I am a mobile type of guy and when I use an ultra-portable device I really use it, often for hours at a time. I may use it held in my hands or I might use it with an external keyboard and mouse, whatever fits what I am trying to do at the time. I have been giving screen resolution on handhelds a lot of thought recently since I had the awesome opportunity to use a TabletKiosk eo UMPC, Sony U71P, and a Sony UX50 Micro PC. All three devices have totally different screen sizes and resolutions and observing the differences among them has been eye-opening (pun intended). After you work with all three devices for a while you realize the screen resolutions are backwards. The largest screen has the lowest resolution and the smallest screen the highest. Using the devices for any length of time drives this point home. Read on to see my impressions of working with each screen.
The TabletKiosk eo has the typical UMPC/ Origami screen- 7 inches diagonally running at a resolution of 800 x 480 natively. Everything at this resolution is nice and large and can be read from some distance, even though it is to be used in the hands by design and thus closer to the eyes than say a laptop screen. The problem I have with this screen is the resolution is too large for extended use. I don’t find enough is displayed on the screen at one time so a lot of scrolling is needed to view everything in most applications. Sure you can zoom the screen and increase the resolution up to 1024 x 600 which works pretty well but clarity is lost and you really notice that after extended use, especially when text is involved. One thing I can state for certain, I feel that 1024 x 600 is the perfect resolution for the 7 inch screen. I hope that some OEM will produce an Origami running this resolution. I’d pay extra for that.
The Sony U71P sports a 5 inch screen running at 800 x 600 and while a higher resolution would display more information on the screen at a time things would end up being too small. The native resolution of the U71P is the perfect balance of resolution and screen size and I can use it for hours at a time, either as a handheld or on a desk with an external keyboard. Even at that distance from the eyes, say 1.5 to 2 feet, the screen can be viewed with no problems and for long periods of time. That to me is the hallmark of a well designed screen. I have used a Sony U heavily for two years and I don’t even think about the screen nor the resolution.
The Sony UX50 (and brothers- UX90, UX180) created a stir among gadget freaks when it was announced that the 4.5 inch screen would run at a resolution of 1024 x 600 natively. That resolution is nice in that you can display a lot of information on the screen at one time, the problem is seeing that information, because everything is really small on the screen. I find that prolonged sessions as a handheld device can leave my eyes feeling really tired, especially if a lot of small text is involved. Using the UX on a desktop with external keyboard can be really frustrating at times as the device is just too far from the eyes to read everything on the display. Sure you can increase the DPI of the screen and Windows XP makes it easy to increase the fonts system-wide. You can also increase the font size in most applications making the document easier on the eyes but if you have to do those things then I believe the wrong resolution is being used for the screen size. I think Sony would have done well to produce this screen at the same resolution as the Sony U, as 800 x 600 would be just about perfect. Items on the screen would still be slightly smaller than on the Sony U71 but not by much and would still be very easy to work with, especially since the UX screen is brighter and more vivid than the U.
I hope OEMs are paying attention and listening to user accounts like this one. Higher resolution is not always better when it comes to ultra-portable devices designed to be used in the hands. You have to be able to effortlessly read the screen when lots of text is displayed or the extra resolution quickly becomes a negative. Now lets see a 1024 x 600 Origami. That would be just perfect.