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Why are some UMPC screen bezels so wide?

This guest article was submitted by Robert A. Anson.

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Not only are many readers, but also some “experts” (who should know better) have been complaining lately about the “very wide bezels” on the sides of the screens of some new clamshell devices.

To prevent my blood pressure from going any higher than it already has because of the frustration I feel every time I read a comment like, “Oh my God, why are the bezels around the screen so W I D E?”, I wrote this article to explain what I believe is the rationale for the wide bezels.

The Design/Thinking Process

  • A decision is made to manufacture a small clamshell device.
  • The width of the keyboard is postulated. An effort is made to make it as small as possible, but still be functional.
  • The keys are drawn on paper or a mock-up is made to determine their placement and usefulness. Are the keys too small?
  • The width of the keyboard and base is adjusted to achieve a balance between the size of the device and keyboard function. Obviously, a full-size keyboard (as found on a 13.3″ diagonal laptop) is the most functional for typing, but this is a “pocketable” device, so some compromises must be made.
  • The width of the keyboard and a bezel around it (for structural support, hinges, LEDs, mouse buttons, pointing sticks, an on/off button, and connections on the side of the device) are determined after much compromise.

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  • To have a clamshell device of minimal size and to protect the screen and keyboard, the width and height of the lid are made the same as that of the base (the keyboard and surrounding bezel).

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  • Some extra space (a bezel) must be lost to provide structural integrity and room for hinges, a webcam, rubber projections to protect the screen and lid when the lid is closed, etc.
  • The lid’s surface area that remains (after subtracting the bezel) is available for the screen’s width and height.
  • The screen is placed within the confines of the lid, usually in the center.
  • The area could be completely filled, but this would require fabrication of a custom screen, which would significantly add to the cost of the device. Or off-the-shelf screens (standard sizes) could be used to keep the cost lower.
  • As wide screens are the new standard, one is selected that will fit in the remaining space. The screen choices are:
    • 4.8″ diagonal, 800 x 480 resolution, width = 4.1″, height = 2.5″
    • 4.8″ diagonal, 1024 x 600 resolution, width = 4.1″, height = 2.4″
    • 5.6″ diagonal, 1024 x 600 resolution, width = 4.8″, height = 2.8″
    • 5.6″ diagonal, 1280 x 800 resolution, width = 4.7″, height = 3.0″

I will use the Fujitsu UH900 as an example: Fujitsu chose to use a stock (off-the-shelf) screen with a high resolution. A 5.6″ diagonal, 1280 x 800-resolution screen has a width of 4.7″; the device has a width of 8.3″. Allowing for a 0.5″ bezel on both sides (a minimal amount for structural support, a webcam, and opening the screen without getting an oily thumb print on it), this leaves 7.3″ for the screen. Subtracting the width of the screen from the available space leaves an excess of 2.6″. Centering the screen on the lid allows 1.3″ of excess on each side of the screen. Adding the 0.5″ bezel (for support) gives a total bezel width of 1.8″ on each side of the screen.

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“1.8 inches of bezel?” you might be saying. “What were they thinking?”

Fujitsu chose to reduce their costs and the price you would have to pay for the device by using stock screens rather than fabricating custom screens that would completely fill the space within the required (for support) screen bezels. It wasn’t ignorance or stupidity; an economic and practical decision was made. Fabricating a custom-size screen is not only very costly, but it also has some risks. Will it work properly? Will manufacturing problems delay the release of the device? Will it wind up costing more than anticipated? Will the customer accept the increased cost of the custom-size screen?

I think Fujitsu (and others) made the right choice in going with an off-the–shelf screen. And that’s why the bezels are as wide as they are.

Bob Anson is a retired Pediatric Dentist who has nothing better to do than to write an article about the size of the bezels around the very small screens of new clamshell devices. When not doing that, he is calculating the size of their very small pixels.

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Guest Contributor

Pocketables is a US-based online tech magazine that brings news, insights, opinions, and comprehensive reviews on various mobile computing devices, portable technology, and related topics to a global audience. We focus on devices that fit into pockets of all sizes, from jeans and jackets to backpacks and purses. The gadget experts that comprise our staff produce high quality articles and original features colored with real-life use of products over weeks and months, not first-impression opinions formed within hours or days.

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35 thoughts on “Why are some UMPC screen bezels so wide?

  • This is just wrong. Completely wrong excuse. I refuse to buy cheaply made device for 1000$.
    I would gladly pay 1000$ for device without bezel.
    Manufacturers will never change their manners, if people buy this
    garbage.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Anonymous

    But why don’t devices which use the stock 4.8″ size use the stock 5.6″ size instead? As the numbers show the difference in L and W is almost ideal for eliminating that excess bezel while still providing the necessary structural support.

