Thu, May 8, 2008, 4:17am An Almost Ideal PDF Display
Computers » Mac » Hardware
ot sure why this thought hit me, but I figured out almost exactly what I want out of computer hardware in order to comfortably read PDF documents (and I have a zillion of them I want to spend time pouring over). The image shown to the right is of my 15" PowerBook, tipped over so that the screen is flush with the desk and the rest of the machine is sticking up in the air (see photos below). As it happens, the PB is sturdy and stable enough in the hinge mechanism to prevent it from falling over while the machine just sits in this odd position.

The other half of this formula is opening a PDF in Preview and then rotating it by 90°, making use of the slideshow feature and then hitting the full-screen control. Voila, a beautifully readable PDF document, even for intricate PDFs with lots of mathy goodness.

Since the angle of the screen dictates that the body of the PB has to be off to the left or right of the screen, it also frees up desk space, so that I may use the rest of my desk for jotting down notes or just having a nicer place to set my coffee. By just turning my trackball by 90° as well, it almost feels natural, assuming you're only reading the document and not trying to use the laptop for anything else.

If you can ignore the odd vertical machine sticking up from one side of this new desk-flush monitor, it's also very thin and elegant. Even thinner than a new MacBook Air, though I'm still toying with getting one of those. I don't think I can tip an MB Air like this conveniently anyway.

For reasons I can't quite explain, reading a PDF on a monitor which is placed horizontally on a desk is much more pleasant than reading a PDF which is standing vertically on a traditionally-positioned display. There's something not right about staring at a document hanging vertically in space in front of me. I'd never read a book this way. I'll grant that reading at a 45 degree angle, as on laptops, is perfectly fine also, but in this case we have a screen that is much wider than it is tall, which is fine for video but much less than ideal for documents.

The 15" is even larger than I need, since it's even larger and clearer than printed articles. A 13" version would be just right.

I wish I could buy just an ultra-flat laptop-style external monitor like this. In a perfect world, it would also allow pen input for direct note taking on the PDF. That would be awesome. The ModBooks are perfect for this kind of thing, but for other reasons, I'm not yet sold on them. I wish e-Ink-type monitors were further along than they are, since this is clearly a natural market for them. For now, this PB silliness is still better than using a Kindle, at least when at my desk.

And just in case you're wondering, if you're out at a cafe with me, I promise not to do this.

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