For a long time, the only moderately affordable monitor Apple sold was the LG UltraFine line, which Apple and LG jointly introduced in 2016. But in 2019, Apple halted the sale of the LG monitor on its site and preferred to put its efforts into the super-high-end Pro Display XDR, which starts at $5,000. Finally in March this year, Apple introduced the Apple Studio Display, which is remarkably similar to the LG UltraFine 5K … for a few hundred dollars more.
Both the Studio Display and 5K UltraFine offer excellent image quality, fine built-in webcams and speakers, and a decent price tag. The Apple monitor is more expensive, as seems to be a law of nature, but the LG is difficult to find these days. We tested both top monitors, and choosing between the two comes down to build quality, design and what price you’re willing to pay for their additional features.
Apple Studio Display vs. LG 5K UltraFine at a glance
|Screen||27” 5120 x 2880 IPS (600 nits brightness, 1 billion colors, P3 color space)||27” 5120 x 2880 IPS (500 nits brightness, 1 billion colors, P3 color space)|
|Connectivity||Thunderbolt 3 + 3 USB-C 10Gbps transfer speed||Thunderbolt 3 + 3 USB-C 5Gbps transfer speed|
|Camera||1080p 122-degree ultrawide with Center Stage technology||1080p|
|Sound||6-speaker system (with Spatial Audio), 3-mic array||Stereo speakers, single mic|
|Design and Build||High-quality aluminum build, 13.9 pounds (or 16.9 pounds with height adjustment)||Black chunky plastic, wobbly and a bit cheap-feeling, 18.7 pounds|
Two large, colorful screens, but one is better
Both monitors measure 27 inches with the same 5K resolution (5120 x 2880 pixels), and both support the P3 color gamut and 1 billion colors.
The Apple Studio Display supports a brightness of 600 nits versus the LG’s 500 nits, which is a noticeable difference, although we found the brightness cranked up to that level on both monitors to be difficult to stand for very long. Squinting is no fun. The Apple Studio Monitor’s colors and contrasts seemed more vibrant, and images popped a bit more. While watching “Guardians of the Galaxy,” an eyepopper of a movie, I could see more detail and color on the Apple monitor than on the LG.
Both monitors offer True Tone automatic color adjustment, which uses the built-in webcam to sense the ambient light color and adjust the monitor’s color tone to make it easy on the eyes. This is not something professional photographers or videographers will want when fine-tuning color corrections, but for other professionals, it could be a boon for eye strain. In fairness, however, we didn’t notice much of a difference.
For an additional $400, Apple offers a nano-texture finish for the Studio Display. This is a matte finish that Apple says preserves color vibrancy while reducing glare. Reviews on this finish have been mixed, and you can honestly skip it unless you do your computing in a movie studio with bright lights everywhere. Better yet, move to a room with less glare and skip this add-on.
Verdict: Close, but Apple’s image quality is just a hair more pleasing to the eye. Stay away from the nano-texture finish.
Both score well for connectivity
Both monitors offer Thunderbolt 3 for main connectivity to a computer and three USB-C ports, but the Apple display offers a faster transfer speed of 10Gbps over the USB-C ports. The LG is limited to 5Gbps transfer speed, but it’s also six years old. The faster speed will mainly benefit video editors and musicians who need to move around very large video or music libraries.
Both allow you to charge your MacBook via the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, turning the monitor itself into a USB hub. The Studio display is compatible with most Macs made since 2017 if they have a Thunderbolt port. You can use it with Windows machines — if they have a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port — but you’ll lose most of the Apple features like Center Stage (see below) or “Hey Siri” (which isn’t available on Windows). The LG monitor can also be used with Windows if you engage in some dark magic. But, in the end, both of these monitors are really designed to work with Macs, so it’s not a surprise Windows users would not get the same polish.
Verdict: Tie, as they both have the same connectivity for most purposes. If you really need faster transfer speeds for large file transfers, go for the Apple monitor.
