What's the best external monitor for MacBook Pro?

over 3 years ago from , Product Designer

I have a Dell U2717D, but it's obviously nowhere near the quality of the Retina display, I'm also tired of using a dongle, etc. so I'm looking towards upgrading.

What monitor do you use or recommend? What's your experience on this?

Also, do you see 32" or Ultrawide displays to be worth it for a designer's workflow?


  • Andrew CiobanasiuAndrew Ciobanasiu, over 3 years ago

    Obligatory Bjango article link. Some good tips and information there.

    I personally use an old 30" Apple Cinema Display. It's hot and heavy, but it works. At work we use non-retina 27" LG UWs. Eventually, we'll upgrade to some 4k Ultrafines.

    5 points
    • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 3 years ago

      I wish the situation had changed, but it hasn’t. The article is still unfortunately pretty accurate.

      tl;dr get the 5K UltraFine, or Apple XDR, or the older LG 4K UltraFine (not the new one) if you want a Retina display. If you want non-Retina, there’s lots of good and cheap options.

      I really hope there’s more 5K 27-inch displays in 2020.

      Given the grim situation, it’s worth considering an iMac. Getting an iMac with a lower specced MacBook Pro might actually be cheaper and will almost certainly be better than any external display — the LG 5K UltraFine shares the same panel as the iMacs, but the iMacs have a nicer, more sturdy case.

      4 points
      • Tiny Machine, over 3 years ago

        Seconding the suggestion of just getting an iMac 5K. As I mentioned below I just ended up getting a gently used 2017 iMac and work off of that -- $300 cheaper than LG Ultrafine 5K but with a Mac attached. (And less ugly, IMO.)

        Just a clarification that "iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) and later iMac models can't be used as Target Display Mode displays" (support.apple.com).

        It looks like you might be able to use a Luna Display dongle (~80 USD) to connect use a MacBook Pro with an iMac as an external display (or vice versa?). I've used Luna to turn an iPad into an external display (recently Sherlocked by Sidecar), but never tried Mac-to-Mac connection, so can't speak to its reliability.

        1 point
        • Peter Costello, over 3 years ago

          I did this also. Kept my 2015 macbook and bought a new 2019 imac. Haven't looked back. If I need extra screen space I use duetdisplay to use ipad as second screen. I think this will also allow for a macbook to act as the second screen.

          0 points
        • T. F., over 3 years ago

          Mh, so in the new OS there's only an option for an iPad as 2nd display, not another mac ?

          0 points
  • Paul GasparPaul Gaspar, over 3 years ago

    LG UltraFine 4K or 5K.

    The 4K is the best monitor I ever used in my life.

    3 points
  • T. F., over 3 years ago

    Had been in that situation a few months ago, finally chose an iMac because of overall what you get for your money. Whatever you get, be aware that little to none besides the offical ultrafines support brightness adjustment via the keyboard or even automatically via sensor.

    2 points
    • Tiny Machine, over 3 years ago

      Lunar is a free and open-source app that, amazingly, seems to let you control the actual brightness of external displays (I use it with an HP Z27 4K) using the keyboard brightness controls.

      I've tried other apps that just place an adjustable-opacity black mask over the external display's content, but Lunar seems to actually be able to control the real brightness. It even lets you sync the external display with the built-in display, for automatic brightness adjustments!

      Regarding O.P.'s question, I ended up doing the same thing as T.F. and just buying a low-spec 2017 iMac 5K on eBay for ~$1,000 instead of buying the LG Ultrafine 5K -- the iMac is cheaper, and comes with a computer attached. :)

      (Nerd note: my iMac has a 1 TB Fusion Drive. My 2015 iMac 5K Fusion Drive was so slow I decided to boot off of an external, portable Samsung T5 SSD. But the 2017 Fusion is fast enough for designing in Figma and my front-end development work that I don't feel the need to do that. Of course YMMV.)

