OLED laptops have returned, but read this before buying one

oled laptops have returned but are they worth it gaming laptop
Photos by Dan Baker / Digital Trends

OLED laptops are making a comeback in 2019. Manufacturers are actually selling them. We’re seeing OLED in everything from the Dell XPS 15 and HP Spectre x360 15 to gaming laptops like the Razer Blade and Alienware m15.

But, are people interested in these expensive 4K displays? Are they good solutions for gaming or content creators? I took one of the first OLED laptops of 2019 for a spin to see whether or not my eyes melted with pure, white-hot joy.

First observations

All the 15-inch OLED displays available in 2019 come from the same source. Samsung. So, whether you choose the Alienware m15 or the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, you’re buying the same basic panel.

The screen is glossy, bouncing reflections like crazy. I measured it at an insane 570 nits, making it the brightest laptop screen we’ve ever tested. It’s brighter than a MacBook Pro — brighter even than the Surface Studio 2. But Alienware ships its laptop with a black wallpaper defaulted, and even at max brightness, I saw my reflection looking back at me.

When talking about OLED, “black level” isn’t really an appropriate turn of phrase. Because the individual pixels can turn off entirely, it gives the impression that you aren’t looking at a screen at all. The icons popped right off the black wallpaper like they were floating in the dark. The ability to produce a deep black is the biggest single factor in image quality. It’s what makes colors dazzle and come to life. That’s as true of browsing the web as it is in playing a game.

oled laptops have returned but are they worth it tkllezaw
Photos by Dan Baker / Digital Trends

The color palette of Fortnite bursts with new energy on an OLED screen. The grass looks more lively and the clouds hover in the sky with an apocalyptic vibe. Fortnite has never been so beautiful. Better still, OLED’s boon doesn’t depend on the resolution or graphics settings you choose. The latest OLED screens are all 4K so far, but they still look great when you play games at 1080p.

Alienware’s take on OLED is tuned to exaggerate. Color accuracy is thrown out the window at the expense of making the visuals more attractive at a glance. This is not a screen you’ll want to use for editing photos or video. Fortunately, the OLED on other laptops, like HP Spectre x360, offer better results.

No one’s doubting that gaming in OLED looks better. But, does it play better? After all, the real advantage in gaming has to be a performance benefit, and for OLED, that’s where limitations appear.

Is there a difference in gaming?

OLED panels might reduce response times. That’s good. If the response of a key press or joystick click is seamless, gameplay will feel smoother and more responsive.

Input lag is a common problem for console gaming. There are all sorts of elements that factor into the equation of overall input lag, but OLED technology removes the delay required in any backlighting system entirely. Pixels flick on or off instantaneously.

So, was that lower input lag noticeable on this Alienware’s OLED screen? For some comparison, I cracked open another new laptop — the Razer Blade 15 with its 240Hz refresh rate. Both companies offer 4K OLED and 1080p 240Hz versions, so this is less about the laptops and more about the displays.

The difference isn’t as obvious as I’d hoped. Input lag on a device like a laptop is already low. You’ll notice slightly less streaking and blur in motion on OLED, but only if you’re paying close attention. Meanwhile, the difference a higher refresh rate makes is immediately beneficial, especially in a fast-paced game like Fornite. That was even more true when I knocked the graphics settings back to medium and pushed framerates up to 120 FPS.

Now that is smooth gameplay.

As of now, OLED is only offered in 4K — and so far, that locks the screen at 60Hz, regardless of what resolution you’re playing in. When it comes to gaming, we’ll have to wait until OLED comes to lower resolutions with high refresh rates before we can recommend it to everyone. If it’s a display for fast-paced, action games you’re looking for, you’ll still want to stick with a standard 1080p LED gaming laptop with at least a 144Hz refresh rate.

Its time will come

hp spectre x360 15 amoled review 1
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

While OLED might not be a great solution yet for most gamers, there are other reasons to be interested in these devices.

Everything you view on an OLED laptop looks vivid — whether that’s surfing the web, watching a Netflix series, or just browsing through YouTube videos. Put the LED XPS 15 next to the OLED, and I know which one I’d pick every time, even if I’m just staring at colorful wallpaper. Dell is even selling them at the same price, the only difference being touchscreen capability. That doesn’t mean they’re cheap, but then again, 4K laptops have never been affordable.

