I am considering making some changes to my set up and would very much appreciate your input and advice.
I am in the last year of my PhD, therefore working a lot and dealing with tons of books and pdfs, often simultaneously. For this, I currently use 29" iMac (late 2015) and a 15" MacBook Pro (2019), often alternating between working in my desk on the iMac or in some other more comfortable position on the MacBook (this is often a necessity due to health reasons).
Even though I very much enjoy the iMac display and image quality, I often feel that it is too constrained and that it lacks space for more open windows and pdf files.
I have been looking at some 49" ultra wide monitors and considering the possibility of selling the iMac and getting one of them (to use with the MacBook only). One of my main concerns is loosing image quality by moving away from the retina display. I would also obviously loose processing power that the iMac has (but that the MacBook lacks) in order to get the bigger display (which does seem preferable right now).
With this in mind, I ask you for recommendations for a fairly large display, with image quality close enough to the retina display, and that would cost something close to the price of the iMac. (If this is asking too much, then ignore that price part and just recommend me what seems to the best option for you guys).
When I decided at my office to make my MacBook Pro the primary computer, and retire an old Mac Pro, I wanted another screen to extend the visual real estate.
For me, the most important criteria was that the screen would resemble the MacBook Pro’s screen in color and pixel density. I settled on the LG 5K with the Thunderbolt 3 connection … but I think I would have been happy with the 4K as well. It’s a good match for the MacBook Pro, and the single TB3 cable from the LG to the laptop also charges the laptop.
For quarantine I took that monitor home from work and set my wife up with it; she’s told me I’m not getting it back.
Given your use-case, I think it’s worth considering adding a 12.9" iPad Pro to the mix as a second display via the new Sidecar feature in macOS – which you can use as a dedicated PDF reader.
This allows you to use an Apple Pencil for PDF annotation / markup, gives you a second screen with a retina display that you can position on your desk in a way that makes it “feel bigger” than the 12.9" screen it is (due to being closer to your eyes), and gives you a second monitor for the times you’re in the more comfortable position with the Macbook.
You could also set your iMac to display native 5K resolution which is going to make a lot of things really REALLY tiny, but you can configure it to a comfortable size that will give you a lot more real estate with the same screen.
Or do what Timo suggested and pick up a 27" 4K LG monitor on Amazon for under $500, that will give you the most bang for your buck.
Before I retired I was using dual monitors for a number of years. For software development it worked better than a larger monitor that would be outside my budgets. Some colleagues working on a SAP implementation used two wide format monitors, one in landscape and one in portrait. The tall portrait monitor kept a lot of code on one screen. Once they got used to it they really liked it.
One advantage to wider screens is that we have better left/right vision than up/down. Bifocals make a tall screen hard to use.
I’ve been dual monitor for nearly 20 years now. Last summer I purchased a new 27" iMac and had to replace my external monitor because it wouldn’t interface to the new iMac.
I purchased a 27" 4k LG monitor, which I have in Portrait orientation. This makes it easy to have two windows, one on the top and one on the bottom with a roughly square aspect ratio. I normally have Calendar in one half and OmniFocus in the other.
If the iMac is in default resolution and the LG is Scaled to the second from largest, then the effective pixel size is virtually identical between monitors and dragging windows between them is smooth. This is an important consideration with two non-matching monitors. They are also calibrated so there is no jarring change in color temperature moving between them.
OT but the best thing I ever did for my eyesight and computer use was to get a pair of “computer” glasses – prescription for about 20" away so it’s perfect for computer screens. At least for me, the near part of the bifocal was too close and the far part too far.
I actually do have an iPad and Apple Pencil (first gen) that I use for reading books. At first I was excited about Sidecar, but my iPad is just too small to be a meaningful addition to a 27" display. I could get a bigger one but I just don’t feel it is useful enough to be a justifiable cost (I am not a big fan of iOS).
I’ve worn glasses for 30 years and started to need a different prescription for close work 17-18 years ago. I tried bifocals (well, progressives) twice. Both times, I gave up because of the constant head movement I needed to keep things in focus. Separate glasses really are the only way to go.