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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Review: 27-inch Samsung ViewFinity S9

two monitors

I’ve been planning to set up a second workspace in my house, and the biggest stumbling block has been figuring out what display to place on the desk. I’ve got an Apple Studio Display on my primary desk, and since it was preceded by an iMac Pro and a 5K iMac, I’ve really gotten used to having a 27-inch screen with 5K resolution.

But that Apple Studio Display costs $1599, which is a lot. The LG UltraFine lists at $1299, and I can find it for under $1000 on Amazon, but I’ve also heard from many friends and readers that it’s got mediocre build quality and some reliability issues.

Samsung decided to take its own crack at the Apple-friendly 27-inch 5K monitor format with its new ViewFinity S9 display, which lists at the same $1599 price as Apple’s display but offers a bunch of different features that potentially make it a better buy. So I bought one and took it for a spin.

Depending on what your needs are, the ViewFinity S9 might be a much better option than the Apple display. It’s certainly a legitimate competitor to Apple’s display in a market that’s thin on the ground. But Samsung’s display is also saddled with a bunch of quirks that leave me unconvinced that most Apple-using buyers would choose it over Apple’s display at the same price.

Design decisions

back of two monitors

The ViewFinity S9’s physical design is clearly influenced by Apple’s minimalist approach. It’s rectangular with very small bezels, clad in silver (some metal, some plastic), with the only Samsung branding on the back of the display where you don’t have to look at it. It’s using the same familiar 27-inch IPS 5120-by-2880-pixel panel I’ve had on my desk for years. If you put one of these on your desk, it would not stick out like a sore thumb compared to all the Apple hardware that surrounds it. (Well… except for the sensor housing that sticks out of the bottom of the display, but more on that in a moment.)

The Samsung display comes with a Thunderbolt 4 port, three USB-C (2.0) ports, and a mini DisplayPort input, which is also on par with Apple’s display. But the ViewFinity S9 hardware lags behind Apple’s display in quite a few areas. First off, it doesn’t plug into a wall—instead, it plugs into a large, heavy black power brick. And while I’ve grown a little jaded about Apple’s boasting about the multi-speaker audio arrays in its laptops and displays, I was not prepared for the lousy, tinny sound that came out of the ViewFinity S9’s speakers. (I guess that’s why it’s not called HearFinity…)

Samsung’s magnet-attach webcam (top) can’t tilt over the edge far enough to frame me properly at my desk (bottom).

One of the knocks on the Apple display is that the company chose a wide-screen camera with Center Stage for its webcam, resulting in a lower-quality picture than many people expected. Samsung does this differently, including a 4K webcam that attaches magnetically to the back of the display, where there’s a set of pins that carry USB via an included adapter. It’s a perfectly fine webcam, but because it’s mounted on the back of the display, it barely peeks above the top of the display. While the camera can extend upward slightly and tilt down, my head was still at the very bottom of the frame—and there’s no real way to adjust it beyond that. With third-party software, I was able to zoom in and make it look a little better, but at that point, it looked worse than the Studio Display’s webcam. (Turns out this stuff is harder than it looks.)

While the two displays have the same base price, the fact is that the $1599 Samsung display is more ergonomically versatile than the Apple display at the same price. Samsung’s default base is both tilt and height adjustable—it even lets you rotate the display 90 degrees. If you want a tilt and height adjustable Studio Display, Apple will charge you $1999.

There’s more. The ViewFinity comes with a glare-resistant coating by default; if you want Apple’s glare-reduced model, that’ll be $1899 (without the adjustable stand) or $2299 (with it). These days, I don’t sit with my back to a window, so I don’t really need that glare reduction, but back in my corporate days, I frequently had a window right behind me, and having an anti-glare screen was a necessity.

This gets to the core of the decision-making process when weighing the ViewFinity S9 versus the Studio Display. If you’re not content with a non-adjustable stand (or using a VESA mount, since Apple doesn’t charge extra to not include a stand), or if you need an anti-glare screen, the Samsung display will cost appreciably less than Apple’s model. The question is, do the weird quirks of owning a Samsung display outweigh that price difference?

Smart TV features: bonus or burden?

Blue Screen of Samsung

Here’s the thing about the ViewFinity S9: It’s not just a standalone display—it’s a Samsung Smart TV with all the features and quirks that come along with that status. If you think it’s weird that the Apple Studio Display runs iOS under the covers, think about the idea of your display running Samsung’s Tizen OS and requiring software updates via a menu interface driven by the included infrared remote control. If you are seeking a simple, dumb display, run away.

I’m not going to review the Smart TV features on the ViewFinity S9, though I will say that I found the remote’s button layout confusing. Out of the box, it didn’t work quite right, so I had to dive into the menus to properly set it to use the right settings as a Mac display.

When you put your Mac to sleep or shut it down, a bright blue screen appears, warning you that the display will enter standby mode in 45 seconds. It’s jarring, and if there’s a way to turn that feature off, I couldn’t find it. When the display’s in standby mode, it will spring back into action the moment you start up or wake up your Mac. (If you choose to turn the display off, however, you’ll need to turn it back on when you wake or boot your Mac.)

The moment I connected to my home Wi-Fi, things got weirder. The TV suddenly popped up a live TV guide, apparently fed from Samsung-mediated streaming stations. I could install various apps. I also had to agree to a bunch of Samsung privacy policies, and when I tried to find out where to turn off or opt out of all tracking features, I couldn’t do it from the device. Instead, Samsung referred me to a website that didn’t really make any sense.

The entire process was unpleasant and made me uneasy about what the display was actually going to be able to monitor and send back to Samsung. As a result, after I updated the display’s firmware, I just turned off the Wi-Fi.

That’s unfortunate, since the display does support AirPlay—and without Wi-Fi, there’s no AirPlay. However, when the Wi-Fi was on, I did test the AirPlay functionality. My movie looked like a soap opera because motion smoothing was turned on by default. I tried to turn it off, but every remote press disconnected the AirPlay. I finally managed to turn off that setting using the physical power button on the back of the display, right above the back of the infrared receiver housing. (Yes, the Samsung display does have a power button—putting it one up on Apple—though it’s more of a multi-function rocker switch that navigates menu items.)

If you aren’t concerned about Samsung’s privacy policies and want a 27-inch computer display that can double as a smart TV, here it is! There are probably better options out there, but if you’ve got severely limited space (like a college dorm room), the ViewFinity S9 can pull double duty.

Back to the drawing board

If I were only in the market for a base-model Apple Studio Display, I wouldn’t opt for the Samsung display at the same price. Since I don’t want the Smart TV features, they just get in the way, and (surprise, surprise) Apple does a better job of integrating its own display into the Mac interface.

Samsung really missed an opportunity to price this display closer to LG’s model than to Apple’s. The ViewFinity S9 only becomes a serious competitor to Apple’s display if you want an adjustable stand, need your display to be resistant to glare, or both. Frankly, I don’t like the idea of spending even $1599 on a display, but I certainly wouldn’t want to spend $1899 or $1999 or $2299 on one.

As for the ViewFinity S9 and my second workspace? Nope. I’m going to keep looking. I’m returning the Samsung.

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