Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW review

Dell’s 38-inch Ultrasharp is the new king of massive monitors

The Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW is the final word in supersized monitors.
The Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW is the final word in supersized monitors.
The Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW is the final word in supersized monitors.

Highs

  • Sturdy build with VESA mount support
  • Excellent controls
  • Accurate color and wide color gamut
  • Strong warranty
  • Drastically undercuts its competitor’s price

Lows

  • Mediocre contrast ratio
  • No FreeSync support

Ultrawide, not 4K, monitors have become the next big thing in PC displays. While a 4K monitor requires proper high-resolution content to really show off, ultrawides look great at a variety of pixel counts. And, as our Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW monitor review will explore, they’re as suited for work as they are for play.

There’s just one obstacle that keeps these ultrawide from becoming a common sight: The price. Dell’s 38-inch monitor is certainly among the largest, and it’s sold at an appropriately enormous $1,100. Most people want to spend no more than $300 on a screen – but this monitor isn’t made for most people.

Extra chunky

This monitor is a monster. LG showed its 38UC99-W, the world’s first 38-inch ultrawide, at IFA 2016, and the Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW was at its only direct competitor (HP’s Z38c joined the party a little later). The 21:9 aspect ratio means the display is a modest 15 inches tall – about the same as a 27-inch monitor with the more typical 16:9 aspect ratio — but an intimidating 35 inches wide. It’s seven inches wider than Ikea’s entry-level desk, the Micke. Its size is therefore something to keep in mind if you’re eyeing it.

Other than the fact that it and LG’s trend setting 38UC99-W are the same size, they’re as different as two monitors can be. As part of Dell’s Ultrasharp brand, the U3818DW is built for professional work, and has a look to match. Its thin bezels are bordered by durable, thick gray plastic, which connects to a VESA-mount stand.

The stand itself can adjust for height, tilt, and pivot, but it doesn’t rotate. LG’s competitor only adjusts for height and tilt, and in a slightly more limited range of the latter, but it’s also VESA compatible. Each monitor stand looks entirely different. Dell’s has a massive base with grippy bottom that makes it almost impossible to move without lifting, while LG’s stand is built from thin, graceful aluminum.

HP’s Z38c, meanwhile, has both the LG and Dell beat, with an even wider range of adjustments and a more modern look. The Dell and HP models are similar in most respects, but HP has the edge.

Downward-firing ports

Connectivity options include two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort, and one USB-C connection. There’s also an audio line-out (for passing HDMI or DisplayPort audio to speakers or headphones), two upstream USB ports for plugging the monitor into a PC, and two downstream USB ports for peripherals and attachments, one of which supports charging.

This array is what we’d expect from a high-end monitor, and slightly better than LG’s display, which has fewer USB options.

All the ports face downward from the rear panel, while LG’s version has ports on the rear of the panel. That means connected cords are easier to run smoothly on the Dell, because they don’t jut out from the back, like they do on the LG. Connecting a device can be a real pain, though, as the Dell’s ports are hard to very difficult to access.

Dell serves up another great menu

The on-screen menus used to control monitors aren’t something you have to use often, but a bad one can make those rare occasions frustrating, and may even obscure important features. Luckily, Dell has a reputation for excellent monitor menus, and the U3818DW doesn’t disappoint.

The menus are easy to navigate, but also offer a lot of depth.

Simplicity is the key. There are only five buttons on the monitor, including the power button, and all of them are chunky and physical. There’s no touch-button nonsense here. The menus that appear are well labeled, with options organized into sensible categories, making them easy to find.

The menus are easy to navigate, but also offer a lot of depth. Owners can select between preset color profiles and specifically change color temperature, hue, saturation, gain, and offset. These options allow for a lot of customization. That’s important, because the Dell U3818DW is marketed as a screen for people who need the highest color accuracy possible.

LG’s competitor, the 38UC99-W, uses a joystick for menu controls. It also works well, but it may not be intuitive to use at first touch, and the menus aren’t as easy to navigate. That said, LG’s controls are also better than average. Both the LG and Samsung provide easier navigation than HP’s Z38c, which provides more of an old-school experience.

The speakers will do

A pair of 9-watt speakers are hidden in the U3818DW’s frame. The screen’s size means there is more room than normal, and that benefits the monitor’s sound quality. We found quality to be clear throughout most of the monitor’s range of volume. Remember, though; there’s no subwoofer. You’ll need external speakers to enjoy movies or throw a dance party on your lunch break.

