How big of a computer screen do you use?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend a couple of weeks ago about screen size. I don’t remember how we got on this topic, but he commented that he use to use two big monitors at work. He’s since moved down to one smaller one. And he’s now interested in productivity apps that can be used on small screens.

I almost exclusively work on my laptop – a 15 inch MacBook Pro. For the longest time (as in since I moved to this city just over 5 years ago) I’ve had a 20-21 inch monitor sitting on my desk. For a while it was connected to a PC desktop (that I almost never used) but for most of the time it’s been left unattached, with the idea that I could use it as an extra monitor for my laptop. However, I can probably count the number of times I did that on one hand (okay, maybe two). But, to be honest, I rarely (never?) found that it increased my productivity. And I could never figure out the right configuration (laptop to the left, right, below, or just use the monitor) to make it useful and usable for me.

I have an external keyboard (looks like this one) that I do like, but I also really like the keyboard on my mac. And, to be honest, after using laptops as my main computer for the past 10 years, I really like trackpads. And, I really don’t like mice. I know, I could buy a trackpad, but I also like the configuration of the trackpad directly below the keyboard. And that is much harder to replicate with a separate trackpad + keyboard.

I also love the portability of a laptop. I usually sit back with my feet up on something (sometimes my desk) and my laptop on my lap. I rarely (although, oddly am right now) sit and work with my laptop on the desk. (This is another reason I find working on campus in the summer frustrating – as I have to sit at a desk.)

Now, when I started my master’s, I actually went from a 15 inch powerbook to a 13.3 inch white MacBook. And, I ended up having a couple of problems with the MacBook, but the biggest was the size. It was great for doing everything I needed to do except code. I found I didn’t have enough screen real-estate to be able to see enough of what I was working on. Especially if I wanted to ever work in an IDE. That experience has definitely convinced me that, for working, I need a 15 inch minimum. I don’t think I’d ever go for a 17 inch laptop, mainly because I find them very heavy and awkward to use if you’re not at a desk. And definitely not easily used on an airplane.

So, I’m currently set in my ways with a 15 inch laptop. How that will change in the future, I’m not sure. I suppose it’s quite likely I’ll end up with a job that will require me to sit at a desk with a desktop. For now, I’ll enjoy the freedom a laptop gives me.

What about you? Are you a fan of multiple displays and as much screen as possible? Or do you go for the smallest screen you can get away with?

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