A 34" Ultrawide monitor connected to a laptop

Going ultra-wide for productivity purposes

Someone on Twitter DM’d me about my home set-up and use of an Ultra-wide monitor. Read on if you are the sort of academic/knowledge worker who concerns themselves with workflow.

What is an Ultra-wide?

So an Ultra-wide is a class of monitor that is 21×9 or other ratios that stretches the horizontal bias rather than the standard 16×9 ratio. The monitor I have is a 34″ Philip 346B. You can see below how this compares to a standard 25″ monitor (1).

This is a simple of two rectangles to show how an ultra wide is much longer than a traditional monitor.
1: The difference between in size between the 34″ Ultra-wide I’m using (Purple) and a normal 25″ (green) monitor.

Ultra-wide monitors are more expensive than other types of monitor but are coming down in price and worth considering if you are upgrading. My advice is go 29″ or if the budget allows it 34″ as at 25″ you end up with as much vertical space as a 19″ monitor.

If you are a Laptop user with USB-C, get a monitor that has a USB-C hub to both charge and allow you to plug everything else (keyboard, mouse, headphones) into the monitor and attach the laptop via one cable. Something else to be aware of is that most allow you to plug in multiple devices and switch between them with a couple of taps or PiP (Picture in picture) where you can have two devices on one screen (2).

An ultra-wide monitor on a desk connected to a laptop.
2: A laptop plugged into an Ultra-wide – this is connected via a single USB-C cable and the monitor has 4 USB ports on the back.

Using an ultra-wide for productivity

The major benefit for knowledge workers is that when reviewing and editing documents you can see more of the document at any given point. In word at normal size, you can see multiple pages at once – a minimum of 4 pages at normal zoom and more if you decrease the zoom (3).

An image of Microsoft word on an ultrawide monitor. It demonstrates you can see four pages on one screen.
3: Four pages at once in Word.

Similar benefits are found in Microsoft Excel and at normal zoom, I can see from A to BA (52 columns) in one go (4). This makes dealing with financial planning documents easier (but no less painless).

An image of Microsoft excel to demonstrate you can see 52 columns in one go.
4: Excel – Rows A to BA

The other advantage of using an Ultra-wide is that you get the real estate of dual monitors but without a gap. I’m a windows user and just using the built-in Windows snap, you end up with two very large usable windows (5).

This images shows how you can have two applications at one open in large format on an ultrawide screen.
5: Standard two application version

Microsoft does provide something called Fancyzones that allows you to reconfigurable more complex ‘zones’ to divide up the screen. Here I’m using 3 columns to allow me to using multiple programmes at once (say a reference manager, word and a library search – 6).

This image shows that you can be more complex and have three programmes open at once side by side on an ultrawide monitor
6: Here I have WordPress, PowerPoint and Excel all open at usable sizes.

Issues with Ultra-wide monitors

Ultra-wide monitors have a number of quirks that it is worth understanding. The first is that the web is not designed for them. If you have one browser tab open, websites have massive amounts of white space (even more if you are a pihole user like myself).

In the image below, you can see that the Guardian for example does not take advantage of what an ultra-wide can offer. I tend to mitigate this by having multiple windows open and always using it as if it is two screens (7).

This shows if you go to the Guardian - because it's not formatted for an ultrawide, it's main white and grey space.
7: I like a wide open space…

Another thing to watch out for – if you are a google docs user, it absolutely sucks on an ultra-wide because in 2020 it still lacks a multi-page view (8).

This shows that google documents is not set up for multi-pages and shows google docs open with a single page showing and lots and lots of white space.
8: Google docs and its “one page is plenty” world-view.

Overall

Having used two monitors for a number of years and now switched to an ultra-wide, I would not go back – I find the ultra-wide experience superior in every way.

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