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A List Apart: The Full Feed
Articles for people who make web sites.
  • The Wax and the Wane of the Web

    I offer a single bit of advice to friends and family when they become new parents: When you start to think that you’ve got everything figured out, everything will change. Just as you start to get the hang of feedings, diapers, and regular naps, it’s time for solid food, potty training, and overnight sleeping. When you figure those out, it’s time for preschool and rare naps. The cycle goes on and on.

    The same applies for those of us working in design and development these days. Having worked on the web for almost three decades at this point, I’ve seen the regular wax and wane of ideas, techniques, and technologies. Each time that we as developers and designers get into a regular rhythm, some new idea or technology comes along to shake things up and remake our world.

    How we got here

    I built my first website in the mid-’90s. Design and development on the web back then was a free-for-all, with few established norms. For any layout aside from a single column, we used table elements, often with empty cells containing a single pixel spacer GIF to add empty space. We styled text with numerous font tags, nesting the tags every time we wanted to vary the font style. And we had only three or four typefaces to choose from: Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman. When Verdana and Georgia came out in 1996, we rejoiced because our options had nearly doubled. The only safe colors to choose from were the 216 “web safe” colors known to work across platforms. The few interactive elements (like contact forms, guest books, and counters) were mostly powered by CGI scripts (predominantly written in Perl at the time). Achieving any kind of unique look involved a pile of hacks all the way down. Interaction was often limited to specific pages in a site.

    The birth of web standards

    At the turn of the century, a new cycle started. Crufty code littered with table layouts and font tags waned, and a push for web standards waxed. Newer technologies like CSS got more widespread adoption by browsers makers, developers, and designers. This shift toward standards didn’t happen accidentally or overnight. It took active engagement between the W3C and browser vendors and heavy evangelism from folks like the Web Standards Project to build standards. A List Apart and books like Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman played key roles in teaching developers and designers why standards are important, how to implement them, and how to sell them to their organizations. And approaches like progressive enhancement introduced the idea that content should be available for all browsers—with additional enhancements available for more advanced browsers. Meanwhile, sites like the CSS Zen Garden showcased just how powerful and versatile CSS can be when combined with a solid semantic HTML structure.

    Server-side languages like PHP, Java, and .NET overtook Perl as the predominant back-end processors, and the cgi-bin was tossed in the trash bin. With these better server-side tools came the first era of web applications, starting with content-management systems (particularly in the blogging space with tools like Blogger, Grey Matter, Movable Type, and WordPress). In the mid-2000s, AJAX opened doors for asynchronous interaction between the front end and back end. Suddenly, pages could update their content without needing to reload. A crop of JavaScript frameworks like Prototype, YUI, and jQuery arose to help developers build more reliable client-side interaction across browsers that had wildly varying levels of standards support. Techniques like image replacement let crafty designers and developers display fonts of their choosing. And technologies like Flash made it possible to add animations, games, and even more interactivity.

    These new technologies, standards, and techniques reinvigorated the industry in many ways. Web design flourished as designers and developers explored more diverse styles and layouts. But we still relied on tons of hacks. Early CSS was a huge improvement over table-based layouts when it came to basic layout and text styling, but its limitations at the time meant that designers and developers still relied heavily on images for complex shapes (such as rounded or angled corners) and tiled backgrounds for the appearance of full-length columns (among other hacks). Complicated layouts required all manner of nested floats or absolute positioning (or both). Flash and image replacement for custom fonts was a great start toward varying the typefaces from the big five, but both hacks introduced accessibility and performance problems. And JavaScript libraries made it easy for anyone to add a dash of interaction to pages, although at the cost of doubling or even quadrupling the download size of simple websites.

    The web as software platform

    The symbiosis between the front end and back end continued to improve, and that led to the current era of modern web applications. Between expanded server-side programming languages (which kept growing to include Ruby, Python, Go, and others) and newer front-end tools like React, Vue, and Angular, we could build fully capable software on the web. Alongside these tools came others, including collaborative version control, build automation, and shared package libraries. What was once primarily an environment for linked documents became a realm of infinite possibilities.