The other target demographic for OLED is content creators, and they’ll benefit most from the upgrade. For them, image quality isn’t just a matter of enjoyment. It affects the quality of their work. For example, the HP Spectre x360 comes with 10-bit color support, so full-featured HDR is at your fingertips.

Being able to edit photos and videos with that level of detail is important, since many smartphones and televisions already use OLED panels. Laptops are where a lot of the content for those platforms are created, so it’s about time they caught up.

Computing

Amazon Prime Day discounts makes upgrading to RTX graphics even more affordable

Looking to upgrade your graphics card? Today may be the day to do it, thanks to Amazon's Prime Day shopping event. Amazon is offering Prime members steep discounts off of GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080, or RTX 2070 graphics.
Deals

Alienware m15 headlines Dell’s gaming PC sale to take on Amazon’s Prime Day

If you're looking to save some money on a new gaming PC or laptop, you may want to skip Amazon's Prime Day for Dell's Cyber Monday in July event. As part of the sale, you can score up to $710 in savings on the Alienware m15.
Deals

HP offers up its own sweet deals on Spectre x360 laptops for Prime Day 2019

Prime Day doesn't just mean Amazon's having a huge sale for its Prime members. Other companies like HP are offering their own deals and discounts. In fact, check out HP's current sale on its Spectre x360 laptops.
Home Theater

OLED or LED? We pick the winner in the battle of competing TV tech

The acronyms OLED and LED sound and look very similar, but the two technologies are vastly different in terms of engineering, performance, and capabilities. Which technology wins when you pit OLED versus LED in a TV?
Deals

Alienware and Dell G5 gaming laptops get big discounts ahead of Prime Day

Dell’s Black Friday in July sale is a good opportunity to save big on a new gaming laptop: We’ve rounded up a couple of the best deals right here. including discounts on a budget-friendly gaming machine as well as a high-end Alienware…
Deals

The best mouse deals for Prime Day 2019: Razer, Logitech, and more

This year's big shopping event, Amazon Prime Day, offers some fantastic discounts on mice. We've scoured this year's sales and made picks for what we think are the best mice you can buy on Prime Day.
Deals

Walmart Prime Day sale: 4K TV, Apple Watch, and Nintendo Switch Deals

The Walmart Prime Day sale continues to go strong as the first day of Amazon's 48-hour deals event comes to a close. There are loads of great Apple Watch, Nintendo Switch, and 4K TV deals going on right now.
Computing

Keep your portable computer safe and shiny with the best laptop bags for 2019

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Computing

Amazon Prime Day deal slashes $200 off of this MacBook Pro

Amazon’s Prime Day deals have extended to Apple’s MacBook Pro, with deep discounts galore. You can save $200 on a 2018 MacBook Pro, making it a superb bargain if you’re in the market for a MacBook.
Computing

Don't pay for that app! These top-notch screen recorders are absolutely free

Our list of the best free screen recorders showcases some of the top apps for capturing video on your computer - without paying for the feature. Whether you're in a business or on your own, take a look at the these options.
Computing

The best Prime Day laptop deals: MacBook, Razer, HP, and Dell XPS discounts

Amazon Prime Day is now in its second and last day. Time is ticking to sort through some amazing laptop deals. We're seeing huge discounts on gaming laptops, MacBooks, Chromebooks, and more. We'll help you hunt for a solid laptop deal.
Computing

This iPad Pro is at its lowest price ever thanks to Amazon Prime Day

On the lookout for a new iPad Pro on Prime Day? Look no further, because we’ve found the mother of all deals. You can save $430 on an iPad Pro, bringing its price down to a super-low $699.
Deals

Amazon Prime Day slashes prices on AMD Ryzen 7 and Intel Core i7 CPU systems

Amazon Prime Day is back and it's better than ever with some amazing deals on AMD and Intel processors. Looking for a Ryzen 7 or Core i7 CPU? These are the best deals we could find with them inside.
Emerging Tech

Photorealistic A.I. tool can fill in gaps in images, including faces

Researchers have developed a smart new A.I. system which can accurately fill in blank areas in an image, whether that’s a missing face or the front of a building. Here's how it works.