Should you buy an OLED laptop?

ASUS ZenBook Flip 13 UX363 2-in-1 Laptop with OLED Display.
Lukmanazis / Shutterstock.com

OLED technology has finally found its way into laptops, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best screen technology to automatically fit your needs. Whether you should buy an OLED laptop depends heavily on your budget and your laptop needs.

What is OLED?

OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diodes A type of light-emitting electronic component used in flat panel OLED displays to reproduce images. Unlike LCD screens with LED technology, OLEDs produce their own light, so they feature deep blacks and rich, sharp images. LED LCD screens work by shining an LED backlight through the LCD panel. This means that LED LCD screens cannot show true black, because light always shines across the panel even when a particular pixel is turned off.

OLED generally delivers a superior picture in most ways that are of interest to viewers. That is, they provide high contrast ratios, brighter images, richer colors and fast pixel response time.

OLEDs are gaining market share in the world of premium TV, there are some OLED gaming monitors for PCs in the market, and they have become the technology of choice in smartphones and mid to high-end smartwatches. While there is a lot to suck at when it comes to OLED technology, one of the major weaknesses of OLED at the top of most lists is burn-in. But how important is that to a laptop user?

OLED Burn-in and Laptops

OLED “burn-in” is the permanent image retention of something that an OLED displays as a static image over long periods of time. On OLED TVs, common copy issues include channel logos or video game interface elements such as the health bar.

The use of OLED for a computer screen presents a particular danger due to the presence of many fixed elements. Whether it’s your wallpaper, a menu bar, or some other still image element. In fact, Linus Sebastian of the famous Linus Tech Tips tried to use the LG CX OLED as a computer monitor and suffered a severe burn.

Conversely, Bob Wolf of Wulf Den fame left the OLED switch (which supposedly has a relatively cheap OLED panel) for 1,800 hours and counting without any burn-in at all.

Early OLEDs were quite prone to burning out, but OLED makers learned many lessons, with the panels’ built-in anti-scalding technologies making your exposure less likely to permanent image retention. We don’t think OLED burnout is a realistic reason to avoid OLED laptops, but you should take the time to read the warranty policy of a particular laptop to make sure you know what’s acceptable when it comes to panel defects.

OLED laptop costs

The price of OLED panels has fallen rapidly over the years and you can now buy entry-level large format OLED TVs at prices that rival high-end LED LCD modules. Laptops and computer monitors with this screen technology are relatively rare, but on the laptop side of things, the choice is growing.

It’s hard to say how much an OLED laptop will cost all other things being equal. That’s because other components or even the cost of a particular laptop design will throw in more variables.

Based on the laptops we’ve looked at at Amazon and other retailers, it looks like you could be paying $100 to $300 more for an OLED version of one laptop than for one with very similar specs but with an IPS LCD screen. This is further complicated by the fact that refresh rates and other types of screen performance may also vary.

There’s no question that there’s a price premium between LCD and OLED laptops, but there’s no way to give a definitive answer, and often the extra money is just a small percentage of the laptop’s total cost.

Color accuracy is a problem

If you work in a creative field such as photography, film, graphic design, or any visual arts, then color accuracy is an essential feature that you need in your monitor. When properly calibrated, your monitor should display consistent colors compared to another calibrated monitor.

OLEDs seem to have a tendency towards increased saturation and lower color accuracy compared to LCD screens. Again, this is a tough comparison to make because quality and performance are different on every tech board. So we cannot say that all OLED screens have weaknesses in color accuracy.

If color accuracy matters to you, pay attention to the color accuracy specs for the OLED laptop you’re considering. Make sure it accurately reproduces enough of the color gamut that you want.

Thin and light OLEDs

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip smartphone is partially unlocked.
Galaxy Z Flip has a flexible OLED display. Mr. Mukalla / Shutterstock.com

Since OLED does not require a panel and backlight layer, the technology allows for ultra-thin displays. It is also possible to make foldable and bendable screens, which is what we have seen mainly in phones that use OLED screens.

Looking at ultrabooks like the Apple MacBook line, it’s clear that LCD screens are really thin, but OLEDs make thinner laptops possible. Whether we want them to be thinner is another question. OLED panels are more fragile than LCD panels, which is why OLED displays are often covered with glass. Glass, of course, comes with its own tendency to break from impacts.

We haven’t seen anything reported to suggest that OLED laptops are generally more fragile than LCD models. However, even if they are technically more fragile, laptops are not used in such a way that they are prone to falls or suffer from shocks. Also, it is worth noting that thin LCD screens can break easily as well.

Mini-LED option

As OLED technology develops its reputation as a premium display technology, LCD screens continue to evolve and improve. For example, Samsung’s quantum dot technology in its QLED TVs delivers eye-catching colors and brilliant black levels.

Then there is the advent of Mini-LED technology. With Mini LED displays, there are hundreds or thousands of individual LED backlights that can individually dim or turn off. This enables very good levels of deep blacks without any major OLED flaws. Mini-LED laptops are a rarity at the moment, but this technology is present in some of the latest MacBooks and iPad Pros.

The highlight of OLED notebooks

OLED laptops seem like a great option for gamers who don’t mind the 60Hz refresh rate (in most cases) and those who love watching video content. Perhaps not the best choice for users who have a lot of long-term static content on their screen or who need color accuracy for professional work. The difference in price isn’t too big between OLED and non-OLED laptops with similar specs, so it ultimately depends on whether OLED technology’s strengths are more convincing than its weaknesses. Then again, laptops like the Dell XPS 13 OLED can be personally impressive.