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By 29 September 2021
The Dell S271DS 1440p monitor has a surprising amount of color and even FreeSync for casual gamers, but sometimes the image looks washed out.
Some people want the highest resolution, fastest refresh rate or massive color gamut. The best computer monitor for others is one with more mainstream specs, right down the middle of possibilities. If you’re after something with 1440p resolution, the Dell S271DS can fit in that category.
At $300 (or $275 for the same monitor but without a height-adjustable stand) as of writing, it’s a good value for those seeking a monitor they can work and even do some light gaming with, without breaking the bank or settling for the lowest resolution, slowest refresh rate or even a deficit of color. That said, you shouldn’t expect the S271DS to have a stellar image out of the box.
Monitors in all price ranges have become easier to assemble, and the S271DS follows suit. Its stand screws into the base and then snaps into the panel, no tools required. After, you just plug in the power cable. There’s no external brick to take up extra space.
But while the monitor comes with an HDMI cable, there’s no DisplayPort cord in the box. Of course, you can use the monitor’s max refresh rate of 75 Hz with either.
There’s also a driver available on the Dell website. Installation wasn’t intuitive, but I was able to get it running eventually, as well as the free Dell Display Manager, which makes it much easier to manage multiple windows of different sizes than Windows 10.
The S271DS is simply designed, but silver accents and a uniquely shaped base add flair. Borders are small around three sides, at about 0.25 inch each, while the bottom bezel is approximately 0.88 inch, giving it enough room for a silver Dell logo too. This isn’t a ‘bezelless’ look, but things could certainly be chunkier.
The polished silver stand does contribute to the monitor’s sleeker look. The base’s rounded trapezoid-like shape catches my eye but does take up roughly 70 square inches of desk space. The stand includes a small vertical gap for basic cable management, which is a nice touch.
You can VESA mount the monitor, but if you buy the S271DS rather than the S2721D, you might as well use the stand because, as of this writing, it adds $25 to the price. If you don’t need the stand, opt for the latter.
The stand provided with the S271DS is decently flexible. You can use it to tilt the monitor back 5 degrees or forward 21 degrees. You also get a 60-degree swivel to the left and right sides and 4.3 inches of height adjustment (S2721DS only). There is no portrait mode option.
However, once assembled, the monitor was a little wobbly in its stand. Typing aggressively usually made the monitor shake gently. During video calls, my image would wiggle a little, giving away the fact that I was writing emails while listening.
The gentler hump on the monitor’s backside is covered with standard plastic that doesn’t feel particularly durable, but does have an interesting texture and a Dell stamp to break things up. Cables enter the monitor upright with the power cable entering on a separate side of the stand than the others, helping to differentiate things a bit. There’s also a security lock slot on the left side, plus bottom-firing speakers under the panel (more on those later).
You’ll have to stumble your way through four buttons running horizontally on the monitor’s bottom-right underside if you want to mess with the on-screen display (OSD) menu. These buttons are a different texture than the power button to the left of them, which helps avoid confusion. However, a joystick would make operation more intuitive.
Hitting one of the four OSD buttons brings up actions for each button. You can reprogram this, but out of the box one quickly toggles between image preset modes, another adjusts monitor volume, the third brings up the full OSD, or you can X everything out.
Once you pull up the full OSD, you’ll see the Brightness/Contrast menu with individual sliders for 0-100%. There’s also an Input Source menu, and the monitor can switch inputs automatically.
The Color menu lets you pick between preset image modes, and Standard is the default. There’s also ComfortView for fighting low blue light, but it gave the image a gray-yellow look. Movie looks uncomfortably blue. FPS had a greenish tint, and small text was also harder to read. RTS and RPG looked justlight slightly different than Standard, while Warm looked even closer. We’ll focus on the Standard and Warm modes in our testing.
In the Display menu, you can change the aspect ratio, adjust sharpness from 0-100% (it’s at 50% by default). Here, you can also pick if the monitor’s GTG response time is “Normal” (8ms), “Fast” (5ms) or “Extreme” (4ms). The monitor also has a 75 Hz refresh rate. With the best gaming monitors being as fast as 360 Hz with 1ms GTG response times or less, the S271DS is clearly intended for casual gaming at best. Dell also throws in AMD FreeSync, which will fight screen tearing with AMD graphics cards at frame rates as low as 48 frames per second (fps). So if your graphics card can’t maintain at least 48 fps, you may still see screen tearing and/or stuttering. If you have an Nvidia graphics card, you can follow our instructions for How to Run G-Sync on a FreeSync Monitor, but since the monitor’s not certified by Nvidia, smooth performance isn’t guaranteed.
