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Dell S2330MX 23" LED Monitor Review

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AkG

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For many consumers the overall dimension and footprint of their monitor just doesn’t seem to matter but for those of us who are constrained by a limited amount of desktop real estate, size does indeed matter. It just so happens that in order to condense as much hardware into a small space, engineers usually have to look towards innovative designs. We’ve already seen this with smaller high performance notebooks like Dell’s XPS 14z and Sony’s Vaio Z and quite a few of the newer high end LED HDTVs. PC monitors have also received a healthy dose of redesign away from the utilitarian looks of yesteryear and Dell’s new S2330MX is no exception. It strives to offer great looking industrial design while taking up a minimal amount of space on your desk.

The S2330MX is not only thin and sure to impress consumers who demand waifish dimensions but it also represents Dell’s thinnest monitor to date. With an overall depth which varies from 30.3mm down to an amazing 9.9mm, there are USB thumb-drives which are thicker than this!

Usually in order to make a monitor as thin as possible certain compromises have to be made in either price, performance or the build quality. With a MSRP of only $249.99 – and a sale price of under $180 - Dell doesn’t seem to have taken Apple’s by associating high end industrial design with an exponentially increased price. This naturally begs the question as to what exactly has been done to make this new 23” 1080p monitor so thin and yet still be so reasonably priced. There of course is a third option and that is no severe compromises have been and the S2330MX is what many consumers – even those not looking for an ultra slim monitor – are looking for: a monitor which is not only reasonably priced but performs as good as it looks.

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



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specs3.jpg

 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Dell S2330MX

A Closer Look at the Dell S2330MX



With its razor sharp lines, classic black styling and dimensions thinner than most people’s index finger, the Dell S2330MX is built to impress the minimalist in all of us. While it may not have a glossy exterior or flashy Lucite coverings, the S2330MX is truly meant to be a functional conversation piece and one that is sure to garner numerous double takes from even the most jaded of consumers. It is meant to make prople reconsider any preconceived notions they may have on how much “footprint” a 23” monitor is supposed to have and is sure to make your existing monitor – even if it is a last generation “ultra thin” design – look chunky, bloated and outdated in comparison.

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One side effect of making the majority of the S2330MX less than 10mm thick is its removal of physical buttons in favor of a touch sensitive interface. This in and of itself is not necessarily a negative – as we have seen some moderately decent implementations of capacitive buttons – but in the case of the S2330MX it is a major hurdle you will have to overcome in order to properly configure certain settings.

Dell_S2330MX_ports.jpg


While the downright anorexic thickness of this monitor is very impressive, the rather slim array of input options is disappointing. In grand total we get one analog “VGA” port, one DVI port, and the power connector port for the external power brick. No HDMI port, DisplayPort or even a USB hub is included. Helping to negate this issue is the included HDMI to DVI adapter.

Between these three main input options most consumers’ needs should be adequately satisfied, but we do wish that a DisplayPort had also been included for those that want to do away with the clunky DVI connection. Also on the positive side is the input options direct-on positioning which makes accessing these ports extremely easy. However, the typical straight-style connectors do tend to detract from the overall look and significantly increase the thickness of this monitor. Needless to say, if you have to use the included DVI to HDMI adapter, you may wish to invest in a good 90° connector.

Dell_S2330MX_base_sm.jpg

The rather petite ring style base certainly does blend seamlessly with the rest of the S2330MX but it does come with some major downsides. Chief amongst them is the inability to completely stabilize this monitor and a good push – for example at poking the “buttons” to no avail – can upturn the whole affair if done with enough force. This is a cardinal sin for base designs and one where form should never take a back seat to function.

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On the “function” side of the equation, this base is rather limited in its abilities. With it, you can tilt the monitor from +4° to -21° which is very good but it can’t swivel, rotate nor adjust the S2330MX’s height.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations


While the On Screen Display’s layout may be slightly different than those found on other Dell monitors we have looked at, the S2330MX’s is extremely intuitive and easy to use and will be instantly recognizable by anyone who has ever used a Dell monitor in the past couple years. With a simple press of any button – besides the power button - you are presented with a quick access menu consisting of color mode, brightness / contrast and main menu shortcut options. This allows for quick access to the most used submenus without the need for digging through the main On Screen Display menu. Most consumers will never need to venture further than this area once they have their monitor properly calibrated.

