eye. Pixel density should be used to scale content (ie. text, images, UI elements, etc.) to roughly the same size on any size screen at the intended viewing distance. The UI overall has to change somewhat with different sized screens similar to resizing a window where some apps reorganize its contents.

      The whole “I can have more windows” or “I can see more text” argument becomes weak or not applicable on a 11.6″ screen when you have to physically get closer to the screen or increase scaling. Sometimes people just expect too much from an 11.6″ screen. Having multiple windows or viewing a lot of code just isn’t practical on such a tiny screen. The only things you can realistically expect are sharper images and text at the same size as pixel density increases.

    • JDW

      It would have been nice if MS can make there desktop UI resolution independent. The current solution of changing the DPI is really bad.

  • johnc

    Did you ask why they removed the Thunderbolt port?

    It’s disappointing that they stayed with a microSD slot on the 11.6″ instead of a full sized one since the only microSD card I have are in my phone. I’d only take it out when replacing the phone. I do have full-sized cards for my camera which I take out often for faster transfers.

    As for the main subject of this article. I’d rather have manufacturers focus more on screen quality and viewing angles. For 11.6″ notebooks, I prefer even more for them to focus on battery life since I doubt people going for 11.6″ screens are looking for desktop replacements but rather very mobile PCs. Pushing that many pixels will definitely not help battery life. I wish screen makers would have a power consumption war instead of a resolution one.

  • Richard Manns

    Well, Windows 7 has a pixel density setting. Not elegant but easy.

    Has this disappeared from Windows 8?

  • Steven Pemberton

    Can I point out that on Web browsers at least, ctrl-+ will solve this problem. I have a 11″ Full HD screen, and have no problems with browsing.

    • Tim

      Then what’s the point of FHD if you’re just going to scale things to a lower resolution? If the OS and apps can render text more sharply and use higher resolution images then FHD would make sense on small screens.

      • http://www.facebook.com/morsetlis Phu Tran

        Flexibility, of course.

      • TGin

        What flexibility? It’s a just a bad experience. Windows’ DPI scaling and zooming in/out screws everything up and not much actually looks any better. It’s just a hassle on an 11.6″ screen.

  • optimismprime

    Pixeldoubling on a 1080p screen would be a terrible thing. Who in their right mind would use any sort of desktop OS on what boils down to an effective resolution of 960×540

  • orev

    This article is naive and misleading to the point of irresponsibility. Every version of Windows, at least since XP, has a “DPI” setting in the Display control panel with the sole purpose of making these kinds of adjustments. The fact that this article completely ignores this calls the competence of the writer into question.

    Just like on phones and tablets, the extra pixels can be used for rendering smoother text and finer graphic details. THAT is the point of higher resolution screens on all devices, and has nothing to do with fitting more on the screen.

    If you think the only purpose of higher resolution screens is to fit more stuff on it, then obviously you are going to have this problem on smaller screens, and are also missing the point of them.

  • Anonymous Viper 7

    i fucking hate windows 8 i wish all the new devices running windows 8 also came with the option to have linux instead or no operating system