    At the same time, mobile devices became more capable, and they gave us internet access in our pockets. Mobile apps and responsive design opened up opportunities for new interactions anywhere and any time.

    This combination of capable mobile devices and powerful development tools contributed to the waxing of social media and other centralized tools for people to connect and consume. As it became easier and more common to connect with others directly on Twitter, Facebook, and even Slack, the desire for hosted personal sites waned. Social media offered connections on a global scale, with both the good and bad that that entails.

    Want a much more extensive history of how we got here, with some other takes on ways that we can improve? Jeremy Keith wrote “Of Time and the Web.” Or check out the “Web Design History Timeline” at the Web Design Museum. Neal Agarwal also has a fun tour through “Internet Artifacts.”

    Where we are now

    In the last couple of years, it’s felt like we’ve begun to reach another major inflection point. As social-media platforms fracture and wane, there’s been a growing interest in owning our own content again. There are many different ways to make a website, from the tried-and-true classic of hosting plain HTML files to static site generators to content management systems of all flavors. The fracturing of social media also comes with a cost: we lose crucial infrastructure for discovery and connection. Webmentions, RSS, ActivityPub, and other tools of the IndieWeb can help with this, but they’re still relatively underimplemented and hard to use for the less nerdy. We can build amazing personal websites and add to them regularly, but without discovery and connection, it can sometimes feel like we may as well be shouting into the void.

    Browser support for CSS, JavaScript, and other standards like web components has accelerated, especially through efforts like Interop. New technologies gain support across the board in a fraction of the time that they used to. I often learn about a new feature and check its browser support only to find that its coverage is already above 80 percent. Nowadays, the barrier to using newer techniques often isn’t browser support but simply the limits of how quickly designers and developers can learn what’s available and how to adopt it.

    Today, with a few commands and a couple of lines of code, we can prototype almost any idea. All the tools that we now have available make it easier than ever to start something new. But the upfront cost that these frameworks may save in initial delivery eventually comes due as upgrading and maintaining them becomes a part of our technical debt.

    If we rely on third-party frameworks, adopting new standards can sometimes take longer since we may have to wait for those frameworks to adopt those standards. These frameworks—which used to let us adopt new techniques sooner—have now become hindrances instead. These same frameworks often come with performance costs too, forcing users to wait for scripts to load before they can read or interact with pages. And when scripts fail (whether through poor code, network issues, or other environmental factors), there’s often no alternative, leaving users with blank or broken pages.

    Where do we go from here?

    Today’s hacks help to shape tomorrow’s standards. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with embracing hacks—for now—to move the present forward. Problems only arise when we’re unwilling to admit that they’re hacks or we hesitate to replace them. So what can we do to create the future we want for the web?

    Build for the long haul. Optimize for performance, for accessibility, and for the user. Weigh the costs of those developer-friendly tools. They may make your job a little easier today, but how do they affect everything else? What’s the cost to users? To future developers? To standards adoption? Sometimes the convenience may be worth it. Sometimes it’s just a hack that you’ve grown accustomed to. And sometimes it’s holding you back from even better options.

    Start from standards. Standards continue to evolve over time, but browsers have done a remarkably good job of continuing to support older standards. The same isn’t always true of third-party frameworks. Sites built with even the hackiest of HTML from the ’90s still work just fine today. The same can’t always be said of sites built with frameworks even after just a couple years.

    Design with care. Whether your craft is code, pixels, or processes, consider the impacts of each decision. The convenience of many a modern tool comes at the cost of not always understanding the underlying decisions that have led to its design and not always considering the impact that those decisions can have. Rather than rushing headlong to “move fast and break things,” use the time saved by modern tools to consider more carefully and design with deliberation.

    Always be learning. If you’re always learning, you’re also growing. Sometimes it may be hard to pinpoint what’s worth learning and what’s just today’s hack. You might end up focusing on something that won’t matter next year, even if you were to focus solely on learning standards. (Remember XHTML?) But constant learning opens up new connections in your brain, and the hacks that you learn one day may help to inform different experiments another day.

