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Apple Studio Display and 3 huge things I got wrong

I reckon I’ve sat in front of my Studio Display for over 2000 hours at this point, and I have a few points to correct

Apple Studio Display

A slow learner

I was wrong about Apple’s Studio Display.

I use this display as my primary display six days a week for up to twelve hours a day so I think that puts me in a decent position to give you my thoughts on it one year in. Is it a bargain or overpriced? Is it hype or does it deliver, and why was I wrong?

My Studio Display arrived on 14th May last year and since then it has been used heavily, and I mean heavily used every day. I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into with Apple’s Studio Display which was initially launched to partner up with the Mac Studio, as up until then I’d been working on a 27-inch iMac. It was partly because of that Mac that I decided to buy the Studio Display. After eight years the iMac panel continues to deliver– it remains vibrant, colour accurate and easy on the eyes.

There’s still very little screen burn on that old iMac, even after all the hours I’ve used it which factored in when I was deciding whether to buy the Studio Display.

Look at it this way

The first point that I’d overlooked until now was the fact of how kind these Retina Displays are on your eyes. A few weeks back I had an eye test which was my first for three years or so and luckily in that time, my prescription hadn’t changed at all.

Chatting things over with the optician about my workday demands it came up that I was working on a Retina display and she was convinced that was a contributing factor to the overall health of my eyes. Yes, I make sure to work at arm’s length and in a good environment – all of which goes towards helping to keep my eyes healthy & strain free – but I’d never thought that choosing a good panel to work on would have these kinds of benefits, but it makes sense I guess. We’re told not to buy cheap sunglasses for example, and as I’m in front of this display for so many hours a day the quality of the glass would naturally make a difference.

The switch

I recall a year ago I was deciding whether to make the change and for the first time move away from working on a desktop iMac to a MacBook. M1 was grabbing the headlines and only a few months before Apple had just announced the M1 Pro & Max iterations of the MacBook Pro range.

The biggest hurdle I faced in switching from iMac to MacBook was the screen size. As amazing as the Liquid Retina XDR display is on the MacBook Pro it is still only 16 inches and working on that size screen – given the kind of intensive work I do was just not going to cut it. The MacBook was already stupidly expensive and here was me thinking of adding a further £1500 on top of that. The shopping spree was starting to add up and like any of us, I was nervous about making such a big spend.

Earlier on I mentioned I was wrong about the Studio Display. After a year of use though I can now see that I’d made a few mistakes in how I’d been trying to evaluate the outlay on Apple’s Studio Display.

Mistake 1

The first of my mistakes was in how I was looking at the price. With hindsight, it wasn’t expensive but rather value for money. Let me explain what I mean a little bit better.

We all get excited and carried away by say the specs of a MacBook Pro – the neural engines, the number of graphic cores or how quickly it can export a 4K video. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all mighty impressive and I wouldn’t want to be without mine but my point here is that we don’t actually see any of it. That’s just the clever stuff that it does in the background that we come to expect – and fairly so – we pay a lot for the privilege of working on a Mac, but the difference with the display is that we actually see it!

The money you or I spend or ‘invest’ on a quality panel such as The Studio Display is right in front of our eyes. It’s our window to the Mac. Whilst we can’t see the unified memory, we can see the brightness and colour accuracy. So mistake one was that it wasn’t, as it turns out expensive, but rather an investment.

There is no denying that it’s a lot of money to lay down at the point of purchase but try to think of the longevity you’ll get out of it, which is another point worth thinking about too.

If my Intel iMac which is basically the same display as this Studio Display panel is anything to go by, then I’ll still be using the Studio Display in nearly a decade from now. So if you think of the £1500 over 8 or ten years and the fact it’s helping preserve your eye health too, suddenly it doesn’t seem all that expensive right?

But before getting on to my other mistakes let’s look at some of the other more obvious benefits. The overall aesthetic is beautiful which as you’ll be staring at it for so many hours a day is more than just a vanity statement. Whilst my MacBook Air and MacBook Pro just sit on either side of me, when I’m editing videos, podcasts, writing blogs or scripts what I am actually looking at is the Studio Display!

