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Are 4K laptops worth it?

Are 4K laptops worth it? image shows two teenagers gaming on a laptop
(Image credit: Getty)

With four times the resolution of Full HD, are 4k laptops worth it beyond the incredible visuals on offer? After all, 4K laptops are fast becoming the ultimate portable device for watching movies, editing video and playing games at the highest resolution. This is helped by the fact that many laptop components now rival full-size PCs when it comes to sheer brute power, which is crucial for running high-res content on a smaller form factor like a laptop.

4K laptops now offer a viewing experience to match those of the best TVs (opens in new tab), and some of the best tablets (opens in new tab) aren’t far behind, although currently those only shoot video in 4K but don't display at that resolution. If you own one of the best home computers, (opens in new tab) you can enjoy 4K resolution if your monitor and graphics card are designed for it, but for everyone else 4k laptops are among the most versatile ways to experience 4K media and games.

Incredibly sharp visuals and luxuriously rich colors come at a cost however, and you can expect to pay significantly more for a 4K laptop than a laptop that displays at a lower resolution such as 1440p or 1080p. We’ve collected many of the best laptops (opens in new tab) in a handy guide that offers a range of specifications and resolutions, including 4K. 

Advantages of 4K laptops

Image quality

When it comes to laptop displays, there simply isn’t anything that can beat 4K for amazing visual clarity and picture quality. Pixels are almost imperceptible, colors pop and tones are richer and warmer than at any other resolution. 

Powerful hardware

4K resolution requires a lot of grunt to display seamlessly. Fortunately, 4K laptops usually come equipped with powerful GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) and CPUs (Central Processing Units), extra RAM and beefy internal batteries to drive the performance of 4K laptops.

Ideal for Video Editing

Editing movies and video is among one of the most intensive tasks a computer can perform. It takes a lot of power to clip, view and edit video, and every movie maker wants to see their footage look its best, in pre-production and in post. 4K laptops should be able to handle such challenging tasks easily, thanks to their native 4K resolution and powerful components.

The graphical arms race is as old as PC gaming, with ever more powerful GPUs pushing visuals in gaming beyond what was thought possible just a generation before. For the longest time, graphics in games were held back by the native resolution of most monitors and laptop screens, but 4K has enabled games developers to build worlds of the most stunning detail and sumptuous richness, finally doing AAA games justice and creating amazing experiences for gamers.

Perfect for AAA gaming and 4K media

As for media streaming and watching movies and TV in 4K, Blu-ray discs were once the highest standard for visual quality, especially when paired with the best Blu-ray players. Earlier Blu-ray discs offered a resolution of 1920 x 1080, but newer 4K Ultra HD discs now offer true 4K resolution for the ultimate viewing experience.

Are 4K laptops worth it? image shows woman using a laptop

(Image credit: Getty)

Disadvantages of 4K Laptops

Expensive

To run 4K resolutions, laptops employ advanced screen technology and powerful hardware not usually found on lower-priced or mid-range laptops. Such components push the price for 4K laptops up to around $1000 at a minimum, which is significantly more than you would pay for a 1080p laptop, which can often be bought for as low as $300.

Poorer battery life

For many, the convenience of being able to take a laptop anywhere with them far outweighs the minor irritation of keeping a watch on the battery life and whipping out a charging cable when the juice runs low. With 4K laptops however, the power required to run such displays often has a greater impact on battery life, and frequently requires the user keep the device plugged in if they intend to use the device for longer than a couple of hours.

Higher resolution has little impact on everyday computing

We use our laptops for all sorts of everyday tasks, from accounting to writing documents, to email and video calls. The stunning display offered by 4K offers very little advantages to such tasks, and while the image will be nicer it’s unlikely to improve your laptop experience outside of watching content or gaming.

Games can experience lower frame rates

4K gaming has been the dream of gamers for many years. And now that 4K has become more common, some gamers can be disappointed to see frame rates frequently drop below 60 FPS (frames per second), which is the sweet spot for buttery smooth action in games. Again, this comes down to the huge processing power required to run games at 4K resolution, and it’s often high frame rates that are traded for increased picture quality. This is rarely a problem for most gamers, but competitive gamers rely on very high frame rates to get the edge on opponents in e-sports and first person shooters.

Are 4K laptops worth it? image shows two women watching content on a laptop

(Image credit: Getty)

Are 4K laptops worth it?

The answer to this question really comes down to the individual, their needs and their budget. Are you a hardcore gamer obsessed with visual performance in games? You’ll certainly love the color accuracy, pin-sharp rendering and unrivalled depth and richness of 4K laptop displays, but you might miss the higher frame rates available on lower resolution displays that make competitive gaming faster and more accurate.

If you’re a professional video editor, then there’s little doubt that you’d enjoy the benefits of crisper, more detailed video and accurate colors available on 4K laptops. You'll also appreciate the extra horsepower such laptops bring to video editing.

If you’re a movie buff for whom only the best media experience will do, then 4K UHD will certainly provide the most exquisitely detailed viewing experience over lower resolution displays. But if you own an UHD capable television, you could save money by watching such content on the TV rather than an expensive 4K laptop.

And if you mostly require a laptop for work, calculating domestic expenses, word processing or casual web browsing, an expensive 4K laptop is likely to be overkill for most. 1080p and 1440p (2K) displays still offer an excellent viewing experience for most laptop users, and 4K screen sizes below 13 inches offer no discernible difference when it comes to visual clarity over lower resolutions.

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Rich Lee is Tech Editor at Top Ten Reviews and writes about all forms of consumer technology, especially products that make domestic life easier and more fun. When he's not pouring over current affairs, pop culture and the latest developments in tech in his free time, Rich is probably pouring his seventh coffee of the day and pondering where to go out for dinner.