I can already hear some of my PC readers crying, “Apple fanboi!” And rightly so. Although, it was never my intention to be one of those guys. I made the switch to Apple just over 3 years ago, after growing tired of the upgrades and OS re-installs that coincide with running a PC. Now, all the computers and every hand-held media player in my household is made by Apple, and I don’t hear anyone complaining. Best of all – I don’t have to play the roll of computer tech on a regular basis. But I recently decided that I could live without my (glorious) Apple LED Cinema Display, and ordered a 27″ Dell monitor to replace it. Here I am a couple weeks later, sitting in front of my ACD and the Dell is back in its box, ready to be returned for a full refund.

Apple LED Cinema Display

Why Switch in the First Place?

The main reason I wanted a different monitor, was to have the ability to use it for other purposes than just work. The LED Cinema Display only has a Mini DisplayPort input, and I don’t know any devices aside from the latest MacBooks that use that. I was looking for a bit of flexibility, and was willing to sacrifice aesthetic quality and simplicity to get it, or so I thought. The Dell monitor I purchased came equipped with HDMI, Component, and even DisplayPort inputs. So, I was definitely covered in terms of it being compatible with other devices. Then I realized the HDMI port was bunk. And so the downward spiral began…

Image Quality

My first Mac was the last of the white generation iMac. It had a 24″ screen, and I found the image quality to be quite good. That was until I purchased my second Mac this past summer – a 15″ MacBook Pro and a 24″ Apple LED Cinema Display. The LED panel is simply glorious! Colours are extremely vivid and rich, and the brightness is outstanding. Even on the MacBook Pro – the brightest I can stand is 4 notches down from full. The glossy screen is not ideal, by any means. Especially on the MBP. But it does contribute to the beautiful picture, which was immediately evident when I first hooked up the Dell monitor. “What’s that bit of noise there?” and, “Is that as bright as it goes?” were questions I asked myself repeatedly over the course of the 2 weeks I was running it. That and, “These colours can’t be right.

Colour Profile Hell

One of the great things about using an ACD with one of the new MBPs, is the ease of use. It has a combined cable which includes a power connector, Mini DisplayPort, and USB. There is no options menu on the ACD. Hell, there isn’t even a power button! You simply wake your Mac and it fires up. In System Preferences, there are options for managing the colour profile for each display – the MBP‘s built-in display, and the external ACD. I found the default profile for each to be spot-on. And since the default gamma was changed to 2.2 in Snow Leopard, there has been no need to create a custom profile.

The Dell monitor was a different story entirely. In fact, I don’t think I ever managed to get it right after 2 weeks of constant use, and fussing with. The fact that you have a colour profile for the Mac, and the monitor separately, does not help. Just when I thought I had it right, I noticed things rendering differently across browsers and apps. At best, colours still weren’t perfect. Red was not as red as it is on the ACD. And overall it felt more washed out and flat, compared to the ACD.

Built-in Goodies

Matt and Addison

While the Dell monitor included more options in the way of inputs. The ACD has a built-in iSight (webcam) and microphone, which I use more than I realized. Every time Addison comes down to my office, she hops on my lap and asks to, “See self, Dada?” all excitedly. It was a real bummer trying to tell her we couldn’t, as she bounced on my lap waiting for her adorable smile to show up on the screen.

A Quick Re-cap

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of the Dell versus the ACD, shall we?

Pros

  1. Bigger screen size (27″)
  2. Multiple inputs
  3. Built-in card reader
  4. 1 extra USB port

Cons

  1. Ugly, cheap plastic enclosure
  2. Doesn’t sit perfectly level (leans to the right)
  3. Lower image quality
  4. Screen not as bright
  5. Max resolution is the same as ACD (1920×1200) despite the screen being 3 inches bigger
  6. Colour profiles a nightmare to match
  7. Cables are hard to insert since the inputs are pointing down
  8. Clumsy OSD options menu
  9. HDMI input didn’t work
  10. MBP wouldn’t wake from sleep after switching inputs
  11. No built-in webcam or microphone

Lesson Learned

I’m not saying I’ll only be buying Apple products from here on. But I will definitely be taking all of this into consideration when I’m weighing my options in future. And of course, will avoid taking steps backward if I already own Apple products I’m happy with.

23 Comments

I have the 27" dell monitor and I couldn’t agree more with your post. The colors aren’t COMPLETELY unfortunate, but there is definitely some shifting in comparison to other workstations (work, school, MBP). Even going through the settings the monitor does have, shit still just doesn’t look right.

When I got my setup, it was either better hardware for a non Apple display, or not as good hardware for an Apple display.

I hope they change the 30" cinema display to match their other monitor, or someday add a 27". When that happens, I’ll be switching.

By "better hardware", you mean more inputs and such, I’m assuming?

It’s really quite bizarre that Apple’s Cinema Display only caters to Apple products. But I guess if they were to add an HDMI input the ACD, they’d then need to add a power button and some sort of options menu as well.

