Outdoor Glare - To Matte or Not to Matte

You’re going to think something is wrong with me, but I actually prefer the glossy display of the MacBook Pro to the optional matte display. I rarely use my machine outdoors and the glossy display just looks nicer to me. The picture just looks punchier and more contrasty.

In Apple stores around the country however is an ultra high end preconfigured option: a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a high resolution, matte display. The higher resolution is something I applauded Apple for offering in the original review. The matte option however is an answer to a question I never personally asked.

Having a chance to use the high res matte display I’m going to have to stick to my original take on it. If you use the machine primarily indoors or outdoors but not in direct sunlight, go for the glossy display. The matte option really only makes sense if you plan on using it a lot outdoors in overwhelmingly sunny conditions.

As expected, glare outside isn’t overwhelming like it has the potential to be with the glossy display. In direct sunlight, it’s still occasionally difficult to read, even given the display’s very high brightness. In the shade, however, it’s very readable.

On the other hand, if your primary use scenario is indoors, there’s relatively little to gain so long as the occasional glare doesn’t distract. In practice, it’s continually changing glare from people moving behind you, or perhaps cars driving by while you work at a cafe, that has the largest potential for frustration with the glossy display. The matte option doesn’t eliminate it entirely, but mitigates most of the distraction.

The high resolution display is nice for productivity. You can fit more or larger windows on your desktop than you can with the default 1440 x 900 display. It’s not a huge increase in desktop resolution but it is nice.

It does make reading a bit more challenging thanks to the higher PPI of the display. For me personally it’s on the borderline. I do appreciate the extra desktop space, but I feel like browsing the web and reading is easier on the standard res screen. Perhaps the right balance is to use this for work and an iPad for leisurely consumption. Just kidding :)

I’d definitely recommend spending some time using the two screens in person before marrying one.

Final Words

For the most part, our conclusions about the 2010 15-inch Macbook Pro remain true. If you’re using an older MacBook Pro, the upgrade is well worth it. You’ll see a sizable performance boost and an increase in battery life as well. It’s only compared to the previous generation unibody MacBook Pro that you’ll find the upgrade tougher to justify. Not to mention the finicky switchable graphics and potentially more power hungry CPU can make real world battery life closer to the 4 - 6 hour range rather than the almost guaranteed 5+ hours you’d see on the previous generation.

If you properly manage when the discrete GPU is running (I smell a widget in the making), you can still see a tangible increase in battery life. It’s when you’re doing a lot of work or miss an application launching that turns on the dGPU that you’ll come away disappointed. Granted we’re still talking about great battery life given the size/performance of the notebook, it’d just be better if we could completely disable the discrete GPU.

As far as the glossy vs. matte, high vs. low res display options go. It depends on how good your eyesight is. Personally I'd opt for the high res, glossy setup. If I spent more time writing outdoors I'd probably go for the matte option. I also find that when my eyes are tired it's more difficult to read/write on the high res panel compared to the standard 1440 x 900 display.

High Resolution, Matte Display: Tested
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  • Howard - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    Can't say I'd ever want a glossy screen.
  • vol7ron - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    I don't understand this, I like glossy screens. Everyone else seems to be against them. Of course, I rarely do anything outside. If I did, I'd probably get a removable screen attachment.
  • softdrinkviking - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    i like glossies too, and i don't ever notice any glare.
    i think there is just an assumption that glossy is bad or something, or
    people are convinced that it's a gimmick.
    maybe it is, but i like 'em.
  • Grabo - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    Eh? Since it's relatively hard nowadays to find a portable with a matte screen I must conclude that most people are like you, i.e attached to glossy screens.

    I despise them. Most desktop monitors (still) aren't glossy, and thus I see them as painting a more accurate picture. Glossies increase saturation and contrast, something which then is a lie, even though most people absolutely adore it.
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    I've got natural light coming into the living room from ~135deg around me, and the glossy displays on family members' laptops are completely useless in that room- it's all reflections. I'm probably in the minority, but I'd like to be able to use a laptop outdoors (and probably would). There's no way I'm ever gonna settle for glossy, even if it means never buying a laptop.
  • MadMan007 - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    Glossy is fine on a desktop monitor where you can control the environment. On a laptop though? Hells no.
  • orthorim - Monday, April 26, 2010 - link

    I have a 17" glossy. I like sunlight and a view, and working near windows with this laptop is very annoying, way too much reflection. In addition, I don't see how anything looks much better on the glossy screen - possible exception movies which really look fantastic on my screen.

    But this is primarily a work laptop, and as such, it has a major flaw with the glossy screen. When working in Cafes or near a window, I have to crank up brightness all the way to the max, which then reduces battery life.

    I will go with matte again next time. The gains from glossy are minimal, the downside clearly outweighs this. If you never go outside or don't live in a sunny climate, maybe it doesn't matter. I am in the tropics, and I love to see the outside when working.
  • iamezza - Sunday, April 25, 2010 - link

    I agree. I don't use a laptop much outdoors, but when I'm indoors there is usually bright light coming in from the windows that can cause a lot of glare.
  • Socratic - Monday, April 26, 2010 - link

    Have to agree with others here. I much prefer a matte screen. If there are any windows in the room the glare at certain times of the day on a glossy screen makes it unusable, at least for me. In an editing room or business environment with no outside lighting, I can see the appeal. I have however seen offices that the glare from the over head fluorescent lighting was so bad that users had to hang something over the top of the monitor on a glossy screen to be able to use it.
  • cjhao - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    'MacBook Pro brought posted some incredible battery life numbers'
    i created an account because you guys are great, so i wanted to help maintain the awesome reputation in my small way by pointing this out

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