A Curved Screen Skeptic Takes a Closer Look

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Sometimes it can be helpful to make a snap judgement on a particular innovation, just to keep from getting overwhelmed in today’s tech frenzy. For me, it was the curved screen that earned my instant skepticism. Cool? Sure. But I didn’t see the urgency; the flat screen still felt modern, delivered a wonderful picture and the joy of extra space gained from tossing the old box was still reasonably fresh in my mind. The curved screen struck me more as innovation for innovation’s sake, an upgrade designed for the upgrade-obsessed, and left me pondering if it was possible to run out of great ideas.

Then, when I realized the natural moment for my next phone upgrade was approaching, I found myself face-to-face with the Samsung Galaxy Edge. Lo, the curved screen was calling! But, before I could answer, I had to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. (And, yes, drop a few puns.)

This modern innovation—gimmick? innovation?—went beyond mobile phones, so I decided to start with large screens. When it came to curved televisions, it was easy to see that I wasn’t alone in my skepticism. Numerous reviews panned the “immersive” curved television display as a gimmick, while others pointed out that the curve could compromise viewing from certain angles. It’s not hard to imagine that if your reclining chair is over in that far corner, to the side of the TV, that curve is going to get in the way, but Casey Johnston of Ars Technica offered a rather detailed analysis of the field of view. It seemed that the curve most benefited from theater-style seating and, according to fellow skeptic Scott Kramer of Forbes, “You’d need a very large model — at least 70 inches — to really make the concept even work. Anything smaller and the vibrancy and immersion just aren’t compelling factors.” Cue Roy Schieder: “We’re going to need a bigger apartment.”

So my initial doubts about the curve seemed validated where TVs were concerned. Monitors, however, were a different story. The “immersive” benefits of curved screens fared better in the one-person-per-screen scenario, where you were less likely to be sitting off to the side while playing games and streaming.  As noted in this article, “the natural presentation and field of view supplied by these devices reduce neck and eye strain”, so there would be productivity benefits for the business environment as well. (Though both points make sense to me, as someone who is attached to the web for the better part of her waking hours, the thought of the telltale screen curving in closer and closer struck me as horror movie material.) But general receptivity to curved monitors aside, the fact that monitor sales, in general, are dipping along with PC sales means that they won’t likely be the driving force behind the curved revolution.

That led me back to mobile devices. Despite the buzz, curved mobile phones aren’t actually that common. Samsung was (ahem) ahead of the curve, with LG not far behind. And sure, it was a clear differentiator in a sea of iPhones, but could the curve do anything? Early curvers, Samsung Galaxy Round and LG Flex, opted for opposite approaches (side to side and head to toe body curves, respectively) and promised – yes – an immersive experience. The curved body also performed better in pocket, because it aligned better with the curve of the human form. The Edge had a different approach, with the display wrapping around the sides of the device. My first (skeptical) take was that the Edge chose style over function, but then I discovered that the extra real estate served a few functions beyond aesthetics, including a colored light indicator that could tell you who is calling when the phone is face down. Meanwhile, Cool? Sure. Urgent? Well…

At this point, I had reached the limits of online product research. The claim of the curve clearly went beyond specs, so I brought my skepticism to in-store, imagining the satisfaction of telling the Best Buy clerk that I was only doing research—I wasn’t someone who was taken in by innovation for innovation’s sake. Except that, when I reached the curved screen TVs and stood in front of their promotional solar system graphics, I couldn’t help myself: I nodded my head and my lips formed the word: “Immersive.” I was getting sucked in. By the time I reached the mobile section and plucked the Samsung Edge from its display podium, it struck me as mobile’s equivalent of an infinity pool. Cool. Serene. Desirable.

And this is where the aforementioned snap judgements come in handy. There is, simply, an incredible range of products to pine over today but, if you decide out of the gate that a particular innovation is a gimmick, it’s a lot easier to avoid that whispering want. As of the writing of this article, I have not (yet) upgraded my phone, and my television is still flat. But, I confess, I do see the appeal for the curved screen. Features and functions aside, its real strength is that it is a delight to view. And while “delight” doesn’t necessarily translate to urgency, that ever-important factor needed to drive up sales right this minute, isn’t that exactly what you want from something that’s designed to be viewed?

2 Comments

don

Since my display is almost 2 feet from my eyes, I see no need for a curved display. Your own comment about the minimum size for a curved TV screen makes them unnecessary since most people will be sitting 8 feet or more from their screens.

Fernando

Elena, I g=totally get this article, thanks. In my lab/office and in my home/office I have an identical setup of 4 x 27-inch monitors in a “curved” arrangement. It is terrific to concentrate and get a lot of work done very productively, in my experience.

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