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The photo at the top of this post is not my current recommendation. It is the Dell Z27 that I own myself and was my recommendation until it got discontinued. Monitors last about 10 years, so I didn’t race out to replace my own perfectly good screen. This image is for illustrative purposes so that you can see how a monitor works with a laptop computer.
Are you interested in having both a laptop computer and a desktop computer for different situations? You may want to rethink that. I almost always recommend one computer per person. More computers mean more computer problems. In particular, syncing issues are amplified with every device you add. When you own two cars, you end up at the garage twice as often. So what about when you need something portable but you also need a huge screen? Any Apple laptop computer (and even recent iPads) can operate like a desktop computer if you connect it to a large monitor!
Not only can these monitors be used with a laptop computer, but they can be used with any Mac configuration. I gloss over those configurations because they may be more obvious. This article is for people who have simply never considered that a laptop computer can also be used as a desktop. If you want to add multiple monitors, just be sure you read the specs for your specific computer carefully. Some computers, such as the MacBook Air and 13″ MacBook Pro only allow a single external monitor.
Below you will find my three favorite monitor models. Scroll to the end for a feature comparison table. All three monitors feature USB-C, which allows the video cable to charge your laptop. Fewer cables!
Basically, you can work in one of two ways. You can set your laptop computer below or beside your desktop monitor, allowing you to utilize both screens while using the built-in keyboard and touchpad (like my desk setup below). Or you can keep your laptop’s screen closed and use a keyboard, mouse, or external trackpad (like my husband’s setup, also shown below). Just note that with the laptop closed the mic and camera built into your laptop will not function.
My recommendation for most people is the 27” Dell S2722QC (Amazon / Best Buy / Dell.com). This monitor is a great value.
Though this monitor does have built-in speakers, it does not have a built-in webcam or microphone. Few monitors do because webcams were not taken very seriously before the COVID-19 pandemic. If you require those for video calls, you have four options I can think of:
- Use the camera built into your MacBook (which might result in an awkward camera position),
- Use Continuity Camera if your devices support it along with a mount such as this or this,
- Purchase a USB webcam such as the Logitech C920e, or
- Join your video calls from iPhone or iPad.
For a larger screen, you can go with the similar 32″ Dell U3223QE (Amazon / Best Buy / Office Depot / Dell.com) which also includes several more USB ports. However, this one does not have a built-in speaker.
For an upgrade pick for professional photographers or for people who want to splurge, I recommend Apple’s 27” Studio Display. It truly is one of the highest-quality monitors on the market with built-in speakers, a mic, a camera, and incredible clarity and color quality. Being a 5K monitor, it has smaller, crisper pixels. It does not work with PCs or with older Apple products so be sure to check the compatibility list before purchasing. The display comes in two screen options (standard or “nano-textured” for better visibility in bright locations), and three stand options (tilt, tilt & height adjustable, or VESA mount). But all this comes in at more than four times the cost of the Dell monitor.
- Apple Studio Display, 27″ (Apple.com, all configurations)
- Standard Screen with Tilt Adjustment (Best Buy)
- Standard Screen with Tilt & Height Adjustment (Best Buy)
- Standard screen with VESA Mount (Best Buy)
- Nano-texture Glass with Tilt Adjustment (Best Buy)
- Nano-texture Glass with Tilt & Height Adjustment (Best Buy)
- Nano-texture Glass with VESA Mount (Best Buy)
|Dell S2722QC||Dell U3223QE||Apple Studio Display|
|Full Retail Price||$399||$1,149 (but often available for much less)||$1,599+|
|Who This is For||Most People||People who want a larger screen||Media Professionals and people who want something special|
|Resolution||4K (3840×2160)||4K (3840×2160)||5K (5120×2880)|
|Built-in Hub||2 USB-A ports||5 USB-A ports, 1 USB-C port||3 USB-C ports|
|Camera & Mic||🚫||🚫||✅|
|Pros||Cost, value||Huge, lots of USB ports||Crystal clear display, no fussing with inputs, great camera, mic, and speaker|
|Cons||No camera or mic, may not fully power a 15″ or 16″ MacBook Pro running at sustained high load (you can use the computer’s original power adapter to work around this)||No speaker, camera, or mic, larger screen means pixels are larger||Cost, only compatible with modern Apple devices|
Configuring your monitor
None of these monitors require installing any special software (apart from the Apple Studio Display requiring your Mac to be running macOS Monterey 12.3 or later). But I do have a few tips and things you should know about connections:
- If running dual displays, you can choose for the second screen to mirror the main screen or to operate independently. You can toggle that mode with Command-F1 or in System Settings/Preferences.
- Head to System Settings/Preferences > Displays to configure some options such as image/text size and arrangement. Arrange is available when you are using multiple displays. Your computer has no way of knowing how your two screens are physically arranged in relation to each other, so you have to tell it. That way when the pointer moves off of one screen it appears on the screen where it should on the other display. In the example photo above, when my mouse pointer moves off the bottom of my large screen it appears on my small screen, as if they are one continuous screen.
- I do not recommend using the ethernet port of the 32″ Dell monitor. The Mac drivers for most third-party ethernet adapters use enormous processing power, so WiFi will almost certainly be faster.
- If you get a webcam you do not need to install any of the included software. Just plug it in and it will work. Your Mac already has the needed software installed.
- These monitors all provide power to your laptop computer, so you can keep your existing power adapter in your travel bag. If you have a 15″ or 16″ MacBook Pro with the 27″ Dell monitor and you find that the battery drains during use, you may need to also connect your power adapter to provide more power than the screen provides. Unless you are doing very heavy media work this should not be a problem.
- All of the above monitors include the appropriate cables to connect to a computer with USB-C, which is basically any Mac since about 2017. For Macs with a Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, or Mini DisplayPort port (most Macs from 2011 to 2017 use one of these three, and for video purposes they are all identical) you should get this cable to connect to the Dell monitors.
- Even though the Dell monitor specs say that they have USB 3.1 ports, when connecting to a computer via USB-C these ports are reduced USB 2.0 speeds (480mbps) because the single cable can’t do video and high-speed data simultaneously. This is plenty fast for a webcam, mouse, keyboard, printer, thumb drive, or Time Machine drive. The Apple Studio Display does not have this limitation. If having multiple full-speed USB ports is important, you may want to consider the Studio Display or a USB/Thunderbolt hub separate from the monitor.
If you are an existing customer who needs help with this or if you have other questions, or if you are in San Francisco and interested in becoming a client I invite you to book an appointment with me. Otherwise, you may wish to contact Apple Support or find a local Apple consultant.
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