Apple Thunderbolt Display review
A superb, if pricey, partner to the latest generation of MacBooks, offering superb image quality and Thunderbolt connectivity
Review Date: 11 Oct 2011
Reviewed By: Sasha Muller
Price when reviewed: £749 (£899 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
With Intel's Thunderbolt technology gracing the latest slew of MacBooks and Mac minis, Apple has now revealed the perfect monitor to match. By taking the body of the 27in LED Cinema Display and adding Intel's lightning-quick connectivity to the mix, Apple's multitalented Thunderbolt Display is more than just a 27in monitor. It doubles as a slick docking station, adding 2.1 speakers and throwing in an HD webcam for good measure.
At a glance, the Thunderbolt Display is identical to the standard LED Cinema Display. They share the same stunning good looks – that hefty aluminium figure looks and feels like it’s worth every penny of the £899 asking price. And both have the same LCD panel at their core, an LED-backlit, 2,560 x 1,440 IPS unit.
The integrated set of 2.1 speakers still carry a crisp, weighty tune, and the integrated webcam receives a welcome upgrade, leaping from 640 x 480 to a crisp 1,280 x 720.
Functionally, it's neater than ever. Where the captive cable trailing from the previous LED Cinema Display required separate mini-DisplayPort and USB connections, Intel's Thunderbolt does it with a single cable. That super-fast connection provides enough bandwidth to carry them all at once.
And the Thunderbolt Display has more than only three USB 2 sockets. At the rear of the monitor, you’ll find three USB 2 sockets, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, and a Thunderbolt port for daisy-chaining high-speed devices, such as hard disk RAID arrays and high-end video capture devices. There’s even a MagSafe connector for charging your MacBook from.
Image quality is superb. There's no onscreen display, and only brightness is adjustable from within OS X's display options, but the Thunderbolt Display delivers incredible images straight out of the box. The LED backlighting delivers eye-popping brightness and the IPS panel combines wide viewing angles with vibrant, accurate colour reproduction. The glossy finish is the only low point; we frequently found ourselves cranking up the brightness to compensate in our bright, sunny office space.
"Professionals may find that a more adjustable, flexible display, and one with a matte screen finish ... makes a more practical purchase"
That's odd, I thought these reviews were aimed at professionals in the first place? So shouldn’t that sentence in PCPro actually be: “For home entertainment and casual use the image quality is brilliant”.
Come on, a rating of 5 out of 6 for "Features and Design" in a professional monitor that’s so inflexible in connectivity that nobody without a brand new MacBook can use it, and with a glossy screen and unadjustable stand? Really?
Even if we were all working on brand-new, Thunderbolt-equipped MacBooks, the glossy screen still makes this monitor a non-starter.
By TheHonestTruth on 12 Oct 2011
Agree with TheHonestTruth
Sounds like the quality of the display is amazing and not in question at all. But limited adjustability and connectivity can not surely equal 4 out of 5. Also why are we still only on USB 2.0. With talk of the Light Peak connector not resulting in anything yet a native USB 3.0 would be a nice touch on these high bits end kit.
By davidwells6 on 13 Oct 2011
It's all in the name
It is, after all, a Thunderbolt Display, designed for use with a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. Seen in that context, it is a fully-featured and very well designed product.
Superb image quality is a given, the webcam/speakers are excellent and the docking station features are invaluable.
The non-adjustable stand is by far the biggest issue, in my opinion.
As for the glossy finish being totally unsuitable for any professional use, I'm not 100% sure that's the case. Our own Jon Honeyball sounded off about the glossy/matte debate not too long ago, and he made a very strong argument for the superiority of glossy screens.
By SashaMuller on 13 Oct 2011
Adjustable stand solution
My friend who has a Cinema display props it up on some Haynes manuals which are always a talking point for visitors. I agree that this adjustability should be built in though, scandalous.
By robblack21 on 13 Oct 2011
"Very well designed"?
Sure it looks great photographed in isolation like this. I'd like to see what it looks like with cables in all those sockets on the back which look pretty poorly thought out to me!
At this sort of price premium, Apple could surely have afforded to position the sockets on the monitor foot so the cables would be less obtrusive and easier to access?
By JohnAHind on 14 Oct 2011
Your own Features Analysis, (http://www.pcpro.co.uk/features/370543/is-apple-p
ushing-away-professionals) suggest not.
By Duggie on 14 Oct 2011
"Apple's multitalented Thunderbolt Display is more than just a 27in monitor"
At that price it would have to be.
I'd rather get a high quality 30" monitor for the same price.
By Lacrobat on 15 Oct 2011
Messy cables and 30in monitors
JohnAHind, it's possible to run the cables through the hole in the stand's rear. That way, all the cables can be kept out of sight.
A few monitors place USB sockets on their sides, granted, but then the kind of items you'd be plugging in occasionally - like USB storage - would be more easily plugged into the Thunderbolt-equipped Macbook right in front of you. :)
Lacrobat, unless you own a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac, I rather think a pricier 30in display may be more suitable. But you'll struggle to find one with this kind of colour accuracy for £899. By the time you've factored in a suitable colorimeter to match the Apple's performance, you'll be looking at well over a grand!
By SashaMuller on 17 Oct 2011
OK, maybe the cables would not be visible from the screen-side, but they are still going to look pretty tacky from the back, spoiling the look of your reception desk.
Granted, connectors on the side is not ideal either, but at this price point they could have afforded a concealed fixed cable in the stand and connectors at desk level on the stand foot.
It would even have been better if they'd simply located the connectors behind the stand upright so they were screened by it.
By JohnAHind on 17 Oct 2011
...everyone would complain that the ports were hidden behind the stand upright and therefore difficult to access.
You just can't win, can you. :)
I've really not encountered many (any?) displays that have got the connectivity aspect spot on. Many business displays have concealed cable routing, but then every time you swivel the display into portrait mode it unceremoniousy yanks all the cables out the back. Not ideal.
What we need is wireless Thunderbolt. Everything automagically connected via the airwaves. Or something.
By SashaMuller on 17 Oct 2011
Sasha wel done! Good review
Why is it so many people have nothing better to do than to write negative comments?
I'm an IT manager, 1 years experience with Apple products, 15 years with everything else. I have 2 of these displays, one at home the other at work (a large hospital). As it has speakers and other goodies built in, I no longer have a need for separate speakers, webcam and mic, so the missus is much happier with a clear looking work space. I have taken the stand off for my work environment and replaced it with a desk attached flexible leg system which in my experience is common practice in an office environment! As with all Apple products it is well made and packaged. I was initially concerned about the setup (I'm new to macs) but it was totally plug and play or should I say plug and go! It has a select market, but if you have Thunderbolt or LightPeak equipped kit then this is a great choice!
P.S. this monitor out performs the £5K models we are required to use in the X-ray department! After this product the standards for hospital medical displays should be reviewed!
By TOPMAN on 20 Oct 2011
At this point it's basically an £800 upgrade to a brand new computer. I think I just heard my wallet cry out in pain.
I can see businesses buying these and writing them off over a few years against tax but you'd need to pretty flush as a home user to pick up a macbook pro and this at the same time.
By steviesteveo on 13 Jan 2012
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