Obviously a lot went wrong with the Dell monitor, but for the color profile issue, have you ever tried a hardware color calibrator like the Spyder2? I had massive color issues with an LG monitor I bought a few years back. After running the monitor through the calibration software, everything came out looking perfect. I’ve since calibrated 10+ monitors (my laptop, parents computer, friends, etc) and feel the investment in a calibrator was completely worth it.

You make some great points as to why a Apple Cinema Display is better than a cheap-o Dell, but personally I could never make the switch. The single input of the ACD is a deal breaker for me. I’m a college student and use my monitor as both my computer display and an HDTV for my Xbox 360. Until Apple makes a monitor with an HDMI or second input (or someone makes a HDTV capture card with zero lag), I’m sticking with my non-Apple displays.

have you ever tried a hardware color calibrator like the Spyder2?

That was going to be my next step. But when the HDMI port didn’t work, that’s when I started considering returning it all together. Had I kept the Dell, I would have definitely looked into a colour calibrator.

For someone in your situation, I would never recommend the ACD. But for someone like me, who uses their computer for 98% work, it’s the way to go if you’re concerned about quality on all fronts.

Ditto. I’d love an ACD, but my Dell 2408WFP will just have to do because of the HDMI inputs. Can’t live without my 360, it travels everywhere with me.

I made the switch to Apple just over 3 years ago, after growing tired of the upgrades and OS re-installs that coincide with running a PC.

You switched to a Mac because you’re tired of constant upgrades? At least you can upgrade a PC one component at a time. :

That’s exactly my point. I hated having to be constantly purchasing and installing hardware components. The idea of a closed system that I would simply replace in whole every couple years is much more appealing. Not to mention, all of the hardware is meant to work together, and is assembled and serviced by the same company. Win, win, win.

I got a HP LP2475W (24", IPS panel, 2xDVI, DisplayPort, HDMI, S-Video, Picture-In-Picture…) about a week ago and it’s amazing. It has even better colours than my old P17-2 (17" 4:3 with S-IPS+Overdrive panel), which I thought unbeatable. I have my desktop (SL Hackintosh) connected via DVI and my MacBook via a Mini-DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort cable by DeLock. Since I installed SL on the desktop I got really wonderful colors. Using the standard sRGB profile I got the best colours. Calibrating the monitor using a Pantone huey was counterproductive – way too much blue 😉

http://www.tftcentral.co.uk/reviews/hp_lp2475w.ht

The device itself looks and feels _very_ pricey, definetly not like cheap plastic.

If you really need the extra connectors you maybe should give it a try…

Thanks for the recommendation, but I think I’ve made my decision to stick with the ACD and leave my work space as a work space, and nothing more.

Having said that though, with regards to your connectivity problem with Display port- couldn’t you get a Display Port adapter? I’m not sure whether an adapter would preserve the video-in functionality that Display Port provides.

The use of this new standard is a bit frustrating- my Mac is the only piece of equipment in my entire house with Display Port!

I totally understand the sentiment that Apple has ruined you for everyone else as it’s done the same for me! I only have an iPod touch, but the quality of of its UI and the precision of its touch screen feedback meant I had to return a touch screen phone from LG as it felt like a $20 toy in comparison. The result? Still saving for the day I can afford an iPhone as it’ll be totally worth it!

I have the same monitor.

After I got a iMac at work, I decided I wanted a good quality monitor, but without the unnecessarily high Apple cost. The HP is brilliant. Plus, it has an adjustable stand so ergonomics once again become a reality.

I guess the key is to either stick with quality Apple hardware or just not to buy crappy Dell stuff.

I’ve been rolling Samsung monitors for the last couple of years and LOVE them. Just recently purchased an upgrade to two 22" monitors and have been perfectly happy. I run some dell monitors at work and, yea, not happy with them. I just hope you don’t run into any of the "grey monitor" issues that have been plaguing the recent iMacs.

As for the slight on PC and "upgrading", I’ve been using pc/windows all my life. I build my own machines and never ONCE have had an issue. I never have to re-install my OS. It just comes down to being knowledgeable with your OS and your machine. I’m not going to knock Apple, some people love them. For me, they are just extremely overpriced for the specs. But to each their own. Same with Coke/Pepsi, Nintendo/Sega, etc etc etc.

I came to the same conclusion as yourself Matt a couple of years back when I decided to plunge £500 (to the shock of my girlfriend!) on an Apple Cinema Display.

Having said that, I bought one the new iMacs (not the current revision but the one before) and decided to go for a 20" as this was the size of my Cinema Display. To my dismay, it was a pile of steaming poo, the colours changed when I moved my head even slightly. After some research I found apple were using TN Film inside the 20" but not the 24". For those that don’t know, TN Film is used in 90% of LCD monitors today and it is just terrible for any design work.

In the end I returned it for the 24" which I find much better, but still not as good as my old 20" Cinema Display :/

Having said that, I would never buy a monitor that wasn’t from Apple in the future. Considering how much I stare at it, I think investing in a decent monitor is a must.

The Dell LCD might take a bit more calibration than the ACD to get the colors correct – but the gloss on the ACD is a deal breaker. I have one, that I use for my secondary display, and the gloss kills me. I can’t image that on my main display.