Other options include the ability to reset the monitor, view its service tag number, tweak how long the OSD stays on screen and how transparent it is. You can also turn off DDC/CI, which lets you control the monitor via an app, or turn LCD conditioning on, which is meant to “help reduce minor cases of image retention” and will take “some time to run, depending on the degree of image retention,” according to the monitor’s manual. This could be helpful for keeping the monitor long-term, but we couldn’t test its effectiveness as we only had it for a couple weeks.
The Dell S2721Ds comes out of the box with brightness set to 75%, which is already plenty of nits. I kept it perpendicular to a long, sunny window, and unless it was a very bright day, I usually ended up turning down brightness from its default setting.
When working, small text was, as expected, noticeably less sharp than on the best budget 4K monitors I’m used to working with. A screen the same size as our review unit but with 4K resolution would have a pixel density of 163.2 pixels per inch (ppi), compared to our review focus’ 108.8ppi. But we usually hope for at least 109ppi, so the S271DS is right there.
At default settings, (including with the screen at 75% brightness), contrast is a little low. Yellow emojis lacked distinction against their white background as well. Our testing found that contrast is just 849.7:1 at default settings and increases to 957.5:1 with brightness maxed, which is closer to the 1,000:1 we’d hope for and the 1,200:1 we’ve seen in more premium IPS monitors.
Still, I kept the monitor at its default settings to watch Mission: Impossible – Fallout because, as mentioned, it’s already bright at 75%. I appreciated the level of detail I got in dark scenes. I could see the different colors and cracks in an underground tunnel. In one scene it can be hard to make out people’s faces, but the S271DS ensured I could still see Luther and Walker’s faces. The greens of poplars looked crisp, and as the sun rose on the mountaintops, the monitor portrayed an exquisite shade of orange topped by stark white snow and varying shades of moss.
However, some other parts of the film looked more washed out than usual. For example, Ilsa’s jacket didn’t have the slight hint of olive green that it does on more premium screens and looked grayer instead. And the land underneath Ethan’s body dangling from a helicopter looked more like dead grass rather than the varying shades of green, yellow and brown that I usually see. And a club with orange lights looked flatter and less vibrant.
The monitor did prove great for sharing. I’d have no problem watching the whole movie from a 90-degree angle, even during the day. The darkest scenes had light reflecting off the closest quarter of the screen, but even this was still tolerable.
The S271DS has a 75 Hz refresh rate, which can’t compete with today’s top-of-the-line gaming screens, which are in the 144 – 360 Hz range. However, the monitor is good enough for casual gamers who aren’t playing esports titles that demand the fastest response, and can live with the occasional blur or artifact. When I played Borderlands 3 with an RTX 3060 laptop GPU and the game’s Badass settings, it usually played at around 35- 55 frames fps and looked good for the most part. Although, I did notice motion blur when moving my crosshair quickly to identify enemies, and at low settings I saw the occasional tear when action got very heavy. But since I was just playing for fun and not on an esports level or with others depending on me, this wasn’t overly distracting.
The pair of 3W stereo speakers pumping audio out of the panel’s underside are passable, but if you want to feel immersed in a film or game, you’ll want something more powerful. Audio was detailed enough though. I could hear the sound of the White Widow’s knife swooshing over Mission: Impossible’s soundtrack and grunts, and the dialogue was loud and clear enough. But the speakers lack the bass and volume to make gunshots or explosions feel powerful, especially when it came to gaming.
Our testing includes use of a Portrait Displays SpectraCal C6 colorimeter. To read about our monitor tests in-depth, check out Display Testing Explained: How We Test PC Monitors. We cover brightness and contrast testing on page two.
We haven’t had many 1440p monitors in the S271DS’ price range hit our labs lately. However, we have tested plenty of 1440p screens in general. To compare, we brought in the Dell S3422DWG, a pricer 1440p ultrawide VA panel, the Pixio PX277 Prime, a 1440p gaming monitor around the same price as the S271DS, and the Philips 278E1A, another budget 27-incher but with sharper, 4K resolution.
