Google Improves Display Scaling For 13-Inch Chromebooks

Google's other mobile operating system, Chrome OS, is a little different to the Android platform. It is a little younger and is structurally different, being designed for a laptop-style of chassis and a hardware keyboard, non-touchscreen interface. Chrome OS is typically seen running on a Chromebook over what is relatively low-end hardware for a laptop. The Chrome platform will run on either an Intel x86 or ARM platform but it relatively lightweight: an entry level Intel chipset and 2GB of RAM will power a Chromebook reasonably well for most users. And until relatively recently, the majority of Chromebooks used a low resolution, 1,366 by 768 pixel display panel that was typically around the 11-inch in size. However, as manufacturers have evolved the Chromebook platform and improved the specification, we have seen increasing numbers of Chromebooks launched with a higher resolution display and this has caused some usability issues with various models. Essentially, the problem is that Chrome OS did not always scale well on a high-resolution screens. Yes; the device is perfectly usable but icons and fonts were small and in some cases, a little too small for a comfortable viewing experience. One could increase the font size of the Chromebook but this didn't increase parts of the user interface. However, when via the Chrome settings we tell the computer to display an image that is not the same resolution as the attached display, things did not render very well: Chrome OS is outputting a different number of pixels to what the display is expecting and the result is fuzzy, blurred images and fonts on the display.

Google have implemented a change to Chromebooks that have a 13-inch display, or larger, which now includes an improved set of scaling options. It's something we have already seen with a number of models such as the Google Chromebook Pixel models: these computer displays have a resolution of 2,560 by 1,700 but out of the box are set to use a resolution of 1,280 by 850, which is called "best" in the settings application. This results in a crisp display and the operating system doubles the pixels required for each user interface element. The HP Chromebook 13 G1 has a native resolution of 3,200 by 1,800 but the Settings application recommends 1,600 by 900 as the "best" option. By scaling the user interface, this means that our Chromebooks are still very usable. Couldn't the manufacturers save money by using a genuinely lower resolution display panel? Fortunately, pictures and videos displayed on the Chromebook are not subjected to the same scaling technology and are displayed at their native resolution: the advantage of Google's improved scaling is that we can have high-resolution media combined with an easy to use user interface.

Google have optimized the Chromebook experience to make the most of today's high-resolution display panels without ruining the usability. Arguably, it's a feature that could have been included a number of months or years ago but there hasn't been the demand for this. It also reflects Google's approach to evolving the platform by steadily increasing features over the years. Another new feature that is happening is how Google is providing access to the Google Play Store for Chromebooks to run a number of Android applications.

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About the Author
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David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.