Note: This article was first published on 12 June 2019 and is republished now because it's notebook buying season.
There’s a current obsession with bezel-less displays and screen to body ratios. This is true for phones and notebooks. The general thinking now is that the thinner the bezel and the higher the screen to body ratio the better. This is true for smartphones but less so with notebooks. Having studied ultraportable notebooks intensively in the past few months through the course of our reviews, I realized that thin bezels might not be an entirely good thing.
I’ll admit, thin bezels do have their merits. It makes the display look more dramatic and it also reduces the overall footprint of the notebook. But it’s important to keep in mind that a smaller top cover panel has an effect on other parts of the notebook, such as the keyboard and trackpad.
In a notebook with thin bezels, something has to give to accommodate the smaller footprint of the top cover panel. You either get a cramped keyboard with keys missing or a narrow trackpad. Often times, it’s the latter and it can be a real pain to use - especially if you like to use a low pointer sensitivity.
Let’s use the latest Dell XPS 13 as an example. The bezel above the display is an incredible 5mm thick. It’s the slimmest in the business. It has a regular sized keyboard but its trackpad is 10.5cm wide and just 6cm from top to bottom. Guess what, that’s one of the smallest trackpads you’ll find on a 13-inch notebook.
There needs to be a balance and one brand that does this well is Apple. The display on Mac notebooks never had the thinnest bezels. Even the newest MacBook Air has fairly thick bezels in comparison to other notebooks. The upside, however, is that their trackpads are also one of the largest and therefore one of the most pleasant to use. The MacBook Air’s trackpad is a whopping 12cm by 8.1cm, making it one of the largest trackpads in any 13-inch notebook. If you compare their surface area, it is actually 54% larger than the XPS 13. The downside, of course, is that the MacBook Air is quite a lot larger than the XPS 13. As is the case for notebooks and so many other things in life: you cannot have your cake and still eat it.
So the next time you are shopping for a notebook, think twice about that bezel. As important as a great-looking display is, are thinner bezels really worth the trouble? If you rely on the trackpad often or if the position of the web camera is important to you, the answer might be no.
Specifications are not everything. It's what you do with what you have that matters.