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Many people were surprised by the removal of the Intel-based 27-inch iMac from the Apple Store just as it announced the new Mac Studio desktop with its powerful M1 Max and Ultra processors. The Mac Studio is clearly intended to replace the iMac but, of course, it lacks the integrated 5K display that was a key feature of the 27-inch iMac's design -- and also a key factor in its popularity.
The new Studio Display is clearly intended to fill that gap, but its high price -- almost as expensive as the all-in-one iMac itself -- and some initial teething problems mean that it hasn't had the same warm welcome as the Mac Studio.
Price & options
Until it was recently discontinued, Apple's 27-inch iMac had a starting price of $1,799, which of course included the 5K display along with the iMac's CPU, GPU, RAM and storage.
In contrast, the new Studio Display provides only a 5K screen, with a starting price of $1,599. That price includes either a VESA mount adapter or a basic stand that allows you to adjust the tilt of the screen, but not the height. If you want to adjust the height of the screen – and many people do -- then you either balance it on a pile of books, or pay an additional $400 for Apple's tilt- and height-adjustable stand. Neither stand supports swivel, though. There's also an option to choose a glare-reducing 'Nano-texture' glass panel, which costs an additional $300.
Needless to say, these prices -- ranging from $1,599 to $2,299 -- have not met with universal approval.
Design & features
The design of the Studio Display clearly follows the lead of last year's revamped M1-based 24-inch iMac, with the former's slimline 27-inch screen measuring just 18mm (0.71in.) thick.
The panel has much narrower bezels than earlier iMac models, reducing the overall size of the screen to 623mm wide, 478mm high and 168mm deep, when mounted on the basic tilt-only stand (24.5in. x 18.8in. x 6.6in.). It has sharper corners -- Apple's current design fetish -- than the 27-inch iMac, but in many respects the screen panel is very similar to that of the old iMac.
That's no bad thing, as the 5K (5120 x 2880, 217.6ppi) resolution provides a bright, sharp image with bold colours and, as with the iMac, there's support for the DCI-P3 colour standard used in professional video editing. The image quality will certainly be suitable for a wide range of graphics and design applications, as well as general office use, and the Mac's Display Preferences panel provides a simple pull-down menu that allows you to select a variety of colour presets suitable for different tasks and workflows.
The Studio Display is also brighter than the iMac -- 600 nits, rather than the 500 nits for the iMac -- but it doesn't support HDR, or the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate of the latest iPhone and iPad models, so it isn't quite the state-of-the-art display that Apple seems to think it is.
Ironically, perhaps, the Studio Display is redeemed by the additional features that complement the screen itself.
The display has a Thunderbolt 3 port on the back that's used to connect it to a host Mac, and this also provides 96W charging for a laptop if required.
There are also three USB-C ports on the Studio Display for connecting peripherals and accessories, which is certainly handy, although similar USB hubs are commonplace on many modern monitors. Oddly, we found that the Studio Display wouldn't work with a Windows PC that also had Thunderbolt 3 when using the Thunderbolt cable provided by Apple. However, a third-party Thunderbolt 4 cable did seem to work with no problems.
Sound & vision
Despite its compact design, the Studio Display manages to squeeze in a six-speaker system, with four woofers and two tweeters, which delivers impressive sound quality -- and very respectable bass -- given the limited amount of space available inside the slimline screen panel.
With an eye on the 'new normal' and hybrid working, the Studio Display also houses a 12MP webcam and three microphones for video conferencing. Under the control of Apple's A13 Bionic processor (the same chipset used in the entry-level iPad), these provide features such as Centre Stage, which enables the camera to automatically pan so that it keeps you in the centre of the image at all times. That's helpful if you need to move around during a video call, perhaps while giving a presentation. The A13 Bionic also controls the beam-forming microphones, allowing them to follow you as you move around and to reduce background noise.
Note though, that these features will only work with Macs running MacOS Monterey 12.3 or later, or with iPads running iPadOS 15.4 or later, and won't work with any Windows PC that you hook up to the Studio Display.
However, there have been reports of problems with the image quality of the webcam, prompting Apple to promise a software update that will address the issue. To be fair, the webcam in the Studio Display was noticeably brighter and sharper than the 720p webcam in my ageing MacBook Air, but there was a noticeable graininess that seemed to be overlaid on the image, which clearly needs to be addressed. It's strange that a company with Apple's love for eye-candy could overlook such a visible problem.
Using the webcam for video calls also emphasised the fact that the standard Studio Display doesn't allow you to adjust the height of the display (or swivel it either, for that matter), which proved irksome while trying to adjust viewing angles. As noted above, a stand with 105mm (4.13in.) of height adjustment will cost you $400 extra.
The Studio Display is an attractive external monitor for use with a desktop or laptop Mac, complemented by extra video conferencing-oriented features and an impressive six-speaker system. It's far less expensive than Apple's 6K Pro Display XDR, which starts at $4,999, and is clearly aimed at the existing iMac user base, and people who are now working from home, rather than users of the high-end (and still, for now, Intel-based) Mac Pro.