/ Technology

Do you want matte screens to return?

Baby looking at reflection in laptop

There was one obvious omission in our latest laptop and netbook batch – only one had a matte screen. The rest were glossy. Why is it so difficult to avoid glossy screens and why can’t matte monitors return?

In our latest batch of reviewed laptops, just one had a matte, diffuse, anti-glare (or whatever you want to call it) display.

That was out of 15 pieces of computing kit. And worse, the lone anti-glare device wasn’t even a laptop – it was an expensive, high-end business netbook. The Samsung N350 is hardly going to suit your everyday consumer.

Mourning the death of matte

So the problem continues – where have all the matte screens gone? I know there’s a demand for them – you’ve told me so on Which? Convo when I moaned about shiny gadgets (complete with expletives). Kris commented:

‘My Toshiba laptop has a shiny screen and it’s terrible, particularly if I sit in the wrong place I just can’t see the screen with the sun hitting it.’

I’m with you there Kris, my Sony Vaio laptop threatens me with my own reflection morning and night. Francisson joined the chorus:

‘Personally I hate these glossy, glassy, glittering reflective surfaces, but I’m putting up with one because when I bought a new laptop not long ago I found no choice, though I tried hard enough!’

And that’s the rub – people are willing to go out of their way to track down a matte screen laptop and would probably pay a little more for it. Commenter Timothy Ryan certainly would, ‘if a company made a point of advertising the matte screen of their device I would most definitely consider it above one that didn’t’.

Why not make matte screens?

You’d think computer manufactures would want to make a quick buck – so why aren’t they investing in matte screens?

There are a number of theories. People, like monkeys and magpies, are attracted to shiny and reflective objects, meaning they’re more likely to buy a glossy laptop in a store. Matte screens are said to be more fragile and may even cost more to make. Plus, some commenters on Reddit say they use glossy screens as a mirror:

‘I like to check to make sure my toupee is on right, the shiny screen helps…’ commented ObamaisYoGabbaGabba.

Those poor (and sarcy) reasons aside, I’m not buying it.

Bring back matte iMacs

Loyal Apple customers aren’t buying it either. A petition calling for matte iMacs to return has had over 1,500 responses – they’re not a happy bunch, refusing to buy another iMac until there’s an anti-glare option.

Professional graphic designers seem to be the angriest – they’ve been using iMacs for years and find glossy screens a distraction that often give them headaches. These are existing Apple customers who are desperate to upgrade their hardware, but Apple apparently isn’t listening, despite the company’s promise to take note of customer feedback.

So, we really want to know – do you miss matte screens on laptops and computers? If there’s a big enough call for their return then we’ll use our clout to take this straight to the manufacturers (just like with our viewfinder campaign). Let us know in the comments and vote in our reopened poll – I certainly know which result I’ll be rooting for.

What type of screen do you prefer?

Matte (89%, 1,491 Votes)

Glossy (11%, 178 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,667

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It would be very interesting to see what happens if a manufacturer were to offer a choice of matt and glossy screens at the same price. I thought I would have a problem with the glossy screen on the iMac and MacBook Pro, but they have not been a major problem. The reflections are annoying at times but I don’t regret buying these machines.

What really annoys me is laptops with glossy screens that are not perfectly flat. Some brands are fine but others, like the Toshiba I have at work, are not. I suppose you get what you pay for.

Adrian Arksey says:
10 June 2011

As I read this article, I am just setting up two new 24″ Dell Professional P2411H monitors – with matte screens. I will be plugging my shiny screened MacBook Pros into them any minute now! Why oh why do all the manufacturers insist on making everything shiny? As touch screens become more popular, will end users still want shiny screens? Imagine those fingerprints!!

Bill Bordass says:
10 June 2011

Ten years or ago, when the industry went to flat computer screens, there was a massive improvement in computer screen visibility and also in occupant satisfaction with lighting in offices. The trend to glossy has undermined some of these advantages.

In offices, if you get reflected glare on your screen from a window, the blinds go down and the lights go on. So glossy screens increase electricity use by lighting too. Not clever when we need to save energy and carbon.

Please get the manufacturers to see technical sense and not be driven by their marketing people.

Excellent comment- I can confirm the NHS HQ pulls blinds down so they can see their screens and then puts the aisle flo’s on to see where they are going – the carbon impact is dramatic and very very silly.

