OLED is great, but where are all the mini LED laptops?



Woman using laptop in hammock on beach.
enlarge / It’s not so easy to work outdoors like this on an OLED laptop with limited brightness.

Maria Korniva/Getty

If I had any kind of display panel on my laptop, it would be a mini LED.

Sure, OLED is great for producing deep blacks and high contrast, but mini LEDs are a powerful alternative. The possibility of blooming still exists, but it’s not a big deal on a small laptop screen. Meanwhile, there’s no risk of burn-in, and I’m likely to get better full-screen brightness when I want to take my laptop outside. Also, the battery life of mini LED screens is superior to that of OLED panels.

For the things I do most often on my laptop—working on Word documents and spreadsheets, reading, editing photos, and streaming video—the highest contrast ratio isn’t imperative. I’ll settle for second-best if it means other benefits.

But in consumer-grade laptops, the mini LED is mostly nowhere to be seen. You’ll have to turn to pricier, GPU-equipped machines targeted at creative workers or PC gamers. Premium laptops that rely on discrete graphics, such as the Dell XPS, Lenovo Yoga, and HP Specter series, all offer OLED in top-tier SKUs, LCD-LED in lower-priced SKUs, and some mini LED in between.

Why is it virtually impossible to find a prosumer mini LED laptop, even though mini LED desktop monitors are cheap? We reached out to laptop OEMs to find out.

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OLED Economies of scale

Surprisingly, the main reason companies won’t make the mini LED laptops of my dreams is that they won’t be as profitable as OLED machines. OLED PC monitors and TVs remain more expensive than mini LED alternatives, but economies of scale mean that OLED laptop panels are cheaper to source and come in a better variety than mini LED screens.

When I asked Dell about the lack of Mini LED in its XPS lineup, a representative told me that the company chose OLED over Mini LED because it had “superior image quality,” but the representative also pointed to economics:

Right now, economies of scale allow for more panel choices with OLED, while at the moment, the number of mini LED panel choices available is relatively small. We’re keeping an eye on technology trends, but for now, you’ll see more OLED across our portfolio.

Acer has some of the lowest-priced OLED laptops available; As of this writing, the Swift 3 is priced at $900. The vendor has relegated mini LED to “high-end gaming” and uses OLED for “premium products designed for consumers or customers who want a high-end system” because “diversification helps streamline component inventory allocation,” A spokesperson said.

“Mini LED is more expensive because it’s a more mature technology and lacks the economies of scale that OLED has,” said an Acer representative, adding that the company sees cost as the biggest barrier to mini LED laptop adoption.

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Chicken or eggs

But mini LED laptop panel prices won’t drop until demand grows enough to justify an increase in production, availability, and choice. Meanwhile, OLED has become widespread across electronics, with the tech appearing in smartphones, TVs, smartwatches, consoles like the Nintendo Switch, and even PC peripherals (mini LEDs have even found their way into keyboards). OLED is also a household name with more mainstream demand than mini LED. It all adds up to a classic chicken-or-the-egg situation.

An Acer representative said that “both OLED and Mini LED produce a high-quality, TV-class image with excellent color accuracy and contrast ratio,” but the company found that people looking for a “high-end gaming” laptop at a “low price-sensitive and more spec-based.” Acer also stated that brightness is a key factor for such users, noting the Mini LED’s better brightness potential compared to OLED. The company told me it sees demand for mini LED laptops “equally” among creators, prosumers and small and medium-sized businesses. Creators and gamers aren’t the only users who can benefit from mini LED’s boosted contrast and luminance, but those tech-savvy demographics are aware of the mini LED’s benefits.

Lenovo found the biggest barrier to the adoption of mini LED laptops to be “education”. A spokesperson for Asus, which makes mini LED gaming laptops, agreed that “consumers and the media” need to experience and support the technology to increase its adoption in laptops. “Consumers typically get their panel education from the TV market, and mini LEDs are not prevalent in home theater today,” said a Lenovo spokesperson.

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Lenovo is releasing its first mini LED laptop in May. It leads the Slim Pro 9i series as a powerful creator machine, with RTX 40-series laptop GPUs, Intel H-series CPUs and a starting price of $1,700.

#OLED #great #mini #LED #laptops

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