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If you’ve suddenly found yourself on a tight budget, you can still find a decent monitor for less than $200. But act fast if you find a cheap monitor you want — thanks to so many people currently working from home, they’re going in and out of stock like Black Friday doorbusters. Or discontinued and gone like the Acer G246HYL which was among the first batch of monitors of sub-$200 monitors that we bought initially to try out. We’re working on another round of tryouts for a future update.
When buying a budget monitor, you should absolutely check out the listing of what’s in the box. Make sure that it’s not missing items that would drive the price above that threshold, like a stand or appropriate cables. The stand might not be an issue if you’re planning to use the VESA mount to put it on a wall or arm. But in that case, you should ensure the mount screws on the back of the monitor match yours: The bulk of these have 100 by 100 mm mounts, though in some cases, they don’t support a VESA mount at all.
Got a Mac? If it’s an old MacBook and has an HDMI port, or an iMac or Mac Mini, you won’t have a problem. More modern MacBooks with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections will require an adapter or cable with conversion built-in. You may also need to fiddle with the resolution and scaling settings in Mac OS, since it natively prefers a 16:10 aspect ratio, not the 16:9 aspect ratio that’s much more popular on Windows.
Unless you’re a hardcore gamer or creative professional, many of the most technical specs — color gamut and latency, for example — won’t really matter to you (and you should always take them with with a grain of salt, anyway).
For the money, you can generally expect to get:
- A maximum of 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution (dubbed by marketers as “Full HD resolution” and also referred to as 1080p or 2K for its roughly 2,000 pixels). Below 27 inches, that’s fine. At 27 inches or larger, it’s not great except in one important case. Essentially, the reason you buy a 27-inch monitor over a 24-inch is usually because you want to fit more onto it. But if it’s using the same number of pixels, it just makes everything bigger — it doesn’t put more on the screen. And because it’s spreading them across a bigger screen, some people (like me) may get annoyed at seeing the pixel grid. I find a pixel density (the number of pixels per inch, or ppi) of at least 90 a good balance, but YMMV. The exception? If you actually need things like text to be bigger, such as if you have impaired vision.
- A stand that lets you tilt the computer monitor, not raise or lower it.
- While there might be one or two larger, the monitors go mostly up to 27 inches.
- Between 250 and 350 nits of brightness. That should be fine for most uses.
- Up to 75Hz refresh rate for an IPS (which stands for in-plane switching) monitor or 144Hz refresh rate for a TN (twisted nematic). A high refresh rate matters if you’re planning to play a lot of FPS, racing, fighting or other motion-sensitive gaming. An IPS monitor is better for general-purpose use, since it’s superior for off-angle viewing and typically has better color. But the fastest IPS monitor you’ll find for the money is 75Hz. A TN monitor is better for fast gaming and a better gaming experience; it has a higher contrast ratio, but poorer viewing angle — color accuracy and contrast changes as you move further from looking straight-on.
- A lot of these cheap monitors support AMD’s adaptive refresh FreeSync technology, which works with AMD’s graphics processors for syncing game frame rates with the display.
- If it comes with built-in speakers, don’t assume they’re a replacement for real standalone versions. They’re occasionally better than expected, but think of the speakers as a nice perk for basic system sounds or videconferencing and consider it a windfall if they’re satisfactory for entertainment. (I’ve been relatively impressed with the speakers in BenQ’s EW series.)
- A curved monitor, which can make a wide display fit into your field of view without requiring you to sit too far back, isn’t worth paying more for in monitors 27 inches or smaller; then the bezels are too far within your field of view. One potential exception is if you plan to span across three identical monitors for gameplay. Then they wrap around you better than three flat screens.
Upping your budget to between $200 and $300 will bring more 32-inch options and 2,560×1,440 resolution. And, of course, the more you’re willing to spend, the more you’re likely to find something in stock and ready to ship.
Read more: Best speakerphone in 2020 for working from home
If you want a cheap, attractive FHD monitor with built-in speakers that don’t suck, this should be on your short list. They’re hardly audiophile quality, but they’re decent enough for watching movies, streaming music while you work or listening to podcasts, and they can get loud enough (without distortion) to hear from a fair distance away. And possibly loud enough to annoy your upstairs neighbors (who are annoying you by galloping around 24/7). It’s got three HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 — most cheap monitors have two at most — though most people really don’t need that many. Other perks include 75Hz refresh with AMD FreeSync technology, audio profiles, the ability to change gamma and a mode that maps colors to compensate for color blindness. It’s not an HDR monitor, but it can fake it as well as possible given its technological constraints.
Despite all the setting options, the screen isn’t that bright and the onscreen display can be frustratingly wonky — the up and down arrows for navigation randomly swap directions. And because it’s 27 inches and 1080p it’s got a visible pixel grid on white areas. Plus, you can only tilt, not raise or lower the screen.
The LG is a solid, attractive general-purpose choice with some gaming perks. Though I’d hardly call it a gaming monitor, it has features for a good gaming experience, such as the ability to overdrive the response time, a 1ms motion-blur reduction mode and an optional center crosshair. It’s slightly brighter than most, and there’s a Photo mode that seems to improve the color accuracy. It’s got a VGA connector in addition to the two HDMIs (though that’s not uncommon in this price range) if you’ve got a really old device to connect.
This one goes in and out of stock rapidly, so if you need it, want it (for gaming or work) and you see it, don’t wait to buy. It’s backordered at B&H until at least July 2.
This LED monitor is a good option if you’re fed up with eye strain and squinting at your work on a small laptop screen. The display’s thin bezels and built-in power supply make it streamlined and tidy, and you’re pretty much looking at all screen. The base does allow it to tilt — there’s no height adjustment — and has a hole for cable management so you can pass its power cord and a VGA or HDMI cable through to the inputs in back (power and HDMI cables are included).
Along with the screen size and design, you’re getting a 75Hz refresh rate, 4ms response time and FreeSync support, which makes this a bit better for gaming and fast-moving video than your average office monitor. On the other hand, unexciting color performance and seemingly lower-than-spec brightness undercut it solely for that use. It’s fine for mixed use even if it doesn’t excel in any area. Also, that’s about the end of the road for features, so if you want things like built-in speakers or a webcam or VESA mounting holes you’ll have to look elsewhere.
My dining-room table has doubled as my desk many times. But because it’s still where we eat, it can’t be a permanent desk with an external monitor. Enter this little Auzai portable USB-C display that quickly increases my screen space but just as easily folds down for storage or travel to a far-away land (aka my living room).
Although it’s only a 15.6-inch display, it’s nice for things like having email or Slack open and visible, playing a video off to the side while you’re working or just more room for viewing documents or other files side by side. It’s also a great companion to a two-in-one laptop such as the 15.6-inch Samsung Galaxy Book Flex in the picture above (left). Put the Flex in display mode and connect a keyboard and mouse and you’ve got a dual-screen extended-desktop setup.
The display can connect via USB-C or HDMI; a mini-HDMI-to-HDMI cable is included as well as a USB-C-to-USB-C cable. There are built-in stereo speakers as well as a 3.5mm audio output if you want to connect headphones to the screen — features that make more sense if you’re connecting it to a game console or other HDMI device.
Like others on this list, color performance is just OK and brightness is fine for indoor use. But if you need something portable or you simply don’t have room for a regular external display, this Auzai display is worth the investment.