Louis says:
10 June 2011

Oh please please do use your clout to lobby for their return!! I am absolutely fed up of glossy screens invading every piece of technology. I’m (only) 31 but I can remember the pain that CRT screens were with the glass frontage and it was a marvel when matte LCD screens came along and made viewing computers a real pleasure. Indeed, I’ve a friend who was a photographer and I remember when you’d go into his office 15 years ago there’d by a massive hood over his monitor to cut out reflections … who’d have thought we would go full circle back to such absurdity!?

Aside from irritation I’d even go so far as to say it’s a public health issue, because eye strain is a real affliction which many (myself included) will get if we have to work 8-10 hours a day on a reflective screen and leads to headaches and neck aches like you wouldn’t believe.

So you definitely have my vote … go for it Which!

Louis says:
12 June 2011

Are you sure there haven’t been research studies? A quick search on Google Scholar is showing an awful lot of material, some going back as far as the 70s, all showing reflections increase eye strain.

I’m delighted to see references to research published in scientific journals. Unfortunately, the public does not have access to the content of many of the papers and reviews, unless they are prepared to pay a lot of money. Those of us in higher education are very fortunate in this respect. Fortunately, the full text of many articles is freely available.

The paper that Patrick quotes from was published in 2000 and based on research carried out several years earlier. The findings may still be relevant but computer screens have changed a lot since then. The other article refers to CRT monitors.

It would be interesting to find some up-to-date research that compares glossy and matt screens.

Google Scholar is an excellent tool, but always choose ‘Advanced Scholar Search’. This provides some useful search options.

Matte screens suffer from a lack of contrast sometimes, and the eye has to work harder to view. So it’s not all good news for matte screens. It would be nice to have more of a choice though.

I guess perhaps glossy screens look better on display on the shop floor?

Kathy says:
10 June 2011

Oh please please lobby for the return of Matte Screens. I am certainly prepared to pay more and have been putting off upgrating my old iMac as all I can find are glossy screens. I’m going to have to buy a mac laptop and plug it into a matte screen at this rate. I CAN’T STAND GLOSSY. It’s cheap looking and reflects the light too much.

@surlydev says:
10 June 2011

I bought an Acer Aspirer 8935G a couple of years ago, and at home it’s generally OK (with no lights or windows behind me). In a brightly lit office environment, forget it. I’m a developer that spends 90% of my day staring at a screen, and trying to read text in detail.

The glossy surface gives me a headache after prolonged usage.

The glossy screen is fine when watching iPlayer, or DVD’s, but not for detailed work.

John says:
10 June 2011

I detest glossy screens.

Fortunately I could afford to pay a bit more for a Dell Latitude E6510 which has a superb matte screen.

However, it shouldn’t only be higher end business laptops that offer this option.

Rich4 says:
10 June 2011

It’s all down to the marketing department who push for change to justify their existence. It’s like the megapixel race in cameras—they decide what the customer ‘needs’. It will be an uphill struggle to make them see sense and recognise that glossy screens are unusable. On the other hand, if any of them were intelligent enough to recognise product that product differention could win them share, they would stop following the rest of the sheep—some chance.

DirkGently says:
10 June 2011

When I bought my MacPro I bought an Apple 30″ TFT monitor to go with it. Possibly the best monitor ever made and so of course the Apple geniuses stopped making them and now all you can get from Jobsworld is the same glossy rubbish everyone else is complaining about. No design professional or photographer would even contemplate working on a glossy screen. But when this expires I guess I’ll have to buy a LaCie or an Eizo. God knows what alternative you have if you’re not prepared to spend a couple of grand on a monitor.

**** silly, those designers of glossy screens don’t realise they are often used in daylight instead of their darkened bedrooms.

Quite honestly – they need a good slap.

CoX says:
11 June 2011

It is a health matter. No matte screen means no purchase at our University.

The Kindle book reader has a screen you can read easily in bright daylight. Why not my laptop? I don’t want it for viewing movies, just for text.

A laptop with a black & white screen? I’m not sure that it would sell, even if though it could be used in bright sunlight.

Patrick – I had not thought about that. (On this occasion I wasn’t joking!)

The reason that the Kindle works is because it relies on contrast rather than a backlit display. I suppose that a laptop with this type of display cold be useful for text-based websites and word processing outdoors, but not much good for general use.

