Glossy or Not?

Episode #72

So here's the deal -- if you buy a MacBook it comes with a glossy screen whether you like it or not. If you buy a MacBook Pro, however, you have a choice -- glossy or not. Or, as Apple's Web site describes it:

MacBook Pro offers an antiglare widescreen display that's perfect for color-minded professionals. For a more immersive viewing experience, you can configure MacBook Pro with a glossy finish. This gives everything you see a richer, more saturated feel.

If you're any kind of a Mac enthusiast and are considering a new laptop sometime in the near future, you've no doubt given more than a little thought to the glossy or not question. And so, gentle reader, since the nice folks at Apple were kind enough to send me both a MacBook with a glossy screen and a MacBook Pro with an "antiglare widescreen," at the same time, for an upcoming review in the Houston Chronicle, I've had a chance to compare them side-by-side for the past couple of weeks (and I've got the photos to prove it).

So now I'm ready to go on the record with my answer to the big question...

But first, let me share a few opinions I found in a quick Google search for "MacBook" and "Glossy," along with my thoughts on each.

Pierre Igot of Betalogue waffles a bit over whether the glossy screen is better or worse in sunlight:

...we have a fairly big sun room with many skylights, and in that room there are problems with the glossy screen (whether it's sunny outside or not). But then, we never were able to use the PowerBook G4 (Titanium) in there either, because the screen was never bright enough, even when it was brand new. At least we can try to use the MacBook in that room, and might be able to find positions where it is indeed usable. But I wouldn't want to be use the MacBook in such a room on a regular basis.

Alas, I have to agree. The glossy screen is MUCH brighter than my PowerBook G4's matte screen. So weighing the glare issue against the brightness of a glossy display is, as Pierre says, pretty much a wash.?

He goes on to say:

(On the glossy display), the blacks look much closer to what they would look like on a CRT or a plasma TV. It's also a rather nice display to look at digital pictures.

I agree with that part 100 percent.

You can read Pierre's entire comparison.

Meanwhile, over at arstechnica, John Siracusa has a very different take, summing it up thusly:

So, to sum up. Glossy screens: bad. People: idiots. Steve Jobs: insane. This post: too long. Blah.

While I don't agree with much of what he says, the post is a good read (as is most of John's writing).

Over in the MacRumors forum, ryanb, who claims experience with both screens, proclaims:

I've been studying the screens side by side. It may be the opposite of what several are guessing, but the truth is the glossy MacBook has far and away the best visibility outdoors. I'm talking direct sun, partial shade, overcast, you name it. It does have some reflection, but you can actually read your text clearly. There is a big (negative) difference when viewing the PowerBook and the MacBook pro in the same environments.

P.S. Generally speaking, any glare on these glossy screens is easily corrected by tilting the screen 1/4 of an inch, up or down. It's that simple.

What's next? I'm ordering myself a MacBook Pro with the glossy option. I'm sold. Seeing is believing.

I'm not sure I'm as convinced that glossy is better outdoors, but, for what it's worth, many other glossy screen fans agreed.

Finally, Ken Mingis, in his MacBook Pro review for Computerworld, says:

...this time, I went shiny. I may never go back. Colors seem richer, and screen images look more filmlike. Reflections are minor and don't bother me at all. Which screen is "best" is a matter of taste, like choosing Coke or Pepsi.

But that's just me.

Elsewhere on the Web sentiment appears to be pretty evenly divided between those who love the new glossy screen and those who abhor it. And if you don't believe me, just Google "MacBook Pro Glossy" and see for yourself.

Now, before I tell you which one I'm going to order on my MacBook Pro, here are a few pictures I took this afternoon in attempt to show you the difference between the two screens. I did my best to shoot everything "apples to apples," (pun intended), so settings and lighting are the same for both displays in all three shots.

Figure 1: MacBook (glossy; left) and MacBook Pro (matte; right) outdoors on a cloudy day.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Figure 2: MacBook (glossy; left) and MacBook Pro (matte; right) indoors with indirect incandescent lighting.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Figure 3: MacBook (glossy; top) and MacBook Pro (matte; bottom) close up outdoors on a cloudy day.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

I'm not sure how well you can tell from these admittedly amateurish pictures, but the point I was trying to make is that the glossy screen (IMHOYMMV) is somewhat brighter, has better contrast, offers deeper, more saturated colors and blacker blacks (which is kind of an oxymoron, but true in this case).

And now for the thrilling conclusion to this tale. Drum roll please...

When I order my next laptop, I am going for the glossy screen. After a few weeks using both screens in a variety of situations and lighting conditions, I definitely prefer glossy. To my eye, it's better for viewing digital photos and movies, but also looks better for everyday tasks such as Web surfing, word processing, and e-mail.

So there you have it. Please bear in mind that this is a very, very subjective decision. In other words, don't take my word for it. Go down to your local Apple store and spend some quality time with both screens before you decide.

That said, if you ask my advice I'll say that glossy is definitely the way to go.

And that's all he wrote...

Actually, once again, there is one more thing:

Special Offer for my Macworld Expo Class

I'll be teaching an all-day class at Macworld Expo in San Francisco on Wednesday, January 10 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It's called Welcome to Macintosh: Dr. Mac's Introduction to the Macintosh Way and it's chock full of tips, techniques and information about how to get started with your Mac. It's the perfect course for both switchers and newbies, or anyone else who has made the leap to the Mac and wants to get up to speed quickly and painlessly.

I've got a few special super discount passes that I can offer to my readers for $99 (regular price is $295), so if you want to attend, drop me a line at and I'll set you up.