27-inch 5k or 32-inch 4K

I’m looking for an external monitor for a MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) arriving later this month. I currently use a 27-inch retina (5k) iMac and really appreciate the sharpness of the text. As an attorney, I spend a lot of time screen reading, and far less time editing/annotating images. I’m not a gamer and don’t intend to use the monitor regularly for video watching.

I’m torn between purchasing a higher res 27-inch monitor (probably the LG sold by Apple) or a 32-inch 4k monitor, as I’d appreciate having the extra screen real estate. (I’m not interested in dual monitor set up though).

Given my needs, I’d appreciate any advice based on others’ experience. Specifically, for my intended uses am I likely to be disappointed with the larger, but lower res, display? Thanks!

I think it’s a straight tradeoff between workable space and text sharpness.

The 5k monitor will maximise text sharpness - assuming you’ll be running it at an effective resolution of 2560x1440.

The 4k monitor will give you more space, but the text won’t be as sharp.

Fwiw, most of my work involves writing notes and client documents, and I’ve been v happy with an LG 5k Ultrafine for several years. There’s not a day when I don’t appreciate the sharpness of the text (the novelty doesn’t seem to wear off!)

I often run Nisus Writer Pro (for a client-facing deliverable document) and Craft (for notes) side-by-side on the LG - without a problem.

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Obviously the real answer here is the 6k Pro Display XDR. C’mon. You get the larger screen and keep the text quality.

Agree that you’ll miss the 5k sharpness. Can you just move the 27" closer to you?

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What you really want to look at is PPI (Pixels Per Inch). The 32-inch 4k will have a much smaller PPI (bigger is better). Therefore, in the real world, if both displays were set to use their native resolutions, the text would be physically bigger on the 32-inch screen. And because its a 4k, you would actually get less lines of text to display on the screen than you would on the smaller 5k display. Of course, you could adjust the resolution to be non-native, but then a single digital pixel does not translate to a real pixel in the display and your text will appear less clear (no sharp edges etc).

Look at the displays Apple sells: 24-inch 4k, 27-inch 5k, and 32-inch 6k. Each has roughly the same PPI. Therefore, at their native resolutions, the text will always appear approximately the same size and and you just get more room for more text when you step up in size. However, when you step up in display size without also increasing the resolution (like your 32-inch 4k), then you have a much smaller PPI (which is more grainy to begin with) and to get the text to look good, you have to set the resolution to something that makes the text bigger and then you lose the benefit of the larger display size.

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I think you need to ask yourself how much you notice text sharpness on different kinds of monitors. For example, I’m one of the odd ones who barely notices Retina, despite still having eyes that test well.

The other thing is screen real estate (the ability to fit more on screen at higher resolutions), but at the resolutions you’re talking about, that probably won’t be an issue. I recently used an office monitor away from my normal setup, and couldn’t figure out why everything looked so massive, until I discovered it was a 1080p monitor and I was stuck with less room on the screen.

Last weekend I went from 27"iMac to MacBook M1Pro and 32" monitor (Dell U3219Q).

I haven’t really noticed any difference on text. Its still tiny at full resolution…

This article explains the ins and outs of the various options and what they mean for you better than I can.

Of note is the “safe zones” of pixel density in the provided table, which is, admittedly, a little outdated today. Even so, the concepts explained in the article still apply. Personally, the most helpful piece of info in that article was the link to the PPI calculator, which can work out the pixel density of any display. Extremely handy when comparing different size displays.

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As far as I know you don’t really get the full 5k resolution on the 27“ iMac and I think also not on the LG 5K? Isn’t it that macOS scales the content like 1:1.5? And the screen looks something like a 3200*1800 screen (very rough guess here)? In that case a native 4K screen may actually provide more real estate?!

What I would put into consideration is my viewing distance and my comfort level - how far is the screen away normally and what size is comfortable to look at. At certain distances a good 4K screen may seems pretty sharp as well? I for myself am actually considering going 32“/4K after my trusty 27“ iMac slowly plans for retirement :smirk:.

I have both and find 32 too wide for everyday usage, prefer 27 for everyday usage. Best try both and decide.