Screen pre-calibration

As mentioned, the LG 38UC99-W was the first 38-inch model on the market. While Dell’s Ultrasharp finally offered an alternative, our display tests indicate the U3818DW is more of the same, at least in image quality. It even has the same resolution: 3,840 x 1,600 pixels — the highest of any ultrawide PC monitor.

Just look at the figures. The LG 38UC99-W and Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW are virtually identical in maximum brightness, contrast ratio, color accuracy, color gamut, and gamma curve. The HP Z38c is close enough for government work, except for its color accuracy. In other words, they’re all quite similar according to every test metric we consider important.

Like the LG before, the Dell provides a screen prioritizes accuracy. It’s not an especially bright screen at 330 nits when turned up to max, and its contrast ratio of 680:1 is mediocre. Samsung’s CF791, a 34-inch ultrawide, turned in a contrast ratio of 940:1. The Dell’s merely alright score means dark scenes can appear grey when they should render in a deep, inky black.

Big and beautiful, the Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW is an excellent professional-grade display.

If you can get over that, though, you’ll appreciate the Dell’s excellent color. Images look as they should on this monitor – bright and vibrant, but not neon or surreal. The excellence is particularly noticeable when viewing portraits on Facebook or actors in movies. Less accurate monitors can give people a sickly cast if they veer too far toward green and blue. There’s no such issue here.

The gamma value also deserves credit. Gamma is a way of measuring how bright an image appears, and most media aims for a value of 2.2. The Dell does that out of the box, so images and movies look as they’re meant to. That leads to minimal loss of detail in dark scenes and complex scenes.

While the Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW scores well in many tests, it’s missing two features that gamers love: A high refresh rate and FreeSync support. The LG 38UC99-W also lacks a high refresh rate, but it does support FreeSync, which gives it a slight edge in gaming.

Screen post-calibration

The Dell looks great out of the box, so our calibration attempts didn’t have much impact on image quality. The main difference could be found in color accuracy, which dropped from an average color error of 1.34 to just 0.97. Any figure less than one is excellent. Only a handful of monitors, including the Dell Ultrasharp UP3218K, HP DreamColor Z32x, and Asus ROG Swift PG279AQ, have beat that figure.

Dell UltraSharp U3818DW review hero
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Contrast remains an issue after calibration, but that’s no surprise because our calibration process doesn’t change how deep the monitor’s black levels can reach, or how bright its backlight can shine. With a fix there off the table, there isn’t much else to correct. Calibration does provide some benefit, but it’s not mandatory to see most of what the screen can offer.

Warranty information

Dell ships the Ultrasharp U3818DW with its 3-year Advanced Exchange Service warranty. Under terms of the warranty, Dell will immediately ship a replacement if its customer service decides the monitor you have is defective, instead of waiting to receive the defective unit and attempt a repair.

The length of the warranty is not all that notable, as many monitors are warrantied for as long. However, the LG 38UC99-W only offers a single year of coverage. That’s unfortunate, it helps tilt the comparison in Dell’s favor.

Our Take

Big and beautiful, the Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW is an excellent professional-grade display. While contrast could be better, its excellent color accuracy, sharp picture, competitive price, and good warranty help it stand out against its main competitor, the LG 38UC99-W. We just wish it offered FreeSync or G-Sync support which, though out of character for the Ultrasharp brand, would help the display appeal to a wider audience.

Is there a better alternative?

There are now two strong competitors at 38 inches: The LG 38UC99-W and HP Z38c. All three tie in image quality, but the HP and Dell have better designs. The Dell is most affordable at $1,000. and the HP is priced at $1,200. That’s a pretty big discount from the LG’s $1,300 retail price tag (although it’s currently on sale for a more reasonable $1,100), especially since the LG’s warranty is lacking. That’s a big deal when choosing between monitors that cost more than the average 4KTV.

When you compare it against the HP Z38c, it comes down to which design you like better. The Dell is a bit more enterprise-friendly, while HP has an all-black, modern look. You won’t go wrong with either — except for gaming, where the LG’s inclusion of FreeSync support arguably makes it a better pick.

How long will it last?

Monitors last a long time. The technology inside them is proven, and they’re at low risk of accidental damage. The Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW adds to its endurance with excellent out-of-the-box specifications, a sturdy build, and VESA support. It has the potential to last over a decade before it dies, and its excellent image quality means it’ll remain impressive for most of its life.

Should you buy it?

Yes. A 38-inch ultrawide is incredible for both productivity and entertainment. Dell’s model nudges the LG aside with better pricing and a better warranty, while it still holds up against HP’s.

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