menu_main.jpg


If there’s a requirement for more in-depth options the main menu is sure to satisfy most of your cravings. We were also impressed to see that Dell carried over the handy Energy Meter which tells you (in real time) what kind of effects your settings have upon this display’s power consumption.

menu_gamma.jpg


Unfortunately, while the S2330MX has inherited many good aspects from Dell’s more expensive lines it also had some of their weaknesses carried over as well. Some of the more fine grain tweaking abilities of this monitor are buried awfully deep in sub menus and for beginners may be impossible to find. For example, to correct the extremely flawed default color profile you will need to access “color mode” in the shortcut menu, change the mode to “Custom” and finally select Red, Green or Blue to correct their values. This certainly is a lot of digging to do and a lot of button presses on the horribly unresponsive touch-sensitive buttons.

On the positive side, R,G,B can be corrected individually and once someone understands the logic behind Dell’s menu layout it does become very easy to navigate. More importantly, these fine grain control features are usually accessed once for the initial setup and then left alone for the most part.

menu_modes.jpg


While the R,G,B values can be calibrated to your heart’s content, the gamma of this monitor is fixed at a set value and Windows’ built in correction abilities will have to be used to get the optimal picture quality. Dell may have seen fit to include eight preset modes which should cover most consumers’ needs but not one has gamma correction abilities However, we have to remember that the S2330MX is a value orientated monitor and this lack of gamma correction is pretty much par for the course in the sub-$300 price bracket.

The S2330MX’s On Screen Display may not be without a few minor issues, but on the whole it is very good. Most first time consumers will quickly grasp the fairly intuitive and easy to navigate menus but as with many Dell monitors the OSD may leave advanced users craving for even more.
 
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AkG

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Image Quality (Uniformity / Gamma)

Calibrated Settings


Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.

Mode: Custom Color
Brightness: 34%

All other settings are left at standard defaults.

Notes:
- All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
- Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DVI.

As we alluded to in the introduction, to make the Dell S2330MX so amazingly thin while staying within a frugal budget, Dell had to make certain compromises in its design. As you will see the end result is a TN panel which varies from moderately impressive to less than optimal in its capabilities. Overall though, we do think that for such a thin monitor this is actually a decent piece of equipment. It may not be perfect but it should satisfy most home users’ needs while still offering a small footprint.

With a maximum output of 260 cd/m2, the Dell S2330MX may not be the brightest TN monitor we have seen recently, but it still is more than bright enough for any scenario we can think of. Of course for most needs anything over 120 – 140 is wasted on most computer monitors.


Panel Uniformity


In a perfect world a screen's brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards.

unifrom.jpg


For such a small monitor, a variance of 23% between one area and the next is simply abysmal. This is obviously a symptom of having such an ultra thin design but the end result is a panel with a bright spot in the bottom left corner and – a first for any panel reviewed – dark spot in the middle of the right hand side.


Gamma Performance


Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection however will be noticed by just about everyone.


gamma.jpg


While 2.06 is not the absolute worst default gamma we have seen, it is lower than what we would be comfortable with leaving it at its default levels. While we do consider this result to be more mediocre than poor, we still strongly recommend adjusting the gamma profile in Windows to help correct this moderate deficiency.
 
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AkG

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Colour Saturation Levels / Default RGB Levels

Colour Saturation Levels


While there are numerous colors the human eye can't "see", the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufactures (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described and while various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn't highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the "wide color gamut" moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear "off" to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel which won't be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.


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While S2330MX is rated for 82% coverage, this particular panel is unable to fully reach all three corners of the sRGB spectrum. In fact, if you take a close look you can see that all three numbers are off and there is the distinct shift towards blue we have come to associate with LED backlit monitors. To be fair, this “shift” could simply be because of the lack of Red and Green’s abilities rather than a true blue shift.


Default RGB Levels


An LCD or LCD LED backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image so closer to each of these colours is to a "perfect" 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.


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The S2330MX has the single worst performance results we have ever seen in this test. These numbers are so far off from where they should be, the unnatural colour will be noticeable to the untrained eye. Tweaking will of course improve these results but there is just no way we would consider using this particular monitor in its our of box configuration.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles / Maximum Contrast Ratio / Power Consumption

Viewing Angles


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.


view.jpg


While the off vertical axis image of this monitor is actually good for a TN panel, the off horizontal axis image is what we would consider fairly average. In other words, the angle does not need to be all that extreme before a large color shift happens and rather large overall degradation in sharpness and brightness occurs. As with any TN panel, if you need to view the S2330MX from an extreme angle for extended period of time, we recommend turning the screen.


