Webcams have always felt like an idea for laptops, and I can understand why to some extent. What would be more exciting: a sleek redesigned, blazing-fast processor or a 4K web cam? I suspect that many people would have chosen the latter 18 months earlier.
But things have changed. The webcam has never been more important as remote working has become the norm and video feeds have become a more common option for meetings and job interviews.
Despite the increasing importance of webcams, I argue that laptop manufacturers are still neglecting it. Various major laptop manufacturers have announced that they are recently optimizing laptops to work remotely, with better microphones, more portable designs, and longer battery life. And yet, most manufacturers have left the video capture quality of the webcam at a pathetic 720p.
A 720p resolution is the minimum video quality for a webcam. While this resolution is barely sufficient to let your grandmother zoom in or have a meeting with your boss, it does mean that your video feed will be affected by an ugly grainy effect, making it look like you are looking at your reflection in a dirty mirror. Are looking at
The leap to 1080p video capture will solve this problem immediately, with a sharper and less pixelated picture quality. But to be fair to laptop manufacturers, many hurdles have to be overcome to increase video quality to full HD.
Price is the first consideration. I contend that laptops are already very expensive, with the average high-end ultrabook costing more than a grand. As long as you don’t sacrifice anywhere else, increasing the capture quality of the webcam will increase that price further.
I would personally opt for a slightly less powerful processor if it means I can get a 1080p webcam. We’re now at a stage where most modern AMD and Intel laptop processors are powerful enough to blitz through basic productivity tasks, so taking a hit on specs probably won’t be noticeable at all. I’m sure many people won’t feel like me, but it would be a good choice nonetheless.
But the big issue for better webcams is the lack of space in the top bezel of the laptop. This seems to be a major head scratching issue for laptop manufacturers, even with 720p cameras. The Honor MagicBook 14 has a pop-up camera in the keyboard to overcome this problem, but with an ineffective view of its nostril as a trade-off. And then there’s the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, which removed the webcam altogether, encouraging owners to buy an external clip-on webcam instead. Any solution is not ideal.
This problem is only becoming more prevalent as the trend of new laptops is to squeeze as much of the bezel as possible to provide more screen space. The likes of the Dell XPS 13 can fit a 720p cam there, but squeezing into a high-resolution 1080p camera seems impractical.
But this does not mean that laptop manufacturers should abandon 1080p webcams. There are plenty of workarounds worth exploring, such as pop-up webcams placed in the top bezel or even the infamous holepunch and teardrop design adopted by smartphones. If Samsung can fit 4K selfie camera on Galaxy S21, then why is it not possible to fit 1080p webcam on Galaxy Book?
Laptops that cost more than a grand – I’m looking at you Dell XPS and MacBook Pro – should at least offer a choice of 1080p cameras. And even if the technology is not quite there yet, I hope laptop manufacturers are exploring options to upgrade the webcam to 1080p resolution rather than dealing with 720p, at least for the foreseeable future.
Ctrl + Alt + Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deep into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals, and more. Find it on reliable reviews every Saturday afternoon.