Products featured are independently selected by our editorial team and we may earn a commission from purchases made from our links; the retailer may also receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.
There are many ways to try to improve your productivity: you could start working from a new location, learn to meditate, or set up a home office that’s comfortable to work in. These are all good tactics, but in my experience, few things have worked as well as using an external monitor with a laptop.
Having an extra screen makes it easier to run two full-sized apps at the same time, or work with one that has a lot of different controls. For example, if you use Photoshop, one screen could be dedicated to the image you’re editing, while the other can hold your tools and pallets. Or use one screen for emails and Slack, while keeping the other screen free for writing. Aside from helping you organize your applications and programs, having an external computer monitor also frees you up from straining your eyes to see everything on your tiny laptop, or basic desktop monitor.
If you want an external monitor, but don’t know where to start, we’ve found five great options that should suit your needs.
What You Need to Know Before Buying An External Monitor
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right external monitor for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Screen size: The first thing to think about when buying an external monitor is deciding how large you’d like it to be. Whether that’s because of physical space constraints, or personal preference, our guide includes options from 21.5 to 28 inches, so you’ll definitely find one that fits your needs. You want a screen that fits your desk without overwhelming it. And you want enough distance between you and your new (bigger) screen, so your eyes don’t feel fatigued.
Resolution: A monitor’s resolution (measured in pixels), determines how clear its display looks, and how much information can be on it at one time. High-resolution monitors generally have a resolution of 4K, while the average monitor’s resolution is 1080P. Both are good enough for general tasks like watching YouTube videos, surfing the web, or editing spreadsheets, documents, or presentations. You’ll want a high-resolution monitor if you want to do media intensive tasks like editing professional photos or videos (they’re great for gaming too).
Ports: These are a monitor’s inputs, which allow you to connect your computer to them. Our picks generally have a DisplayPort and one or more HDMI ports on them, so you should be able to plug your computer into them without an adapter. For Mac users, we’ve chosen monitors that have USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports, which serve the same purpose.
Ergonomics: You’re going to be looking at your external monitors for several hours a day, so it’s important that it’s comfortable to use. Most of the monitors in this guide can be tilted forward or backward, and some allow you raise and lower them, or turn them up to 90 degrees. Consider getting a monitor stand if you need a little more lift (or to clear some room on your desk).
1. ASUS VS228H-P 21.5-Inch Full HD Monitor
ASUS’ VS228H is a great external monitor for someone looking for one that covers all the basics. Its 21.5-inch size and 1080P resolution are fine for everyday tasks, but I wouldn’t recommend this monitor if you’re looking to edit a lot of media.
The VS228H has an HDMI, VGA, and DVI port, so you can connect just about any laptop to it without an adapter. The monitor has six preset video modes, which optimizes its color, brightness, contrast, and sharpness to optimize how it looks for certain tasks, like movie watching and gaming. You can also adjust all of the video settings to make the monitor look good to your eyes.
This monitor only has one caveat: it has a fixed viewing angle, which means you can’t tilt or move it to be more comfortable. You can attach the VS228H to a Vesa mount (a big metal arm that clamps down on the side of your desk), which would give you complete freedom over where the monitor is, but that requires getting another accessory.
Pros: Pretty good resolution, multiple visual presets.
Cons: Viewing angle can’t be adjusted without a Vesa mount.
2. Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny-In-One 24 Gen3 Monitor
Lenovo’s ThinkCentre A17TIO24 is an all-in-one monitor that’s packed with extras you won’t find on most other displays.
Its 23.8 inch 1080P screen is a little larger than ASUS’, but its bezels (the plastic rim around the display) are thinner, which closes that gap slightly. Again, this is a good general use monitor, but isn’t designed for serious photo or video work. Ergonomically, this external monitor fairs better than the option from ASUS; you can raise, lower, or tilt it to make it more comfortable to use.
It only has a single DisplayPort, which is fine if you have a modern laptop with a great graphics card. If not, you’ll likely need a DisplayPort to HDMI cable. You need to attach your computer to the external monitor with a cable regardless, so it’s not a big deal, but adding an HDMI port would have made this display compatible with a lot more computers out of the box.
Lenovo’s external monitor stands out from most of the other options in this guide because it’s more than just a display. It has a 1080P webcam (great for video conference calls), dual mic array, and speakers built into the monitor itself. All you have to do to take advantage of these features is plug your computer into the display. It’s a much more convenient (and cleaner looking) option than getting an external webcam, microphone, and speaker. If you need an external monitor, and want a one and done solution, this is a great choice.
Pros: Built-in webcam, microphones, and speakers.