    Play, experiment, and be weird! This web that we’ve built is the ultimate experiment. It’s the single largest human endeavor in history, and yet each of us can create our own pocket within it. Be courageous and try new things. Build a playground for ideas. Make goofy experiments in your own mad science lab. Start your own small business. There has never been a more empowering place to be creative, take risks, and explore what we’re capable of.

    Share and amplify. As you experiment, play, and learn, share what’s worked for you. Write on your own website, post on whichever social media site you prefer, or shout it from a TikTok. Write something for A List Apart! But take the time to amplify others too: find new voices, learn from them, and share what they’ve taught you.

    Go forth and make

    As designers and developers for the web (and beyond), we’re responsible for building the future every day, whether that may take the shape of personal websites, social media tools used by billions, or anything in between. Let’s imbue our values into the things that we create, and let’s make the web a better place for everyone. Create that thing that only you are uniquely qualified to make. Then share it, make it better, make it again, or make something new. Learn. Make. Share. Grow. Rinse and repeat. Every time you think that you’ve mastered the web, everything will change.

  • Opportunities for AI in Accessibility

    In reading Joe Dolson’s recent piece on the intersection of AI and accessibility, I absolutely appreciated the skepticism that he has for AI in general as well as for the ways that many have been using it. In fact, I’m very skeptical of AI myself, despite my role at Microsoft as an accessibility innovation strategist who helps run the AI for Accessibility grant program. As with any tool, AI can be used in very constructive, inclusive, and accessible ways; and it can also be used in destructive, exclusive, and harmful ones. And there are a ton of uses somewhere in the mediocre middle as well.

    I’d like you to consider this a “yes… and” piece to complement Joe’s post. I’m not trying to refute any of what he’s saying but rather provide some visibility to projects and opportunities where AI can make meaningful differences for people with disabilities. To be clear, I’m not saying that there aren’t real risks or pressing issues with AI that need to be addressed—there are, and we’ve needed to address them, like, yesterday—but I want to take a little time to talk about what’s possible in hopes that we’ll get there one day.

    Alternative text

    Joe’s piece spends a lot of time talking about computer-vision models generating alternative text. He highlights a ton of valid issues with the current state of things. And while computer-vision models continue to improve in the quality and richness of detail in their descriptions, their results aren’t great. As he rightly points out, the current state of image analysis is pretty poor—especially for certain image types—in large part because current AI systems examine images in isolation rather than within the contexts that they’re in (which is a consequence of having separate “foundation” models for text analysis and image analysis). Today’s models aren’t trained to distinguish between images that are contextually relevant (that should probably have descriptions) and those that are purely decorative (which might not need a description) either. Still, I still think there’s potential in this space.

    As Joe mentions, human-in-the-loop authoring of alt text should absolutely be a thing. And if AI can pop in to offer a starting point for alt text—even if that starting point might be a prompt saying What is this BS? That’s not right at all… Let me try to offer a starting point—I think that’s a win.

    Taking things a step further, if we can specifically train a model to analyze image usage in context, it could help us more quickly identify which images are likely to be decorative and which ones likely require a description. That will help reinforce which contexts call for image descriptions and it’ll improve authors’ efficiency toward making their pages more accessible.

    While complex images—like graphs and charts—are challenging to describe in any sort of succinct way (even for humans), the image example shared in the GPT4 announcement points to an interesting opportunity as well. Let’s suppose that you came across a chart whose description was simply the title of the chart and the kind of visualization it was, such as: Pie chart comparing smartphone usage to feature phone usage among US households making under $30,000 a year. (That would be a pretty awful alt text for a chart since that would tend to leave many questions about the data unanswered, but then again, let’s suppose that that was the description that was in place.) If your browser knew that that image was a pie chart (because an onboard model concluded this), imagine a world where users could ask questions like these about the graphic:

    • Do more people use smartphones or feature phones?
    • How many more?
    • Is there a group of people that don’t fall into either of these buckets?
    • How many is that?

    Setting aside the realities of large language model (LLM) hallucinations—where a model just makes up plausible-sounding “facts”—for a moment, the opportunity to learn more about images and data in this way could be revolutionary for blind and low-vision folks as well as for people with various forms of color blindness, cognitive disabilities, and so on. It could also be useful in educational contexts to help people who can see these charts, as is, to understand the data in the charts.

