How to Choose a Computer Monitor

A dedicated monitor could be just the boost your work from home setup needs, for productivity and ergonomics

Computer monitor on a desk in a home office

Many people who got a crash course in working from home over the past few months may now be wondering how to permanently upgrade their setup.

While there are plenty of ways to do so, from improving your home WiFi network to simply getting a comfier chair, few upgrades can make as much of an immediate impact as a computer monitor.

Plug a monitor into your laptop and you’ll be able to see more content at once, which means less time swapping back and forth between windows.

You might choose to leave communication apps like Outlook, Slack, and Teams open and always visible on one side of the screen while cranking away on a PowerPoint presentation or Word document on the other. And, of course, you can continue to use your laptop monitor, as well, for a two-screen setup.

Think of getting a monitor like expanding the size of your workbench, giving you more room to fit more tools to get more work done. 

More on working from home

An external monitor can help with ergonomics, too.  They typically have more robust adjustment options than laptops, enabling you to easily tweak their vertical and horizontal orientation. No more having to scrunch your neck at an awkward angle just to be able to see the screen.

But unless your idea of a fun weekend is comparing hardware specifications, walking into your local electronics store (or browsing its online equivalent) to shop for a new monitor may be intimidating.

You'll face a sea of similar-looking rectangles all labeled with jargony specs such as refresh rate and contrast ratio. Even terms you may be familiar with if you’ve recently shopped for a new TV, like 4K and HDR, may be confusing in the context of a computer monitor: Is HDR helpful if you’re in Microsoft Excel or Gmail all day?

What follows is a brief primer on how to shop for a monitor in mid-2020, plus Consumer Reports' test results on some good options. Ultimately, we feel that for around $200 most people working from home will be able to find a reliable monitor that gives them what they need.

Prices change frequently, so it pays to shop around.

The 24-Inch Workhorse

The most prominent number you’ll see in ads and on packaging when you're shopping for a computer monitor is size, which is measured diagonally in inches, just like TVs.

Monitors aimed at consumers typically measure around 20 inches to 27 inches, with some larger monitors available for specialized uses like playing high-end games.

For most consumers, though, we think 24 inches is the way to go. That's big enough to feel like a solid upgrade over a laptop while not being so big that it practically requires a new desk. Believe me, a 27-inch monitor is a huge jump from a 24-inch monitor.

You’ll find plenty of options when it comes to 24-inch monitors, whether you’re shopping in stores or online. That’s especially important nowadays, given how quickly work-from-home accessories like monitors can go out of stock. 

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