I love it when Apple launches fascinating products – particularly when they’re deeply flawed.
Don’t get me wrong, I also love it when they release ‘insanely great’ products that deliver a perfect solution for their intended audience. But those products aren’t quite as much fun to write about.
The Studio Display is, without question, one of the most divisive Apple products I’ve ever reviewed. It is classic Apple: undeniably good-looking, brilliantly functional, and obnoxiously overpriced.
I’ve been using my Studio Display for a month now. Here are five things I’ve learned.
1. It’s possible to get a GREAT panel from Apple
As much as I loved my 5K iMac, I was never overly satisfied with the screen.
This might sound odd coming from someone who has previously lavished all kinds of praise on that 27-inch screen. But there are some inherent issues with Apple’s quality control which means you inevitably enter the panel lottery that has always plagued LCD technology.
My 2017 5K iMac suffered from slightly darkened corners and poor screen uniformity. I briefly considered contacting Apple but decided against it after visiting an Apple store and noting that every single 5K iMac and iMac Pro on display exhibited the exact same issues. Many were far worse than mine.
I learned to look past those niggles and enjoy that vibrant, sharp, deeply colourful display on the 5K iMac, but I’m happy to report that the panel on my Studio Display is damn near perfect. Screen uniformity is pretty much bang-on across every inch of the screen, and there is barely any fall-off towards the corners.
I hope this indicates that Apple’s quality control (or, indeed, the quality of the panels themselves) has stepped up a gear.
2. The webcam IS terrible
Every initial review of the Studio Display – including mine – lambasted the webcam. And rightly so – it is dreadful and entirely out of place on a £1,500 monitor.
Don’t worry, said members of the hastily cobbled-together Studio Display Supporters Club, there’s a software update on the way! Reserve your judgement until that arrives, they urged me.
Well, I waited, and I can confirm that the Studio Display software update (yes, you really can update this monitor like a regular computer) made no measurable difference to the quality of the image, at all. The only thing it seems to have achieved is improving the responsiveness of the Centre Stage functionality. Slightly.
The image quality produced by the camera in the Studio Display is unforgivably bad. The fact the software update did precisely nothing to improve it confirms my suspicions that we’re in fact dealing with ropey hardware that’s designed to maximise the bottom line of this thing. It’s naughty I’m afraid, Tim.
3. Nothing really compares
There are some wonderful alternatives to the Studio Display, including the Huawei MateView, which received a rapturous review from my podcast co-host, Rob. Dell has some great options, too, and the forthcoming M8 monitor from Samsung looks seriously interesting.
There’s just one problem – none of them offers the same level of sharpness or colour depth as the 5K panel within the Studio Display.
If you’ve never used a 5K iMac display, I can confirm that it pretty much ruins the experience of every lesser monitor thereafter – yes, even with those inherent LCD issues. Everything looks pale, soft, and dull by comparison.
LG’s flawed UltraFine aside, no one else makes a 5K monitor. This goes some way to justifying the high price point of the Studio Display, but it also means Apple holds us captive – and, boy, do they know it.
4. Everyone can save themselves £400
They do it every time, don’t they? With practically every product Apple releases, there has to be a silly optional extra that costs an entirely unjustifiable amount of money.
Whether it’s the Mac Pro wheels or the dreadful Lightning to headphone jack cable for the AirPods Max, Apple has to make a fool of itself before skipping out of the back door with too much of your cash.
The Studio Display comes with a tilt-adjustable stand by default, or a VESA mount for no additional cost, if you’d prefer. But if you want the tilt- and height-adjustable stand instead, you’ll need to find an additional £400.
Four. Hundred. Pounds.
What you get in return is the ability to move the monitor up and down on its stand. Which you can do if you simply place it on a monitor riser. Or a couple of books. Or with a slight adjustment of your standing desk. Or by sitting on a cushion.
What’s worse, is the fact that you’ll probably only ever use that hinge once.
5. ProMotion ain’t possible (yet)
During my initial review of the Studio Display, I noted that the lack of ProMotion was a bit of a downer, given how increasingly useful the feature has become on my 16-inch MacBook Pro.
As many, many, many commenters pointed out, you simply can’t run anything close to what ProMotion requires in terms of screen refresh rates over the existing Thunderbolt connectivity between a Mac and the 5K Studio Display.
This will change; ProMotion will become a dominant feature on future standalone Apple displays, but I’d love to see Apple’s roadmap for that. How far from reach is the technology required to make a variable refresh rate Apple-branded 5K display at scale and at an acceptable price point?
I don’t know the answer to that – I’m not smart enough. But I have a feeling it isn’t that far off at all. In fact, I’d wager we’ll see something in the next iteration of the Pro Display XDR, which will probably hit the shelves later this year.
The Studio Display is an impressive piece of kit. You can’t help but be impressed by it whenever you enter the room. That screen is, in hindsight, far more than ‘just’ the 5K display ripped out of an iMac. It’s noticeably brighter, and if my experience is anything to go by, less prone to manufacturing defects.
However, I still cannot recommend this monitor to anyone but the most staunch Apple loyalist. It is simply too expensive. There’s an argument to say you’re paying for the build quality and the fact that the screen is unmatched at that size, but it’s a thin argument. Because £1,500 is still an awful lot of money.
Apple painted itself into a corner with its decision to stop making standalone displays in 2011, only to remerge several years later with a £6,000 reference monitor. Where do you go from there? You launch a display aimed at studios and professionals with smaller budgets while simultaneously alienating the home market, that’s what you do.
For a business like mine, the cost of the Studio Display can largely be absorbed and justified, but if you’re a hobbyist or someone who just wants a nice Apple display at home, it isn’t an easy purchase.
If you can afford a Studio Display and can look past the horrible webcam, go for it. If you’re on the fence, I’d wait until it starts hitting the second-hand market, or swallow your pride and opt for one of the brilliant 4K alternatives, because Apple isn’t going any cheaper than this when it comes to standalone displays – trust me.