The thin black bezels are thin enough to be almost invisible and I don’t notice them – the panel’s display just seems to extend from edge to edge. The fact there is no chin is a bonus too – it’s one less distraction and just goes towards working on the Studio Display a cleaner working experience. The footprint is much smaller than my iMac which means it is easier to fit into any workspace with the small stand being all you see.

Backing up

The back in most instances doesn’t get seen. I mean it’s pretty and functional enough, but let’s face it Apple didn’t spend too much time back there!

The only real dealings you have with the back are the three remaining USB-C ports. The Thunderbolt one of course runs straight to your MacBook but those other ports do have a lovely reassuring Apple’esque clunk and fit when you use them. A small part of me wishes they were around the front. Although that would make them a little bit easier to use, it would also ruin the clean lines – again coming back to the uncluttered and clean environment this display gives you. So on balance, it’s probably best they tucked around the back.

Mistake 2

The stand.

Apple has taken a lot of heat over the fact the basic stand you get with the display doesn’t come with height adjustment but only tilt.

Firstly, we had form on this as Apple’s other display the stunning Pro Display XDR has no stand when you buy it and that display is over three times the price of the Studio Display. The stand you do get though is solid and again has a feeling of prestige engineering to it. It feels better put together than the iMacs mechanism and it does the job well. It still feels factory-fresh after a year of use. As for the height, it seems that just about everyone these days has some kind of riser on their desks anyway which means the height is not an issue. Tilt is the main adjustment you need to alter for sun and daylight – the height part is just one of those things to moan about that isn’t an issue.

As for the last two mistakes or oversights well they were to do with the peripherals you get ‘gifted’ on the Studio Display – namely the speakers and the camera.

There is no denying that the 12mega-pixel camera is utterly useless, even after all the firmware updates and fixes this past year it still teeters on being unusable. But then on the flip side of that coin, you could easily counter that disappointment with the terrific six-point speakers & spatial audio set-up you get as part & parcel of the Studio Display.

Oddly though, in my opinion, neither matters. I never use either of them. My desk setup may be a little different to many in that I have a pair of powered studio monitors and an interface that I use, but even when I take this display to my filming studio I never use the speakers – I’ll always use AirPods Pro or Max with it over the inbuilt speakers. The only time I have ever listened to or used the built-in speakers on the Studio Display is when I have been making videos about the Studio Display and testing them to that end.

Honestly, I never use them or the camera. Again, sure, I know I have plenty of options when it comes to cameras to use, but honestly, how many video calls do you make each day or week? Anyway now with Continuity Camera as an option for the sake of £40, you can mount your iPhone on your MacBook and use possibly the best camera you’ve got as a webcam. Again if we look at the Pro Display XDR as a reference – you don’t get either of the options which kind of lets you know where Apple place them in their list of priorities for pro users.

With either the Studio Display or the Pro Display you pay for what is important – the panel, the colour and the workflow and that investment into your work life. In an ideal world, I‘d have said to Apple to scrub the speakers and camera and bring the price point down a few hundred pounds or dollars, but Apple in their infinite wisdom decided to include them for whatever reason. So there you go I should never have moaned about the camera as I’ve never used it and wrong about the speakers, good as they may be, for the same reason. All I’d say is that less probably would have been more in this instance – the Studio Display delivers anyway.

Wrapping Up

This isn’t and has never pretended to be a gaming monitor or some kind of flashy gimmicky monitor. What it is though is a beautifully built, understated, great to use and kind to your eyes display. Is it a monitor I’d suggest you buy? In a heartbeat – yes, but with a few conditions.

Carefully consider if the type of work you do each day would benefit from you buying a 5K Studio Display in the first place. But let’s assume that you are a creative of some kind working maybe with video timelines, in Lightroom, Photoshop or Audition then you could not go too far wrong in buying the Studio Display.

Up against even say the LG 5K display it looks way better and is more stylish as well. And again don’t dismiss that as that being a pointless comment – as I have said before this is what you’ll be looking at for hour after hour of every day, so the fact it’s pretty matters.

A year in and I’m happier now with the Studio Display than ever. No signs of any wearing and it makes every session at the desk as easy as possible. Yes, I’ve made mistakes in how I’ve assessed it before in earlier blogs, I’ve put my hands up to that, but what I did get right was the investment in my business and health.

Forget about the bits you’ll never use or see, and focus, literally focus on what you do see. And what you do see is gorgeous.

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