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How to Use Your Laptop Outside

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One of the great attractions of web work is supposed to be the ability to work anywhere, right? And now that we’re at the height of summer, the urge is strong to charge up the laptop and head to the beach or the mountains or even the local park and set up outdoors, enjoying the sun while billing some poor office-bound client your full hourly rate. What could be better than touching up your tan while you work?

If you’ve ever tried this, you know immediately what could be better: being able to actually see your laptop screen, that’s what. Laptops are great for many things, but visibility in bright sunlight is not one of their high points. Over my years of mobility, I’ve tried a bunch of things to get around this, and collected ideas from others. If you insist on going out to work, try some or all of these potential solutions to see what you’re doing:

  • Work under an awning or umbrella.
  • Wear a baseball cap, cowboy hat, or other cap with a brim, pulled low to put your eyes in shadow.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses.
  • Equip your laptop with an anti-glare screen. (The last time I tried this, a few years back, I couldn’t actually find any that worked, but perhaps the technology has improved.)
  • Equip your laptop with a sunshade. You can buy a commercial version or spend a few minutes with a big piece of cardboard and some tape to make your own.
  • Take frequent breaks to look away from the screen to ease your eyestrain.
  • Give up, have a beer, and decide that the summer sun is more important than work. You probably need to stop billing in this case, though.

If you’ve got another solution to using a laptop out in the summer sun, we’d love to hear it!

38 Responses to “How to Use Your Laptop Outside”

  1. Hi i had same problem sitting in waterfall/heathcote national park sitting on the cheap portable chair i take with me (there effin great) semi old computer 5 yrs
    has same problem cant see screen due to sunlite and summer sun
    ..thank god i took umbrella with me and hat and tilted pc forward at times or i wouldnt of been able to see the screen not much shade due to bushfires ages ago but its growing back…toshiba has made a new truebrite led sceen which is meant to be good for sunlite..but it isnt on many models of pc…i wish other computer designers would come out with a screen for us sunlovers….srry for not having major fix to screen i had was umbrella and hat…thanks friends n all my best

    • sorry im a newbie to computers..How do i turn backlite off
      also can someone who writes here or admin/moddy tell me if other computers will be coming out soon with better screens or mre well lit in sunny conditions
      cause im not sure what to buy..since most computers manufacturies only do for inside conditions and not us sunlovers…lol any help genuinely appreciated

      • also i take the batteries out when at home and run it alone on the ac at my batteries last longer..but when off ac..and running by batteries alone the screen is much darker/will they fix this in future

  2. I agree with Mike that the allure to having a laptop is the ability to work anywhere. That being said if you have the luxury of not having to go into a brick and mortar office you need to choose a place where you feel most comfortable . I seem to be most creative when I am relaxed sitting by the side of a pool. It is my oasis!

  3. Thanks so much for the great ideas. I just decided today, that it would be so great to be able to go outside and work, but there is no way I will be able to see the computer screen with all that gorgeous sun. So, of course, what did I do? I sit down at my computer and visit my old friend google, because surely he has the answer, he always does doesn’t he? Well, I am actually finding it much harder to find a solution to outdoor computing than I though I would.

    I was thinking about the computer shade, but I have read some reviews that say it barely makes a difference, so that idea is out. I am about to start researching this anti-glare screen you mentioned above. Hopefully I will find a solution soon, because the sun today is taunting me with it’s beauty! :)

  4. Laptop Burka

    Finally someone can up with the answer to using your laptop outside instead of those filters or boxes that dont work .
    Laptop Burka is easy to carry stores well lightweight breathable reuseable works on all laptops no matter the size . Perfect to travel with I take mine everywhere it fits in my laptop case no problem I bring it to work ,school,the beach , the pool side , the patio, the deck , skiing, hiking, boating ! This thing is great !
    A guy from Camano Island Washington invented it patent pending ! As of now he has a manufacture in Seattle Washington making them on a limited basis im told . Why didnt I think of this ?!! Its so simple. We found this guy who is an electrician at a party on Camano Island Washington , he brought one out to show and I had to have one for everyone in the family. He said soon they will be coming out in different colors mine are blue .
    He said just type in “Laptop Burka” on google he sells them on ebay right now.

  5. wow, i’ve just discovered something.

    turn off the backlight, and sit with your back to the sun. the sun provides enough light to show waht’s on the screen, even in teh sahdow of my head, and battery life is no really highly extended!

    just as well there is a matte screen on my samsung….

    • I agree with “thegeezer”: Harness the sunlight, don’t try to get away from it.

      My laptop is matte, this probably won’t work with a glossy finish. But, yes, put the sun behind you. I prefer to try not to have my shadow on the screen, angle the monitor to minimize glare, and you can see what is on the screen quite clearly. I find that it washes the colours out somewhat, and what is supposed to be black looks a bit garbage-bag-green. But for web-surfing, email, programming or spreadsheets, it is fine.

      A trick I find that helps with this is to wear a dark-coloured shirt (preferably with long sleeves if your arms are white like mine). This helps to further minimize any glare that might still affect your matte screen somewhat.

      Or if glare is still causing some problems, if you can always enlarge everything on your screen (ie. zoom in, or switch to a lower screen resolution), you will be able to read it well enough.

  6. Either use a MacBook Pro 15 inch with LED display which provides an improvement over other displays in terms of brightness or use kntrl+option+command 8 to invert your colors. The problem I have is not outdoors, but busses, planes etc where the space is pretty much limited.

  7. It’s an expensive solution, but if you can afford the flight and the time out fetch you laptop over to England – there’s a real lack of sunshine here this July!

    Probably best to secure your laptop in waterproof casing though!

  8. One more thing you forgot to mention, if one still requires internet for working in the outdoors on their laptop, I suggest getting a wireless card from your cell provider. Personally I use a 595U from Sprint on my MacBook. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

  9. “The glossy screens are brighter, so in theory should be easier to see outside? Only just ordered one so it will be interesting to test. Also older laptops simply aren’t as bright as newer ones, and of course the brighter the better.”

    Glossy screens reflect WAY more light than regular screens. I’ve noticed that the glossy screens are way more difficult to read anywhere where there might be glare. The glossy screens are only meant for indoors. Get a nice “Work” laptop, rather than a “Media” laptop, and you’ll get bright, non-glossy screen.

  10. Mac users (I would think there would be a windows equivalent) can also install “Nocturne” ( a freeware app that switches display to a negative monochrome. It’s listed as being helpful to reduce eyestrain at night (low light), but I also find it helpful when working outside or in a bright cafe (both inderect light).

    I also find this better than the Universal Access (System Preferences) alternative, b/c the monochrome does not reverse colors, thereby making them distracting (to me).

    May not work with serious browsing, but with text editor / spreadsheets / etc., I find it very useful.

  11. Jonathan

    Some of the tablets and ruggedized laptops have ‘ViewAnywhere’ displays that you can use outside as well as inside. Quality, of course, varies…

  12. The glossy screens are brighter, so in theory should be easier to see outside? Only just ordered one so it will be interesting to test. Also older laptops simply aren’t as bright as newer ones, and of course the brighter the better.

    You might need to test different polarised sunglasses. A cheap pair I tried only let light in from my powerbook screen at a 45 degree angle. Maybe other glasses or panels work at different angles?

    Using the laptop in the shade, with a hat to block as much sunlight reaching your eyes as possible is the best I’ve managed to get it.

    Perhaps something like a privacy socks might be good?!