MacBook Pro users are clamouring for an Apple-made external display that doesn’t cost two arms, a leg, and a kidney. Given the quality of an iMac display and the cost of an iMac, it’d be reasonable to think Apple is capable of making a great inexpensive display. It shouldn’t be impossible to create a 27-inch Retina display for under $1,500.

That reality doesn’t exist right now. Instead, the main options on hand are LG’s 24-inch and 27-inch UltraFine Displays and the Pro Display XDR. The XDR will not be discussed today.

I opted for two 24-inch LG UltraFine Displays rather than one 27-inch display. My perusal of the r/MacSetups forum and other cool setups on Instagram would suggest this is not the common decision. Most folks seem to choose the single larger 27-inch UltraFine.

I opted for two 24-inch displays for a few reasons:

  • Thunderbolt 3 Ports — The 24-inch UltraFine Displays come with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, enabling multiple Thunderbolt devices to be daisy chained through the displays. The result is a single cable tethering into the MacBook Pro. If you want to run two 27-inch UltraFine Displays, you’ll have to connect each individual display to separate ports on the MacBook Pro — still totally workable, but clogging up one extra port on your notebook.
  • I/O — All UltraFine models come with an additional three USB-C ports for plugging in accessories. By having two 24-inch displays, I have a total of six USB-C ports available and an extra Thunderbolt 3 port on the end-chain display. Right now, I have a scanner, an external keyboard, a wired ethernet connection, and an iPhone MagSafe cable connected to the back of my UltraFine Displays. This leaves three unused USB-C ports plus two Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, and an SD card port on the MacBook Pro. I have connection ports available for days, especially when compared to the prior M1 MacBook Air/Pro notebooks or the 27-inch UltraFine Display.
  • Screen real estate — One single 27-inch UltraFine Display has almost as many pixels as two 24-inch UltraFine Displays (my math suggests one 27-inch display has 89% of the pixels of two 24-inch displays). But it’s how those pixels are handled — the 24-inch UltraFine Display isn’t as sharp as the 27-inch UltraFine Display, but scaling provides more room for more windows, documents, and screens with two 24-inch displays. I’m not in the business of needing pixels so much as needing space — space to spread out spreadsheets, PDFs, browser windows, and other space-consuming digital paraphernalia.

Now, of course there are drawbacks to this approach as well:

  • Lower resolution displays — If you do need resolution and pixels, there’s no doubt the larger 27-inch UltraFine is the better option. At Retina scaling, the 27-inch UltraFine Display will appear sharper and more accurate to just about every eye out there.
  • Webcam — The 27-inch UltraFine Display has a built-in webcam, while the 24-inch UltraFines do not. There is a sole small sensor at the top of each 24-inch UltraFine Display to adjust for ambient lighting and that’s it. I have a much-improved webcam inside this MacBook Pro, but if you’re connecting a Mac mini to the display, the 27-inch Display is the only option with a built-in webcam.
  • Cost — Two 24-inch UltraFine Displays do indeed cost about $100 CAD more than a single 27-inch UltraFine Display. To me, this $100 was absolutely worth it given the I/O and actual screen real estate improvements. But if cost is the ultimate factor, then this should be considered a drawback.

I’m also not very happy that these UltraFine Displays are not ready for True Tone. If you close the MacBook Pro lid, the displays immediately revert to their non-True Tone colouring, which is very bright and very white. True Tone is almost like during-the-day Night Shift and I find it much easier on the eyes. I wish that single sensor on the 24-inch UltraFines was capable of adjusting for True Tone purposes.

Overall, I am (so far) quite happy with my choice to go with two 24-inch UltraFine Displays rather than a single 27-inch UltraFine Display. I have substantially more I/O. I can connect everything via a single Thunderbolt cable. And I have more screen real estate. This fits my workflow quite nicely.

I’m also impatient — I am sure Apple is working on an external display for the masses, but we’ve been talking about this for ages already. I believe one is coming. But I am not willing to wait until it hits.

In the meantime, I will use these surprisingly great 24-inch UltraFines.