Netbooks and Resolution

I got an interesting question this week via email:

I just read the July issue of Laptop magazine and Mark Spoonauer (editor in chief) said that netbooks are here to stay. With this trend do you think the 1024×768 res will be reduced to 800×600 to capture this growing market? The mobility and internet access makes me think twice what would be the more popular resolution. Do you have any of the latest numbers? – Maria

Here’s what I replied:

“That’s a great question. I personally would not revert to designing sites to fit within an 800×600 resolution unless the website or app I was developing specifically targets the Netbook or mobile demographic. On the flip side to that argument, w3schools reported that as of January 2009, 93% of web browsers had a resolution of 1024 or higher with 57% being higher. Last year, they reported that only 38% of computers had a resolution higher than 1024 x 768. Even with that increase, I still default to designing sites at 960px wide. From what I’ve seen, 960 is still the industry standard because it fits within 1024 and is divisible by so many potential grid widths. (See: http://960.gs/ & http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/2006/12/gridding_the_960/ ) While this does mean that visitors with an 800×600 resolution will see a horizontal scrollbar, the actual content of most 960px wide sites does not stretch the full width of the site and should still be readable without scrolling.”

Is it really that simple?

Tiny NetbookAfter sending that reply I started re-thinking my answer. While I don’t have a netbook, I know they’ve become insanely popular over the last few years and I’ve seen them take the place of big, bulky laptops at conferences and coffee shops. Should we be catering to this growing market? If so, what exact resolutions are we dealing with. After doing a little research, I discovered that most netbooks have a resolution of either 1024×600 or 800×480. Sweet, 1024 should display my 960px sites just fine, but…Eight hundred by four eighty! In Firefox with all my toolbars and status bar turned on, I’ve got over 150px of vertical chrome – that would account for about 30% of the 480px height. Yikes! Would anybody really ever buy a computer in 2009 with a screen resolution of 800×480? If so, they might as well just get a smart phone.

Let’s take our research to the Amazon, shall we?

Amazon.com has exactly 221 netbooks available from 11 different manufacturers. What matters most to me on this matter is what’s selling. They have 100 netbooks listed in their netbooks bestsellers list. I browsed all the way down to #50 and didn’t find a single product with a resolution lower than 1024×600. I even found a few with resolutions up to 1366×768. If people really do buy netbooks with an 800×480 resolution, they are the minority…and they’ll just have to work that horizontal scrollbar.

What do you say?

Is anyone out there giving love to those poor 800×480 users out there? …all 5 of them.

9 Comments

  1. Great post. I came so close to asking you this same question at ConvergeSC!

  2. Thankfully, nearly EVERY netbook on the market supports at least 1024 width. So, it’s a moot point.

    I only know, because I had a similar volly of emails with a guy who was concerned about using 960.gs for fear of alienating low-end laptop users.

    Here’s the comparison chart…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_netbooks

    • The comparison chart is really handy. Thanks, Nathan. I’m sure we will continue to see some netbooks produced with resolutions smaller than 1024, but as I said above, the content area of a 960+ site should never take up the full width (usually 3/4 or less) of the layout…so you shouldn’t need to scroll horizontally while reading the content itself. I wish these smaller devices used zooming the way the iPhone does. That would alleviate this already fairly moot issue altogether.

  3. So far as I know, most netbooks at my place support the resolution of 1024*768 while many people prefer to set it 800*600 in order to have a better surfing experience.

  4. I’ve sometimes surf at 800×600 on my Dell ‘Lollipop’ but only because it defaults abck to the setting everytime I start it up. If I don’t have my reading glasses handy I just leave it there πŸ™‚

  5. This information was very useful, so thank you. However, I did feel the need to point out that there probably aren’t any netbooks running OS X as the image featured in your article seems to show πŸ˜›

  6. Let’s not forget about those who may have 1024-wide-and-up screens but that don’t size their browser windows to the maximum available width. I’m talking about the crazy multitaskers (like me? πŸ˜‰ who want to keep an eye on a whole bunch of other stuff while browsing pages.

    Thankfully, designers these days have much better tools for designing resolution-independent layouts than when the web was first starting out. But it sadly still takes a fair amount of elbow-grease to work these things out, doesn’t it?

    • I’ve spent a lot of time playing around with designs that are resolution independent. My blog design is a good example of what can be done. For the majority of client work I do though, I wouldn’t touch a fluid layout with a 10 foot pole. There are too many potential display issues and bugs. I can either fix or look past those things on my personal site, but no client wants an “experimental” website. In fact, most of our clients still expect IE6 compatibility.

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