25 Jul 2022

The Apple Studio Display

I finally received my Studio Display after much supply chain related delays. I went with the tilt and height adjustable stand with the standard glass option.

The Studio Display’s aesthetic design is exquisite. It’s a beautiful object atop my desk. It exudes a sense of calm. The display seems like it’s just floating in space. There’s something about the black bezel surrounding the display, and the stand’s minimal footprint which only barely extends in front of the display, that yields this effect. It imparts this ineffable quality that makes me want to work at the display. The minimalist design lets the display all but disappear, automatically pulling me into focus mode.

I like the 27” size. The Pro Display XDR comes in the larger 32” size (and with 6K resolution, instead of the Studio Display’s 5K, in order to maintain Retina), but I don’t find myself wishing for it. 27” feels right to me: large enough to comfortably fit two windows side-by-side, and large enough that there’s some content in my peripheral vision, but small enough that I hardly have to turn my head to view the outer edges of the display. It’s mostly just contained right in front of me. I really like this form factor for physical ergonomics.

I’m happy with my decision to stick with the standard glass. I thought I might want the nano-texture option, which is why I’m only just now receiving the display. By the time I made it to an Apple Store to see the nano-texture in person, the display was backordered by a few months. My personal preference is for matte displays; I can’t stand glare or reflection when I’m working. I really liked the matte upgrade option on my 2011 MacBook Pro, back when Apple still offered that on their notebooks. Surprisingly, I don’t like the nano-texture option on the Studio Display.

While the nano-texture is extremely effective at eliminating any and all glare — truly impressive; I tested it out at the Apple Store in the Stanford Shopping Center, which is basically a glass box with sunlight streaming in from all directions — this black magic comes at a cost. There’s an effect that I can only describe as being somewhat like having a film layered over the screen. It reminded me of the plastic screen protectors libraries installed on their computer screens back in the day. In practice, I found the nano-texture imparted some “texture” to content, almost like a subtle but perceptible pixellation. I especially noticed this with text. This tradeoff wasn’t worth it to me: eliminating glare some of the time by taking on this effect all of the time.

If I was in an environment where I had to deal with sunbeams directly hitting my display for much of the day, I’d have chosen the nano-texture anyways. But my home office where I’ve set this up thankfully doesn’t have that problem; it has a very large, north facing window which lets in lots of ambient light, but no direct sunlight. The window is perpendicular to my display. For ambient light, even in a room with a lot of it, the standard glass eliminates just about all glare. Apple mentions that the standard glass is already engineered for extremely low reflectivity, and empirically this seems to be the case. My main advice would be that if you think you’re interested in the nano-texture, be sure to see it in person first. The other thing to be aware of is potentially finicky maintenance and care issues with the nano-texture etching. I’m pretty careful with my stuff, but even so it’s relieving now that I have my Studio Display set up for daily work not to have to worry about one errant fizzy water or sneeze destroying it. Yikes.

The tilt and height adjustable stand is gorgeous and easy to use. It solidly holds the display in place wherever I set it. It’s very granular; you can set the display to any point along the curve. I actually wish the stand let the display go a little lower. Set at the lowest setting, the top of the display is still just slightly above my eye line. Optimal ergonomics sets the top of the display even with your eye line. It’s close enough for me that this is only a minor concern, but I’m six feet tall so imagine it could be an issue for others. Though I bet most people will feel like they want it higher than the lowest setting anyways. As I’ve gone down the ergo rabbit hole, I’ve learned that everything (chair height, desk height, display height) should be much lower than you’d naturally think.

The stand’s moment of truth for me, after setting everything up just so on my desk, was to type at my keyboard and see: does the display wobble? I am happy to report that it does not wobble. This was a huge problem with the LG UltraFine 5K that I’m switching from. I type fairly lightly, but I use a standing desk, which only has two legs instead of four. The LG display wobbled like crazy. Letters literally jiggled when I typed. It was maddening. The Studio Display is entirely immune from this problem when my desk is at sitting height, and almost entirely immune when at standing height. When standing, there’s a tiny bit of wobble, but it’s so minor that I don’t find it distracting.

The Studio Display has a bunch of other attributes that I like better than the not-so-ultra-fine LG. The macOS integration is way better. The LG had weird problems like sometimes taking forever to wake from sleep and letting the display’s brightness get out of sync with the macOS brightness setting. I’d have to adjust the setting to resync the display’s brightness. With the Studio Display, everything just works.

Everyone has critiqued the built-in camera’s poor image quality. I agree; I find it makes me look like I’m made out of plastic. It’s a shame, because the bad camera prevents the Studio Display from entering the rarefied air of a perfect product. And it’s so agonizing, when the Studio Display’s Achilles heel is something so obvious! It’s literally in the name — the Studio Display. Shouldn’t it have a great camera that makes you look amazing in your home… studio? 1

The consensus seems to be that the image quality is so bad because Apple went with an Ultra Wide camera, and that they did this in order to offer Center Stage. Everyone disses on this decision, smugly pointing out that Center Stage doesn’t make any sense on a display where you’re sitting directly in front of it. I disagree and have been pleasantly surprised by two very nice benefits from Center Stage:

I’m not sure the Ultra Wide + Center Stage was the right tradeoff to make, but at least what we lose in image quality we gain in ease of use.

Confounding camera issues aside, I’m extraordinarily happy with the Studio Display. There was such a long stretch where you were just plain out of luck if you wanted a Retina display, made by Apple, at a palatable price, for your Mac. Thankfully the Studio Display is exactly that.

I’m enjoying my first few days of working on it mightily. Great craftsmanship benefits from great tools. The Studio Display is a great tool.

  1. The built-in microphone and speakers do befit a home studio, though. It’s so liberating not to need to use headphones on video calls. Everyone I’ve Zoomed with has reported that I sound great. And I’ve found my video call fatigue is way less without being wired in with headphones.