How To Make The Most Of An Ultrawide Monitor

How To Make The Most Of An Ultrawide Monitor
A Lenovo Legion Y44w-10 set up with a MacBook Pro. (Photo: Gizmodo)

We’ve long been champions of the dual-monitor setup—it’s one of those upgrades that you don’t really appreciate enough until you actually invest in it—but expanding to an even larger ultrawide monitor can be way more beneficial. Here’s why they can work so well and how to get the most out of one.

If you’ve not browsed through the latest and greatest monitors on the market recently, ultrawide monitors are exactly what they sound like: Computer displays with ridiculous aspect ratios like 21:9, or 32:9, or even 32:10 (see the 34-inch Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW, the 49-inch Samsung C49RG9, or the 43.4-inch Lenovo Legion Y44w-10).

These monitors are usually curved, especially at the bigger sizes, so you’re almost wrapped in a sea of pixels. It looks overwhelming at first, and it is, but once you’ve adjusted to the setup it can make a world of difference to the way you work.

Monitors like the Samsung C49RG9 can cope with games and everyday computing. (Image: Samsung)

First of all, let’s talk about the apps that work well on an ultrawide monitor. There’s TweetDeck, of course—we’ve been known to fit a total of 12 side-by-side TweetDeck columns on an ultrawide monitor, which is almost too much for a pair of human eyes to properly take in.

Video editors like Adobe Premiere Pro are often used in combination with ultrawide monitors too. They work well on these super-stretched screens because they have so many windows of their own, covering the timeline, the video preview, filters and effects, a file navigator, and so on.

Ultrawide monitors can work for gamers too, though not every game out there is optimised for these sorts of displays: Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Forza Horizon 4, No Man’s Sky, and Sea of Thieves are some of the best experiences, drawing worlds that you can really get lost in with an ultrawide display.

That’s a lot of tweets. (Photo: Gizmodo)

Not everything works so well, though—you don’t really want websites stretched out across a vast distance, while the majority of TV shows will come with black bars at the side of the screen when you maximise them. Movies work better, as the majority are now shot in an aspect ratio close to 21:9.

Besides games and the applications we’ve mentioned, the major benefit of an ultrawide screen is the same as it is for a dual-monitor setup: Increased productivity. You can get three or even more windows up at the same time, which means less switching between programs and browser tabs, which means more time actually doing something useful.

If you’re on Windows, there’s a ‘snap’ feature you can make use of on an ultrawide screen (or indeed any display)—drag the title bar of a window to the far left or far right edge of the monitor, and it’ll automatically dock to one side of the screen, and take up half of the available real estate. You can use the cursor keys too: Hold down the Windows key then tap Left or Right to snap the current window.

FancyZones is part of PowerToys from Microsoft. (Screenshot: Gizmodo)

That’s good for getting two programs or two browser tabs up side by side, but on an ultrawide display you probably want to go further: One of the best tools for the job is Microsoft’s own PowerToys, which includes a FancyZones feature for splitting your screen up into custom grids (like, say, three side-by-side columns). You can have your windows fit to whatever template you like, with or without borders between them.

Those of you on macOS can use what’s called Split View: If you click and hold on the full screen button (the green one) in the top left corner of any window, then choose Tile Window to Left of Screen or Tile Window to Right of Screen, it’ll snap to the left or right side of the display.

However, as on Windows, there’s no native option for getting open programs into three or four columns, which is exactly what you’ll want to do on an ultrawide monitor. The best third-party utility we’ve found for doing this is Magnet—it’ll set you back $US2 ($3) but it’s well worth it for the window management features it offers.

Magnet works well with ultrawide monitors. (Screenshot: Gizmodo)

With Magnet running, you can click on its menu bar icon and choose from a vast array of positioning options for the current window, including Left Third, Centre Third, and Right Third. You can even have one window take up two-thirds of the screen real estate, and leave another window for the final third.

It’s worth mentioning that these apps aren’t always necessary: Several ultrawide monitors have utilities of their own that perform the same sort of tricks. Some monitors can tile and snap multiple inputs on the same screen, so you could have an Apple TV connected and showing on one half of the display, and your MacBook Pro on the other half.

Ultimately what you get is a lot of flexibility. These ultrawide monitors aren’t cheap, and need a fairly decent computer to power all those pixels (most modern laptops and desktops will suffice), but if your budget can stretch to a setup like this then there’s a very good chance you’ll find it worth the investment.