What makes for one of the best monitors for programming? Plenty of pixels doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure. The more screen real estate, the more windows and applications you can have open at the same time, be that for coding itself or for collaboration tools.
Ergonomics matter, too. Preferences vary, but many programmers like to have at least the option to rotate a screen into portrait mode to maximize screen height, the better to see as many lines of code at once without the need for scrolling. Similarly, good connectivity can improve ergonomics, especially if you are primarily a laptop user, so USB-C is very desirable.
Less critical are factors like HDR support, extreme color accuracy, high refresh rates and the erest. For sure, you want a screen with decent contrast and colors, if nothing else than to minimize eye strain. But huge dynamic range, eye-piercing brightness and extensive coverage of gamuts like DCI-P3 add cost to a screen for little benefit in a programming context.
How to choose a monitor for programming
First up, we’d look for a fairly high resolution screen. 4K panels are now pretty affordable, especially in 27-inch and 28-inch form factors. That said, 1440p can be a reasonable choice for programming. If you’re the kind of coder who likes to rotate a screen into portrait mode, a pair of cheaper 1440p panels with support for rotation into portrait mode could be an interesting value-orientated option.
On the other hand, if you like to code with several application windows lined up in parallel, an ultrawide panel can make a lot of sense, too. That’s especially true now that one or two ultrawide monitors can be had with 2,160 vertical pixels. So, you’re giving up little when it comes to vertical resolution.
All of that said, we’d still prioritize a higher resolution 4K-plus panel in order to maximize pixel density. When you’re looking at code all day, nice crisp fonts can really help keep eye strain to a minimum. Again, a panel with a fully adjustable stand with support for rotation into portrait would be our pick.
As for panel type and performance, well, IPS technology has the advantage of wide viewing angles, which can be especially helpful in multi-monitor situations. We wouldn’t kick a VA 4K monitor out of bed, though, especially if it was attractively priced.
What we wouldn’t worry about so much is refresh, HDR support and the last word in pixel response. Paying extra for a 120Hz-plus panel provides little benefit for coding. The same applies to HDR monitors with fancy technology like mini-LED backlighting or wide gamut color support, or indeed uber-fast pixel response. All of that just adds cost without any significant upside.
What we would be willing to pay extra for, however, is top notch connectivity. Of particular value is USB Type-C with power delivery. That allows you to hook up a laptop and both drive the display and power the laptop with a single cable. Many USB-C monitors also have USB hubs, so you can connect keyboard, mouse and peripherals like external storage to the display and have them all dock with your laptop with that single cable. It’s pretty sweet. Once you’ve tried USB-C, you won’t want to go back to that rat’s nest of cables.
We’ve also featured the best laptop for programming.
If you’re looking for some affordable 4K action for programming, put the Philips 288E2A on your shortlist. It’s a 28-inch 4K model with plenty of desktop real estate for coding. The pixel density is also decent, so fonts and menus are nice and crisp. It uses an IPS panel, which makes for excellent viewing angles, albeit this isn’t the brightest screen in the world at 300 nits and there’s absolutely no HDR support.
It’s worth noting there’s no USB-C connectivity, which isn’t a huge surprise at this price point. The slim-bezel design looks contemporary and the stand provides both height and tilt adjustment. But there’s no support for rotation into portrait mode, which is a pity. But for the money, this is a lot of monitor.
Read our full Philips 288E2A review (opens in new tab).
Rotating monitors into portrait mode is a popular approach for programmers looking to maximize how much code they can see without scrolling. But the Huawei MateView approaches that problem a little differently. Instead of the usual 16:9 or even 21:9 widescreen aspect ratio, this is an unusually tall 3:2 aspect panel. However, it’s still very high resolution with 3,840 by 2,560 on a 28.2-inch panel. In other words, it’s a 4K monitor with added vertical space. Perfect for coding, some programmers would say.
The USB-C interface with 65W of power delivery for easy single-cable connectivity is another major upside, especially for laptop users. On top of that, this is a punchy panel rated at 500 nits and offers good accuracy at 98 percent coverage of DCI-P3. Not directly relevant for coding, perhaps, but you’re certainly getting great value for money and a strong all-round package.
Read our full Huawei MateView review (opens in new tab).
4K at 32-inches is a seriously nice combo that delivers both nice crisp fonts for coding, plus plenty of desktop real estate for viewing multiple windows and apps at the same time. The AOC U32P2 gives you all that from a 32-inch VA panel at a reasonably affordable price. The VA panel delivers great contrast, which is ideal for extended use.
Granted, at this price point you don’t get USB-C single-cable connectivity with power delivery. But ergonomically, this monitor is a win, thanks to a stand that supports a full range of adjustments including rotate into portrait mode. All told, it’s a very appealing overall package for getting some serious work done.
Read the our full AOC U32P2 review (opens in new tab).
Big screens used to mean fat pixels. But not with the Dell UltraSharp U4021QW. This 40-inch beast boasts 5,120 by 2,160 pixels and the same pixel density as a 32-inch 4K monitor. The result is both huge working space and nice, crisp fonts for coding.
You also get excellent color coverage at 98 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut but even more importantly, USB-C connectivity with 90W of power delivery for slick, single-cable connectivity. It’s not cheap, of course, this 40-inch machine, and there’s no HDR support. But as conventional SDR panels for programming go, this is one heck of a monitor.
Read our full Dell UltraSharp U4021QW review (opens in new tab).
While running a widescreen monitor in portrait mode is popular among coders, an ultrawide monitor can also be an interesting alternative. The Viewsonic VG3448 delivers the 21:9 aspect experience with 3,440 by 1,440 pixels from a decent VA panel at a reasonable price.
It’s a no frills monitor with no USB-C connectivity and no HDR capability. BUt the VA panel delivers good contrast and loads of working space for viewing multiple windows and apps in parallel. The chassis also supports VESA mounting, so it could make for an interesting option mounted to a VESA stand and orientated into portrait mode for a massive 3,440 pixels and zillions of lines of viewable code.
Read our full Viewsonic VG3448 review (opens in new tab).
Five things to look out for on a display for programming:
- Pixel density matters when it comes to nice, crisp fonts. And nice crisp fonts make long coding sessions more comfortable. So go for a high resolution monitor.
- Rotating a widescreen monitor into portrait mode provides oodles of space for viewing code without scrolling. Not all monitors can switch to portrait mode.
- USB-C connectivity with power delivery makes life so much easier and tidier for laptop users. Simply hook up to the display and your peripherals with a single cable.
- Don’t worry about expensive features like HDR support, crazy high refresh rates or uber low response times. They won’t help you streamline your code.
- Panel type isn’t hugely critical, but we’d still favour IPS or VA over a really cheap TN monitor when it comes to long term comfort and usability.
How we tested
We review monitors based on a number of factors including price, design, and performance. We consider the size of each display, along with panel type, resolution, refresh rate, color coverage and HDR support. We also consider connectivity, including HDMI, DisplayPort, USB-C and wireless interfaces.
Pixel density and color accuracy are particularly important for digital design monitors, but so are ergonomics, so we assess stand adjustability and stability. Finally, build quality and value for money are judged against competitors in the market.