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Riding to work on the bus this morning, I found it difficult to use my laptop when the sun was shining on it. Are there any solutions to this problem? Are there any laptops that have screens which are easy to see in both the sun and the shade?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are two kinds of LCD screens: glossy and matte. The wikipedia articles have quite a bit of detail and comparison points. Primarily, glossy displays have better color rendering and better contrast, but are only usable under controlled lightning and can be near-invisible in direct or even reflected sunlight. Matte displays are usable in natural light, but no good for graphic designers.

In other words, glossy displays are totally inappropriate for >99% of laptop uses. Yet most laptops have glossy displays. Some displays have better coating than others, but you'll rarely get to find out before you buy (even glossy vs. matte is not always mentioned in technical specifications).

You can turn a glossy display into a matte display by adding an anti-glare filter. You'll need to turn the brightness way up to see anything (which drains the battery a lot), but then you'll be able to see your screen even in sunlight.

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For suggestions of anti-glare filters see: Are there effective Anti-glare screens?. –  landroni Feb 22 at 16:43

Buy a newspaper, use it as a sun shield.

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Not useful, as not a practical solution. –  landroni Feb 22 at 16:10

Most LCD screens are bad in bright light unfortunately.

Screens using the tech more Pixel Qi (see here and a number of other places for previews) look very promising in this respect but I don't think any models come with that sort of screen as standard yet.

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The OLPC machines have them, but good luck getting your hands on one. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 6 '10 at 20:11

Picture your screen as a transparent image with a light shining behind it (called a backlight) so you can see it. When the backlight is competing with sunlight, sunlight wins. So if the screen doesn't use a backlight (like an ebook reader that have an e-ink screen) then they work fine in the sun. E-ink screens work in the sun just as well as a normal book would. Too bad they often only have 8 monochromatic colors and can take 1 second to refresh to another image, so reading a book or document is the main use for these kinds of screens at the moment, but they are starting to develop ones with more colors and that refresh faster.

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It has nothing to do with the presence of a backlight. My XO-1 is perfectly usable in sunlight even with the backlight turned on/up. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 6 '10 at 20:09

There are products you can buy to help with this issue. http://www.google.com/products?rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS397US397&q=laptop+screen+sun+shields&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=67SsTKiYAsP_lgf41vytCA&sa=X&oi=product_result_group&ct=title&resnum=3&ved=0CEIQrQQwAg

If you're a DIY type person I'm sure you could use a newspaper or some other material to reproduce one of these items.

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There are some laptops that have very bright screens, made to be daylight viewable -the panasonic toughbook cf-30 is one. Look for laptops with a screen having a high brightness (measured in Nits). I have a cf-29 with 500 Nit screen and I can see the screen just okay in direct sunlight. I've hear that the cf-30 at maximum brightness is practically blinding indoors, and very readable outdoors.

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Most LCDs have 200 to 300 Candela per square meter (also know as NITS). This is fine for indoor reading. Outdoors in bright sun light you need 400 to 600. There are laptops with screens this bright. They also use a lot of power so most have short battery life.

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