    Taking things a step further: What if you could ask your browser to simplify a complex chart? What if you could ask it to isolate a single line on a line graph? What if you could ask your browser to transpose the colors of the different lines to work better for form of color blindness you have? What if you could ask it to swap colors for patterns? Given these tools’ chat-based interfaces and our existing ability to manipulate images in today’s AI tools, that seems like a possibility.

    Now imagine a purpose-built model that could extract the information from that chart and convert it to another format. For example, perhaps it could turn that pie chart (or better yet, a series of pie charts) into more accessible (and useful) formats, like spreadsheets. That would be amazing!

    Matching algorithms

    Safiya Umoja Noble absolutely hit the nail on the head when she titled her book Algorithms of Oppression. While her book was focused on the ways that search engines reinforce racism, I think that it’s equally true that all computer models have the potential to amplify conflict, bias, and intolerance. Whether it’s Twitter always showing you the latest tweet from a bored billionaire, YouTube sending us into a Q-hole, or Instagram warping our ideas of what natural bodies look like, we know that poorly authored and maintained algorithms are incredibly harmful. A lot of this stems from a lack of diversity among the people who shape and build them. When these platforms are built with inclusively baked in, however, there’s real potential for algorithm development to help people with disabilities.

    Take Mentra, for example. They are an employment network for neurodivergent people. They use an algorithm to match job seekers with potential employers based on over 75 data points. On the job-seeker side of things, it considers each candidate’s strengths, their necessary and preferred workplace accommodations, environmental sensitivities, and so on. On the employer side, it considers each work environment, communication factors related to each job, and the like. As a company run by neurodivergent folks, Mentra made the decision to flip the script when it came to typical employment sites. They use their algorithm to propose available candidates to companies, who can then connect with job seekers that they are interested in; reducing the emotional and physical labor on the job-seeker side of things.

    When more people with disabilities are involved in the creation of algorithms, that can reduce the chances that these algorithms will inflict harm on their communities. That’s why diverse teams are so important.

    Imagine that a social media company’s recommendation engine was tuned to analyze who you’re following and if it was tuned to prioritize follow recommendations for people who talked about similar things but who were different in some key ways from your existing sphere of influence. For example, if you were to follow a bunch of nondisabled white male academics who talk about AI, it could suggest that you follow academics who are disabled or aren’t white or aren’t male who also talk about AI. If you took its recommendations, perhaps you’d get a more holistic and nuanced understanding of what’s happening in the AI field. These same systems should also use their understanding of biases about particular communities—including, for instance, the disability community—to make sure that they aren’t recommending any of their users follow accounts that perpetuate biases against (or, worse, spewing hate toward) those groups.

    Other ways that AI can helps people with disabilities

    If I weren’t trying to put this together between other tasks, I’m sure that I could go on and on, providing all kinds of examples of how AI could be used to help people with disabilities, but I’m going to make this last section into a bit of a lightning round. In no particular order:

    • Voice preservation. You may have seen the VALL-E paper or Apple’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day announcement or you may be familiar with the voice-preservation offerings from Microsoft, Acapela, or others. It’s possible to train an AI model to replicate your voice, which can be a tremendous boon for people who have ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or motor-neuron disease or other medical conditions that can lead to an inability to talk. This is, of course, the same tech that can also be used to create audio deepfakes, so it’s something that we need to approach responsibly, but the tech has truly transformative potential.
    • Voice recognition. Researchers like those in the Speech Accessibility Project are paying people with disabilities for their help in collecting recordings of people with atypical speech. As I type, they are actively recruiting people with Parkinson’s and related conditions, and they have plans to expand this to other conditions as the project progresses. This research will result in more inclusive data sets that will let more people with disabilities use voice assistants, dictation software, and voice-response services as well as control their computers and other devices more easily, using only their voice.
    • Text transformation. The current generation of LLMs is quite capable of adjusting existing text content without injecting hallucinations. This is hugely empowering for people with cognitive disabilities who may benefit from text summaries or simplified versions of text or even text that’s prepped for Bionic Reading.

