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There are many ways to try to improve your productivity: you could start working from a new location, learn to meditate, or set up a home office that’s comfortable to work in. These are all good tactics, but in my experience, few things have worked as well as using an external monitor with a laptop.
Having an extra screen makes it easier to run two full-sized apps at the same time, or work with one that has a lot of different controls. For example, if you use Photoshop, one screen could be dedicated to the image you’re editing, while the other can hold your tools and pallets. Or use one screen for emails and Slack, while keeping the other screen free for writing. Aside from helping you organize your applications and programs, having an external computer monitor also frees you up from straining your eyes to see everything on your tiny laptop, or basic desktop monitor.
If you want an external monitor, but don’t know where to start, we’ve found five great options that should suit your needs.
What Are The Best External Monitors?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right external monitor for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Screen size: The first thing to think about when buying an external monitor is deciding how large you’d like it to be. Whether that’s because of physical space constraints, or personal preference, our guide includes options from 16.5 to 34 inches, so you’ll definitely find one that fits your needs. You want a screen that fits your desk without overwhelming it. And you want enough distance between you and your new (bigger) screen, so your eyes don’t feel fatigued.
Resolution: A monitor’s resolution (measured in pixels), determines how clear its display looks, and how much information can be on it at one time. High-resolution monitors generally have a resolution of 4K, while the average monitor’s resolution is 1080P. Both are good enough for general tasks like watching YouTube videos, surfing the web, or editing spreadsheets, documents, or presentations. You’ll want a high-resolution monitor if you want to do media intensive tasks like editing professional photos or videos (they’re great for gaming too).
Ports: These are a monitor’s inputs, which allow you to connect your computer to them. Our picks generally have a DisplayPort and one or more HDMI ports on them, so you should be able to plug your computer into them without an adapter. For Mac users, we’ve chosen monitors that have USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports, which serve the same purpose.
Ergonomics: You’re going to be looking at your external monitors for several hours a day, so it’s important that it’s comfortable to use. Most of the monitors in this guide can be tilted forward or backward, and some allow you raise and lower them, or turn them up to 90 degrees. Consider getting a monitor stand if you need a little more lift (or to clear some room on your desk).
1. LG 24UD58-B 24-Inch 4K UHD IPS Monitor
LG’s 24UD58-B is a 24-inch 4K external monitor that’s so good I bought two of them.
Its size is perfect for a mid-sized desk, and the high resolution screen allows me to keep two apps open side by side without having to zoom in really far. Text looks crisp, and watching videos on it — using my computer or a 4K media streamer — is a great experience. Color reproduction is pretty good, and there’s no tint if I’m viewing the screen at an angle.
This monitor has two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort, so you can keep three devices connected simultaneously. You can switch between inputs by using the display’s control stick, which is located underneath the monitor. It takes a couple of tries to get used to, but it’s easy to manage once you do.
LG’s display has never failed to recognize my devices, even if I switch back and forth quickly. All three ports accept a 4K signal at 60 frames per second, which makes it suitable for gaming on modern consoles. You won’t get the same experience as a big screen TV, but it’s nice to have the option if you’re short on space.
My only complaint about this monitor is its stand, which is fine, but kind of flimsy. I’ve solved this problem by using a monitor stand by Mount It! that lets me lock it in at the appropriate height, and tilt it up or down as I please. I recommend using this stand regardless of which external monitor you choose.
If you don’t need a giant external monitor, LG’s 24UD58-B is a great all-around option whose only downside can be permanently fixed. It’s been a huge improvement to my productivity, and I wouldn’t want to use a laptop without one.
2. BenQ EL2870U 28-Inch HDR 4K Gaming Monitor
If you want a large, high-resolution external monitor for photo or video editing, gaming, or running a lot of apps on screen at the same time, BenQ’s EL2870 is a great choice.
The 28-inch 4K external monitor has nearly twice as many pixels as the 1080P displays in this guide, and it supports HDR (high dynamic resolution), which shows colors and shadows much more accurately. Having an HDR compatible external monitor will make a big difference when you’re watching movies and TV shows, or looking over your photo library.
BenQ packed the EL2870 with two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort, so you can easily connect most computers to it without an adapter or special cable. Having two HDMI ports is also great because you can use the free one to connect a game console or media streamer. This external monitor is big enough that you could actually get away with using it as a TV for media viewing and gaming.
