The thought of suggesting a $999 computer monitor purchase, for myself or just about anyone else, is enough to give one pause. One dollar short of $1,000 is, well, still a lot of money, no matter how you look at it.
At the same time, staring into the screen of the Apple Thunderbolt Display makes this a less daunting idea. Not only is the 27-inch (diagonal measure) display just stunning, but the functionality of that "Thunderbolt" bit really has to be experienced to be believed.
Some background: Thunderbolt is a technology developed by Intel Corp., in collaboration with Apple, that provides a rather high speed way to connect a bunch of peripherals in what's called a "daisy chain," or a series of connections. The computer connects via Thunderbolt to a display, which connects to a storage device, which connects to another display and so on. The chains are not infinite: About six Thunderbolt peripherals, all told, are the maximum a chain will hold.
Most of Apple's Macintosh computer models launched since 2011 have at least one Thunderbolt port, from which you can start the chain. This includes the Mac mini, the MacBook Air and all current MacBook Pro models. Missing from the list is the Mac Pro desktop tower, which is aimed at a specialized group of users, but that's about all.
The Thunderbolt display, an LED-backlit behemoth with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, was easy to set up. Plug in the power cord, connect to one of the two Thunderbolt ports on my MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and we were off. A nice side benefit: The monitor also includes a power connector for the notebook computer, charging the device while "docked" to the monitor. And, a "MagSafe 2" adapter is packed in, meaning the Thunderbolt display can charge all sorts of portable Macs.
What I wasn't prepared for, frankly, was how easy this device makes my daily computing. The back of the Thunderbolt display has a Gigabit Ethernet adapter, a FireWire 800 connector, and three powered USB 2.0 ports, which can be used to charge an iPhone, iPod or iPad, among other devices. Those extra ports free up connections on the laptop, including the two, higher-speed USB 3.0 ports on the device. You can't be too rich, too thin or have too many ports available -- at least the last one is undeniably true.
In operation, everything worked the way it is supposed to work, which in the case of an Apple product is, well, flawlessly. A 27-inch display is one whale of a large canvass on which to open up a Microsoft Word file, or an Adobe Acrobat PDF file or a photo. Because I work in a cubicle, cranking up the built-in speakers wouldn't have been neighborly, but even at a modest volume, the sound seemed quite good. I haven't yet tried the (also built-in) webcam, but I'm sure it will render a good performance.
Aesthetically, the Thunderbolt Display offers the kind of clean lines and stylish design common to Apple's most recent displays and iMac desktops. I might prefer a design that rotated as well as pivoted, but for most purposes, this should work just fine. For those who must put the screen at, say, a 90-degree angle, there's an accessory that will allow you to put it on a VESA-compatible swing arm.
In offices where style is important, for users who have the newest MacBook models, and for those who just like more than a little convenience along with their display screen, the Apple Thunderbolt Display is a winning choice. Yes, it's pricey, but, then again, isn't genius generally considered priceless?
POSTSCRIPT: My weeklong travail with Verizon's customer service (http://bit.ly/RKdwE1) ended Oct. 5 with the repair of my phone line by two very nice service people, followed by an apology from Verizon's regional president. The firm says it tries not to have customers face situations such as the one I experienced, and here's hoping that's the case.
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