Photo by Julio Ojeda-Zapata
Did Apple just stealth-release a new Mac display?
I’m not talking about the much-rumored 6K display that the company is supposedly designing and building for use with the upcoming new version of the Mac Pro. We might hear about such a product at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which kicks off 3 June 2019 (see “The Top Conferences for Mac and iOS Professionals in 2019,” 19 May 2019).
No, I’m referring to a third-party monitor, the apparently new 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display, that, until I went to an Apple Store last week, I knew nothing about. And it seems that few others have heard of it.
I had a different LG monitor in mind when I arrived at the Apple Store in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. I wanted to snap up the well-known 21.5-inch LG UltraFine 4K Display, which I had heard was being discontinued. I was in luck: the physical store still had the product in stock even though it is no longer available on Apple’s online store.
This 21.5 inch display—along with the 27-inch LG UltraFine 5K Display that is still on Apple’s online store, but is listed as “sold out”—had been an official Apple offering ever since the company retired its Thunderbolt Display in 2016 (see “Apple Discontinues Thunderbolt Display with No Replacement in Sight,” 27 June 2016) and abandoned the monitor-making business. Apple and LG worked together to bring the two monitors to market, but industry interest in 5K displays seems to have disappeared almost entirely (see “What Happened to 5K Displays?,” 16 November 2018).
That Apple seal of approval was why I sought out the $699.95 21.5-inch LG UltraFine 4K Display, which I intended to pair with a just-purchased Mac mini (see “It Lives! Apple Announces Pro-Focused Mac mini,” 30 October 2018).
To my surprise, an employee told me I should consider forgoing the 21.5-inch model. Why? “Because we have a larger LG display for the same price.” Laid out for me on the floor were boxes for the two monitors—including the 23.7-inch version that had seemingly come from nowhere.
The Mystery Monitor
Here’s the weird thing: I could find virtually nothing about the 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display online. It’s not listed on Apple’s online store or LG’s Web site. A Google search for its model number, 24MD4KL, turns up just a bit of info, such as a page showing an FCC ID and another showing Energy Star certification.
The display is not to be confused with other LG displays that are well-documented online. But this new Apple Store model is different in that it’s explicitly intended for and marketed to Mac users—it says so right on the box. What it doesn’t say on the box is “4K”—more on that in a moment.
To ensure that my experience at the Uptown store was not an anomaly, I visited another of the Twin Cities’ five Apple Stores, this one at the Rosedale Center shopping mall. When I Inquired about available Mac displays, I was told the 21.5-inch LG UltraFine 4K Display was no longer in stock. When I asked about the 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display, a staffer checked his iPhone terminal and found the SKU; this came as a shock to him since, he told me, he had not been aware of the product.
So what are we to make of this situation? It seems safe to assume that Apple has debuted a new, officially sanctioned LG display while simultaneously retiring the 21.5-inch version and possibly also the 27-incher. In “What Happened to 5K Displays?,” Adam Engst suggested that the 27-inch LG UltraFine 5K Display might be on the way out, and it appears he was right.
Strangely, neither Apple nor LG has said anything about this display that I can find—no mention on either company’s Web site, no press release, no help articles, and no callback from Apple PR after I reached out via email asking for comment. Even Apple’s own retail staffers appear to be largely in the dark.
After this story posted, the folks at 9to5 Mac did a bit of their own sleuthing and found what appears to be a support page for the display (in Italian), complete with a downloadable manual (in English).
A Few Product Details
In spite of a perplexing shortage of information about the 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display, I took a leap of faith and bought the product. I reasoned that I could return it within Apple’s 14-day grace period if anything were amiss. Continuing the mystery, its informational pamphlet refers to full, downloadable manuals that are supposed to be readily available on the LG site but are missing (that obscure Italian-language page aside).
Don’t treat the following as a formal review since I’ve only had the display for a short time, but here are a few things you should know if you’re considering it.
- Styling: The 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display sports the same minimalist black styling as the other two Apple-sanctioned LG monitors. The black-framed panel is built onto a tube-like arm that fits onto a flat metal base. The arm telescopes to provide height adjustability. The panel tilts forward and backward, but it does not turn left or right, nor does it rotate from landscape to portrait orientation.
- Panel: Its panel is lovely and, to my casual eye, seems brighter than those on the other LG displays, which appear a bit dim to me. I am not certain because I haven’t found a nit value. As for panel’s native resolution, that downloadable manual specifies 3840 by 2160 pixels, which qualifies as 4K. But it’s not Retina—according to Sven Neuhaus’s PPI Calculator, it’s 186 pixels per inch, well shy of the 218 or 219 ppi of Apple’s Retina iMacs. By comparison, the 21.5-inch LG display is safely into the Retina range with 4096 by 2304 pixels at 219 pixels per inch. (By the way, I was initially confused about the 23.7-inch display’s native resolution, thinking 3360 by 1890 pixels as shown in System Preferences was the correct value—apparently not.)
- VESA: As with the other LG displays, the stand on the 23.7-inch UltraFine Display can be removed and replaced with a VESA mounting panel, which is included.
- Ports: On the back, the display gives you two Thunderbolt 3 ports (which use the USB-C connector) and three plain USB-C ports. LG includes a Thunderbolt 3 cable for connecting to most newer-model Macs, along with a USB-C cable for those who are using it with the USB-C-only MacBook or with the 2018 iPad Pro models.
In short, the display is well designed for those living within the Apple ecosystem, although it’s disappointing that it doesn’t offer a Retina resolution for the price. It also might be impractical for those who require greater port variety. For instance, I am switching from Acer’s 27-inch H277HU USB-C Display (see “Acer H277HU USB-C Display Is an Affordable MacBook Companion,” 11 April 2016), which offers only one plain USB-C port but does provide versatility and backward compatibility with HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB-A ports.
As I write this, I am weighing whether I should hold on to the 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display. It is bigger and seemingly brighter than the comparably priced 21.5-inch LG UltraFine 4K Display. It also has more ports—both provide a trio of plain USB-C ports, but the 21.5-inch model has only one Thunderbolt 3 port to the 23.7-incher’s two. I’m mulling whether a sub-Retina resolution is a deal-breaker for me since it’s still a vast improvement over the Acer display’s resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels. It’s worth noting that similarly sized 4K displays are available for quite a bit less money, though typically without Thunderbolt 3, which tends to jack up the price. I’ll have to make a decision soon since LG’s 21.5-inch model appears to be vanishing from Apple’s brick-and-mortar outlets as inventory is depleted.
What’s Your Take?
If you are shopping for a Mac monitor and take a look at (or even buy) the new 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display, share your impressions with us. We are also interested in anything Apple staffers tell you about this stealth product. We love a good mystery, and we want to get to the bottom of this one!