Maximum Contrast Ratio


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

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It does appear that the overall color gamut is negatively impacted by the thin design but the contrast ratio remains quite good. For a TN monitor these numbers are fairly decent but we still wouldn’t recommend this particular monitor for any serious professional work. Nonetheless, the results we see here are more than adequate for most home users.


Power Consumption


To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The Calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.

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With a maximum power draw of only 29 watts and a calibrated power consumption of only 20 watts the S2330MX is quite frugal. 20 watts may not be the absolute lowest we have seen, but it impressive nonetheless. In fact the S2330MX will consume less power than what many light bulbs used in your average “green” home would.
 
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AkG

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Gaming Performance / Movie Performance

Gaming Performance


Dell_S2330MX_game_UNcorrect.jpg

Pre-calibration

Dell_S2330MX_game_correct.jpg

Post-calibration

It goes without saying that the S2330MX needs significant color and gamma correction to truly get an immersive gaming experience. The noticeable color shift creates a very odd looking default color profile and causes games to look like they have gone through a post modernist's “Color Field” abstract color filter.

With the colors corrected and the gamma set to a proper 2.2 the end result is a fairly positive experience. On the whole most consumers will be more than happy with what this ultra thin panel can do. Unfortunately, we are not most people. While this monitor is listed as a 2ms - and thus should have no noticeable ghosting or smearing - we did notice some ghosting and streaking during fast paced games. It certainly wasn't excessive, but the very fact that we could notice any degradation is downright troubling. In the pictures above you will also see the lackluster panel uniformity exhibited by this monitor with the right hand side of the screen being noticeably lighter than the surrounding areas, even when calibrated.

Dell_S2330MX_g1_sm.jpg
Dell_S2330MX_g3_sm.jpg

When we compare the gaming experience of the S2330MX against “slower” 6ms IPS panels such as the Dell UltraSharp U2410 or the 5ms Dell UltraSharp 2412, it loses by a noticeable margin. When compared to what a PLS monitor such as the Samsung 27850 can do, the difference is not only large, but is down right excessive. This really is the first "2ms" panel we have tested which exhibited any motion related issues. To make such a thin monitor the electronics and other internal components had to be minimized and obviously the engineers made one too many compromises in this regard.

To be perfectly candid, unless you are actively looking for ghosting or image smearing you will only notice it occasionally. In all likelihood this issue should not negatively impact most consumers' gaming enjoyment in a large way. Rather, this is just something which needs to be taken into consideration when judging this monitor and if it is right for your particular needs.


Movie Performance


Dell_S2330MX_movie_UNcorrect.jpg

Pre-calibration

Dell_S2330MX_movie_correct.jpg

Post-calibration​

As we already mentioned, the S2330MX does have a noticeable color shift so we strongly recommend you take the few moments required to correct the default colors and gamut as otherwise your movie experience will be marred with washed out and just plain “off” colors. Thankfully, modifying these values is fairly easy via the OSD.

When the color and gamma were corrected, the S2330MX provided a passable movie viewing experience. It certainly may not be the absolute best we have ever witnessed, but the streaking or ghosting seen during games wasn't as apparent. It truly was average to slightly above average for a TN panel, but that is all. What this means is that even when tweaked, the color gamut and lower contrast provides a very decent – and fairly enjoyable – movie experience but it is simply not as lifelike as most PLS or IPS panels.

Dell_S2330MX_m1_sm.jpg
Dell_S2330MX_m3_sm.jpg

On paper the U2412 is the inferior model with a slower response rate and larger pixel dot pitch (.269 vs .265), yet the reality is the UltraSharp utilizes a vastly superior panel. Luckily, the UltraSharp is also more expensive by a large –nearly 50% - margin. When compared against some other TN monitors in this price range, the S2330MX can certainly hold its own. It may not be an out and out knockout like the Samsung 27850 was, but it is about average for this price range.
 
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AkG

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Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results

Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results


In a perfect world either every monitor would come factory calibrated to perfection or every single consumer would own a decent colorimeter. We don’t live in such a world and as such most consumers simply use the old Mark 1 Mod 0 eyeball to fix any imperfections with the stock colors of their new monitor.

