I’m putting a question mark (others didn’t) on the title because what you and I have as work-from-home space is quite different. For instance, I have a custom desk that can handle a monitor of any size. Still, my wife likes to work out of the kitchen, and her space is limited both horizontally and vertically in such a way that a huge monitor wouldn’t fit without remodeling the kitchen.
I’m starting with the Dell 40-inch monitor, because it was recognized as one of the best monitors launched at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, and it is the latest monitor I have in the house. I might add that the monitor I use most often is a Dell 49-inch monitor, and before that, I used a Dell 42-inch monitor. Each had its advantages and disadvantages.
Monitors can make all the difference globally, and I’ve been working on monitors in the 40-inch size class for several years now. Using this Dell monitor as a starting point, let’s talk about how you might pick the best work-from-your-home monitor.
The benefit and problem with a big monitor
As I’ve noted, I’ve been using large monitors for a couple of years and, before that, I used a multiple-monitor rig, the largest using nine 15-inch monitors. Multiple monitors can be cheaper than a single large monitor, but you have to deal with the bezels. The folks who like the multi-monitor rigs best have to use multiple PCs and workstations, but that 42-inch Dell monitor I was using allowed up to four different PCs, resulting in a far more elegant multi-PC setup. The 42-, 49- and this new 40-inch monitor have built-in KVMs that allow you to use one keyboard and mouse on all the machines connected to the monitor. But this feature isn’t much use if you have, like most of us do, one desktop or laptop PC.
I’m a fan of having more than one PC, because IT can generally see and may object to what you do on your company PC. You can still do whatever you like on your PC, providing a little extra privacy and career protection if you have more than one PC. Besides, companies probably won’t agree to buy you that high-end gaming PC if you are into that but likely won’t care if you use the monitor they gave you for gaming, falling under the “what they don’t know and can’t find out won’t hurt you” rule.
So the massive benefit of a large monitor is that you can get a lot on it, and, for me, the bigger, the better, but if it doesn’t fit where you need to work, you’ll be screwed. Twin monitors can be cheaper, but you have to deal with the bezels and gaps that will be dead center in front of you. If you do go the multiple-monitor route, make sure they are matched and adequately sequenced, or you’ll have issues navigating your cursor between screens. Now there is one other option: Take a big monitor like the 40-incher, then get a second and stack it. That allows you to put things like a news feed, security camera feed or something else (streamed event) on the higher screen while your work goes on the lower screen. This approach is surprisingly handy when working from home or when needing that extra screen real estate for other stuff.
Resolution vs. refresh rate
The Dell U4021QW is a high-resolution, low frame-rate monitor. The resolution speaks to eye fatigue and detail. The refresh rate is mostly used in terms of gaming. If you are mostly using a monitor for work, you don’t need a high refresh rate, but you may need a high resolution. I spend nearly eight hours a day in front of a monitor working, and my favorite games are strategy games, which don’t require high frame rates. As a work-focused monitor, for which this 40-inch monitor is designed, to keep the price affordable, Dell made the appropriate tradeoff for a business-focused product.
Blue light reduction
This feature is relatively new in the market, and you have to look for it. But blue light can do a lot of damage to your eyes, and it can adversely impact sleep. One of the significant issues people are reporting during the pandemic is that staying inside so much is a problem getting a good night’s sleep. I’m a big believer in this feature, which should be, but isn’t yet, standard on all monitors. At least those I’ve tested, Dell monitors have generally had this feature, and you can find it in many of the monitors from major vendors, but you should look for it.
Since I mostly use a desktop computer in my home office (like the power), this isn’t critical for me but could be a game-changer for those who live off laptops. This 40-inch Dell is unusual in that it has a full USB-C Thunderbolt dock built into it. This hub allows a one-wire connection to your laptop that handles wired ethernet, up to three USB peripherals (such as your mouse and keyboard), and it will power your laptop if it accepts power through its USB-C Thunderbolt port.
Cheap monitors have fixed bases. More expensive monitors like this Dell allow you to move the monitor or tilt it as needed. I was getting substantial neck pain years ago, and the fix was that an engineer had to come into my office and raise the fixed monitor, so I wasn’t doing damage to my neck and back. Since then, I wouldn’t buy a monitor unless I had a way to adjust it to the proper height. I had to go into physical therapy, and I’m convinced the healthcare workers that do this type of work enjoy my screams of pain way the hell too much.
We tried curved-screen TVs, and they sucked because only the person sitting in the middle got an excellent experience, and many folks watch TVs as a family. But monitors are very different, and the curved screen wraps the information around you, putting less stress on your eyes and helping you see stuff on your periphery better. So I like them and this 40-inch Dell is curved as is my 49” monitor. I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like a curved screen, but it is worth trying out first to see if it works for you.
This feature is only necessary if you are working with color and doing things like image or movie editing. And this Dell has high color accuracy. But for gaming or living off of productivity products, it isn’t that necessary, and it does increase the price of the product. But even if you do casual photo editing, this can be important. I’m Red/Green colorblind, which means I have an inherent color problem that this monitor can’t overcome even though it has high color accuracy. Given that one of the fixes for colorblindness is to shift the colors, I expect at some future point there may be a monitor feature that could help me address my problem; I just haven’t seen it in an end product yet.
The Dell U4021QW is a premium monitor in the $2K price range that will work best for those that need a lot of screen real estate and have room for a 40” monitor. These are predominantly productivity work users, not professional gamers, and those that work with colors will likely be best able to justify the cost. It also favors those currently living off a higher-end laptop that will support a 5K display because it will reduce the number of wires on your desk, particularly if you have a wireless mouse and keyboard. But, in the end, I’d start off looking at the room you have, which will set the monitor’s size, then how you want to use it (high frame rates vs. high resolution), and favor products that have adjustable bases and blue light mitigation features over monitors that don’t. Once you’ve figured out the features you need and the size you can live with, you can then go shopping, trading those features and size off if you are budget constrained.
Oh, and yes, this 40-inch monitor from Dell is the best monitor I’ve so far tested; for the right person, this is the best work-from-home monitor.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to eWEEK and Pund-IT. Enderle is considered one of the top 10 IT analysts in the world by Apollo Research, which evaluated 3,960 technology analysts and their individual press coverage metrics.