Revisiting my stance on 4k monitors

Revisiting my stance on 4k monitors
Photo by Joshua Aragon / Unsplash

Way back in June 2020, I wrote a post about how not all developers need 4k screens. A lot of things have changed since then, including my laptop and screen situation, so I thought I would revisit my position to see if it has changed.

I looked at the possibility of getting one or more 4k screens so I had more real estate to have open tasks. It could turn things into a context-switching nightmare with a lot of quartered monitors each with their own Full HD output. Especially if there's no tiling manager to help snap things into place.

At the time, the affordable end of 4k screens was around £300, and for that you got a 27" screen. It would be a jump up from the 23 and 24" monitors I had, but realised it wasn't going to be right. And here's the first change - the 23" monitor died (I'd had it close to 10 years). I replaced it with a 27" QHD screen (2560x1440). It was a great investment and is my main screen today. I also have the 24" monitor plus a laptop screen (that size/resolution depends on the laptop).

My old personal laptop was an Asus Zenbook. I bought that when I wasn't doing a lot of development, and didn't anticipate doing complicated or large scale development on it. When I did try, it kept crashing so needed replacing. I settled on a Lenovo P14S AMD with a 4k screen (so you can see why I am revisiting this stance).

I've had mixed results with the 4k screen. When I am using it day-to-day with the two external monitors I can't use it unless the font size of the application is increased significantly. It's simply too far away to be useful (around 51" or 130cm). I get inconsistent results when setting scaling on the monitor to be 200% (sometimes that affects all monitors making everything on the other screens too large to be usable). So what's the middle ground.

When I was looking at laptops, it was right around the expected launch date of the Lenovo P1 Gen 4. I knew it was going to be a 16" screen, and have a 2560x1600 screen. It seemed perfect. Then it got delayed. Then the P14S went on sale.

Looking back, I'm still glad I took the plunge when I did. The price difference alone was fantastic. I paid less than half the price of a P1 G4 with a similar spec would cost. The P1 G4 was launched with a price I simply could not justify for a personal device.

I'm writing this on Black Friday, and I think if I was looking to buy today I would make the same choice. The P1 G4 is around £2,000, but the P14s with the 4k screen is around £900 cheaper. Both machines have an 8 core 16 thread CPU, both with 32GB RAM and 512GB storage. It's difficult to justify the price difference for a slightly larger chassis and a slightly different screen.

After using a 4K screen (laptop only) for a few months, have I seen the benefits and changed my mind? I can certainly see the benefits, and I have benefitted from having the extra pixels at times, but I haven't changed my mind. There's cases where some developers really need 4k monitors, but personally I don't think they bring the benefits you might expect. I'd much rather have two of my 27" QHD monitors and get actual benefits rather than one 4k one and not live up to the expectations.