I love my 27” iMac. Originally purchased in 2017, it’s a bit of a steam train by today’s standards (funny how quickly things move on, eh?), but it still enjoys plenty of use.
The iMac sits adjacent to the main desk in my studio. Sat atop a standing desk, I still revel in its beautiful, all-encompassing, super-sharp retina screen.
That’s the iMac’s crowning glory. It always has been. But, recently, I made the decision to ditch that 27” panel for something completely different as my daily driver.
I bought an M1 Mac mini and paired it with an ultra-widescreen monitor. And the results have been fascinating.
The monitor I chose
After much deliberation, I decided to buy the MSI Optix MAG341. With a resolution of 3440 x 1440 and a 100Hz refresh rate, it’s not what you’d call the top of the line, but it was only £350 over here in the UK.
My primary reason for choosing this particular monitor was because I didn’t know how I was going to take to it. This is why my M1 Mac mini was such a tactical purchase; I bought it to finally give myself an excuse to get into the widescreen monitor world and check it out without spending too much.
After unboxing, it becomes abundantly clear immediately that the MSI Optix is an impressive monitor for the price. Well built, satisfyingly sturdy and about as well connected as they come, you’re getting a lot of monitor for your money here.
But how does it perform versus the 27” iMac in my world?
You lose sharpness
Turning the monitor on for the first time was a bit of an anti-climax. That huge, swooping display quickly became irrelevant as I spotted just how soft the image was. I also couldn’t set it as bright as I felt was needed; with the brightness cranked up to 100%, the MSI felt woefully underpowered.
Was mine defective? Did I need to tweak the Mac mini’s monitor settings?
Nope; this is what a non-5K, non-retina screen looks like. I’d forgotten; adjusting my eyes to the MSI’s panel felt like I’d taken several steps backwards towards monitors of yesteryear.
Now, it’s important to note at this juncture that you can buy monitors which offer 5K (and higher) resolutions. From what I read and hear, they easily match the iMac’s screen. But they are super expensive. You’ll quickly sail past £1,000 if you want something that delivers an image that’s as good as the iMac’s.
This does, once again, reveal how much value you get from an iMac. That screen is simply wonderful, and it’s paired to an equally impressive computer, and trying to cobble something together yourself for the same price is pretty tricky.
However, once I began using the MSI day-in, day-out, I slowly got used to the screen. I’m also pretty sure it has warmed up a bit and improved over time (is that a thing? Let me know in the comments!).
In fact, now, I barely notice the lack of pixel density. Looking back, I think it’s clear that my initial reaction to the MSI’s screen was due to the wealth of high-DPI, ‘retina’ screens most of us use on a daily basis. My iPhone, MacBook, Apple Watch and, yes, that iMac, all feature magazine-perfect screens. Anything less than that is immediately jarring – until you get used to it.
And, regardless, the MSI has one huge party trick.
You gain serious real estate
Oh, the screen real estate on this thing. Lordy, Lordy.
This is why I entered the widescreen monitor game. As someone who is always searching for ways to be as productive as possible on a computer, the ability to maximise the effectiveness of the screen in front of me is vital.
With 34 inches of widescreen monitor to play with, my options are almost limitless. I thought the iMac’s 27” screen was ultra-useful from a productivity standpoint, but it pales in comparison to the MSI.
A case in point. If I’m writing a blog post in Ulysses, I often need to reference a web page or two. But I’ll also want my project management app open (which is usually Trello or Notion, depending on the work in question).
In iMac Land (and, indeed, MacBook Land), I can squeeze two of these apps onto the same screen. But on the MSI, all three can sit comfortably alongside one another. To be honest, if I want to add Discord or Twitter into the mix, I can even squeeze a fourth in.
This means zero alt-tabbing and the ability to just get on with the task in hand. All I need to do is dart my focus one way or another to find the information I need. It’s transformative.
The screen real estate on a 34” monitor has a tangible benefit throughout my working day. I spend far less time rearranging apps, and, with hindsight, it’s amazing how much time that can eat up on other devices.
First-world problems? Maybe, but I greatly value my time, and if I can shave even seconds off window management, it seriously adds up over time.
Do I miss the 27” iMac’s screen?
Yes. As noted earlier, I still use it, and it’s actually a rather wonderful thing to return to when I’ve spent all day on the MSI.
But I don’t miss it enough to remove myself from the widescreen monitor game. I’m in it now, firmly, and I can only see myself upgrading further from here.
Like so many things in life, I now want more. I’m acutely aware that there are far wider monitors out there with higher density screens. The additional cost for those panels now seems less of an issue; I’m all for measuring my return on investment, and the MSI has already paid me back handsomely in productivity gains.
That means one thing; at some stage this year I’ll probably be returning to these digital pages with a review of a much wider monitor. Unless Apple does something seriously impressive with the next iMac, of course.