    Reply
  • They just do it to have you a little unsatisfied and that way you will buy the next upgrade or other of their products so you end up with more than one gadget. It is a game money, not a technological or design challenge or convenience. They well could match the sizes of keyboard and screen and I beat no body would make any negative comments about it. So why they insist in going against what people want and what naturally makes more sense? well I said so.

    Reply
  • Although I am not a 100% fan of Apple, They will beat them out once they decide come up with this form factor on a portable devise. Only then this funky CEO’s will reduce the bezel. iPad has some bezel but if it didn’t probably your thumb would activate the touch screen when holding the devise. I see a design convenience there but not with the UH900

    Reply
  • wow, just wow… so many words for 0 actual info. The one interesting and non-obvious info would be: how much is a custom screen extra ?

    Reply
  • BTW, what about the Archos 8 bezel ? there’s no keyboard ?

    Reply
  • Avatar of Steven L

    First, regardless of the reason for the bezel, it still looks a bit… cheap. Terrible, even. Second, the Sony Vaio P had an EIGHT inch screen in a resolution of 1600 x 768, with a starting price of $899. You don’t get much more custom than that!

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  • I don’t think a 5.6″ 1280×800 screen is particularly “stock”, I can’t even think of one other device with such a screen.

    Olivier: I think the Archos 8 bezel is due to esthetics, probably the product manager was thinking “digital picture frame with bonus features”.

    I’ve read that a main driver of LCD costs is height, once you have a certain height you can make it wider for not much more (up to the point when you have diminishing returns due to defects as area gets larger)

    Hmmm… If I’m computing this correctly, the Vaio P series has a display that’s 7.2″ wide, but the whole unit is 9.6″ wide, so there’s 1.2″ of bezel on each side… What were they thinking? :-)

    Slightly more seriously, if you made a 16:9 1366×768 screen with the same pixel density as the Vaio P has, it would have a 7″ diagonal. Anyone know of any 7″ 1366×768 HD devices? (4:3 would be a 5.6″ 1024×768 screen, hmm…)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Bob Anson

    Hi Sam,
    I hope some of this helps you:
    The Fujitsu U820 has a 5.6″ 1280×800 screen, so whether it is “stock” or not, Fujitsu already had used that size before. In addition, it has a ratio of 16:9, so to me, that combination is pretty standard (nothing custom here).

    I am not aware of any 7-inch screens that have a 1366×768 resolution. This combination results in a pixel size of 0.113 mm., and is much too small for reading text (at least for my old eyes). By comparison, a Viliv X70 EX has a pixel size of 0.150 mm., and even that larger size requires numerous increases of text size in Windows to make it usable. I require pixel sizes of 0.200 mm or more to comfortably see the text on a handtop screen. So, they probably don’t make 7-inch, 1366×768 screens because too many people would have problems using them. I would never buy a device with that combination.

    Reply
  • so in other words, they design a keyboard size and use the largest stock screen that will fit within that size. everything else is bezel. more or less as i suspected.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Vakeros

    Interesting thoughts. However Sony Vaio P was designed this way with the keyboard first. This is why they went with an 8″ screen. Ends up being extra wide and they still have some bezel.

    It is a question of design. If you design around the keyboard then this easily happens. If you design around the screen then you get a different set of problems. My own designs (for which I won a competition, to be made into a prototype, which then never happened
    :-( ) was based around a screen with minimum bezel of 5mm for the screen and making the keyboard and controls around it.

    Another alternative is to use the bezel for controls like the UMID BZ, Kohjinsha PA etc. These are more useful for convertibles.

    Reply
  • Avatar of John in Norway

    How about a device that’s 8″ wide and uses 2 x 4″ screens? Wouldn’t that be cool? … rushes down to the cellar to find his hammer and glue gun.

    Reply
  • If only there were fewer letters in the alphabet, things would be so much better.

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  • I think maybe this argument is missing the main point: a smaller screen uses less battery power. Using just barely a usable screen is a good way to extend battery life because the screen is the most power-intensive part of a portable device. Shrink the screen size and the power requirements are lessened.

    Reply
  • Radios use up a lot of power as can HDDs.
    The design of the unit needs to be the same as the screen. So logically a 16:9 ratio screen needs a 16:9 ratio unit. Add 5mm on each end and you get a 170mmx100mm unit. This will allow a 185mm screen (or approx. 7.25″ screen.)
    As long as the thickness of the device isn’t too much i.e 20mm then you have a pocketable device with a good size screen.
    Sell enough units and it becomes a defacto screen size.

    Reply
  • Ah, yes, they probably didn’t have to redesign the screen for the UH900 since they had it for the U820, but for the U820…

    Pedantically, 1280×800 is 16:10… I hadn’t thought about it, but the 1024×600 isn’t 16:9 or 16:10, but sort of in the middle.

