Jacob Krol
CNN —  

Screen constraint can hamper anyone’s workflow. Who hasn’t wasted precious time trying to find that one spreadsheet buried beneath 15 other open applications on an oh-so-small laptop screen? A full-size monitor lets you multitask without having to constantly scroll through different windows and allows you to neatly arrange them all right in front of you.

We’ve been testing seven of the highest-rated monitors over the past month to find the best computer monitor for work — or play — which we ultimately whittled down to three top picks.

Best computer monitor overall

This 23.8-inch QHD monitor has the chops to handle whatever you need it to, from Word docs to gaming. The Lenovo's super slim bezels don't distract the eye from its vibrant panel, and a blue light filter also helps decrease eye strain, making it ideal for longer workdays.

Best 4K monitor

For those constantly working with visual tasks like photo or video editing, Dell's 27-inch UltraSharp 4K monitor is a no-brainer, bursting with vibrancy and a level of detail that was unmatched by other flat displays we tested.

Best large display under $1,000

If you have enough desk real estate, Samsung's CJ791 affords the most space with a curved, ultra-wide 34-inch display. No matter how many different tasks and apps you're juggling at once, you can neatly arrange them and spread them out in front of you.

Best computer monitor overall: Lenovo L24q-30 Monitor ($169.99, originally $199.99; lenovo.com or $199.99; amazon.com or $189.99; newegg.com)

Lenovo’s L24q-30 is an affordable, no-frills monitor that aptly expands your screen real estate. We tested the functionality of all the monitors when it came to productivity and personal work, alongside some light gaming and streaming. The 23.8-inch screen size provided us with ample room to work between spreadsheets and word processing simultaneously. Text appears crisp and colors are vibrant, so you’re never straining to see what you’re working on.

When streaming TV shows, movies or YouTube videos, colors looked accurate, and while it wasn’t the brightest experience (our two other top picks performed better), the images were never muted and, especially with animated content, still popped from the screen. But when it came to action or fast-moving content, we experienced more dropped frames and choppiness in comparison to others we tested. Therefore, we’d advise competitive gamers to steer clear.

Arguably our favorite feature of this entry-level Lenovo monitor would be the slim bezels. The content quite literally goes to the edge and provides an expansive area to work with. We were able, for instance, to comfortably keep a spreadsheet, Slack and Outlook open on this second display while using our laptop for core tasks. And if you’re concerned with eye strain, you can enable a blue light filter via the controls on the bottom.

Setup was also really simple with the L24q-30: Just snap in the arm on the back of the monitor and connect it to the stand. The baseplate felt a little cheap on its own, but once connected it was plenty sturdy. You can tilt the screen forward or backward, which is a plus. Lenovo also includes two core cables, power and HDMI; if you don’t have an HDMI port on your laptop, you’ll have to secure a dongle.

Priced under $200, the L24q-30 is a high-quality monitor that doesn’t sacrifice much, and is the best monitor for those on a budget, as well.

Best 4K monitor: Dell UltraSharp ($559.99, originally $699.99; dell.com)

If you’re looking for the best option for creative tasks — or stunning picture quality while streaming content — the go-to choice is the Dell UltraSharp with 4K resolution.

The screen delivers a vibrant and sharp image thanks to its 4K resolution, which is double the pixels of the Lenovo L24q-30 and four times what a regular HD screen pushed out. It’s also set in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which likely matches up with your laptop quite well. The 27-inch display truly stretches to the edges, so you get a tremendous amount of screen real estate to work with. Those in creative industries will appreciate the room for long timelines in Final Cut Pro or to truly blow up pictures when working on Photoshop.

The UltraSharp’s color accuracy is second to none and it supports an extensive color gamut. That latter is key for photo or video editing and the UltraSharp performed well in our testing. For example, in side-by-side photo editing tests, the images depicted on the UltraSharp were very close to the original source. When viewing color waves that emerge from a sunset, you can make out clear hues between reds and oranges on this 4K panel. For more productivity centric trasks — like word processing, tracking emails or making a slide deck— it delivered on the promise of great colors.

Still, with its refresh rate of 60Hz, we wouldn’t suggest this for competitive gaming. While that’s plenty for everyday tasks, gamers will notice slowdowns in a Fortnite or Call of Duty match.

Those who seemingly never have a port on their laptop free will love the UltraSharp’s abundance of them. Not only does this monitor push for USB-C connectivity, but the ports are smart enough to cast a screen and data with ease. Furthermore, its USB-C port delivers power at up to 90 watts of power — plenty to charge a Mac or a PC. That USB-C port sits next to an HDMI, two display ports, an audio jack, an ethernet port and two USB-A ports. In other words: It can act as a full hub of ports for your laptop.

