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5 ways to make the most of a ultraportable laptop's small screen

Melanie Pinola | Aug. 16, 2012
Lighter, thinner, and smaller laptops are in, and for good reason: They're ultraportable and therefore great for both schlepping to work and using on the road or vacation.

Offload Some Tasks to Your Smartphone or Tablet

If you own a smartphone or a tablet, you have more screen real estate. Instead of checking your email in a desktop email client on your laptop or in a browser tab, you could just let your smartphone handle email notifications (and quick replies).

The same holds true for any other sort of tasks that are easily handled by smartphone or tablet apps, such as keeping track of Twitter or Facebook updates, reading news feeds, or performing quick functions on a calculator. You can really extend your laptop screen real estate with a tablet by turning it into a second monitor that you can drag windows onto.

For instance, Air Display for the iPad ($9.99) works with both Windows and Mac PCs wirelessly. An option for Android tablet users is ScreenSlider ($0.99, Windows only). For both apps, you'll need to install software on your laptop to connect the tablet to it. The possibilities are pretty great (for example, you can use your tablet's touch capabilities for painting in Photoshop or sign your name on a PDF form).

Tweak Programs to Maximize Screen Real Estate

Many programs have settings you can enable to make using them easier on a small screen. For example, in Microsoft Office, you can hide the ribbon. In your browser, you can customize the font size or the default page zoom so that teeny tiny text doesn't strain your eyes. You'll find ways to adjust the interface better in the settings of many programs. If you use the bookmarks bar on your browser, one clever space-saving trick is to edit the bookmarks to delete the site titles. You'll just see the icons and can fit in a lot more sites. Are websites you use formatted poorly for your small display (for example, fixed into layouts that are too wide)? Try Readability, a web app and mobile app that declutters web pages and also lets you save them for reading later.

Learn Shortcuts to Quickly Access and Hide What You Need

Finally, keyboard shortcuts can help you quickly get to the windows and programs you need--and put them away when you have to focus on something else. To minimize all the windows except the active one, press Win + Home. Press that combination again, and all the windows get restored. Close all the windows at once with Win + D so you can get to shortcuts on the desktop. You can quickly preview and select a different open application to use with Alt + Tab, but an even better shortcut for smaller screens is Win + Tab (available in Windows 7). Win + Tab shows you a bigger view of the open windows. Pressing Win and the plus sign (Win and +) opens up Windows' Magnifier Tool for fast zooming in and out of any window. (To adjust the magnifying size or get out of the Magnifier Tool, click the magnifying glass icon that will appear in the upper left-hand corner of your program.)


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