All the monitors in our comparison group proved plenty bright. With over 300 nits per screen, all should be sufficient in typical lighting environments. If you work near a very sunny window, the Philips has 34.6 nits on the S2721DS in its default image mode, Standard. The brightness mode is actually Warm, but you won’t notice the difference in actual use.
The S271DS has a decent black level for its price. It’s on par with the equally priced PX277 Prime. The pricer ultrawide stands out here, as we’d expect from a VA panel.
That low black level ultimately helps the S344DWG stand out from the rest of the group, a bunch of IPS screens. The S271DS fell slightly behind the other IPS screens in both its default and Warm picture modes. Warm mode offers slightly more contrast. Dell’s monitor is still close to the 1,000:1 we’d like to see, but doesn’t quite make the mark. You can expect a rich, detailed image from the high-contrast S3422DWG.
We describe our grayscale and gamma tests in detail here.
Out of the box, the S271DS’ grayscale errors are impressively low. Its average grayscale error of 2.6 Delta E (dE) shouldn’t be noticeable to the naked eye. Errors under 3dE are typically considered invisible to the naked eye, but the S271DS crosses that threshold, (represented by the yellow horizontal lines), when set to 70-100% brightness. There, the chart shows red lacking compared to green and blue — especially at 90% brightness. I didn’t find this very noticeable in actual use though, and this is still good performance for the price.
Gamma, meanwhile, shows a 1.9 average, shy of the 2.2 ideal in Standard mode. The most dramatic strays are at 10% brightness, where high gamma can make it hard to see details in shadowed areas, and 90% brightness, where low gamma can mean it’s difficult to see highlights. This kind of performance is common among monitors in this price range, but the monitor’s image did occasionally look flat.
The S2721DS’ low grayscale error beats the competition among our comparison group. Naturally, Warm mode has a higher error, opting for a less-accurate image to deliver a warmer tone.
Meanwhile, the S2721DS has a solid gamma value range compared to the other monitors in the group. The PX277 Prime shows that a better score is possible, even in this price range, but it has image accuracy errors elsewhere.
For details on our color gamut testing and volume calculations, click here.
In its default Standard mode, our review monitor has a 4dE sRGB error. Greens and especially reds, blues and magentas are generally oversaturated. Some may appreciate the extra color, but if you’re after accurate sRGB, the monitor’s a little off. That said, it’s less surprising that the DCI-P3 error is smaller, despite this being marketed as an sRGB display. However, magenta is off-hue slightly, blue is oversaturated, especially at the 60, 80 and 100% marks, and the display misses the outermost red target.
Interestingly, while Warm mode, which is the monitor’s brightest, is understandably inaccurate with sRGB (5.3dE), it’s not that off the mark when it comes to DCI-P3 (3.3dE).
If you’re after sRGB accuracy, the S271DS has room to grow, but Pixio’s monitor is even further from the mark. It’s actually more accurate when tackling DCI-P3, and more competitive against the more expensive Dell ultrawide, which Dell says is a DCI-P3 monitor.
The S271DS also packs an impressive amount of color for its price. Out of the box, sRGB is oversaturated at 112.8% coverage, and it handles 76.1% of DCI-P3. Considering a $400-$500 gaming monitor can hit around 85-88%, that’s not bad, even if color isn’t perfectly accurate with both color spaces.
The Dell S271DS is a solid, no-fuss monitor for those seeking something a little more premium than a standard 1080p screen, but who still don’t need the ultimate performance.
While text and some colors sometimes don’t look as sharp or detailed as a higher resolution or more premium screen, you get a surprising amount of color coverage for the price. sRGB accuracy has room to grow, but the monitor is competitive when it comes to DCI-P3 accuracy, thanks to a colorful image.
A wobbly stand will annoy you if typing with force, and you can get a faster monitor that’s better for gaming, like the Pixio PX277 Prime, for the same price if that’s your priority. But in the Pixio’s case you’ll have to do some calibrating for a better image.
For shoppers who are happy with good rather than amazing, the S271DS is a solid option at a reasonable price.
Scharon Harding is a Senior Editor at Tom’s Hardware. She has a special affinity for gaming peripherals (especially monitors), laptops and virtual reality. Previously, Scharon covered business technology, including hardware, software, cyber security, cloud and other IT happenings, at Channelnomics, with bylines at CRN UK.
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