16:9 vs 3:2


With the HP Spectre x360 being impressively refreshed heading into 2020, and using the Surface series as a benchmarking comparison on design & spec, it seems the last big purchasing hurdle between the two is the screen ratios of 16:9 vs. 3:2.

So why exactly is this an issue for people? Both in theory and in real world scenarios?

Interested to hear peoples takes on this. And noting that this is from a typical consumer perspective excluding business or niche usage requirements.

Why is the general sentiment towards 16:9 as being inferior to 3:2?

Comments (24)

24 responses to “16:9 vs 3:2”

  1. BigM72

    16:9 is useful for watching video that's in that format. For most other things, having more vertical height helps.

    iPhone takes photos in 4:3 by default.

    Office ribbon style UI means more vertical helpful.

    Windows Taskbar is horizontal with pop-up windows so vertical space helps (unless you move taskbar to right or left)

    When surfing on web, typically we only need to scroll vertically and having more vertical space means seeing more on screen at any one time.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to BigM72:

      It's been more than 13 years since Office 2007 debuted, and still no option to put the ribbon on the left or right rather than the top. Odds are MSFT doesn't care, quite possibly because most Office users use the ribbon auto-collapsed and interact far more with the QAT. Then again, it took MSFT's Excel team 8+ years to copy Quattro Pro 5's (1993) colored worksheet tabs in Excel 2002. Sometimes it seems it takes MSFT one helluva long time to figure some things out.

  2. thejoefin

    When in Visual Studio, Excel, SolidWorks, etc. all of these applications have some toolbars on the top. In addition to the titlebar on top and the Taskbar on the bottom more vertical space means more space for the working area. More cells, more lines of code, more space to view my parts.

  3. wright_is

    I think a lot depends on what you are doing with the machine. That said, 16:9 is just for TVs, it was a huge step backwards when we went from 16:10 to 16:9! The extra 120 pixels do make a difference, and on a 24" display it makes the image that much sharper.

    I use a 34" 21:9 display (3880x1440), which is ideal for working on large spreadsheets and for reading web pages (on half the screen, with email, notes etc. on the other side), you don't need to scroll as much and there is a decent amount of information visible. I always find it frustrating at work, where I have 2 24" 1080p panels, there is just not enough vertical space.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to wright_is:

      it was a huge step backwards when we went from 16:10 to 16:9!

      It didn't have to be. Standard screens could have gone from 1280x800 to 1536x864, but that would have meant a 29.6% increase in the number of pixels, so would have cost A LOT MORE. 1280x800 to 1366x786 was just a 2.45% increase in pixel count, much cheaper. 1408x792 would have been annoying but more bearable, but it would have increased pixels by 8.9%.

      Cost led to the horrible 16:9 standard laptop screen.

      As for wide vs square, I work on spreadsheets on a daily basis, and I can't stand 16:9 or wider. Not because of vertical pixels, but because it's a waste of horizontal space. The average human visual acuity for text is a 55 degree cone. Given the geometry, an average human would need to be sitting more than 60" (5 feet) away from your 34" monitor to be able to take in the whole screen width within the 55 degree cone. The extra size screen may save you from paging left and right, but unless you're a truly exceptional human, you're not taking in the entire screen at the same time. At work I have to live with 1080p monitors, but at home I have my gem, a 1600x1200 monitor (paired with an ancient 1280x1024 5:4 monitor).

  4. MacLiam

    To my mind, neither format is inferior. I find 16:9 preferable for writing and spreadsheets; 3:2 is better for sketching or inking lengthy notes -- particularly in a tablet, where you can rotate the work position. If you watch a lot of flicks on a laptop, wider is better.

    If you split your screen into separate panes when working, you may be be in a situation in which neither underlying format is preferable.

    • bluvg

      In reply to MacLiam:

      16:9 for landscape orientation Word? Ugh. Maybe if you put two docs side-by-side, or two pages at a time, but otherwise I can't imagine how that's preferable. Even 16:10 is quite an improvement over 16:9.

    • wright_is

      In reply to MacLiam:

      The only problem I find with 16:9 is the reduced vertical resolution on these "TV" panels, compared to proper computer panels, which were 16:10, but pretty much disappeared from the market over a decade ago. It is amazing what a difference those missing 120 pixels in the vertical make.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to wright_is:

        120? That'd imply the standard number of vertical pixels had been 1200 for 16:10, but standard monitors before the 16:9 binge were 1280x1024 at 5:4. The 16:10 (WTF not 8:5? the mathematician in me howls) laptop standard was 1280x800, which would mean the superseding 16:9 standard was just 32 vertical pixels less. As I recall, there never were many 16:10 standalone desktop monitors; rather the jump was from 1280x1024 5:4 to 1080p 16:9 from about 2006 to 2010. That is, standard standalone desktop monitors never suffered a reduction in vertical pixels.

  5. rob_segal

    A 13.3 inch 16:9 display doesn't have a lot of space for content after you factor in the taskbar, title bars, and tool bars. While video fills the entire screen, video is still large on a 3:2 screen.

    However, at 15.6 inches, 16:9 could be more advantageous because snapped side-by-side windows may work better for you. I haven't used the 15 inch Surface Book or Surface Laptop, so I can't definitely say this would be a preference of mine.