      2 points
  • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, over 3 years ago

    I have an Ultrawide and it's amazing. I wish it were retina but I'll take it anyway because I can have far more open at once. If I'm coding a website I can have my code editor and browser open side by side with plenty of room in each app. If I'm laying out a print document in InDesign, I can have most documents I work on open at 100& with three columns of palettes on the right so I'm not constantly opening and collapsing them. After Effects and Premiere Pro timelines go on for miles with the Ultrawide monitors and there's plenty of room for opening footage bins you need for the project without sacrificing too much timeline in Premiere Pro. Having not used a retina monitor, I can't say how much of a difference the Ultrawide is compared to the 4K or 4K monitor screen real estate.

    2 points
  • Jim RenaudJim Renaud, over 3 years ago

    LG UltraFine 5K has been great. I have two of them and love em.

    1 point
  • Nick PlaceNick Place, over 3 years ago

    Sceptre's 27" is also super crisp and has amazing color for the price

    1 point
  • Jake MauerJake Mauer, over 3 years ago
    1. Apple Retina XDR Display (Likely)
    2. LG Ultrafine 5k
    3. LG Ultrafine 4k or another 4k/ultrawide/etc that fits your requirements.

    I use an LG 5k at work and it's fantastic. It's bright, clear, has great color, and is 2x retina resolution. It has a glossy screen but is bright enough to compensate for it in most circumstances.

    There are two models out there, ones from the first batch and a recent re-release. The recent ones supply 94w of power through the Thunderbolt 3 cable whereas the old ones (which I have) only do 87w I believe. This is only relevant if you have a 2019 16" MacBook Pro as those ship with a 96w power brick and thus can draw more than the 15" models.

    I have never used an Ultrawide so I don't know if that would be good for my workflow or not. It would be fun to try, but to be worth it I would need to be able to run it at 2x resolution.

    1 point
    • Teodor Decu, over 3 years ago

      The fact that I have the 16" MBP is actually the biggest problem, since no monitor can output the 96w needed. Even the newest Ultrafine 5k has a line on the marketing landing page saying that "for optimal performance, use the 16" MBP power adaptor". :(

      I would really love to get into a "one cable to rule them all" situation, but... seems impossible for now, I guess.

      0 points
      • Paul GasparPaul Gaspar, over 3 years ago

        The power output is not relevant unless you use all cores of your cpu 100% for the whole day. In fact 50 W is more than enough in most situations. On peak situations the MBP will take missing energy from it's battery.

        1 point
  • Ernests Karlsons, over 3 years ago

    Eizo FlexScan EV2785.

    I have never been disappointed with it. It connects to my Macbook Pro via USB-C, and - the best part - it charges the laptop through it.

    The display has very good color gamma (very close to Macbook) and contrast. And it looks great on my desk.

    0 points
  • Evan B, over 3 years ago

    It's not worth buying the Apple Retina XDR Display for the money, stick to the LG options. 4K will get you best results for your $.

    0 points
  • Mike BusbyMike Busby, over 3 years ago

    I have two LG 5k's. They are pretty much the only option. if you want non scaled content with a resolution above 1920x1080. I had two 4k's and couldn't handle the small resolution. I also don't want to look at blurry lines all day.

    Bonus, they work well for gaming too! I have an Intel based gaming PC with a 2080ti and thunderbolt output on the motherboard so it works with the LG 5k

    0 points
  • Nico Ziegler, over 3 years ago

    using a BenQ PD3200U 32" 4K Display with an external RX580 GPU from Razor and my 2018 MBP 13". I am pretty happy with it.

    0 points
  • leo Sdn, over 3 years ago

    Which one is the closer to the retina display ? I'm product designer and i'm looking for a screen with high fidelity color retranscription.

    0 points
    • Jake MauerJake Mauer, over 3 years ago

      The LG 4K/5K are close. They support the P3 colorspace as do the Macbook Pro's retina displays. Do you use a color calibrator at all? If not I would suggest it.

      1 point