Oh No, It's Glossy

Glossy screens are in, unfortunately. They look cooler and can improve contrast ratio in normal lighting conditions, but they are extremely reflective. Apple offered a matte option on the previous generation MacBook Pro, but both the base MacBook and the Air came with glossy screens standard. With the new MacBook and MacBook Pro Apple switched to a thin glass covering in front of the display, giving the system a more updated look. I'm not sure functionally if there's any benefit to the glass exterior but it looks cool. Both the MacBook and MacBook Pro have this glass outer layer, although the two notebooks use different physical LCD panels (more on that later).

That's not a mirror baby, it's a display

People have complained about the new glossy screens a lot, but let's see how bad they really are. While the obvious comparison would be between the old and new MacBooks I want to start by comparing the new MacBook to the first generation matte MacBook Pro to put the glossiness into perspective for those of you who don't have a previous generation MacBook:

MacBook Pro matte (left) vs. the new MacBook (right)

MacBook Pro matte (left) vs. the new MacBook (right)

Hello reflections! If you're used to a matte screen, this thing is going to bug the hell out of you. Now let's toss the old MacBook Pro's glossy option into the mix:

The old MacBook Pro matte (left) vs. the old MacBook Pro glossy (right)

The older glossy screen is definitely harder to read outdoors, but indoors (or in the shade) I actually prefer it to the matte screen. Let's look at how the old glossy display compares to the new glass covered glossy one:

The old MacBook Pro glossy (left) vs. the new MacBook Pro on the right (do I even need to call it glossy?)

Reflections-a-plenty on the new display; while the brightness somewhat makes up for it the display is still more distracting than not when outside. I still prefer the glossy displays indoors thus in my opinion the best balance was actually the previous generation MacBook Pro's glossy display. The new one is just a little too nuts - unfortunately you don't really have a choice.

Compared to the previous generation MacBook we have the same problem: the new display is extremely reflective:

MacBook old (left) vs. MacBook new (right)

There are definitely situations where the new displays are unusable outside, especially compared to a notebook with a matte display. Note that these pictures were taken with the sun behind the screens, not in front, so simply turning your torso won't fix these problems. The best solution is to find some shade to work in, or to pick a laptop without a glossy screen. My MacBook Air has a glossy screen that pretty much guarantees writing in direct sunlight is impossible, so I'm used to working in the shade but it is a valid concern.

MacBook old (left) vs. MacBook new (right)

Note that there are also situations where even the older MacBooks aren't usable outside:

Part of the problem is the black border around the display. This part is also covered in glass but it's not backlit, making reflections even more visible there. Compared to the aluminum or plastic border in the previous MBP/MB notebooks, this border looks great but makes reflections seem worse.

I tend to do most of my writing indoors, but if I were still in school and writing on campus the glossy screens would be a definite issue. I saw a quote from Apple saying that the new displays are bright enough to make up for the additional glare; as the pictures above show there are definitely situations where this isn't true.

Baby Steps: The New Trackpad Display Analysis Indoors


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  • MacMatte - Sunday, June 21, 2009 - link

    For those of you who insist that Apple brings back the matte screen option, please leave a comment at http://macmatte.wordpress.com">http://macmatte.wordpress.com - it's a website solely focused on the issue of bringing back the matte screen. See the number of pro-matte comments already at the MacMatte website. Reply
  • drbrady63 - Thursday, June 18, 2009 - link

    I am trying to identify if a new macbook pro 13" would be adequate for editing with Final Cut Express, and for that matter, Final Cut Studio. Unfortunately, it has a 5400rpm hard drive and that is not good for editing. But, I wonder if an optional ssd would be fast enough??

    I would use the 13" for more mobile work and dock it with a larger monitor for more involved editing work.

    Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

    Dan Brady
  • richmoffitt - Sunday, November 09, 2008 - link

    This is an uneducated guess, but I'm pretty sure that Quartz works in ways similar to X11, where changing graphics drivers requires a restart of the window manager.

    You're right though -- this is only a software problem and can hopefully be fixed in the near future (if it's a big enough issue for their user base anyway).
  • scipi - Monday, October 27, 2008 - link

    Hope the quality of the components is better than the first gen MacBook Pro's. Mine is on its second H/D, gone through 2 logic boards and now needs a third, this time outside of warranty. Wont be buying another Apple again which is a pity because OSX is great. Reply
  • Zebo - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    Vista is bloated resource hogging junk - You should have tried the OS many of use still use - Windows XP for battery life. I get over 4 hours on my R31 thinkpad with winxp pro.
  • Ronbo13 - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    You photos comparing the glossiness and reflection on the screens was not fair, though. Please notice that the laptop on the right (the new MBP) is reflecting a portion of wall that has direct sunlight shining on it, and the laptop on the left is reflecting stuff that's in shadows. So even if the screens were equally reflective, the one on the right would show tons more reflections.

    Come on, people. Normally you guys pay more attention to details. That's just sloppy.
  • ioannis - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    nop, you are wrong. Both of them reflect stuff that have direct sunlight. Notice Anand's reflection for instance, or the wall on the left hand side of the old MB and the wall on the right hand side on the new one.

    I'm referring to this:
  • Enrox - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    Anand, why don't you test Vista installing it on the new MacBook Pro without using Bootcamp, you need to wipe out the drive and create a MBR partition and use Vista x64 SP1 (it supporta EFI), the only thing you need to know is that at startup you have to press the Alt key and manually select the Windows disk in order to boot from it, beside that everything else seems to work just fine with the Vista native installation (tested on a white MacBook Penryn 2.4 GHz 4GB ram).
    It would be very interesting to see if you get the same exact battery life numbers bypassing Bootcamp.
  • JonnyDough - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Until Apple stops being so shady, I won't have anything to do with them. Reply
  • aos007 - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I have brand new Vaio Z laptop and I can get 5 hours battery life IF I disable Vista sidebar. It does not matter whether there's no widgets running, it seems to use 10-15% of CPU time no matter what. This translates into a big loss of runtime - I'd get 3.5 hours versus 5. Unfortunately, I like Sidebar as there are some useful widgets, as well as for eye candy so I feel Vista is crippled without it.

    So the question is whether you disabled Sidebar during Vista testing? I am guessing not since it runs by default and if so, that may be part of your answer.

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