Head down, convex back, screen too close to eyes: Even two years into the pandemic, many remote workers still spend their days in front of a poorly used laptop. Several studies confirm this, the advent of remote work has also been associated with a significant increase in back and neck pain among those who have adopted this formula.
However, there are ways to improve your installation. For example, you can raise your computer to eye level using a stand designed for this purpose (or by bundling up your old dust-caught dictionaries in a bookshelf), and using an external keyboard and mouse.
Another solution is to equip yourself with a screen, which will have the advantage of being larger than your computer’s built-in screen. Not only will you be able to hold it at the right height, but you’ll also keep it out of your sight. As a bonus, the ability to display several windows at the same time thanks to the large format of the screen can increase your productivity by about 5% to 30% (a percentage that changes according to studies and tasks performed).
However, the models on the market differ a lot. Depending on the size and specifications of the new device you’re looking at, you’ll have to pay, say, $150 (for a generic 21.5-inch model) to more than $2000 (the price of Apple’s new display).
Here’s how to find your way through the technical sheets of these monitors to find what you need.
Screens on the market generally range from 21.5″ to 49″. Choose a 21.5-inch model if you want to spend as little money as possible (about $150 to $200). You will improve your posture, but not your productivity. The screen may be larger than your laptop, but it’s farther out from the back, which reduces the advantage. However, the 21.5-inch screens attract those who use two monitors, for example to work on one and view their messaging programs on the other.
To see a good difference, it is necessary to turn to a model of at least 27 inches. From this size, the choice of options (width, resolution, refresh, design, etc.) increases in general. In recent years, larger formats, such as the 34-inch models, have begun to gain popularity. Samsung offers even larger screens, 49 inches. Your choice should guide the price, the space you have, and the features you need.
Resolution (usually 1080p, QHD, or 4K) determines the clarity of the images and text on the screen. Avoid very large screens with lower resolutions (such as the 27-inch model with 1080p), as the text may appear split. High-resolution screens (4K and above) are especially useful for those who work with 3D photos, videos or documents. If this is not your case, then you have nothing to lose by buying such a monitor, but you will pay a lot for your needs.
The vast majority of screens on the market have a rectangular aspect ratio of 16:9, like TVs. As for larger models, wider formats are gaining in popularity, such as “ultra-fast” 21:9 screens, which have the advantage of allowing two large windows to be displayed simultaneously, for example for taking notes during a video conference.
The number of images per second (often referred to as hertz) that a screen can display is particularly desired by video game enthusiasts, but a higher refresh rate (120 Hz and more) also allows remote workers to pass text more smoothly. This property is not necessary, but it is appreciated by many.
Some monitors can be connected to a computer using a USB-C cable instead of an HDMI cable as has been the case for several years. If you have a modern computer, this may allow you to avoid having to use an adapter (since HDMI ports are becoming increasingly rare).
Note that some monitors can also function as a USB docking station. You can then connect your keyboard and mouse permanently, rather than having to remove them from your laptop whenever you want to move it. Either way, these are nice but nonessential features.
Colors and other display technologies
Various display technologies significantly change the price of the screen, but not all users will be able to take advantage of them. This is particularly the case for color management, which manufacturers can offer in different ways. The higher the percentage of the DCI-P3 color spectrum, for example, the more different colors you will be able to distinguish, and the higher the price. If you don’t know what DCI-P3 is, this is an expense that you can do without. Techniques like HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging can be interesting if you plan on watching movies on this screen, but they won’t improve your experience in Excel, for example.
Speakers, webcam and microphone
If you close your laptop while working, to use the external monitor only, you will likely need speakers, a webcam, and a microphone. Screens equipped with these components are very rare. And the few models with built-in speakers offer good sound quality only in a few cases. Consider purchasing these accessories separately, or use your laptop monitor when you need a webcam and microphone for video conferencing.
Choose the monitor whose height and tilt can be adjusted. The top of the screen should be at eye level, and angled slightly upwards. Some models can also be rotated from left to right, which can be practical for working temporarily in pairs, for example, but less useful in the context of remote work.
Don’t forget the accessories
You’ll also need an external keyboard and mouse (about $50 to $250 a set, depending on quality) to use your external monitor with a laptop. To easily attach and detach your computer and to maintain a clean desk, you can also connect all accessories to the docking station. Depending on the number of ports and their transfer speed, as well as other device specifications (such as charging power), expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $350.