    The importance of diverse teams and data

    We need to recognize that our differences matter. Our lived experiences are influenced by the intersections of the identities that we exist in. These lived experiences—with all their complexities (and joys and pain)—are valuable inputs to the software, services, and societies that we shape. Our differences need to be represented in the data that we use to train new models, and the folks who contribute that valuable information need to be compensated for sharing it with us. Inclusive data sets yield more robust models that foster more equitable outcomes.

    Want a model that doesn’t demean or patronize or objectify people with disabilities? Make sure that you have content about disabilities that’s authored by people with a range of disabilities, and make sure that that’s well represented in the training data.

    Want a model that doesn’t use ableist language? You may be able to use existing data sets to build a filter that can intercept and remediate ableist language before it reaches readers. That being said, when it comes to sensitivity reading, AI models won’t be replacing human copy editors anytime soon. 

    Want a coding copilot that gives you accessible recommendations from the jump? Train it on code that you know to be accessible.


    I have no doubt that AI can and will harm people… today, tomorrow, and well into the future. But I also believe that we can acknowledge that and, with an eye towards accessibility (and, more broadly, inclusion), make thoughtful, considerate, and intentional changes in our approaches to AI that will reduce harm over time as well. Today, tomorrow, and well into the future.


    Many thanks to Kartik Sawhney for helping me with the development of this piece, Ashley Bischoff for her invaluable editorial assistance, and, of course, Joe Dolson for the prompt.

  • I am a creative.

    I am a creative. What I do is alchemy. It is a mystery. I do not so much do it, as let it be done through me.

    I am a creative. Not all creative people like this label. Not all see themselves this way. Some creative people see science in what they do. That is their truth, and I respect it. Maybe I even envy them, a little. But my process is different—my being is different.

    Apologizing and qualifying in advance is a distraction. That’s what my brain does to sabotage me. I set it aside for now. I can come back later to apologize and qualify. After I’ve said what I came to say. Which is hard enough. 

    Except when it is easy and flows like a river of wine.

    Sometimes it does come that way. Sometimes what I need to create comes in an instant. I have learned not to say it at that moment, because if you admit that sometimes the idea just comes and it is the best idea and you know it is the best idea, they think you don’t work hard enough.

    Sometimes I work and work and work until the idea comes. Sometimes it comes instantly and I don’t tell anyone for three days. Sometimes I’m so excited by the idea that came instantly that I blurt it out, can’t help myself. Like a boy who found a prize in his Cracker Jacks. Sometimes I get away with this. Sometimes other people agree: yes, that is the best idea. Most times they don’t and I regret having  given way to enthusiasm. 

    Enthusiasm is best saved for the meeting where it will make a difference. Not the casual get-together that precedes that meeting by two other meetings. Nobody knows why we have all these meetings. We keep saying we’re doing away with them, but then just finding other ways to have them. Sometimes they are even good. But other times they are a distraction from the actual work. The proportion between when meetings are useful, and when they are a pitiful distraction, varies, depending on what you do and where you do it. And who you are and how you do it. Again I digress. I am a creative. That is the theme.

    Sometimes many hours of hard and patient work produce something that is barely serviceable. Sometimes I have to accept that and move on to the next project.

    Don’t ask about process. I am a creative.

    I am a creative. I don’t control my dreams. And I don’t control my best ideas.

    I can hammer away, surround myself with facts or images, and sometimes that works. I can go for a walk, and sometimes that works. I can be making dinner and there’s a Eureka having nothing to do with sizzling oil and bubbling pots. Often I know what to do the instant I wake up. And then, almost as often, as I become conscious and part of the world again, the idea that would have saved me turns to vanishing dust in a mindless wind of oblivion. For creativity, I believe, comes from that other world. The one we enter in dreams, and perhaps, before birth and after death. But that’s for poets to wonder, and I am not a poet. I am a creative. And it’s for theologians to mass armies about in their creative world that they insist is real. But that is another digression. And a depressing one. Maybe on a much more important topic than whether I am a creative or not. But still a digression from what I came here to say.

    Sometimes the process is avoidance. And agony. You know the cliché about the tortured artist? It’s true, even when the artist (and let’s put that noun in quotes) is trying to write a soft drink jingle, a callback in a tired sitcom, a budget request.