    The custom part is that the layout had to be changed–the layout has to be redone and new lithography masks (or whatever they call it in LCD manufacturing) made, for the different pixel dimensions and pixel density; probably the individual pixel cells (transisters, wires, etc…) would need to be reoptimized for the size. I suppose they could have taken a layout for a 12″ 1280×800 screen and did an optical shrink on it, hmm… probably too different in size.

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  • I am just delighted that this is getting so much attention. I agree that the article is empty rhetoric and more than a little condescending, but I am encouraged by the backlash response. If enough of us react and continue to react, maybe some enterprising manufacturer somewhere will notice that there is a pent-up market for a clamshell or convertible that offers a compact pocketable touch-type keyboard with a lid that covers the keyboard and a screen that covers the whole dang lid. It’s elementary, Watson. Is anybody listening?

    Reply
  • That’s exactly what I hope for. No perfect screen, no deal for me.

    Reply
  • Avatar of tmarks11

    The challenge to Viliv or UMID….

    Bring back the OQO!!!!

    Except with a atom cpu…

    Reply
  • That’s what I want. It must be done by some new player, who doesn’t have thousand old screens on stock and is wiling to
    make perfect pocketable device. The technology is here.
    I can’t believe that this is 2 years old and it is not done yet.
    http://pocketables.com/2008/01/digifriends-mid.html
    Everybody keep selling us garbage for many years.

    Reply
  • I have to say, that I think comments about bezel size for UMPCs are disingenuous. Now that the Vaio P is out, everyone says, “They could make the bezel smaller by making the keyboard and the screen the same size — just look at the Vaio P.” But no one mentions that the Vaio P is much more expensive than a netbook or UMPC with comparable hardware. And I’m pretty sure that 95% of commenters who bring the Vaio P into the discussion don’t have a Vaio P, because it’s so much more expensive. If they owned a Vaio P and were happy with it, they wouldn’t be commenting about other UMPCs and their bezels.

    The price of the Vaio P and the unusual screen resolution — which is only a problem because it’s not supported by the OS or applications, and not for any other single reason — pretty much shows what happens when you take a non-standard custom-made LCD screen to match with a small keyboard or thumb keyboard: you get a small, underpowered, expensive computer that almost no one owns.

    The Vaio P is great and very well designed, for the most part (except that the user is liable to hit the mouse button instead of the space bar). And it would be great if MS had actually done anything to produce for the unusual form factor of the UMPC — a category that MS actually invented and promoted with Intel — a well-supported, optimized version of Windows with a large software development community.

    But my point is that people who use the bezel of a UMPC and its unfavorable comparison with that of the Vaio P as a reason to not buy a UMPC are probably not interested in the UMPC form factor to begin with. What matters most about a UMPC is that it works well — that is, as well as a UMPC could possibly work, considering that it’s supposed to be a cheap, tiny, low-powered PC. The Vaio P is great (for a relatively low-powered tiny computer), but it doesn’t work three times as well as a UMPC with a 1.5″ bezel.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Bob Anson

    Dennis,

    Thank you for your comments. Most other commenters want to tar and feather me and run me out of town; some for writing too much (and being condescending) and some for writing too little, and not providing enough technical and intellectual enlightenment. Abraham Lincoln said it best, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” You will note that because of the high cost (and very small pixels) of the SONY VAIO P, I did not offer it as an example of UMPC perfection.

    Reply
  • it is just pure stupidity at work, theres just no excuse for stupid engineering.
    we’re living in such a primitive time of mobile devices.
    it just matter of time, they’ll roll back their brains and see.
    big fat fingers don’t help much either, with all consideration.
    but its not all so much of fat fingers anymore, people want somewhat appealing design, for gods sake.
    just cant say enough about these useless bezels, its just ridiculous.
    another thing they’re doing is screen size… 2”, 3.1224”, 4”, 4.5”, 4.67665”… and then jump to like 8000”.
    why the hell not 7 or 8 inches, that would be the very ideal for any human with brain want.
    personally, i wouldn’t mind, shelling out a few more bucks for a worthy device, why the hell not, if its something thats appealing to you, not just buying any lame shit.
    anyway you turn, its just sucks, but just matter of time though.
    i’ve got bogged-down so much so, i’d thought of molding the housing myself and just cramp the LCD and stuff in.
    matter of fact, its not far-fetch at all.
    these groups of companies would love your business any day, http://www.alibaba.com
    we’re right smack in the primitive mobile device age, thats just it.
    just hang on to your pants and keep an eye on this little cake though.. http://www.engadget.com/2010/03/05/microsofts-courier-digital-journal-exclusive-pictures-and-de/
    there’re a few more popping up here and there gradually. they’re coming around.

    Reply
  • Hi Bob,

    I should have added that I appreciated your article and your attempt to clarify the issue. I just get tired reading so many user comments on multiple gadget blogs that specifically mention only the size of the bezel on these small PCs — as if that’s the most important thing in the world. So I wasn’t directing my comment at you at all.