Cons: It doesn’t have an HDMI port.
3. BenQ EL2870U 28-Inch HDR 4K Gaming Monitor
If you want a large, high-resolution external monitor for photo or video editing, gaming, or running a lot of apps on screen at the same time, BenQ’s EL2870 is a great choice.
The 28-inch 4K external monitor has nearly twice as many pixels as the 1080P displays in this guide, and it supports HDR (high dynamic resolution), which shows colors and shadows much more accurately. Having an HDR compatible external monitor will make a big difference when you’re watching movies and TV shows, or looking over your photo library.
BenQ packed the EL2870 with two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort, so you can easily connect most computers to it without an adapter or special cable. Having two HDMI ports is also great because you can use the free one to connect a game console or media streamer. This external monitor is big enough that you could actually get away with using it as a TV for media viewing and gaming.
Ergonomically, the EL2870 falls in the middle of the pack. You can tilt it backward and forward, but you can’t raise or lower the display, which is a little limiting. But, the display has sensors that can automatically adjust its brightness and color temperature based on the lighting conditions in your room. This can reduce the amount of blue light you’re exposed to each day, and make it easier to work at night.
Pros: High resolution, HDR support, plenty of ports.
Cons: The display can tilt slightly, but it’s not height adjustable.
4. ViewSonic VP3481 34-Inch Curved Monitor
If you’d like to be truly surrounded by your work, your best bet is to get a curved display, like ViewSonic’s VP3481.
At 34 inches wide, this is by far the largest monitor on this list, and its UWQHD (3440 X 1400) resolution is better than 1080P, but not quite as sharp as 4K. The reason to get a curved display is because it’s designed to take up all of your peripheral vision, so you can virtually spread out all of your apps over a wide surface.
It also provides a really immersive experience for PC games, if they were designed to work at this resolution. Like BenQ’s display, ViewSonic’s VP3481 also supports HDR, which makes it a great choice for photo and video editing.
ViewSonic outfitted this external monitor with two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort, three USB ports, and one USB-C port. That’s a more extensive assortment of inputs than any other monitor on this guide, and guarantees you’ll be able to connect your computer to it with ports to spare.
The VP4481 also does an admirable job ergonomically: the display can be tilted, swiveled, and height-adjusted, so you can find a comfortable way to arrange it regardless of your desk setup. This customizability is welcome, but it’s actually essential because curved displays have a larger surface area that can reflect light. You may have to move the display slightly a couple of times a day if you’re working near a window.
Pros: Massive screen, HDR support
Cons: May be too large from some desks, light glare effects curved screens more prominently.
5. LG 24MD4KL-B UltraFine 24-Inch 4K Monitor
When Apple redesigned its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines in 2016, it tapped LG to make monitors tailor made to work with the new laptops. The result was LG’s UltraFine 4K display, an ultra luxe option for prosumers and professionals.
The 24-inch 4K display has over eight million pixels, and supports the entire P3 Color Gamut, a color spectrum used by professional movie makers to make sure their work looks true to life. Apple employed this same technology on its MacBook Pro displays.
Because this external monitor was designed with Apple’s laptops in mind, it has a bunch of MacBook-only features. For example, the monitor only has Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports, which are ubiquitous on Apple’s computers, but rare on Windows computers. It uses a technology called pass-through charging to charge an MacBook when it’s connected to the external monitor with a single cable. It even allows you to change the brightness settings of the monitor by pressing the brightness keys on a MacBook or Apple Magic Keyboard.
All of these features are great if you use a MacBook, but because of the lack of Thunderbolt 3 support on Windows computers, it’s mostly Apple or bust. The display will work when connected to a Windows PC, but the experience won’t be as seamless, which is unfortunate.
If you’re a Mac user, though, this is a top-of-the-line option that mirrors many of the display features you’ve become accustomed to on your computer. Additionally, the LG Ultrafine 4K can be tilted and height adjusted, which makes it a great choice for people who need some flexibility in their desk setup. It also has an ambient light sensor to adjust how it looks to make it easier on the eyes based on your room’s brightness.
Finally, this external monitor has a set of speakers built into them — a MacBook will automatically route its audio through them when it’s connected. It’d be nice if this external monitor came with a webcam, but no such luck. Still, if you’re a MacBook owner who wants a seamless experience, this is your best option.
Pros: Excellent color reproduction, can charge a MacBook at full speed when connected.
Cons: Many of its best features are Mac-only.
Note: LG also created a 27-inch 5K external monitor that has all of the same features as this 4K model, plus a higher resolution and built-in webcam. It’s available at B&H for $1,299.