LG’s latest UltraFine 4K monitor is two big steps forward, half a step back [Review]

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LG UltraFine 4K (2019) review
The updated LG UltraFine 4K is larger than its predecessor, and looks great.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The LG UltraFine 4K comes with a recommendation from Apple, and it’s not hard to see why: this 23.7-inch monitor was designed to work well with recent Mac models, and even the latest iPad Pro. There are several welcome enhancements in this latest version, but one change is less positive.

We went hands-on with this beautiful, $699.95 display so don’t miss our review.

LG UltraFine 4K (2019) review: Ideal for your Mac

The 23.7-inch display in the recently-released UltraFine 4K is a nice step up from the 21.5-inch model it replaces.

However, rather than increasing the resolution for the larger display, LG lowered it slightly. The new version is 3840 by 2160 pixels, while the previous one was 4069 by 2304 pixels. The difference is 186 pixels per inch versus 219 ppi, a roughly 10 percent reduction.

To qualify for a 4K designation, a screen either has to be 4096 by 2160 pixels or 3840 by 2160 pixels. Obviously, LG went for the lower option this time. Still, it’s over 8 million pixels, about 4 times as many as an old 1080p display.

The backlight on this UltraFine monitor provides up to 500 nits; anything over 300 nits is generally considered bright. When connected to a MacBook, the monitor’s brightness is automatically adjusted by the notebook’s ambient light sensor.

While we’re on the topic of controls, there are absolutely no buttons on this device, not even a way to turn it on or off. That’s taken care of on the computer it’s attached to.

Casing and stand

If Apple had made this display, it might have put glass bezels around the screen to match the look of a MacBook or iMac, rather than the plastic casing LG used. That said, the UltraFine 4K’s bezels are reasonably thin… certainly far thinner than an iMac’s.

Specifically, all four bezels are 0.7 inches, which isn’t unreasonable when paired with a 23.7-inch display. There’s a small LG logo on the bottom one.

The entire back of the casing is black plastic, as is part of the stand. The exception is the base, which is metal and heavy enough to firmly support the monitor.

LG UltraFine 4K rear
The back of the UltraFine 4K is mostly plastic, but notice all those Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Speaking of metal, LG included a VESA mount plate with the UltraFine 4K. This means the stand can be removed so the monitor can be put on a wall mount or arm.

The stand is adjustable, of course, so the bottom of the screen can be moved between 4 inches and 8.25 in. above the surface its sitting on. It can be tilted forward about 10 degrees, or backward roughly 20 degrees However, the display can’t rotate between landscape and portrait mode.

Ports

Easily the best enhancement in the LG UltraFine 4K (2019) is the addition of a second Thunderbolt 3 port, allowing this monitor to be daisy-chained with a second one. Consider that LG’s 27-inch UltraFine 5K display goes for $1,299.95 — or at least it did when it was still available — so for slightly more money one could buy a pair of 23.7-inch screens and connect them to the same Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac.

Just to be clear, a Mac doesn’t have to support Thunderbolt 3 to use this monitor. It can be used with Thunderbolt 2 models, or even devices that just have USB-C, like a 2018 iPad Pro.

This port supplies up to 85W of power, so it can charge a MacBook or iPad even as it’s functioning as its second screen.

LG UltraFine 4K 2019 ports
Adding the second Thunderbolt 3 port is the best change in this monitor.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

LG also includes a trio of USB-C ports, allowing this monitor to also function as a hub. What isn’t available is any other method of connecting the UltraFine 4K to a computer, like HDMI or DisplayPort. That’s not an issue for people just looking an external screen for their Mac mini etc., but it makes this device less flexible.

A item no one will miss is the huge power “brick” that too many displays need. In contrast, LG’s device just requires a power cable connected directly to a wall socket.

There is a pair of 5W stereo speakers built into the UltraFine 4K, but no camera or microphone.

LG UltraFine 4K (2019) performance

We found this 23.7-inch monitor adequate for all the professional tasks we asked of it, from displaying two or three documents simultaneously to editing larger images. It’s certainly far better than a MacBook screen on its own. Still, we expect many power users will take advantage of the second Thunderbolt 3 port to daisy-chain on yet another display.

More pixels per inch would have been nice, but on-screen text looks very smooth with the display set at 1920 by 1080 pixels. Higher resolutions are available in the macOS Settings app, of course, but that starts to shrink text down unreadably small.

To our eyes, the contrast ratio is acceptable and the color gamut of the LG UltraFine 4K matches that of Apple devices closely enough that an image displayed on either screen looks the same. That’s the best that can be hoped for from a monitor in this price range. Getting truly professional-grade color accuracy requires something like Apple’s upcoming Pro Display XDR, which costs about $6000.

LG UltraFine 4K (2019)
Photographing monitors is a dicey business. The UltraFine 4K looks better than this.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The screen offers wide viewing angles, so two people can look at this display at the same time without issue.

The built-in speakers are adequate. They can put out a lot of sound, but not quite enough of it is bass.

iPad Pro support

Most of these monitors will surely be sold to Mac users, but the switch to USB-C in the 2018 iPad Pro allows this tablet to connect to the LG UltraFine 4K as well.

We tested this feature, and the two work well together, within certain limits. An in-depth discussion the advantages and issues of using this screen with Apple’s pro-level iPad will be covered in a separate article.

LG UltraFine 4K (2019) final thoughts

We found the LG UltraFine 4K well suited for working with Apple’s desktops, notebooks and even recent tablets thanks to its support for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C. Screen quality matches the displays Apple puts in its own devices, so it’s suitable for serious work or serious games.

The plastic casing gives it a slightly clunky look though, and there are no alternative ways to connect to a computer. Even so, we think this LG monitor is a fine choice for all-Apple households or businesses.

Price comparison

At $699.95, the UltraFine 4K is a mid-range offering. There are certainly options from rival companies in the $400 to $500 range, but these don’t look as good nor do they have all the extra features.

That said, neither is this LG offering truly professional quality, but really high-end monitors cost vastly more. Consider Apple’s Pro Display XDR, which will be $5998 with stand.

LG provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out more stuff we recommend.