The box was huge. The monitor, not so much. But the impact it has had on me in this short time is profound. I am speaking, of course, about the LG UltraFine 4K monitor Apple announced alongside the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.
While I was intrigued by the monitors, I never expected to own one. Then again, I never expected to own the MBP either. Now I have both. I didn’t get them at them same time. I had the notebook first. But now that I have both, I feel like I have the complete package. To better understand my perspective, it will help for you to know where I’m coming from:
Less is more
Before getting the notebook, my previous setup was a Mac mini attached to a 42” TV for a monitor. My mobile was a 12.9” iPad Pro with Logitech Create Keyboard. Altogether, it was a huge package that required a lot of management.
The biggest management task was syncing information between the two systems, Making sure my apps and workflow were compatible between the two platforms, and keeping the iPad charged and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Moving back to a Mac portable solved some of the challenges, but not all. It was still a separate device to keep charged. And while there was no platform incompatibility, things still needed to be synced from one machine to another.
The problem is one person maintaining two computers, and going back and forth between both for the same tasks. Having one computer for power and ergonomics, and another for mobility is a pain. In the past, using a single computer for both needs always introduced compromises.
What I wanted was a single computer that could do it all without the compromises. But every setup has compromises. It is a matter of choosing the ones that are least disruptive to your goals. What I wanted was to get down to a single system that could serve my needs well at home and away. The notebook, alone, couldn’t do it. Adding the monitor changes all that.
An UltraFine choice
A 42” 1080i TV is not the best choice for a computer monitor. I never intended to use it that way. But circumstances necessitated it for a time. Cutting half the diagonal size from my monitor experience was not as drastic a change as I expected. It is simply the new normal. For what I do, the size is just fine. I found the TV far too big for a desktop anyway.
Then there is the picture quality. This is by far, the nicest monitor I have ever owned. The images produced by this monitor are spectacular. The backlighting is even, and the pixels are so small as to be nonexistent. The colors pop. And I had to reduce the brightness a bit just to make it comfortable.
To my untrained eye, the quality of the panel seems to be well worth the asking price. But there is more to the monitor than the display. There is the USB-C hub on the back. More to the point, the port that makes this monitor a must have is the one that connects to the MBP.
With that one connector, power is routed to the notebook while simultaneously receiving graphics information from the computer. The power cord that came with the computer can live in my bag. I can charge other items off the back of the display. So the only thing I need deal with is a single cable that attaches to my Notebook.
Laptops are ergonomic nightmares. Desktop setups are far more ergonomically helpful. I use the same wireless Apple keyboard, trackpad, and mouse that I was using with my mini. When at the desk, I keep the notebook off to the side. I can always open it up if I want to use a second monitor. Going from single display to dual display mode is smooth and fast.
In practice, the ergonomics of my in-office computing have not changed one bit. But when replacing a desktop computer with a laptop, ergonomics is just one part of the equation. The other biggie is performance.
I am happy to report that the new MBPs are highly performant. Rumors of them lacking in this department are greatly exaggerated. Just to test it out, I ran not one, but three large music production projects in Logic at once, each with multiple tracks and plugins. I had several other windows open including Safari with multiple tabs, and two casual games. I didn’t even rouse the fans.
I keep all of my documents in iCloud. My storage needs are easily handled by the speedy 256GB SSD. But I can always hang an external drive off the back of the monitor if I needed more. In other words, power is no problem.
Just as a bonus, having two monitors can be convenient at times, though for me, unnecessary. I mostly operate in clamshell mode. That means that the Touch Bar and Touch ID are unavailable to me while working at my desk. But that is not a problem for me as I didn’t have use of those things when I was using the mini. The MacBook Pro with LG UF 4k is a legitimate, no-compromise desktop replacement.
I still haven’t fully processed the fact that I do not have to stay in sync with another device. I never again have to worry about reconciling documents I made in Ulysses on two devices. I never again have to encounter a dialog that asks if I want to keep the document updated on my mini or my MBP.
These types of conflicts have to be resolved if you make changes on the notebook when it is not connected to the internet. When it is reconnected, there is an editing conflict that has to be resolved. Select the wrong choice, and you can lose a lot of work.
But there are no conflicts, or possibilities of conflicts when using only one device. I am so used to needing to sync everything, it is hard to get used to not syncing. As a writer who is always editing documents, taking away this added stress is transformative.
Don’t leave home without it
One of the biggest headaches associated with using a laptop as a desktop is connecting and disconnecting all of the accessories hanging off the computer. The more things you have to disconnect from the computer, the less likely the computer will ever leave the desk.
But as long as the connection is limited to one cable, there is no excuse to leave it on the desk. These days, when I leave the house, the computer goes with me. There is no difference in unplugging it from the monitor and putting it in my bag, and unplugging it from the wall.
If computers could be happy, they would be happiest when used frequently. They are like Labrador retrievers. They want to go with you wherever you go. They want to go places, do things, and feel useful. They are not happy when tied to a tree out in the backyard, or a desk.
The late 2016 MacBook Pro plus LG UF 4K is the ultimate, no-compromise solution for mobile professionals who also have to spend significant time in the office.
Conclusion: Better together
Both the MacBook Pro and the UltraFine 4K are good products on their own. But they each have compromises. A notebook can be pretty challenging to use as a desktop. It can be even more so when having to hang a bunch of accessories from it. The screen is a little too small. And the keyboard could stand to be a little wider, and at a different angle.
The UltraFine 4K has a bright, beautiful display. But when you have to touch it to adjust the hight or tilt, or to plug things into the back, it feels gross. The housing is made from the worst of plastics. It’s not the good plastic. No. It’s awful. It feels cheap, fragile, and creaky. When it comes to aesthetics and build-quality, LG didn’t even try.
But when paired together, both products are elevated. Operated with the desktop peripherals of your choice, the MacBook Pro is a no-compromise desktop. One of the best things about the monitor is the fact that it has no buttons. Not only do you have to touch it less often, you don’t ever have to think about powering it on or off.
All of the functionality is integrated into the Mac. No separate software or drivers are required. You cannot tell where the monitor ends and the Mac begins. This monitor on the desk makes the notebook feel like an iMac. It is functionally indistinguishable. Except that with this setup, you can take it with you when you have to leave the office.
Mobile professionals with a home office, this is the setup you’ve been waiting for.