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BenQ EX3501R Review – Enter The Oasis

Pros –

Excellent colour calibration, Extremely immersive form-factor, Height adjust, High contrast ratio

Cons – 

8-bit colour and limited wide gamut support might hamper professional use, Limited HDR implementation

Verdict – 

The EX3501R successfully caters towards the multi-media enthusiast. This monitor is versatile, well-rounded and simply a delight to live with.


Introduction –

Taiwanese manufacturer BenQ may not steal the spotlight in the West with their more restrained media presence and marketing. However, their competitive pricing and reliable quality have garnered a strong following and frequent critic recommendation. Their E-series monitors are likely their most accessible to the majority of consumers, orientated towards multi-media enjoyment. And though these models may not provide the colour performance offered by professional editing display or imperceptible input lag for professional gamers, they offer a well-rounded experience for amateur enthusiasts at reasonable prices.

The EX3501R is their current flagship ultra-wide model featuring an 18:9 aspect ratio and a UWQHD resolution spread over a spacious 35” panel and topped with a tasteful 1800R curve. Like its 16:9 counterpart, the EW3270U, this monitor supports HDR10 and has a high contrast ratio due to its adoption of a VA panel. However, this monitor more strongly suits frequent gamers with its 100Hz refresh rate and film buffs with its immersive form factor. You can read more about the EX3501R here and treat yourself to one here.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank BenQ very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the EX3501R for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the monitor free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Design –

Rear View

The EX3501R rides a comfortable line between its intended mixed media uses with its design. Despite having some emphasis on gaming, this monitor is refreshingly subdued with a very mature colour scheme and a more professional aesthetic as is typical for BenQ. Its chrome stand reinforces its premium status while the satin silver support strut and rear housing compliment the modern workspace. Meanwhile, slim 8mm bezels aid immersion. These features culminate to a clean, unobtrusive design that fits comfortably into a variety of settings. BI+ makes a return on the EX3501 alongside an accompanying sensor bar that faces the user. This enables auto brightness and colour temperature adjustments.

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The monitor supports vertical tilt in addition to height adjust, a very welcome addition that aids posture and long-term viewing comfort. The display’s 1800R curve provides heightened immersion without distorting the image or consuming excessive desk space. The monitor supports wall mounting via the VESA mount on the rear. Despite being sleek in design, the included stand has a wide base of support and feels both planted and stable.

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The controls are intuitive, easily accessed and well separated to ease distinction; using the EX3501R will feel instantly familiar to returning BenQ customers. 6 buttons are located on the bottom right face of the chassis. They are clicky and the power button is spaced further and enlarged to prevent accidental presses. It glows white and orange to denote power and standby respectively. The leftmost button toggles source while pressing the others brings up a shortcut menu with customizable functions such as brightness, contrast, etc. Going into the menus provides further customization.

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The inputs are located at the rear of the monitor and face downwards to aid cable management. The stand offers a channel to route cables through to aid a clean and tidy looking setup. The EX3501R supports all the staple inputs one would expect from a high-resolution monitor in 2018: Two HDMI 2.0 ports (supporting 4K @ 60Hz), DisplayPort v1.4 and USB Type-C. Users opting for USB-C also have access to a 3 port hub with two USB down ports and one up. The power input is located on the left most side. Unlike some monitors, the EX3501R requires an external power block which can limit placement to an extent, however, I found it long enough to offer plenty of flexibility. Also included is a 3.5mm output as the monitor has no inbuilt speakers.

 

Image Quality –

The photos below are provided for reference only. They do not holistically or accurately represent the image quality of the monitor in real-world use.

 

OSD –

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Brightness & Distribution –

BenQ quote a maximum brightness of 300nits, however, my independent measurements actually suggest a brightness just over 340nits near the centre of the display making it appreciably brighter than the EW3270U. In addition, considering the size of the panel, brightness distribution is adequate and does not irk during daily use. Adopting an edge-lit VA panel, the EX3501R offers a high contrast ratio and does not suffer from bleed as IPS panels commonly do. The panel effectively matches BenQ’s rated 2000:1 contrast ratio which isn’t quite as high as that offered by the EW3270U (3000:1) but provides a clear step up over competing IPS panels, most of which sit closer to 1000:1 at the cost of narrower viewing angles. In use, the drop in contrast from its 16:9 sibling is immediately noticeable.

That said, there is ample contrast to flatter photo editing and darker films don’t clip, retrieving all the detail one would expect from a high-end monitor if not providing the inkiest blacks on the market. Though not exceptionally bright, the EX3501R still offers adequate brightness in most situations. It won’t combat direct sunlight but also won’t wash out in a well-lit room. This is aided by a matte finish that effectively resists glare and reflections without muddying its image. Viewing angles are quite good, there is no visible colour shift to my eye, however, some washout is apparent when deviating roughly 30 degrees in any direction. A touch of washout is apparent due to the intrinsic curve of the panel though only at its outermost extremities and mostly out of usable real estate.

 

Colour & Gamma Accuracy –

Though the EX3501R lacks the wide gamut of its 16:9 counterpart, the EW3270U, it offers even stronger calibration from factory. Colours are almost spot-on with my Spyder 5 barely deviating from the stock profile, only correcting a slight magenta shift. Skin tones are natural and photo editing is very viable, producing reliable results. White point is excellent and in-line with my other Pantone certified displays, aiding the impression of brilliance. There are some notable caveats for professionals to consider, however. Of note, this is an 8-bit panel which affects smooth gradients. For digital artists and those that like to composit in Photoshop, this can present issues, though it isn’t something the majority of users will be likely to miss given that few social media sharing outlets support 10-bit. Otherwise, the EX3501R provides 100% coverage of the sRGB colour space and 100% of Adobe RGB in measurement. Combined with its excellent accuracy, this monitor excels with all types of media in addition to more sensitive photo and video work.

