Issue 43 Aug 21, 2023

Screen size matters

I recently helped a friend pick out the right laptop. He is a light user, living in the web browser and mail app, there was no need for anything even remotely powerful. It had to be a Mac, and he wants it to be a good experience for streaming TV shows since he doesn't have an actual TV. The current computer was an almost dead Intel i5 MacBook Air, which suited him fine power-wise, but wasn't getting any updates anymore.

My friend had his mind set on a 16" MacBook Pro. Totally overkill, and really expensive. It is the version with the largest screen though, so he was prepared to buy one of the M1 16" models of last year, which would be ridiculously overpowered.

I suddenly understood why Apple released a 15" MacBook Air. It was for my friend, it fits his needs perfectly. It's still overpowered, and expensive, but not 16" MacBook Pro expensive. Like all Air models of later years, it runs silent due to the complete lack of fans, has a wonderful screen, and is snappy. It's got more than enough power for anything that runs in a web browser. In fact, most of the time I can't tell the difference between my M1 Mac minis, from my just about specced out 16" MacBook Pro. I need to be rendering movies or starting huge builds for performance to really matter, and then we're talking time savings in seconds, rarely more. More often than not, my MacBook Pro won't use its fans, or, if it does, they're so low and silent that I can't tell. Most of the things I do, which is writing, designing, and developing, I could do on the 15" MacBook Air I helped my friend pick out.

I won't downgrade though. It's the size of the screen that keeps me at the biggest models. I was one of those with 17" MacBook Pros when Apple used to make them. There's something of a sweetspot north of 16", where screen is big enough for just about anything. 15" always was an off-size to me, it's falling short of being big enough, I think, and it feels cramped. 16", not so much. Maybe that's just me.

Screen sizes are a tricky thing. From our phones (I like the iPhone mini) to iPads (I like the iPad mini and the iPad Pros both) to laptops (16" for design work, 11-12" ideally for writing) and desktops (I've got one of the XDR displays on my desk), it's more a matter of screen real-estate than actual computer power these days. At least in the Apple ecosystem where budget choices are still expensive, but also in line with last year's model, no less powerful nor impressive than they were back then. Or, to put it this way: If my friend didn't need a big screen for his TV shows, the previous generation 13" M1 MacBook Air would've saved him money, and held up for years and years.

The screen is important. I've talked about that for a long time, since the late 90s. While you need power to accomplish your tasks, technically, there's no denying that you'll be looking at the screen at all times. If it's crap, if the colors are off, if it's too small, then the other things won't matter. It's a crappy screen and everything you do will be tarnished by it. Problem is, different things are better with different screen sizes. I've previously mentioned that I have a hard time writing on my 16" MacBook Pro. I talked about the keyboard then, but I've revised it to be a matter of the form factor, the actual size of the thing. Both screen and keyboard are great, it's the package, due to the screen size, that's the problem. In comparison, I find myself writing this on a Razer Blade 14, which is 14" and has an, I must say, wonderful keyboard. The screen is too big, still, but it doesn't bother me since it aligns properly with the keyboard. The package works, and I could see myself hammering words on this thing for hours, and not just because I happened to be playing Baldur's Gate 3 before now.

Picking the right screen size is easy for most, but hard if you do radically different things. Luckily, it was easy to not only help my friend pick the best choice, but also save him money. He'll be happy with his 15" MacBook Air, it being light and cool and quiet. To me, it'd be a compromise, and while that's sometimes necessary, it's never ideal. Neither is spending too much money on computers, so in the end you do end up finding the common denominator, and that's fine. It's the path there that's tricky, and screen size is, I think, the new key factor.


🤡 For prosperity: Donald Trump indicted in Georgia, getting the (legal) mob treatment.

🤦🏻‍♂️ Elon Musk says (again) that X will remove the block feature for anything but DMs, but it's unlikely this'll fly due to requirements on Apple's and Google's app stores. Also, why would he do that to people getting harassed? If I hadn't already used the clown emoji, it'd be here.

🇮🇶 Iraq is lifting a ban on Telegram after the service complies with authorities. The explanation offered by Telegram is reasonable, but when things like this happens to a service that prides itself on free speech, it's generally not a good thing.

🎮 Netflix is getting ready to stream games on your TV, using your phone as a controller. This is potentially huge because of the reach Netflix already has. It's in closed beta now.

🤖 AI art can't be copyrighted says judge in the US. Meanwhile, Amazon lets AI recap its often AI generated reviews, and Wired says that generative AI won't disrupt books and then gives you five ways ChatGPT can improve your writing.

😑 That LK-99 superconductor that made the rounds? It's hard to replicate the success, so it's looking less likely it'll have an impact.

💍 Finally, an impressive fan animation of the first book in the Lord of the Rings series. At least X is good for something.

Got something I should read? Send it to me, either by replying to this letter, tweeting to @tdh, or hitting up on Bluesky. Thanks!


📚 I'm giving Tad Williams The Dragonbone Chair another go, after having tried to start it twice in the past. I'm half-way, and it's good, after a slow start.

🎵 Hey, a new Guns n' Roses single, that was unexpected. "Perhaps" feels like a song that'll grow on me, having listened to it a whopping two times.

📺 Finally saw the Super Mario Bros. Movie and yeah, I get why this is the top-grosser this year. It's good, lots of fan service, the kid loved it. Well done.

🎮 I wanted to play Divinity 2: Original Sin on my iPad mini, but the screen was too small (!), so I bought Baldur's Gate 3 and, some three hours in, I'm starting to feel the hype. I might suck at it though, because I've died twice already.

I had a lazy Sunday, so lazy that I couldn't be bothered to send this letter to you. Thus it's Monday, and since the world hasn't ended, I guess it didn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

Hang in there, and I'll see you in about a week.

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡

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