Monday, January 2, 2012

Low Vision and Choosing A Computer Monitor or Laptop

I have a couple clients and friends here with less than perfect vision.  It's a common thing.  I even had a programmer who worked under me who was completely blind.  Fascinating character, but that's another tangent.

I keep having this discussion of "I want a new laptop, what do you recommend".  

First, decide what you're going to do with it. Really, how much power do you need?  If you're not making up videos or playing high end games, you can get by with a $500 machine and be happy.  Oh and save the difference for the next $500 machine in two years.  Just be careful since some of those $500 machines are excellent, others are crap.
Second consider how good your vision is.  Got 20/20 vision?  Over 35?  Expect that you'll be needing reading glasses "soon". 

You see, buying a computer is easy, buy less than the top end unless you're really doing high end tasks - the middle end will be more than 90 percent of us will need.  The tough part is all those bits that you actually interact with.

Speakers, keyboard, mouse/trackball/trackpad - all of those tend to be hardwired into the machine and you won't have too much to say about them if you're buying a laptop.  Most buy laptops these days anyway.

The one part of the machine that will be the hardest thing for you to deal with if it is wrong for you is the monitor.   That panel on the laptop.  They come in a lot of different types and shapes and sizes.

Ok, the shape is always rectangular, but the size varies greatly and so do the amount of things you can put up on the monitor at one given time.

If you get a magnifying glass and get really close to the monitor, you will see that everything is made out of little rectangles.  The period at the end of that sentence is not exactly a circle or a dot but a collection of rectangles, sometimes at different amounts of black and white.

The little rectangles are called Pixels.  I'll use that word since it is less typing.  There is a nice long discussion of what is and what isn't a pixel at that link.  If you really want to go in depth on Pixels, click there and come on back when you're through.

Now here's the thing.  Pixels will be different sizes on different devices.  You can pack more pixels in an inch on a phone than on a laptop or a TV because of what they're being used for.  Close up use like a phone, you want more pixels per inch.  For a Laptop there will be less, and for a TV it can be very much less.

A TV show broadcast in Full HDTV in the US is 1920x1080 pixels.  That means that you have 1920 dots across, 1080 down.  No matter what size, those amounts will not change unless it's not a full HD broadcast.  TVs vary from 3 inches way up to 108 inches and are still growing.  For the most part, Full HD TVs will have 1920 by 1080 Pixels whether they are 30 inches, or 108 inches.   The pixels will change in size but not necessarily in the count - at this time.  Sure there are some exceptions but the main thing is that the size of the pixels will vary proportionally for the size of the TV. 

Got all that?  Want to know how to simply it?  How does it all apply to Computers and Laptops?  Hold on a second, I had to blather on for a bit for background so when I get emailed by someone with a stick up his butt I'll be covered.

You Know Who You Are.

Remember the client I had?  The one who had problems with his vision?  He lives about 200 miles from me.  He is also a bit of a gadget freak and kind of impulsive.  That's how I got this laptop - the monitor was too small for him to read.  The number of pixels in an inch on this machine is 135.  He is used to a larger monitor and one with fewer pixels so when he saw this he decided it wasn't for him.   His old Mac Book at 115 pixels per inch was a lot easier for him to read and to this day I have not seen him using those Reading Glasses I got him.

Tsk Tsk.

So how do you find out all of that?


First off, go to the store and look at the computers. 
Really take the time to see the machine and play around. 
When you find one that is comfortable you need to take down some information and go home.
What is the size of the computer?  12 inches?  14 inches?  17 inches?
What is the default resolution of the computer - don't be afraid to ask for help with this one!  That's what the sales staff is for.  You will get a number like 1920x1080 (Also called Full HD), 1280x800 (That's mine) or 1440x900 (That's my other machine). 

For comparison sake, you will probably want to find out the same thing for the machine you have now.
Find an open place on the desktop of your Windows 7 machine and right click.
Select "Screen Resolution" and it will show under the "Resolution" pull down what you are at now.
Windows XP and others will work similar, a Mac will be under the settings...

Now you know where you are, and where you will be going. 

To find the pixels per inch, there's a wikipedia page that has a list of them.  It will take a little effort and some searching around to find numbers that are close enough to what you have written down. 

When you find your Pixels Per Inch in the tables, you will be able to make a comparison.

If you have limited vision, and you're used to a 13 inch Mac Book at 113 Pixels Per Inch, you may find that the iPad of your dreams will end up in my hands after you give up in frustration.   The iPads are currently 135 Pixels per inch.

The 42 inch Full HDTV sitting in the corner on the other hand is only 52 Pixels Per Inch.  That is why when I have clients over to look at web pages, I can get away with plugging in the HDMI cable from the laptop to the TV and we can see it everywhere in the room.  It's bloody big.

My TV is really 46 inches, and the table on the page didn't go that far up, but you get the idea.

Now that HDMI cable?  That's a story for another day.

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