I’m hoping to come by some money soon (aren’t we all) and I wondering, if I switch to Apple, and there is a 99.9999% of that, what should I go with? You seem to be fond of the ACD, and I am conflicted between one of the new 27" iMacs or a MacBook Pro with an ACD. Anyone have any suggestions as to what a starter Apple geek should get?

Honestly its how you will use it. If you plan to work away from your desk or at least have the option then the MacBook Pro is the only choice. If portability isn’t an issue then the 27" iMacs do look amazing. I have a 24" iMac and a 15" MacBook Pro and both are amazing. You can’t go wrong with either one, just comes down to your needs.

I think that the 2009 Dell monitors were just a bad year for quality. They used to be great (my 2005 Dell monitor is), but I ordered two of Dell’s 2009 monitors earlier last year and ended up returning them both since I had similar issues (color was way off, bright spots all over the place). I ended up getting an NEC LCD2490WUXi which is excellent, but I would love to pick up one of the 27" iMacs.

Matt, I pretty much go with the burnt once then move along, nothing to see here approach. I worked for many years in electrical retail and know the ins and outs of these stories. It works for most cases too, not just electrical. I used to hate brand loyalty. I thought people that had it were sheep and suckers. Now I’m older and wiser (a bit of both anyway) I realise this is just common sense.

Certain brands I ALWAYS buy now are Apple, Hugo Boss, Adidas & Xbox for my computers, phones, smart and sports clothes and gaming. I’ve stuck with this and been COMPLETELY happy with doing so. I know sometimes it works out more expensive, but seriously, it’s worth ten times that when it all goes smoothly.

Nice read, thanks 😉

~ Suleiman

To the one person still believing Apple computers are overpriced:

My computer is an iMac 27" and costs as much as the Dell Monitor linked to in aforementioned article plus 700 dollars. For the 700 dollars left you get a 3.06Ghz dual core machine with 4Gb of RAM and 1 TB of hard drive space (Not to mention the LCD is far superior). Your OS is included in the purchase.

This computer runs a 2560×1440 resolution, which is absolutely awesome (compare to 2560×1600 on the Apple 30"). I have my older Apple 20" attached and I can have my text editor, Firefox with Firebug, four terminal windows all open at the same time in workable resolutions. Meaning I never have to alt tab when developing web sites. (combined with an auto refresh plugin for Firefox this is like live preview of your work).

I put this thing on my desk when I bought it, never had to fiddle with any settings. Just plugged the power in, turned it on, the OS was installed, I could install my apps, and there I went.

The only reason I run Windows nowadays is testing websites in Windows versions of browsers (most notably IE ;)) and some gaming every once in a while. And lo and behold, I run Windows 7 on my Mac via Boot Camp.

Is that cool? Yes.

Like you, I’m done trying to save a few dollars and bend around Apple. Last year I bought a 24inch Samsung coupled with my MBP…talk about agreeing with you on color profile hell.

I made the switch over to apple not too long ago, working for my current employer. I enjoy working on the mac so much more than I ever did on a PC. The screen quality is so much better, and its so compact… working on the iMac anyway! It took me a while getting used to the different keys and shortcuts but once I got it down it become so much quicker and easier to work on.

I guess different things suit different people but as a web designer id definitely pick a mac over a PC any day now!

Hiya,

I understand your points completely, i did a very similar thing recently myself. I had been using one of Dell’s Cheaper 22" displays since mid 06 and loved it, though when i brought my unibody MacBook it was a complete hassle to get the colors to match (i didnt care about the profile much, but at least have them match! please??).

I decided i would take the chance to rotate the Dell display home, and to invest in something new for the office, it was a going to be a decision between the 24" or 27" Dell, or the 24" Cinema Display, in the end i went with the cinema display.

The main reason was price, apple had the cinema display available in the refurb store for about £50 more than i could find the 24" ultrasharp dell for, although i liked the idea of all the extra ports of the dell, i was very interested in the other extras.

In the end i reasoned thus, while the monitor completes it work life (in my office, on my desk, showing me pretty pictures) then i will never really need any of the other inputs as the dell had, at the end of the day, all of the machines in the office carry a display port & thats where its going to be living…

However, the isight, mic, speakers and power supply do make a difference everyday i’m in the office. I use skype a lot and it wonderful to be able to actually look at the person i am chatting to on the big screen without having to stare across to my laptop, not to mention the number of times i have forgotten my macbook power supply! My upgraded screen has brought me a bigger better much nicer display, and an isight upgrade, extra powersupply and a USB hub, could not be happier! I recon the Apple display will probs hold its value better no dobt too…

Hope that helps 🙂

Jamie & Lion

Many a year ago I used to own a dell desktop and monitor, which I used primarily for gaming. It was truly a piece of crap. Ugly black, cheap plastic design. It held up a long time, but it was a horror to use it.

In the past year I’ve bought two 24" Asus monitors which have been amazing to use, albeit I use them with a PC and have not had to calibrate color profiles. Native HDMI isn’t so bad either. Hell, not to mention you could buy 4 of these instead of an ACD

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