So you got a new job. And with it, some money to get a new laptop. Or maybe you quit the job to go freelance and try out the digital nomad life for a while. You know, coding on the beach, sipping on Mojitos, trying to keep the sun away from your screen and not have sand fill up your keyboard. And now, you need a laptop.
Whatever brought you here, welcome, and we’re glad that you stopped by! The question is, “What size laptop should you get for programming?” and the answer is almost always the same: Get the size that makes sense for you, and make sure it has at least Full HD resolution (1,920 × 1,080 pixels).
Let’s talk about why.
Display Size vs. Display Resolution
Size refers to the physical diameter of your laptop’s screen, measured diagonally in inches. The size of your laptop’s screen determines how much space it takes up, well, pretty much anywhere — on your desk, in your backpack, on your lap when you’ve been struck by inspiration or have to debug code on the go.
Size alone doesn’t determine the quality of a screen. As a programmer points out in a Quora thread, “I’d rather have a 13-inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen then a 17-inch 1,600 x 900 one.”
Resolution? Now, that’s what we’re talking about. The resolution, measured by the number of pixels it can display horizontally and vertically, determines how sharp and clear the text and images on your screen are. The higher the resolution, the clearer, sharper, and smaller the images on the screen.
It’s important to note that a higher resolution doesn’t necessarily mean a better viewing experience. Other factors — like brightness, contrast, color accuracy, and viewing angle — can also affect how good the screen looks. A higher resolution may require more processing power and can impact battery life, which is something to consider if you plan to use your laptop for long periods away from an outlet.
The key is to find the right balance between the size and resolution for you.
The Best Screen Sizes for Programming Laptops
Laptops come in all shapes and sizes. Generally speaking, compact laptops have screens with a diameter of 11 to 13 inches, and large laptops 14 inches to 17 inches, and in some cases more. The most common screen sizes for laptops are 11, 13, 14, 15, and 17 inches.
The best screen size for a programming laptop is 13 in or 15 in with Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 px) resolution. Also consider brightness, contrast, color accuracy, and viewing angle.
If you’re the type of programmer who works with numbers and uses the numpad often, know that most laptops with a numpad have displays 15 inches or larger. That’s because manufacturers need the frame to have enough physical space to allow them to squeeze a numpad into the keyboard.
If you fly a lot and work with your laptop on your lap while up in the skies, you’ll probably want to go for a smaller, 13-inch laptop that you can use in tight spaces without hassle and maneuver in and out of your hand luggage with ease.
There’s also the money question. It’s cheaper to buy a high-end 13-inch laptop with great specs and a clear screen than it is to buy a 15-inch laptop that meets the same criteria. The bigger the laptop, the more expensive its parts — and the higher its retail price. So if you’re strapped on cash, downsize to get the best.
What About External Monitors?
Okay, so you bought a brand new laptop and, because you read this guide first, you chose the right one for you needs. Congrats! Now is a great time to start thinking about a docking station and one or two external monitors.
“Wait a second,” you’re thinking, “I just got a laptop, and now you’re telling me I need to get not one but two external monitors? What kind of advice is this?” And to that, I say, you’re right. But as someone who’s been typing it away on laptops for decades, stick with me and hear me out.
A laptop may be convenient, but let’s not kid ourselves; working on one 24/7 doesn’t promote a great posture or the right viewing angle. So, unless you want to have back pain or have your eyes go bad on you — and, trust me, you don’t — you probably want to think about a desk setup with ergonomics in mind.
As a minimum, consider a standing desk and ergonomic chair. One external monitor is okay, but if you want the best coding experience, you’ll want to have two; one for a full-screen view of your code editor and another for a full-screen view of the result, a.k.a. your applications.
Generally speaking, 13 and 15 in are the best laptop sizes for programmers. A laptop this big has a screen big enough so you don’t have to stare at your code, but compact enough so you can carry it and take it with you no matter where in the world you are.