30″ LCD Showdown: Apple vs. Dell

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In my quest to upgrade an aging dual-monitor setup (a 20” main screen with a 17” screen off to the side to house application palettes, iTunes, etc.), the only real decision to make was choosing between an Apple 30” Cinema Display and a Dell 30” UltraSharp Widescreen.

I decided to go large with a 30” LCD to give me as much screen real estate as possible, cut out the extra set of cables that litter the floor behind my desk with a dual-monitor setup, and banish forever the annoying gap between the two displays. After reading numerous reviews on tech sites, soliciting advice from fellow designers, and seeing both in action, I ended up choosing the Dell 3007WFP-HC over the Apple 30″ Cinema Display. The Dell simply offered enough bang-for-the-buck to satisfy me.

Rather than give a run-down of tech specs you can get on your own, I decided to give you a comparison from a user’s perspective. Keep in mind that I’m a designer by trade, and my use and requirements of an LCD monitor may be different than yours, so what I consider an “issue,” you may not. Below are my comparisons of a few key areas and my results of using both monitors after a month of owning the Dell as well as using the Cinema Display fairly regularly.

On the Desk

apple_30-cinemaBelieve it or not, a single 30” LCD actually takes up much less space than my previous 20”/17” dual setup.

The Apple Cinema Display uses a single curved stand to support the display, offering a hole in the stand to manage cables. The bezel around the screen is thin, but due to the brushed-metal finish, it is “in your face” at all times. You definitely know you’re using a Cinema Display. The only adjustments available to you is tilting the monitor slightly forward and back.

The Dell Ultrasharp uses a more standard single arm stand with two legs that jet out to the sides for added support. The stand is sufficiently heavy enough to support the large screen, and just felt more substantial (read: safe) than Apple’s display. The black bezel around the screen is thinner than Apple’s, and simply disappears into the background because it’s black — I don’t even notice it’s there. Where the Dell shines in comparison is the available adjustments. Not only does it match Apple with tilt, but you can swivel the monitor from side to side, and adjust the height of the screen as well. Making any of these three adjustments requires two fingers and a small amount of force. At no time does the base move on the desk.

Winner: Dell Dell 3007WFP-HC, no contest.

Getting Connected

I have a Mac Pro tower; I do no gaming; and I don’t hook up my TV to my Mac, so my requirements for connections were fairly simple. While many people criticize the Dell for its lack of VGA, HDMI and other connection methods, it simply wasn’t an issue for me. Both LCDs require a dual-link DVI graphics card capable of supporting the resolution of the display (2560×1600 in both cases).

The Apple Cinema Display uses DVI to connect to the Mac, and offers two Firewire 400 ports, and two USB 2.0 ports. This is more than adequate for most users. The ports are placed rather inconveniently on the lower back of the display, but that’s fairly typical. The main cable is hard-wired to the display, something I don’t like at all. If something goes wrong with the cable, you’re returning the entire monitor for repairs.

dell_3007wfp-connectionsThe Dell Ultrasharp also uses a single DVI connection, but the cable is not hard-wired to the display. A 9-in-2 media card reader is available on the side of the monitor, as are two USB 2.0 ports. I really like the placement of these. Having them on the side of the display means I can just swivel the monitor to use them. On the back of the UltraSharp are two more USB 2.0 downstream ports, and a single USB upstream port. No FireWire ports are available on the Dell 3007WFP-HC. The ports on the back of the display are rather difficult to get to because they face downward. However, these are really made for connections of a more permanent nature, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Winner: Dell 3007WFP-HC. The card-reader and two USB ports placed on the side of the display make it infinitely more useful in this respect. The extra 2 USB ports put it over the top.

Looks Are Everything

Both companies are known for offering displays that have a great picture, and my use confirms that. But there are differences. If you’re concerned about color accuracy, you really should have a hardware calibration device. Both monitors offer a 178-degree viewing angle for smooth and accurate picture from any reasonable sitting position.

The Apple Cinema Display is about as color accurate out of the box as you can get for a consumer monitor. And, of course, OS X ships with color profiles for the Cinema Display to make calibration as simple as possible. If I have any complaint about Apple’s 30” LCD, it’s that it’s not bright enough.

The Dell UltraSharp does not ship with any calibration profiles, and out of the box it’s not as color-accurate as Apple’s display. Colors appear much more saturated on the Dell, but even running a simple calibration in OS X’s Display Preferences can quickly bring it up to par. The display is much brighter than Apple’s as it ships, perhaps even too bright. Again, you can adjust this to your liking.

Winner: Apple Cinema Display. This was a close one. For my needs, I have to calibrate both displays anyway, so it was a wash. But the Dell requires adjustment even for the average consumer.

Purchase Options

Price isn’t always the main consideration, but it’s certainly a big one. I wanted a little more than a bargain on price.

The Apple Cinema Display costs $1,799 no matter where you buy it. The return policy is simple: You own it once you take it out of the box, and Apple doesn’t have much of a policy on dead pixels — you’ve got to have a cluster of dead pixels in one small area in order to get a replacement. The Cinema Displays do, of course, come with the standard one-year warranty, but that’s about all you get with it.

dell_3007wfp-hcThe Dell Ultrasharp currently sells for $1,049 direct from Dell, but you can get a better deal (see below). Dell offers a zero-dead-pixel guarantee, with a three-year advanced replacement warranty.

I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a possible return, so I purchased the Dell from Costco, where you can get it for $999 (at time of publication), and have the comfort of knowing you can drive it to any Costco store and return it with no questions asked. Nice!

Winner: Dell UltraSharp. I’m willing to pay a little more for quality, but not nearly twice as much. The Dell offers a better warranty, more adjustments, and an $800 savings.

Satisfaction

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the Dell UltraSharp. Once I got past the idea of buying a Dell product over Apple, it was easy. The display has performed superbly the last month or so, and I’m so glad I didn’t needlessly spend the extra money just to have an Apple logo on the front.

If you’re in the market for a 30” LCD, you can’t go wrong with the Dell Ultrasharp 3007WFP-HC. It offers a great picture, plenty of nice features, sturdy construction, and a price that simply can’t be beat.

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