Overall, the 27-inch Dell UltraSharp not only provides an exceptional number of ports (and the ability to power your laptop!), but features the nicest flat display of the monitors we tested.

It’s not the cheapest option at $779.99 (though currently discounted to $619.99), but with a vibrant 4K picture that tops all other displays we tested, it’s worth the extra money if you’re a creative professional looking to invest in a monitor that’ll last you a long time or if you’re just someone who really values extraordinary resolution.

Best large display under $1,000: Samsung CJ791 ($699; samsung.com or amazon.com)

If you’re looking for a massive display that doesn’t take up an alarming amount of desk space — or completely deplete your savings account — the Samsung CJ791 is for you. Its ultra-wide 34-inch display has a slight curvature that isn’t just a gimmick — it actually matches up with the curves of your eye. The result is a more immersive experience that your eyes can easily take in, allowing you to see both the left and right sides of the display without any strain. The CJ791 also provides a full range of motion with an articulating stand, allowing you to set it at the best angle for you.

Like the Dell UltraSharp, it provides a one-cable connection experience for Macs and PCs that opt for USB-C. It’s just one cord, included in the box, that can power your laptop and deliver the image to a bigger screen. You also get an additional two USB-C ports on the back along with an HDMI and display port. As with the Dell, Samsung designed the CJ791 with USB-C connectivity in mind.

You can choose to see either a mirror of your laptop’s screen or an extension in a wide 21:9 aspect ratio. It doesn’t stretch the content but does give you more room for multiple applications to be run at once. It’s a dream for multitaskers as you can easily have Outlook, Slack, Word, Photoshop and a web browser open on the 34-inch display. And it looks great thanks to the Quantum Dot panel inside.

All content shines on the CJ791. It offers vibrancy that is unmatched along with crisp details. We didn’t experience any blurriness or fuzziness with text from any angle. Colors were truly able to pop both with photo edits, reading and watching videos. The refresh rate here can keep up with action movies and gaming alike at 100Hz paired with a 4-millisecond response time. Thanks to those last two specifications, the CJ791 was the best monitor for gaming that we tested. Gamers, take note here: It performed great with titles we tested including Microsoft Flight Simulator, Call of Duty and Fortnite. And in those we didn’t experience any screen tearing or blipping, which can not only hamper the viewing experience but can cost you a game.

If you’re looking for the most amount of workspace for a relatively small price tag, the $699 CJ791 is by far the best option for you.

How we tested

After scouring both editorial and customer reviews, we landed on a testing pool of seven top monitors.

While testing, we paid close attention to the overall image quality in a range of applications and use cases, while also keeping an eye on brightness levels, contrast points and vibrancy of colors. Refresh rates and latency were tracked, given the importance of a quick response when gaming or editing video.

In terms of setup, we followed the instructions and wanted to ensure that all necessary components were included in the box. We noted all ports, and whether it opted for HDMI or DisplayPort, we made sure a cable was included in the box. We also tested power output on USB-C ports specifically.

Lastly, we looked into the included warranties with each of the monitors.

Other computer monitors we tested

Dell UltraSharp 24-inch ($449.99, originally $549.99; dell.com)

At $449.99, this 24-inch UltraSharp isn’t far behind our two higher-end picks. It has both a similar build and design to the 27-inch UltraSharp, our pick for best 4K monitor. This 24-inch variant keeps slim bezels and provides plenty of ports — but it knocks the resolution down to HD at just 1920 x 1200. At this price point, it should really be packing a 4K display.

Lenovo L22e-20 21.5-inch Monitor (currently unavailable)

This 21.5-inch monitor from Lenovo was the most affordable out of our group at just $99.99, but it provides only an HD experience with a cheaper build. It also doesn’t give you a ton of room over a laptop, and for just $70 more, you can get a Lenovo L24q-30 with slimmer bezels and a better resolution.

LG Ultrafine 4K 21.5-inch ($799; bhphotovideo.com)

If you’re in the Apple ecosystem exclusively, there can be a case made for the 21.5-inch 4K UltraFine from LG. It’s a one-stop solution for expanding your Mac via a USB-C port while also providing power and an additional set of USB-C ports on the back. You don’t get much customization from the actual monitor though — with no physical buttons for control or even a power button. It’s also pretty expensive at $799 for such a small screen.

Samsung G9 ($1,479.99; samsung.com)

The G9 is really designed and built for games, with a price tag to match an expensive gaming PC. It features a more pronounced curve over the CJ791 and stretches the display to nearly 50 inches at 49 inches. It’s very immersive, providing a tremendous experience for gaming with a 240Hz refresh rate at just a 1-millisecond response time. It just locks itself in a higher tier due to its price.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: