Screen Size—It Matters!

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By Mike Elliott

I guess I should be classified as an addict. “But I can quit anytime I want,” I assure myself in a comforting yet silent inner-voice. The good news for me is I don’t have to quit. In the past, I had to work hard to get my fix if my source wasn’t readily available, but now I can get it anywhere, anytime. Life is good indeed! Oh, the addiction is information and my source over the last year has been my BlackBerry. Don’t be so disappointed you guessed wrong.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an article I’m reading and there’s a word I don’t know, or a song I hear on the radio and I want to know who sings it, or if I’m searching for ideas to help solve a particular problem I’m challenged with at work. If I bump into something that strikes me with the curiosity stick, I’ve just got to know more. (Many people who share my addiction typically love bookstores—which is where I’m writing this—since they’re full of one source after another of good distraction material.) I’m so easily distracted by the desire to find out more about whatever just caught my attention that sometimes it’s hard to focus on what I was doing (or was supposed to be doing). But I’ve found ways to compensate that work for me. Sometimes it’s enough simply to make a note in a pocket notebook that I keep handy (Yes, I always have it. Ask my wife—I won’t wear shirts without a pocket where I can stick my Uni-ball Vision Elite pen and my Mead® spiral-bound 3×5” flip-top notepad.)

For those times when I just “have to know more” now, I simply pull out my BlackBerry and do a Google search and viola! Instant information! I can just feel that rush that fuels my habit!  Some might call me spoiled, but I know better. I’m more like a victim of the information age, don’t  you think? Okay, maybe just a quirky geek.

I’m guessing you’ve heard of a BlackBerry (the mobile communications device, not a blackberry as in the fruit. Can’t you tell by the uppercase B in Berry?). If not, then how about the iPhone? How could you not have heard of that? Well, just about any cell phone these days has an option to look up information on the Internet (or at least provide a connection from nearly anywhere that you can use to provide Internet access for your computer—if you’ve signed up for the service, that is).

The BlackBerry is a brand of cell phone that also provides mobile e-mail and Internet access. BlackBerrys have been providing mobile email since before the turn of the century (well, actually, two-way paging back in 1999). Compared to the iPhone, they are “old school” for sure. But I still love mine, especially since it’s fully integrated with my email and automatically synchronizes with my work calendar and contacts, and of course provides full Internet access without requiring a computer.

For me, my BlackBerry and its 1½” x 2” color screen is just big enough to allow me to rifle through a good entry on Wikipedia. But after more than a handful of lookups, my craving shifts from wanting to know more to wishing I had a bigger screen to read this on!  Then again, my desire for a bigger screen even hits me when I’m working on my laptop. So much so that when I’m at my desk at work or in my home office, I extend my screen by adding an external monitor. More on that another time.

It’s clear that I’m not alone. I think the recent growth in the “netbook” (or mini-laptop such as the Asus Eee PC or the Mini Series by HP and/or Dell) is a direct result of people finding the small screens
of cell phones too restrictive and the bulk of a notebook computer too big to comfortably carry around easily—not to mention they’re so expensive. Thus the sub-$500
subnotebook that can run Windows XP or Linux, and sports a very usable screen appears to be thriving. It fits neatly between the tiny screen of a BlackBerry and the full laptop computer in screen size, weight and perhaps, unfortunately, processing power.

My focus here though, is screen sizes, and more importantly, screen resolution. The latter of these two is probably one of the least understood and most undervalued elements in the computer selection process for general consumers. Because as much as screen size matters, it’s the resolution that tells the real tale and it’s where most people get confused.

The thing is that screen resolution is what determines how much you can view on your screen at one time. And depending on what you do with your computer, it may be beneficial to see additional windows on the screen—or a larger spreadsheet or more content when doing page layout, for example. On the other hand, the greater the resolution at any given screen size, the smaller the content will appear on-screen, which could make it more difficult to read if you have vision issues. Personally, I prefer the highest resolution I can get. Next month, I’ll explain why and show some examples that I hope will clear up size vs. resolution issue.

For now that’s it. I just realized, though, that I failed to expose anything personal about my wife—but I did let you know I’m a little weird about my pen and notepad requirements for one. If you knew I religiously modified each one to fix the spiral wiring so the cover flips over just right, that’d probably be a little more than weird, no?

Send feedback and suggestions to [email protected] And thank you for reading Information Upgrade in the Crozet Gazette!