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  • Soon Kai Hong

Apple Studio Display Review: For Some, It's The ONLY Choice

People have been talking about it, there are already plenty of reviews out there, and it’s pretty controversial in a way. This is the Apple Studio Display and we’ve been using it for about 3 weeks now, together with the Mac Studio. Now we will touch upon the Mac Studio in another video down the line, but for now, let’s talk about the Studio Display because this isn’t as straightforward as the Mac Studio.

So what’s the controversy all about? The main factor comes down to the price and its relation to the specifications on paper. The Studio Display retails for about 2,300 Singapore Dollars (2,399 SGD) or 1,600 US Dollars (1,599 USD). For that amount of money, you’re getting a 27-inch IPS panel, with a 5K retina resolution at 5,120 x 2,880 giving you 218 pixels per inch, 600 nits max brightness, support for 10-bit and P3 color with True Tone functionality.

Most of you probably already know this, but the specifications of the Studio Display is pretty much almost exactly the same as the LG Ultrafine 5K that has been out in the market for a few years now. The only main difference between the two, is the slightly higher max brightness on the Studio Display. And of course, the price. But it doesn’t stop there.

With the Studio Display, you can opt for the Nano-Texture Glass, which we have here, but that’s an additional 400 Singapore Dollars or 300 US Dollars. Now for you all Apple fans out there, you are probably elated by the fact that the Studio Display does indeed come included with the stand for that sticker price. There isn’t any additional charge unlike the Pro Display XDR. However it doesn’t come with any form of height adjustment. To get that functionality, you’ll have to add on an additional 600 Singapore Dollars or 400 US Dollars. Just for height adjustment. You still don’t get swivel, you still don’t get pivot. Safe to say, that is quite a lot of cash that you have to top up on top of the base sticker price to get functionality that’s available on tens and hundreds of other monitors that’s way more affordable as compared to the Studio Display.

In a nutshell, the Studio Display is basically using that same 5K IPS panel they’ve been using in their iMacs and likewise similar to the Ultrafine 5K. Apple simply pumped the brightness up a little and repackaged it in this new form factor. So ultimately, it feels like you’re paying a premium for what is essentially old tech by this point in time.

But, that’s if you’re solely looking and comparing things on paper, in black and white. Like we said earlier, we’ve been using the Studio Display with the Mac Studio here in our studio for about 3 weeks now. Even before we tried it, we did our research, scoured through the opinions online and we definitely had the same exact thoughts. But only after using it for quite a while, do we start to see and understand where the Studio Display fits in this sea of never-ending monitors. And yes, while it is quite specific and catered towards a certain group of people, it does have a place despite all that we’ve just shared.

Firstly, that 5K resolution. That is a resolution that quite a number of people would already be familiar with if they’ve any experience with the iMac 5K or the Ultrafine 5K. Additionally, it is definitely a great resolution and does give you that much more clarity and sharpness as compared to a 4K display, thanks to the higher resolution. But part of the reason why it just looks so much better is the fact that the resolution of 5,120 x 2,880 is exactly twice the resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 on both axes. That means scaling is pretty much perfect as the system can simply combine 4 pixels to create 1 pixel.

Compare that to a 4K display, where if you did 200% scaling, while it’ll also give you a sharp image, it is a 1080p canvas as compared to a 1440p canvas. That 5K resolution does really make a difference.

The next point would be the consistency and quality of the panel. Now of course, we only have just one Studio Display and our experience solely based on just this one unit. But we’re happy to say that despite being a traditional backlit LCD, there’s very little light bleed or ghosting. Even on a fully black frame, there’s just a tinge at the 4 corners, but that’s about it. You might think otherwise and expect perfection, but we’ve to say that this is almost as good as it can get. It’s pretty impressive for IPS.

Now as we’ve mentioned and you probably already noticed, we have the Nano-Texture Glass option. This is honestly just plain good. It really kills all sorts of reflections and it doesn’t really affect the sharpness of the display all that much. It is however an additional 400 or 300 dollars depending on where you are. But, it is quite something to take note of because the Studio Display would be one of the few monitors out there where you can actually opt to have a standard glass type display or a matte display. There aren’t many out there that will give you that choice for the exact same monitor.