  6. JE

    Some great insights here. Thanks to all for taking the time to provide. I think I’m going ahead with the 4K spectre purchase. I use office a lot and double clicking the ribbon minimises for those times the extra height comes in handy. Cheers!

  7. jchampeau

    As others pointed out, this is really a case-by-case thing and what applies or appeals to one person may not apply or appeal to the next. More than one person mentioned Excel, and even here, there is no universal answer. If you're looking at a spreadsheet with many rows of data, then 3:2 might be better, but if you're looking at a spreadsheet with lots of columns, then width is what you need so 16:9 would be advantageous. If you're a writer like Paul, then 3:2 would presumably be preferable, but if you work a lot with video like Brad, then I could see 16:9 being preferred.

  8. bluvg

    Also, if you add display scaling (125% or 150%) into the mix, it gets even worse for many applications with 16:9. In other words, it's not just about pixel count, as if simply more pixels on a 13"-15" 16:9 displays would help aging eyes.

  9. bluvg

    With most applications (esp. business), the UI controls are typically put at the top (and sometimes also at the bottom) of the window, taking away vertical pixels from content in favor of UI. 3:2 typically offers more vertical pixels than 16:9: more room for content. 16:9 is better for movies, but is that really what most people are spending most of their time doing with laptops? (Doesn't seem to stop folks from viewing movies on the 4:3 iPad!)

    Also, 16:9 is awkwardly long in portrait orientation compared with 3:2 or 4:3 displays, particularly for tablet-style usage.

  10. Chris_Kez

    In the case of the Spectre x360 (and many 16:9 laptops) the top and bottom bezels are noticeably larger, so them moving to a 3:2 aspect ratio would provide a larger screen in the same size chassis. For 2-in-1's, a 3:2 display also makes it more amenable to occasional use in portrait mode.

  11. sherlockholmes

    That depends on your needs I guess. 16:9 is better for watching films or TV Shows. 3:2 is better for productivity.

    • wright_is

      In reply to SherlockHolmes:

      And 16:10 if you work on spreadsheets.

      I never understood why the industry abandoned the superior 16:10 resolution to go replace all professional monitors with "TV" panels. I use a Dell 34" 21:9 (3880x1440) on my main machine and still have a 16:10 LG panel from 2005 as a backup panel for other projects. At work I have to suffer 24" 16:9 "TVs" attached to my laptop.

      • bluvg

        In reply to wright_is:

        Why did they abandon 16:10? Because $$$. It costs them less to manufacture (less area), and the vast majority of consumers just look at the display size without regard to aspect ratio.

  12. hrlngrv

    16:9 isn't necessarily bad, but fewer than 1,000 vertical pixels can be annoying. If the lowest common denominator laptop screen were 1920x1080, 16:9 would be a lot more acceptable than 1366x768.

    It's a question of what one does, and many like to point out that a 16:9 screen split into 2 8:9 horizontal panes is practical, but a 3:2 screen split into 2 3:4 panes comes closer to the midpoint between 2 US letter and 2 European A4 sheets of paper side by side.

    If you need a lot of horizontal space, 16:9 should be preferable. If not, 3:2 is likely to be better. However, this is more subjective than not, a real Tastes Great vs Less Filling kind of comparison.

    • Lauren Glenn

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      I got an older tablet that has 1366x768 and to be honest, I'm not hating it. As I get older, I realize that in that smaller size of 11.6", that resolution is easier for me to read. Sure, I could get a 4K display and set DPI to 200 or something, but why? I guess I can see why but I'm OK with it as it is for basic productivity. If I need 1080p, I hook up a monitor to its hdmi port.

    • bluvg

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      1080 is still a bit tight vertically for many applications. And rotated to portrait orientation, many applications are just a bit too tight horizontally (1200 would be a significant improvement).

      • bassoprofundo

        In reply to bluvg:


        I gripe about manufacturers other than Microsoft not adopting 3:2, but I think this could just as easily be fixed by more manufacturers having gone to 16:10 (ex.- 1920x1200). It adds just enough vertical space to provide utility for productivity-focused tasks, and it stays close enough to the widescreen format common for entertainment. I use 3x, 16:10 Dell u2415 monitors on my home desktop and love them. Having said that, I gave up on anyone sticking with 16:10 ages ago. :(

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to bluvg:

        FWIW, my main monitor at home is 1600x1200, and I dread the day it breaks. For me, it's ideal.

  13. Lauren Glenn

    Honestly, I prefer the 16:9. I got an older Fujitsu Q702 and it's a decent laptop for basic computing but I like watching videos on the go with it. The 3:2 ratio or whatever the iPad's is now make watching movies or videos on it very annoying. Videos use very little resources nowadays so on the go, I might like to watch a web video but with the 3:2 ratio, it's like watching a 4:3 TV again..... and it's not pleasant.

    But in terms of looking at the web, it's fine for me. My monitors at home are 16:9 and I like them that way. 3:2 is fine when I had a Surface, but after getting 16:9 on this laptop/tablet, I prefer 16:9.... and for Android tablets, I get 16:10 or something like that with my Samsung S5e and I like that far better than the iPad ratios.