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It is with respect to maximum brightness that the EX3501R makes the biggest impression coming from the EW3270U, the EX3501R appearing brighter. However, this ultimately comes down to the factory gamma setting which is slightly too low. Raising this to setting 4 using the adjustable user preset effectively restores deep blacks and provides an overall more accurate viewing experience. On this setting, the monitor quite reliably tracks around the ideal of 2.2 and it still provides plenty of brightness on top. This translates to excellent shadow and highlight detail retrieval, especially when combined with its strong 2000:1 contrast ratio. The monitor offers a variety of image presets to suit various use cases. They offer basic combinations of gamma and colour temperature adjustments; for instance, the reading presents offer a cooler white to aid perceived contrast and text legibility. Of note, the HDR setting does not suffer from the cool white balance that affected the EW3270U. It is, therefore, more feasible to keep on during daily use.

 

Word Processing & Multimedia –

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Source: La La Land (2016)

With an ultrawide 18:9 aspect ratio, the EX3501R excels for films that mostly benefit from a complete lack of black borders. Meanwhile, TV shows and services such as Youtube don’t receive the same benefits due to their 16:9 aspect ratio that leaves borders on either side. There is no denying that ultrawide looks fantastic and does effectively heighten immersion. However, support for this format remains questionable at present with popular apps such as Netflix and Youtube suffering from multiple issues such as leaving black borders at the top and bottom of 18:9 content instead of filling the monitor’s entire space. This format is likely to become increasingly prevalent with modern smartphones adopting similarly wide aspects and, luckily, users have a quick and dirty fix via a chrome extension called “Ultrawide Video” that offers crop and stretch. Still, buyers will have to wait for wider support in future.

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Source: Redline (2009)

When it comes to the actual quality of that content, however, there is no question that the EX3501R provides an impressive viewing experience. The monitor provided a punchy rendition of La La Land’s vibrant colour palette while retaining natural skin tones. No oversaturation was present, especially noticeable with the monitor’s smooth portrayal of sky gradients and detail in the character’s colourful clothing. Redline, one of the most impressive showcases of 2D animated film, was similarly flatted. Again, the monitor impressed with its ability to provide impactful colours without blowing out fine details or gradients. The EX3501R’s strong contrast performance also heightened visual impact, providing more distinct edges and shadow details.

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Word processing and general productivity work is also immensely good. Having such a high resolution maintains sharpness over its large area while the adoption of a contrasty VA panel aids legibility. The EX3501R suits multi-window productivity well, offering more width when split screening video content in particular. Some websites don’t capitalise on the monitor’s aspect, leaving text small and wide borders on either side. This is not frequent, but I did find split window to take best advantage of the monitor’s real estate.

 

Gaming –

Though not explicitly a gaming monitor, this is one of the EX3501R’s strengths. Special mention goes to its AMD Freesync support from 48-100HZ and higher 100Hz refresh rate that provides a very noticeable increase in motion resolution over standard 60Hz panels, especially in fast-paced competitive games such as Overwatch. However, even single player games are flattered due to its high resolution that provides a crisp image despite the monitor’s size but is also markedly easier to push than full 4K.

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GTX1070 and above users can realistically expect to hit 100fps without sacrificing too much quality while GTX1060 users can struggle but will effectively push modern titles at lower settings and rendering resolutions. Ultimately, this makes the EX3501R more practical than a 4K 16:9 monitor, however, some competitive gamers will sacrifice FOV due to its aspect ratio. For such competitive gamers, BenQ implements a feature called AMA which is similar to overdrive function that prevents ghosting. The Premium setting was very effective during my testing. Input lag to was imperceptible to my eye, measured at 40ms (source).

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Strong colour and contrast performance ensures shadow detail is strong, even in dark games such as Metro Last Light Redux where the monitor effectively uncovered details in the underground tunnels and rich lighting outdoors. Games such as Forza Horizon 4 looks absolutely stunning, benefitting from increased FOV, a rich colour rendition and a silky refresh rate that heightens immersion.

 

Verdict –

The EX3501R is more than just a pretty face; this monitor performs brilliantly in all measurable aspects including those that aren’t easily marketable on the box. Its immense screen real estate draws in the viewer while its ultrawide aspect ratio encompasses the peripheries, creating a truly mesmerising viewing experience. Slim bezels contribute towards this impression and small features such as height adjustment and an inbuilt USB hub enhance daily usability. However, size means little if the quality of the panel is poor and luckily, BenQ ensure the buyer is rewarded by their purchase; providing a versatile set of features and a lack of any notable/measurable weakness.

Front View

There are caveats, HDR isn’t quite there yet (though few attainable monitors offer a superior experience in this regard), colours have excellent calibration out of the box though only for users that don’t require a wide gamut or 10-bit colour space. Otherwise, low latency and a smooth 100HZ refresh rate translate towards an excellent gaming experience and even those that lack the hardware to maximise refresh rate will be treated with strong contrast/colour performance. Implementing a VA panel provides slightly narrower viewing angles than IPS competitors, however, a high contrast ratio enables a bold image despite focus on accuracy. Despite some niggles, the EX3501R is well-priced and successfully caters towards the multi-media enthusiast; this monitor is versatile, well-rounded and simply a delight to live with.

The EX3501R is available from Amazon (International) for $799 USD at the time of writing. Please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.

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