    Reply
  • I’m also very interested in the Courier, and I’m very pleased to hear that MS decided to start with a 7″ version running from Windows CE and an ARM-architecture CPU, instead of again using Windows 7 and an x86 CPU. If MS had gone their usual route, there’s no way the Courier would be practically functional. So I’m hoping MS can really pull this off. They’ve done reasonably (maybe surprisingly) well with the Zune and the Xbox, and it seems that MS’s work on its new mobile OS is coincident with their work on the Courier release.

    The problem in general with portable computers, starting from the notebook PC, is that the design is good for portability but bad for ergonomics. Shrinking a notebook PC to 1/4 the size only makes the poor ergonomics more apparent, until it becomes a truly handheld device with thumb typing. I don’t see an easy solution to combining a keyboard with a screen in a less-than 9″ diagonal portable device — there’s always going to be some trade off involved. Onscreen keyboards are okay, but they make touch typing (i.e., typing without looking at either your hands or what you’re typing) impossible.

    Reply
  • I am just disappointed where all the world companies are headed. No better, more usable products on the first place anymore. Profit, profit, profit, to make sure we sell next product with better keyboard,, next with WiFi, next with 3G, next with USB, next with screen without bezel. I am just worry, I will need to pull out of my shelve resting in peace Toshiba e830 with 4″ screen in few years , buy CF card for 4G and use it as my best UMPC ever.

    Reply
  • The article is kind of long winded, but it’s basically correct.

    The displays appear to more or less come in standard sizes, and if they pick a larger non-standard screen, it gets more expensive to produce.

    If they shrink the rest of the PC down to fit the screen, which would be the other solution, that would both make it more expensive PLUS you guys would all be whining about keyboard size.

    Seems kind of obvious to me.

    Reply
  • Avatar of thenewbie

    I agree with Fred. The first one with max screen, will be praised and not critized. How would the i-phone look with huge bezel? It would suck. (archos5, dell mini5, HTC touch pro2 all have max screens thin bezel) You need to understand UMPC designs have always struggled, and are still struggling. There has not been a game changer in UMPC/clamshell design in years. I still believe OQO, 2 years ago is still the best design. OQO was playing 1080i like 2 yrs ago on a thin bezel screen! What UMPC can play 1080i? XP-phone better release their phone, before they loose ground.

    Reply
  • The comments are obvious. I think most of us figured that out – that they’re using off the shelf screens. What they, and apparently you, haven’t figured out is that it’s screen size, not keyboard size, that justifies any amount of length and width that we are must carry. We are looking for pocketable, after all. If it’s a 4.8 in screen, give me a correspondingly small case and keyboard, and let me thumb type. That will be fine for short text entries. When I know I have more writing to do, I can carry a folding usb or blue tooth keyboard. But I want the basic unit, a fully functional device that can run all of my applications, to be as small as possible, for the screen size and resolution I have decided I can work with.

    Reply
  • Sorry, maybe I’m mixing categories here – for a minute I thought I was on the wrong website. But actually, I think my comments still apply to the prospective UMPC buyer – who is still thinking small, and I think will generally prefer to sacrifice keyboard to less overall bulk. And the holy grail is clearly a usable keyboard with a maximum screen area. For the price of the (US) UH-900, there should be some common sense about the vital importance of screen size. The more I think about it, the more I understand what the other commenters here are teed off about.

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  • who is still thinking small, and I think will generally prefer to sacrifice keyboard to less overall bulk.

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    • When someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the idea of a user in his/her brain that how a user can know it.
      Therefore that’s why this paragraph is amazing. Thanks!

      Reply
  • again, theres just no need for some deep explanations, its just simple math and everyday practical, why cant you stupid cow-brains see it.
    its just simple as, make something that is appealing to people, so they will buy your product like hot cakes.
    ay yi yi.
    simply, there is no excuse for this dimension, that dimension,
    analytically, methodological, yik yik yik, analogizing shit, just goddamn make it compact and appealing, what people want to buy, they don’t mind giving a few more dollars for what they want.
    you are too smart and over-think of a simple, practical look.
    every time i see some lame shit like this, its just drives me up the wall.
    this is one of those things that westerners tend to over-look( not to mention big fingers and big hands)its just obvious.
    it is very true, fact is fact, no matter how it is.

    Reply
  • i second to your saying there.
    time and time again we see, what every Sony does and then rest of the pack will follow.
    it seems to be some trend, some crazy trend.
    case in point, one time Sony taken out the PIP from LCD big screen TVs, they rest of them followed, eventually cant find any with PIP.
    now again, Sony has brought it back in, lets see how it’ll go.
    we are so living a primitive age of technology.

    Reply

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