Tablets are not TVs: A reply to Windows 8 lovers who defend 16:9 in Portrait mode

(Was inspired by a vanished thread...) Oh and this post is only about 1.3k words...

Just because Microsoft and OEMs have decided to come out with their tablets at 16:9, it doesn't mean Windows 8 = 16:9. 10.1 inch Android tablets have used this exact same ratio aspect and the 16:9 ratio aspect flaw has been mentioned many times before too? Or that nothing technical on the software side has forced Windows 8 to go towards 16:9 and that a better 4:3 tablet running Windows 8 may come out (guessing).

Here is some Xoom history, the first 10.1 inch Android tablet-

The display on the Xoom is slightly larger than the iPad's 9.7-inch screen, and higher resolution (1280 x 800 to Apple's 1024 x 768). The aspect ratio is substantially different as well, meaning that the Xoom feels a lot longer (or taller) than the iPad. In general, we felt portrait use was slightly uncomfortable given the size, but not in any way a dealbreaker.

Guardian Review

My experience was that on the Xoom, landscape was too wide, but portrait was too narrow. I couldn't type accurately and quickly on the narrow version - the keys were too close – but with the wide keyboard, it wasn't comfortable to hold and type....

The iPad keyboard, on the other hand, had a Goldilocks feel: not too wide, not too narrow. I can type really quite quickly on an iPad, and that's not due to greater use – I got the Xoom exactly a week after beginning to try an iPad.

Tablet PC Review

Compared to the iPad, Honeycomb tablets have different display ratios. They are narrower and longer. This is a good thing for multimedia playback when the tablet is held in the landscape position, however things are more limited in portrait mode due to the thinner design.

The criticisms of 16:9/10 tablets in portrait mode are old and valid. And when you think about it, those widescreen Android tablets came ready to be used in landscape position, often with the logo placing in the bottom-center below the screen in that mode.

I recognized the flaws of portrait mode with 16:9 and over 10 inches myself first hand when I used my first ever tablet, an Iconia a500, one of the heavier Android tablets, though not as heavy as the Thrive. And it's obvious to someone with eyes not filtered through a bias and desire for a certain tablet to succeed, that 16:9 tablets will get more top heavy and more ridiculous to view in portrait mode the larger and heavier they get. That's just a fact for non-giants.

4:3 isn't great at 7.9 inches and 9.7 inches because Apple said so. It's great because it simply makes the best tradeoffs. And there's nothing stopping Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and even Blackberry from going to that ratio that has been proven to be the only success in the 9+ tablet market. Everything from web browsing to playing games to reading books on it look great in portrait mode on an iPad. The only downside is that modern day widescreen videos will show more black bars than a 16:9 resolution. Even then, if you get your videos from other less official sources, you will probably still see black bars. (I do sorta wonder if the HP Touchpad crashing and burning scared people off from following the iPad too closely on the ratio, though that doesn't answer why Samsung didn't do it...)

Of course there are some of you who will follow up that with the ill thought argument of If 4:3 is so great, then why isn't my hdtv in that ratio???.

Well the obvious answer is that 16:9 inch TVs are not meant to be used in portrait mode at all. If this is hard to understand, then flip your TV on its side and see the problem, though you're going to have to use your imagination since portrait mode is not supported by your TV or whatever cable box you're using.

But what about the iPhone? Apple said that 3:2 was perfect, but they flipflopped and switched to 16:10?????

Quite simple. 3:2 at 3.5 inches worked quite fine on an iPhone. Only the most ardent of Apple haters would disagree. But it wasn't the best possibility if what you're going for, as Apple ended up doing, was as big of a screen that's still usable for manipulating apps and typing with one hand. I.E. the iPhone could afford to have a longer screen while being perfectly usable to most iPhone users and newcomers.

These aren't excuses. it's just reality. Yes 16:9 at 4 inches is better for most users than 3:2 at 3.5 inches, but somehow hundreds of millions of people used the 3:2 3.5 inch iOS screen without much complaint when it came to typing and playing Angry Birds.

But the usage scenario for a tablet is completely different. While I agree that the 16:10 Nexus 7 is great for two handed use, and that movies, websites, and ebooks work very well on it from a visual standpoint in portrait mode, as they do on their smaller smartphone brethen, as you start to go bigger, the visual experience starts to become narrower and elongated as you move from being a paperback to being a laptop sliced in half. You no longer feel like you're holding a paperback book in portrait mode at that ratio with a 10.1 inch screen, but instead something awkward when viewing a variety of content and if it's not light enough then the device itself with be awkward to hold for reading ebooks for instance. Widescreen videos properly encoded will still be great in landscape and if that's what's most important to you, then have it it.

How does this tie into Windows 8 tablets? Microsoft, having shown off the Surface, made it known to OEMs that they should follow its lead. Hybrids and so on. And like I said about widescreen TVs, laptops with 10+ widescreens are perfect or close enough for viewing widescreen movies. And for everything else (applications, browsers, etc) the purely visual viewing experience will be better than the iPad, as the iPad is better than the iPad Mini, as the Mini is better than the Nexus 7, as the you get the point. When it comes to screen size for viewing content, bigger is better without making smaller crappy, generally speaking. But those Laptops and TVs also only work in landscape 'mode' for viewing content.

So you simply can't say that widescreen TVs and laptop screens are optimal for those devices and conclude that those aspects are optimal for a tablet. Because we do not use TVs and Laptops in portrait mode. When it comes to tablets, landscape and portrait modes are very important to a lot of people, as they are on a smartphone, but even more so with a tablet I would say.

Do 16:9/10 large tablets (10-15 inches) suck in landscape mode? From a visual perspective, of course not. Just like widescreen laptops and TVs are great in that 'mode', so are those large widescreen tablets. But in portrait mode, they're simply not made for it. It doesn't provide a good experience. I've yet to see people beg for laptop that's meant to be used in portrait mode. And the larger you get, the worse it gets.

Basically what I'm saying is this. Both 4:3 and 16:9/10 have their own tradeoffs. With 4:3, it's black bars on widescreen videos. With 16:9/10, it's everything you're viewing and the device you're holding when both are in portrait mode.

I'm not trying to change any opinions here. Your choice, your tradeoff. You may not want to use a large tablet in portrait mode at all and you may want a larger screen or the keyboard it's supposed to fit with and so on. But please for the love of all that's commonsense, don't try to convince yourself and others that large widescreen tablets like the Surface and even bigger are perfectly fine or as good as the iPad or another large 4:3 tablet that didn't die in a fire sale in portrait mode. They're not. If they were, then we would have long had 16:10 laptops with widescreen screens on their sides and keyboards that travelled far past the bezel and when it was folded they would look like freaking crosses.

There is simply more content for mobile tablets out there that looks great on 4:3 7+ inches than content that only looks excellent on 16:9. And if Windows 8 isn't limited to 16:9, as I 'believe' it isn't, then you may see smaller tablets come out that run Windows 8 and aren't crap in portrait mode. I would love for that to happen.

New Windows 8 devices - On The Verge (via TheVerge)