In order to gauge how easy this is to do for a given monitor we have included a new set of tests. These tests will be carried out before any of our standard tests and will consist of us using a combination of the free online LCD Monitor Test Images (found here LCD monitor test images) and then if necessary the free Hex2Bit Monitor Calibration Wizard (found here Hex2Bit - Software by Mike Walters). The goal of these tests is to not only gauge how easy it is to accurately calibrate a given monitor using only the onboard monitor tools, but to see how closely we can come to what a Spyder3 Elite can do.


To obtain these results we did the following:
- used custom color mode
- ensured dynamic contrast was off
- lowered the brightness to 35 (which resulted in a 124 cd/m2)
- lowered Red to 86
- lowered Green to 78
- lowered Blue to 82
- Slightly adjusted windows gamma setting to correct for gamma
- All other settings left to default levels

rgb_man.jpg


gamma_man.jpg


After spending a good forty minutes correcting the default colors we walked away with very mixed feelings towards the S2330MX’s OSD and controls. On the one hand, the OSD allows for fine grain control of all but Gamma and was extremely easy to navigate thanks to our previous experiences with Dell monitors. In this regard, we liked the S2330MX and think it can easily be adjusted to levels which will be more than adequate for all but the most nit-picky of consumers.

Sadly, we have also have come to hate touch-less interfaces even more than we did before. To say that these buttons are imprecise, variable and down right annoying to use is an understatement. Touching the controls in the exact same way – for example adjusting Red up or down – can result in either the monitor sensing the touch and implementing the adjustment, implementing multiple false “presses”, or ignoring a command and not registering any input at all. These buttons have a serious sense of dyslexia.

While fighting with the controls is surely frustrating, the end result is still well worth it but be prepared to budget in a good three quarters of an hour - or more - to get the colors correct. We also recommend a good dose of aspirin and maybe some Rogaine to help re-grow the hair you are almost invariably going to pull out while doing this most simple of tasks.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Dell certainly doesn’t have a limited selection of monitors and in order to cater to nearly every possible category, there will be a few products here and there which don’t quite seem to fit. The S2330MX is one of those. It has a razor thin profile and an overall footprint which is diminutive compared to the competition but far too many sacrifices have been made on the image quality and connectivity fronts for it to be all that appealing.

Let’s start with the good first because regardless of certain limitations we encountered throughout testing. Anyone who wants a comment worthy piece of art in the place of a capable panel should look no further since this thing looks absolutely stunning. At a svelte 9.9mm, we really can’t think of a monitor that’s better suited to a minimalist’s environment. The OSD is also praiseworthy and should (in theory) allow you to calibrate the S2330MX to within a close approximation of a natural colour pallet. And then there’s the price, both the initial purchase cost and long term viability. At just $249 (and under $199 during Dell’s frequent sales) this is one of the least expensive monitors we’ve looked at and a high efficiency value means the S2330MX will cost peanuts to run.

Unfortunately a low cost along with an amazingly slim design usually scream TN panel and that’s exactly what this monitor got saddled with. TN technology is usually known for its poor colour reproduction and subpar viewing angles and both are evident on the S2330MX. Add in a healthy dose of uniformity issues along with touch sensitive buttons that will have anyone screaming in frustration and you can quickly picture the experience we had with our test unit. Even when calibrated, it still had a noticeable blue shift. The final nail in this monitor’s picture quality coffin is the slight in game ghosting which is downright unacceptable on a “2ms” TN panel.

Most believe that form follows function but a vast swath of the current market is willing to make sacrifices in favor of great looks and design touches which spark conversations. The S2330MX may certainly hit all the high points on the looks front, we feel that Dell has ignored a few too many image quality issues in order to achieve their goals of providing us with a slim but cost friendly monitor. This is one monitor which has the potential to meet nearly anyone’s goals and can almost shine if massaged enough but narrowly misses the mark in most situations.


Pros:

-Very power efficient
-Reasonably priced
-Extremely thin design & small footprint
-Good if quirky OSD
-Numerous color profiles included


Cons:

- Rather poor panel uniformity
- Default color profile needs a ton of adjustment
- Touch sensitive buttons which are a pain to use
- Limited input options
- Less than impressive viewing angles
- Short Warranty
 
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