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Why it's best to avoid touch screen laptops.

Apple don't do fashion - it seems

I don't know if you've noticed, but Apple never made a touch screen laptop. Even their 2016 Apple Macbook which is packed full of the latest innovations like a Retina display, USB-C port and advanced wireless capabilities is missing a touch screen.

Why? Well the reason is simple. Buying a touch screen laptop is a bad idea. The laptop industry took a downturn around 2011 when Tablet computers first hit the market. The novelty of touch enhanced tablets started to damage the laptop industry and many people including ourselves were actually dubious about the future of laptop computers. The laptop has however been in production since the 60s with the same clamshell design and so there is some long term history here with the design of book like computers (notebook) that sit on your lap (laptop).

So along come tablets and all of a sudden a classic design of 70 years in age is suddenly discarded en-masse? No, it was a novelty really, a fad and Apple knew this. Their studies and research showed that whilst a phone benefited users with it's simple touch interface - people who used their laptops wanted hardcore productivity. Simply put, sitting with your arms extended horizontally and touching the screen in front of you is not only cumbersome and unproductive but also causes arm ache called Gorilla Arm Syndrome (similar to carpal tunnel) in many people. The original laptop design was still the best way to use the computer.

The laptop industry in general reacted to this in different ways. Sony pulled out of the laptop market altogether, Packard Bell and e-machines became amalgamated into Acer. It looked bad. To reinvent interest in the seemingly out-dated clamshell laptop design, producers started to install touch screens into their laptops. Some even went as far as producing convertible devices such as the ASUS Transformer series and the HP X360 computers.

Take up of the new touch enabled laptop devices was slow, mainly due to the fact that the current OS at the time (Windows 7 and then Windows 8) did not really have very good support for touch applications and in fact most apps were still designed around the keyboard and mouse concept, making touch versions of the apps more simplified.

With the advent of Windows 10, touch support has improved greatly but the simple fact is that the applications people use on a daily basis such as Word, Excel, Photoshop, even surfing the web - all work better with a keyboard and mouse.

Man - if I had to type this article on a tablet i'd have chewed one corner of the device in frustration by now and would have a mouth full of splintered glass. Fact is I love to work on my laptop.

The industry knows this, and the passing fad of touch enabled laptops is disappearing now. They still exist but the bulk of manufacture is reverting back to non touch machines. Apple knew this from day 1. 

Lets face it, smart phones are getting larger LCDs. People still need a proper computer to work on, such as a traditional style laptop. Where is the future for tablets? Something to keep your 2 year old busy with and nothing to be taken seriously.

Lets look at a few other downsides to touch enabled laptops

- They drain the battery faster (the touch system uses power of course)

- It's unproductive working with arms extended in front of you and causes muscle ache

- Most of your software is way more productive when used with a keyboard and mouse

- You will find it very hard/expensive and on the most part impossible to find a screen replacement for your machine

- Your screen will have nasty finger marks all over it most of the time and be harder to view

Why is it hard to get a screen replacement?

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Primarily there are two parts to a touch screen display and one part on a normal non touch display. A non touch display comprises of an LCD screen which is then mounted into the lid of the computer, a plastic or sometimes metal alloy frame / border known in the industry as a bezel is used to finish the front and make it all look neat.

With touch screen computers instead of the bezel on the front there is on the most part a glass front. This glass front usually has the bezel painted onto it but instead of being a frame or border its a whole glass piece that seals off the front of the display with the LCD screen under that.

The front glass piece is called a digitiser and is the part that is basically like a see through track pad. The screen inside the machine is made by a 3rd party such as LG or Samsung, and they are the same screens that go in many laptops. Easy for us to supply and you to replace. The touch laptops need this extra digitiser layer as well, which is specific to each laptop model. Worse still the digitiser will often have the manufacturer logo such as the HP logo for example. It's not legal for a non HP reseller to supply these parts and for this reason its difficult to find the front glass; meaning whilst you can find a screen you can't find the border or frame to finish off the front of the display - leaving you with a kind of Frankenstein style machine.

Also, often what happens is the screen that goes with the digitiser maybe a special version, and in that case if you find the digitiser separately it may not work with a compatible screen that you buy from an LCD supplier.

So what to do? You need to look for the entire display assembly which is screen + front glass/digitiser. These of course are hard to find and expensive.

The bottom line? Avoid touch screen laptops if you want longer battery life, better productivity, a cleaner display and the chance of repairing it when you break it.

Some touch screen laptops that are easy to repair include

- The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 15

- The Ideapad Yoga by Lenovo

- Acer Aspire V5-471P/PG

Acer Aspire V5 571P

Acer Aspire E1 572P

Acer Aspire V5 571P

Lenovo Ideapad S415

Thats about all that seems to be readily available on a regular basis and that's at the time of writing as these products tend to have short lived shelf lives. Whilst production of LCD screens goes into the millions and these are always available the assembles of screen + digitiser for specific laptops are much harder to find, more expensive and often go against the manufacturers intellectual rights. There are often fake assemblies on the market as well, whereby the screen itself will be original but the front glass may be a copy made elsewhere. Not only illegal but also inferior quality.

There are some model of laptop that we supply a digitiser only for, which often works if it is just the front glass that has broken but this process is often difficult as the digitiser will usually be glued to the screen using a strong double sided tape. As it is just a thin layer of glass getting it off is difficult. The digitiser tends to shatter when you try to lever it off making a mess of shards of glass everywhere and often damaging the LCD below. It is possible with patience however. Most engineers would prefer to use a heat gun to loosen the glue first. This means a small hand held heat gun not the kind you would use to strip paint!

Heating the front glass can loosen the glue and then allow you to slowly lever the digitiser from the LCD panel and then replace it with one of our products. The process can take several hours which is why we recommend the screen + digitiser together however most of the time you will find that these aren't available.

This chap has an innovative way of doing this which we thought was cleaner than the usual process but does require some equipment.

Bottom line: Don't buy a touch screen laptop, get a laptop for working and a tablet to touch up when you feel like it.

Comments (4) -

  • Josh

    5/18/2018 5:00:07 AM |

    You've clearly never worked or lived with a touchscreen laptop. Like most people at Apple.

    I have a touchscreen Samsung Core i7 ultrabook laptop at home and a MacBook I try to use at work. I use all the productivity applications any normal office worker uses, and frequently try to touch the MacBook screen when I'm at work.

    And lest you think it's just me, I've heard similar from others in similar situations.

    Like the transition to larger phone screens, Apple will eventually follow Samsung and make touchscreen laptops as well.

    • Nick

      5/18/2018 9:53:26 AM |

      Hi Josh, thank you for your comments, I appreciate them. I understand you and take your point. From a laptop screen supplier's perspective however, I am trying to really make the point that touch screen laptops are often unrepeatable when the screen breaks. I explain this in the latter part of my article. Whilst non-touchscreen laptops are cheap and easy to fix, I spent a good part of my day giving bad news to people with touch screen machines. You just can't get the parts most of  the time, especially on the big brands.  Have a look around for a replacement screen for your laptop, I would say you probably won't find one, or if you do it will be without the digitizer touch glass, and therefore useless.

      What we are trying to do is warn people away from them, and I do still believe they are less productive than using a keyboard and mouse, but call me old school if you like!


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