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Samsung’s behemoth curved monitor.
CURVEBALL

Curved monitors may save you from the tyranny of the open-plan office

By Mike Murphy

Crunching chips. Music blaring from headphones. Phone conversations that sound like shouting matches. Everyone knowing where you are at every moment.

Open-plan office, which have been rising in popularity since the second half of the 20th century, are meant to promote a collegial, creative work atmosphere, where employees are all in the mix of office life together. But in reality, they are often loud, and compromise private and personal space. I think I have found a modest solution.

No one wants to redesign every office back into the dreary, cubicle-filled graveyards of the past. An alternative might be a much simpler: a large, curved computer monitor and a pair of decent headphones.

For the last week or so, I’ve replaced the two-screen laptop-and-monitor combo I usually have at my desk with a massive, 34-inch, curved-screen monitor from Samsung (a CJ791, to be specific). 

When I unpacked the behemoth and had to completely reorganize my desk to fit the thing on there, I was skeptical. I had been using a 27-inch iMac desktop, and found all the real estate the Samsung afforded me to actually be a nuisance. Then I realized something was different with the curved monitor: Whereas the iMac screen felt nearly as tall as it was wide, the Samsung screen, with an aspect ratio of 21:9, felt far wider than a typical monitor, but just as tall. (The iMac’s ratio is 16:9.)

The wide, curved screen of the review unit felt like it was wrapping around my field of view as I sat at my desk. I could have multiple windows open at a large size, on one display, and I didn’t have to tilt my head or eyes up to read. Sitting normally, I could see everything. The monitor even powers my MacBook (it has a USB-C Thunderbolt port, as well as about every other connector you could possibly want, that passes power through to the laptop), helping cut down on the clutter on my desk a little bit.

The curvature of the screen isn’t that dramatic, perhaps an inch on either side from the center of the display, but I found the effect to be surprisingly immersive and conducive to sitting at my desk and working. With headphones on, I was able to write comfortably for hours, feeling like I was in my own little world, as my screen wrapped around me. I wasn’t distracted by anyone in my curved-screen cocoon.

Quartz/Mike Murphy
Not the best use of the curved screen, but you get the idea.

Many screen manufacturers have stopped making or scaled back production of curved TV screens, as consumers generally found them to be too gimmicky, and unless you’re sitting dead-middle in front of it, you get a warped view of whatever is on display. Sitting at a desk in front of a computer, however, is an entirely different experience than watching TV in a living room. At your desk, you’re in prime position to be enveloped by everything you have in front of you. I opened the program TweetDeck in full-screen, and I felt like I was in the Matrix.

Obviously, curved screens don’t provide nearly the same amount of privacy as a cubicle might, and this particular display, while gorgeous, will set you back around $880, so it’s not likely going to be the solution for most offices. But there are others out there for half the price or less, and the screen has given me a small modicum of privacy in a busy office, and with everything going on in the news these days, that’s very welcome.