Camera: Center Stage vs. better image quality
Both monitors feature a built-in 1080p webcam, but the Apple camera offers the company’s nifty Center Stage technology, thanks to the Studio Display’s A13 Bionic processor. The camera captures the entire 122-degree field of view but crops it tighter when using it for Zoom, FaceTime and other video conferencing apps. This allows the camera to follow faces as they move around and zoom out when other people enter the frame. It’s remarkably fun.
That said, we liked the LG camera’s cooler, more accurate tone, and it seemed a little crisper in its details. Overall, the picture quality edged out the Apple’s. Still, neither are stellar webcams. They get the job done, but if you want studio-quality video, you’re better off with an external cam like the Logitech C920s and some additional lighting.
Verdict: Tough one. Image quality on the LG is preferable, but Center Stage is slick tech. If that’s not on your wish list, the LG camera wins.
Sound: Apple takes the win
Here there is simply no contest. If sound in a monitor is important to you, get the Apple Studio Display. Its six speakers with beefy woofers make for a startlingly good music experience, and we often found ourselves simply rocking out to monitor speakers for crying out loud when we had a stereo pair of HomePods just behind us. The LG doesn’t come close.
The Apple monitor also includes three mics, allowing for the use of “Hey Siri” on your Mac more easily. The LG has a single mic. In video calls, we asked participants which sounded better, and though most said they liked the sound of the Apple microphones better, some claimed not to hear a difference.
Verdict: Apple is the clear winner here.
Design and ergonomics: What’s more important?
When it comes to design, Apple takes the win again, with little contest. The Apple monitor is solid, stylish and not too heavy or hulking. The LG monitor, on the other hand, is pretty wobbly and feels plasticky. The large bezel on the top edge of the screen containing the webcam also doubles as an eyesore.
But, when we consider modern ergonomics, the LG comes with both height and tilt adjustments, which is key for comfort. The Apple base model only comes with a tilt display adjustment, and the height adjustment is another $400, which is a bit much, even for Apple. We found the base height of the Apple monitor to be fine, but taller folks might prefer the flexibility of the LG — unless you want to spring for the extra cash.
Vesa mounts are available for both monitors for no extra charge, but the difference is that you must choose at the time of purchase for the Apple monitor, while the Vesa mount comes with the LG monitor.
Verdict: Another tough one. Apple’s monitor is head and shoulders above the LG in terms of build quality, but the expensive height adjustment is a serious ding. If you don’t need the height adjustment, go with Apple. If you do but can’t spring for the extra $400, LG is the way to go.
Price: What’s the better value?
The Apple Studio Display is, as expected, more expensive (starting at $1,599) than the LG 5K ($1,299) — with an important caveat. While the LG monitor has not been discontinued, it is harder to find at the moment, with prices on Amazon even higher than the Apple monitor.
Also, when you add in the height adjustment add-on to the Studio Display to make it a, well, apples-to-apples comparison, the Apple monitor clocks in at $1,999. Throw in Apple’s nano-textured glass option (which reduces glare) and the Apple monitor is a cool $2,299. That’s a lot.
Verdict: If you can find it, the LG wins on price. The Apple premium tax is real, and it’s a bit much for the features you get.
If you’re looking for a top-tier Mac experience and don’t mind spending the Apple premium tax, the Studio Display is about as fine a consumer monitor as you can get for your Mac. The integrated features like “Hey Siri,” the Center Stage webcam technology and the vastly superior sound quality — along with the stylish design and build — make for a fantastic computing experience.
For Mac laptop owners, this will be a great second screen. For Mac Mini, Mac Studio or Mac Pro owners, this should be your first pick for a top-tier desktop.
But if you already own the LG 5K monitor or a similar screen, there’s little reason to upgrade. The extra cost is just not worth the extra features. Here’s hoping Apple’s reentry into this sector will spur competition for this category of monitors or that LG releases an updated 5K monitor at a competitive price.