And then we come to the build quality, in which the Studio Display surpasses many, if not all, out there. Most monitors are going to be primarily made out of hard plastics with some metal here and there for the important structural bits. Not the Studio Display. This is entirely decked out with aluminum and it really does just make for a more premium look, fitting right in with the rest of Apple’s lineup and definitely the centerpiece of your desk setup from any angle. Of course, perhaps most of you aren’t going to care about how a monitor looks apart from the panel itself, but the additional cost for the Studio Display does indeed translate somewhere. At least a part of it.

Lastly, we have to talk about the speakers. If you’ve any prior notion about onboard speakers from a monitor, throw it all out of the window because the speakers on this, is probably the best I’ve ever heard for a monitor. The Studio Display comes with a 6 speaker setup consisting of 4 force-canceling woofers and 2 high-performance tweeters with support for Apple’s Spatial Audio. The result of that is just fantastic. It sounds better than the 24-inch iMac, definitely better than the Macbook Pro and basically better than any other speaker setup from a monitor. The BenQ does come close, but we would say the Studio Display does edge it out, despite the lack of a dedicated subwoofer.

Of course, these aren’t going to replace your bookshelves or soundbar anytime soon, but if you want a minimalistic setup without sacrificing that much in audio quality, the Studio Display would be your go to choice, bar none.

But at this point, we’ve to talk about some of the questionable decisions with regards to the Studio Display, apart from the price and whatnot. The first of which has to be that power cable. Unlike the iMac or even the Pro Display XDR, it’s non-removable. Of course, this was because Apple decided to over-engineer and designed a whole new power supply unit for the Studio Display just so that it’ll fit within the sleek chassis and not have a power brick lying around like the iMac. But I can’t help thinking that it could’ve still been done given the fact that it is technically still removable, just not user-removable.

Another point of controversy is that new 12MP webcam. Now a 12MP webcam built into a monitor sounds fantastic. Not to mention that it supports Apple’s new Centre Stage feature thanks to the inclusion of the A13 chip inside the Studio Display itself. It’s been some time since the Studio Display has launched and Apple did release some firmware and software updates since. But the quality of the webcam is still subpar in our opinion, especially more so given the great specs that it has on paper. The microphones do sound great however, which is a shame.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, the panel is fantastic and it’s been great to use, be it just casually or professionally, when we’re dealing with photo editing, video editing and such. For the price however, we wished it came with ProMotion. Now this is a limitation because the Studio Display comes with Thunderbolt 3 and not Thunderbolt 4, and thus it cannot support that 5K resolution at 120Hz. Had it been Thunderbolt 4, that would’ve been possible and it would’ve made this monitor so much better.

We come to our last point, and it’s the fact that the Studio Display does not have any form of hardware controls. Which means if you’re planning on using this with a Windows PC or anything else other than Apple, you lose a lot of functionality. You basically can’t change the brightness, it’s always on maximum, and you can’t really change the color profiles either because that’s all controlled via a Mac. Spatial Audio, Centre Stage, all of that wouldn’t work when connected to a Windows PC.

So really, the Studio Display is meant to be used with Apple’s products, and Apple only.

As you can tell with all that we’ve just said, it really isn’t that straightforward. True enough, if you’re just comparing the specs on paper, the Studio Display doesn’t really make a ton of sense. If the panel is all you’re concerned about, don’t look at the Studio Display for there are tons of better options out there that’s going to be more affordable for arguably the same experience, or better for just a little more. But if you consider all the other aspects about it, such as the all aluminum chassis, the overall design, those banging speakers, the supposedly webcam and much more, the Studio Display really does make for a whole different package. And of course, it’s by Apple and thus it does really work best with a Mac. Zero fuss whatsoever.

Is it a good monitor? Yes. Does it have its flaws? Also, yes.

The Apple Studio Display is by no means a value purchase by any stretch of the imagination.

But if you’re someone who’s looking at everything that the Studio Display has to offer and you don’t mind all its questionable flaws and that price tag, this is really it.

Or to put it in another way, it’s your only choice.

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