Very happy with LG 34WK95U (34" UltraWide) monitor as the external display for my new M1 Max MBP. With slightly over 160 ppi pixel density, text and images look crisp.

The resolution I am using in the display settings is 3360 x 1418.

3840 x 1620 is also available as an option but everything looks a tad tiny for my eyes.

With M1 mini, the max possible (w/o using a 3rd party software) was only 3008 x 1269.

Whatever you buy, just make sure it does not have a pixel density of fewer than 160 ppi.

I made the mistake of getting ones with around 110 ppi in the past and regretted it. As someone used to retina displays, the blurriness is quite apparent.

I use my monitor for reading PDFs and working with text. I occasionally work with images in apps like Pixelmator Pro.

I use a 43 inch Dell UltraSharp 43 4K USB-C Monitor - U4320Q.
4K 3840 x 2160 at 60 Hz. Pixel Pitch. 0.2451 mm. Pixel Per Inch. 103.23

Extra real estate has really helped my workflow. I don’t even run it at max resolution, everything gets so small! I have not experienced problems with crispness/sharpness. I’m not saying I wouldn’t welcome a Retina display version of this for less.

Tradeoffs . . .

FWIW - I recently swapped a 4K / 27-inch for 5K / 27-inch (2560x1440) and the difference continues to please me every day. I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.

For me, the 32-inch would be a worse experience in terms of sharpness and also harder to use, although the latter is somewhat based on how far away you’ll be sitting.

Personally, the clear winner between these two is the 5K.

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The 4K won’t give you more space, your windows and text will just look bigger.

The 5K will allow you to get more detail and information on the screen

The differentiator may be how far you’re sitting from the monitor, the further away, the lower dot pitch you need.

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Thank you all. This was my first post in this forum and I’m really pleased and impressed with all the quality feedback. I’m a longtime MPU listener and now I’m grateful to have this additional forum in which to geek out.

So the verdict is in: I’m going for the 27" 5k LG Ultrafine display as sold by Apple. Tried and true.

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I just bought an M1 MacBook Air, and am currently using my 27" 2013 pre-retina iMac as a display (via Luna), while I look into getting a new 27" display. Even when connecting the two Macs via Ethernet, the Luna has enough latency to blur text when you slowly scroll. Does your M1 Air have the power to smoothly scroll text your 27" 5K? And drag windows without them flickering? Thanks for the input!

I’ve moved from a MacBook Pro and an iMac to a single MacBook Pro M1 Max configuration with dual monitors - 6K XDR and the LG 5K in portrait mode. Works quite nicely for me.

My personal MBP sits behind the LG. The MBP with the keyboard and mouse on it is my work laptop. During the day I plug the 6K into it and it sits below the 6K for a dual work monitor setup. The LG5K is still available for music etc, or it could be plugged into the work laptop for extra screen real estate.

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I use a 32-inch 4k and I run it at 3k (scaled). I find sharpness acceptable and appreciate the extra real-estate over running a 27-inch at 2.5k (scaled), which I did for several years at work. But I do wear glasses and only have 20/20 in one eye on a good day, so take my opinion for what it’s worth depending on your eyesight and sensitivity to pixelation.

@davidmikucki do you find yourself having to turn your head a lot? I used a 32" 2.5k for a while (was borrowing it from a friend) and couldn’t get used to having to turn my head. In theory I could keep my windows mostly centred if I had 3k (scaled), but things like the menu bar and dock are still on the edges.

Yes, I do turn my head. But I feel like that’s par for the course unless you have a pretty small monitor. I even turn my head some on my 16-inch (case in point, the text editor for this post is in the bottom left of my screen and the time is in the top right; I just turned my head to see the time). It doesn’t help that I wear glasses and only one good eye for reading, though.

For ergonomics, I try to keep anything I’m actively working on close to the center of the screen so that my head isn’t constantly turned in one direction or another.

Thanks. Looks like my M1 MacBook Air will smoothly handle one 4-5K display. Not sure which to get, but either should blow away my old pre-Retina screen. And yesterday I saw rumors of new display options coming from Apple, so I may continue using the Luna Display to send the signal to my old iMac Display.