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Laptops have finally moved beyond shoddy, 720p webcams for good

I spent much of the past two years complaining about the poor quality of laptop webcams.

But at CES 2022, it seems that laptop manufacturers have finally figured it out. Nearly every major laptop release has come to the show acknowledging just how important quality webcams for videoconferencing have become.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 with a videoconferencing app open.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Lenovo has moved to 1080p across the board for both ThinkPads and Yogas, and HP has put 5-megapixel cameras in every new commercial PC. Granted, these are mostly higher-end laptops. But compared to last year, we’re finally seeing laptop manufacturers ditch 720p, and many times, not at a higher price.

I can’t tell you what a relief this is. Despite the number of hours we all spent using the webcams on our laptops, we weren’t seeing much progress toward that change last year. At CES 2021, nearly a full year into the pandemic, MSI was the only company to announce a laptop with a 1080p webcam.

CES 2022 confirms that we’re heading in the right direction.

But as the year proceeded, a few companies leaned into the focus on videoconferencing, with Lenovo leading the charge with its ThinkPads. Commercial PCs and business laptops are an obvious place to start improving webcams given the amount of office work that’s still being done remotely.

In the fall, both Apple and Microsoft came out swinging, bringing 1080p webcams to flagship laptops like the MacBook Pro, and Surface Laptop Studio. Even the Framework Laptop had a 1080p webcam. All good signs of things to come, and CES 2022 confirms that we’re heading in the right direction.

There is, unfortunately, one major exception to the list. The new Dell XPS 13 Plus.

An up-close shot of the Dell XPS 13's webcam.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s a laptop that’s defiantly progressive in its design. Every element is as sleek and thin as possible, and that includes the top bezel. Dell has left its industry-defining thin bezels intact, despite the fact that it’s 2022, and given the choice, most of us would prefer a higher quality webcam to thinner bezels.

Dell shrunk down its webcam module to fit it in the XPS 13’s tiny top bezel years ago. And the result was an already poor webcam with an even smaller image sensor. Not ideal if you’re in hours of Teams calls each day.

And despite the XPS 13 Plus being a more “premium” laptop than the XPS 13, it still has only a 720p webcam. That’s a shame. My guess is Dell wants to wait out the pandemic, perhaps to a time when 1080p webcams will feel like overkill.

That’s a mistake. Not only is remote and hybrid work here to stay but features like this are rarely taken away. Specs never go in the opposite direction. Dell’s otherwise excellent XPS laptops will always be at a disadvantage if they don’t eventually upgrade to 1080p.

We probably won’t get to a point where 720p is gone forever. Midrange and budget laptops will likely maintain that standard for many years. But here’s the good news: This year, thanks to many of the best laptops from CES 2022, there are finally a number of options that will deliver crisper video calls without needing to rely on an external webcam.

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Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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