There’s been exactly one thing keeping me from buying a Windows laptop for the last three years: Windows sucks at handling high-resolution displays in small laptops.
To be clear, this is not some problem with how Windows handles big high-resolution displays — my 27″ 2560×1440 screen at home is proof it does that just fine. The problem is laptops with small, pixel-dense displays. Since Windows sizes things like text and icons based on the pixel height, rather than physical size, a display with lots of pixels but short on inches causes stuff to be shrunk to laughably tiny proportions.
My XPS 13 with standard scaling. Consolation beer for scale. You try seeing that system tray!
Windows 8.1 introduced a band-aid fix: a slider that lets you make the size of text and icons bigger, based on a percentage. It works, to an extent — icons and text isn’t need-a-magnifying-glass small any more.
But instead, that slider causes most third-party programs to become fuzzy. Applications like Spotify haven’t been updated to handle the larger asset sizes, so Windows just blows up a smaller version. Just like if you were to blow up a 2-megapixel selfie onto a Times Square billboard, everything appears horribly pixelated.
Even for those apps that scale without pixelation, some things get blown up bigger than others — for example, Chrome’s tabs and navigation bars are horribly oversized, while the pages themselves are the right size.
That’s not explicitly Microsoft’s fault — it provided a solution, in a sense, and app makers have just failed to update their apps accordingly.
Chrome on hi-DPI displays, Windows vs OS X. Notice how gigantic the tabs are in Windows.
But it sure is Microsoft’s problem. Because every time I go look at the screen on my $1200 laptop, all I see is pixelated text, mis-sized icons, and my own tears reflected back at me. It’s bad enough to completely ruin an otherwise-excellent computer for me, drive my Apple-hating arse into an Apple Store, and spend $1500 on a MacBook Pro.
I was hoping, praying, and desperately tweeting Bill Gates that this would change in Windows 10. That Microsoft would introduce some kind of system to make hi-DPI displays usable on Windows 10. I’m not exactly sure what form the fix would take — force app makers into updating their programs, or some clever asset-scaling solution, which is basically what OS X uses, perhaps.
I’m not reaching for the impossible here. Windows 10 don’t-call-’em-Metro apps work just fine on pixel-dense display, because that entire UI was designed from the ground up to work with hi-DPI displays.
Either way, Windows 10 basically does jack shit. There’s a more prominent slider for adjusting the crappy scaling mode, and that scaling mode does work differently on multi-monitor setups, which is something I appreciate as a desktop user. But as someone who just wants to use a Windows laptop with a beautiful screen, it’s as much use as a chocolate teapot.