Tom says:
11 June 2011

In response to Chris’s comment above. Why create a page trying to point out the need for matte screens and in the same article say they cause eye strain, (which they do not) That point of view is irrelevant in this article. There is already an option to buy gloss screens. So if you like those go buy one! The point of this article should be to create the strongest argument possible to convince Apple to bring back the matte for those who want that Chris.

Mitchell L Model says:
11 June 2011

Just a note to reviewers and consumers alike: you can get a 17″ MacBook Pro for an extra $50 from http://store.apple.com. I realize that doesn’t meet everyone’s needs, but since this was a review of laptops, this should be mentioned. You can’t get the screen from an Apple store, just like you can’t choose different disk speeds or sizes, etc. (The only upgrades they can do there are what a consumer could do — memory.) I have bought many Macs from Apple online, and have always been very happy with the results.

mrwynd says:
14 June 2011

You can purchase cheap anti-glare film http://www.photodon.com/c/laptop-screen-protectors.html

It works great, doesn’t cost much and you can find them in any size.

Satish13 says:
14 June 2011

I do like the colour contrast and realism gloss offers, but in a place with a lot of light I can understand why people like matte. Though personally I see matte as something that takes away from what the LED Screen is capable of displaying. I think Apple may feel something as to why they havne’t made anything matte in the last while. Unless of course there R&D is working on some sort of gloss+matte hybrid. which I wouldn’t be surprised. But highly unlikely lol. All it take is a simple matte cover for the screen in the end. And example would be for the iPhone or iTouch, or pretty much any screen, there is a matte screen protector available. If people are willing to spend more, you may as well get the iMac and purchase a matte cover, if it really meant that much. But to not buy a new iMac for this one reason is kinda stubborn just because there is a way around it, simply using it in a place where there is less light reflecting behind you. or use indirect lighting (which is better for the eyes anyways, despite sitting close to a screen)

TonySnowden says:
14 June 2011

It isn’t just laptops that only have the glossy screen option – I have a Sony all-in-one Vaio desktop, which has a highly glossy screen. At least with a laptop, you can relocate to another place where the reflections are lower, but with a desktop, you are usually restricted to where you put it and avoiding the reflection of a window can be quite tricky. A matte screen would help greatly. (The same problem occurs with the screen on most digital camera – again a matte surface would help greatly, though I strongly support the “bring back the viewfinder” campaign, in that case)

Bell says:
16 June 2011

I agree that reflectant screens do cause stress and headaches. Some people dispute this but perhaps they are not like my countrymen, blue-eyed Celts, who are not used to seeing the sun and have to squint through closed up eyes when it is around? (Only joking, we do get a reasonable amount of sun, in between the rain)

I had to buy a laptop with a reflecting shiny screen only because I couldn’t find one that was matte, though I did look for quite a while. For me it is the effect of light coming from more than one source. I have problems if am working in an office/library etc on a computer or laptop, if there is strip lighting or similarly bright, above me. I sometimes end up putting on a baseball cap to block light from above but if the screen is reflecting light sources also, I end up with a headache. As I am typing this on my laptop I have had to close the curtains behind me, but can still see a reflection of myself in the screen !

Trying to focus on writing in these cases is like trying to look through a fine net, focussing on the net and ignoring the background. It means your eyes constantly want to focus on different ‘depths’. This is like when you try and take a photo with an automatic camera and it tries to focus on something in the foreground when you want it to focus on something in the background, consequently it keeps trying to adjust and when it is your poor old eyeballs, they get tired.

Manufacturers don’t just make reflectant screens these days, though. Another of my complaints is the fact that they also make the surrounds of the screens in shiny black plastic, which also reflects like a mirror. Most of the TV manufacturers have climbed on this band wagon too, some with very wide surrounds on their TV’s. Any light inside the room, or from windows, reflects on this. This last year they seem to have even stopped making the silver or bronzey matte surrounds and everything is shiny black plastic, which just looks tacky to me, and shows up scratches and greasy fingerprints.
Where did this idea come from that everything has to be shiny to be nice. Please manufacturers, give us back black matte surrounds and non-reflectant computer screens. Or at least make things with ‘optional’ surrounds and screens that can be fitted according to the wishes of the buyer.

Tom says:
16 June 2011

In response to your comment Patrick. It is simply pointless to have this debate. It is clear from the Mac matte petition that matte screens are wanted by professional users. If some people disagree it does not change this fact. Thank you for joining in though