Ergonomically, the EL2870 falls in the middle of the pack. You can tilt it backward and forward, but you can’t raise or lower the display, which is a little limiting. But, the display has sensors that can automatically adjust its brightness and color temperature based on the lighting conditions in your room. This can reduce the amount of blue light you’re exposed to each day, and make it easier to work at night.
3. Dell P2418HZm 24 Inch Monitor
Dell’s P2418HZm is a 24-inch full HD monitor with a webcam built into it for easy video conferencing.
The display has an HDMI port, DisplayPort, VGA port, two USB-A ports, and a USB-B (commonly known as printer) port. If you want to use the monitor without the webcam, connect your computer to either its HDMI, DisplayPort or VGA port. If you do want to use the webcam, you’ll need to plug a USB-B cable (included) into your computer’s USB-A port. Some newer computers only have USB-C ports, in that case you’ll need to get this cable to enable the monitor’s webcam functionality.
You can use this external monitor’s webcam for videoconferencing through apps like Zoom, Skype, HighFive, Microsoft Teams, or Amazon Chime. The display also has a microphone and a pair of 5 watt speakers, so you’ll have everything you need for a video call right out of the box. If you’re on a PC, you can also use it to unlock your computer without a password using facial recognition through a feature called Windows Hello.
Dell says this monitor can be raised, lowered, twisted, tilted, or pivoted, which means it’s a great choice if you care about ergonomics. If staring down at a laptop screen has started giving you neck pain, this is a huge plus.
Videoconferencing has become a part of our weekly (if not daily) lives, and Dell’s P2418HZm 24 Inch Monitor simplifies the process by giving you all the tools you need to do it professionally.
4. Vissles Portable Monitor 15.6 Inch Portable HD Monitor
Vissles’ external monitor stands out from our other recommendations in this guide because the 15.6-inch 1080P display is totally portable.
The monitor can be powered by your computer using a single USB-C cable (included). This display has two USB-C ports and a mini-HDMI port. You’ll need to plug the monitor into a power adapter if you want to use it with any device besides a computer. You’ll also need a mini HDMI to HDMI adapter. These are minor inconveniences, especially since everything you need to connect it to a computer is available right out of the box.
I was skeptical about how well a portable monitor would work, but had a chance to try this one out for myself. The results were impressive: The high resolution monitor worked flawlessly, and was thin and light enough to fit in a backpack. It even worked when I hooked it up to my computer as a third display.
I can recommend this monitor to anyone who does work on the go and needs more screen space, but there are two caveats you need to know about. If your computer doesn’t have a USB-C port, you’re going to need to carry around a power adapter and Mini HDMI to HDMI adapter. It’s a small drawback, but worth noting. The second issue is that the monitor comes with a pretty flimsy magnetic stand that has limited viewing angles. You can solve this by perching it on a flexible stand, but that’s another accessory you’ll need to have on hand for the best experience.
Neither of these issues diminished the experience of using a portable monitor, and shouldn’t deter you from giving it a chance. If you want an extra screen with you everywhere you go, we recommend this one.
5. ViewSonic VP3481 34-Inch Curved Monitor
If you’d like to be truly surrounded by your work, your best bet is to get a curved display, like ViewSonic’s VP3481.
At 34 inches wide, this is by far the largest monitor on this list, and its UWQHD (3440 X 1400) resolution is better than 1080P, but not quite as sharp as 4K. The reason to get a curved display is because it’s designed to take up all of your peripheral vision, so you can virtually spread out all of your apps over a wide surface.
It also provides a really immersive experience for PC games, if they were designed to work at this resolution. Like BenQ’s display, ViewSonic’s VP3481 also supports HDR, which makes it a great choice for photo and video editing.
ViewSonic outfitted this external monitor with two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort, three USB ports, and one USB-C port. That’s a more extensive assortment of inputs than any other monitor on this guide, and guarantees you’ll be able to connect your computer to it with ports to spare.
The VP4481 also does an admirable job ergonomically: the display can be tilted, swiveled, and height-adjusted, so you can find a comfortable way to arrange it regardless of your desk setup. This customizability is welcome, but it’s actually essential because curved displays have a larger surface area that can reflect light. You may have to move the display slightly a couple of times a day if you’re working near a window.