Matte Matters

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If you followed the news coming out of Tuesday's Apple event, you know that Apple introduced brand new 13-inch MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro models (not to mention an update to the MacBook Air and a "freshening" of the 17-inch MacBook Pro), along with a new 24-inch LED Cinema Display.

While there is much to like about these new machines--the Nvidia chipset seems to offer a stunning improvement in graphics performance--Apple has made one simple decision that, unfortunately, means I'll never be purchasing one: the glossy screen.

While Apple sees only the upside of glossy screens--bright and vivid colors--I see only the negative--myself. Well, myself and whatever else happens to be above and/or behind me. All those vivid colors come at a terrible cost in terms of reflection and glare--there are times when the screen is nearly invisible, due to the glare from overhead lights or other sources of distraction (people walking by behind you and so forth). Apple fooled me once when the original MacBook came out. I liked the size (still not my ideal 12-inch PowerBook G4 replacement, but close), and I liked the features... so I bought one.

However, after using it for six months, which included a couple of business trips, I sold it and purchased my current 15-inch MacBook Pro with its lovely matte screen. I just couldn't handle all the distractions from the reflections and glare on the MacBook's screen. From what I saw today, nothing has changed at all relative to glare--several of the hands-on shots circulating on the Web show perfect reflections of the photographer's camera and face. I'll have to get some hands-on time of my own in an Apple Store to be certain, but at first glance, things don't look good for my future with the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

So where does that leave me? I guess I'll continue to use my current matte 15-inch MacBook Pro until it's no longer functional, and then head out to eBay to find a replacement. I simply cannot bring myself to use a glossy display on a laptop computer when there are known and better solutions available--solutions that Apple itself offered up until now. You can, actually, still order a MacBook Pro with a matte screen--the 17-inch MacBook Pro has a no-cost matte screen option (at 1,920-by-1,200 resolution). Unfortunately, the 17-inch MacBook Pro hasn't been updated with any of the goodies from the new MacBook Pro line, so it's really like investing in yesterday's technology--and at a cost approaching US$3,000, that's not something I'm willing to do.

If I find the new MacBook Pros otherwise irresistible, the only option I can see is to apply an anti-glare screen cover of some sort. My colleague Dan Frakes tested the Power Support anti-glare film for his Notebook cleanup and protection article, and he tells me it worked well in his testing. However, I'd really need to see it in action before committing $2,500-or-so to a new laptop.

Short of the possible anti-glare screen cover solution, I'm afraid I may have purchased my last-ever new portable Mac--and yes, I really do find the glare and reflections distracting enough that I won't purchase a machine because of it. It's one thing for an iMac--where you have total control over where you place the machine to minimize reflections--to have a glossy screen. But with a laptop, you can never be sure where you'll be using it, nor what the lighting will be like.

Apple senior VP Phil Schiller's response to a question about matte screens was that you can simply turn a notebook however you want. Unfortunately, that's not true if you're stuck in coach on an airplane, or sitting in a seat on a commuter train. Because of that, a non-glare screen option makes total sense for laptops, and I seriously hope that Apple sees the (non-glaring) light and offers a build-to-order option for their otherwise-stunning new MacBook Pros.

But perhaps I'm just overly sensitive to these issues--how is the glossy-only screen on the new MacBook Pros affecting (or not affecting) your purchase plans?

This story, "Matte Matters" was originally published by Macworld.

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