    Some people who hate being called creative may be closeted creatives, but that’s between them and their gods. No offense meant. Your truth is true, too. But mine is for me. 

    Creatives recognize creatives.

    Creatives recognize creatives like queers recognize queers, like real rappers recognize real rappers, like cons know cons. Creatives feel massive respect for creatives. We love, honor, emulate, and practically deify the great ones. To deify any human is, of course, a tragic mistake. We have been warned. We know better. We know people are just people. They squabble, they are lonely, they regret their most important decisions, they are poor and hungry, they can be cruel, they can be just as stupid as we can, because, like us, they are clay. But. But. But they make this amazing thing. They birth something that did not exist before them, and could not exist without them. They are the mothers of ideas. And I suppose, since it’s just lying there, I have to add that they are the mothers of invention. Ba dum bum! OK, that’s done. Continue.

    Creatives belittle our own small achievements, because we compare them to those of the great ones. Beautiful animation! Well, I’m no Miyazaki. Now THAT is greatness. That is greatness straight from the mind of God. This half-starved little thing that I made? It more or less fell off the back of the turnip truck. And the turnips weren’t even fresh.

    Creatives knows that, at best, they are Salieri. Even the creatives who are Mozart believe that. 

    I am a creative. I haven’t worked in advertising in 30 years, but in my nightmares, it’s my former creative directors who judge me. And they are right to do so. I am too lazy, too facile, and when it really counts, my mind goes blank. There is no pill for creative dysfunction.

    I am a creative. Every deadline I make is an adventure that makes Indiana Jones look like a pensioner snoring in a deck chair. The longer I remain a creative, the faster I am when I do my work and the longer I brood and walk in circles and stare blankly before I do that work. 

    I am still 10 times faster than people who are not creative, or people who have only been creative a short while, or people who have only been professionally creative a short while. It’s just that, before I work 10 times as fast as they do, I spend twice as long as they do putting the work off. I am that confident in my ability to do a great job when I put my mind to it. I am that addicted to the adrenaline rush of postponement. I am still that afraid of the jump.

    I am not an artist.

    I am a creative. Not an artist. Though I dreamed, as a lad, of someday being that. Some of us belittle our gifts and dislike ourselves because we are not Michelangelos and Warhols. That is narcissism—but at least we aren’t in politics.

    I am a creative. Though I believe in reason and science, I decide by intuition and impulse. And live with what follows—the catastrophes as well as the triumphs. 

    I am a creative. Every word I’ve said here will annoy other creatives, who see things differently. Ask two creatives a question, get three opinions. Our disagreement, our passion about it, and our commitment to our own truth are, at least to me, the proofs that we are creatives, no matter how we may feel about it.

    I am a creative. I lament my lack of taste in the areas about which I know very little, which is to say almost all areas of human knowledge. And I trust my taste above all other things in the areas closest to my heart, or perhaps, more accurately, to my obsessions. Without my obsessions, I would probably have to spend my time looking life in the eye, and almost none of us can do that for long. Not honestly. Not really. Because much in life, if you really look at it, is unbearable.

    I am a creative. I believe, as a parent believes, that when I am gone, some small good part of me will carry on in the mind of at least one other person.

    Working saves me from worrying about work.

    I am a creative. I live in dread of my small gift suddenly going away.

    I am a creative. I am too busy making the next thing to spend too much time deeply considering that almost nothing I make will come anywhere near the greatness I comically aspire to.

    I am a creative. I believe in the ultimate mystery of process. I believe in it so much, I am even fool enough to publish an essay I dictated into a tiny machine and didn’t take time to review or revise. I won’t do this often, I promise. But I did it just now, because, as afraid as I might be of your seeing through my pitiful gestures toward the beautiful, I was even more afraid of forgetting what I came to say. 

    There. I think I’ve said it. 

  • Humility: An Essential Value

    Humility, a designer’s essential value—that has a nice ring to it. What about humility, an office manager’s essential value? Or a dentist’s? Or a librarian’s? They all sound great. When humility is our guiding light, the path is always open for fulfillment, evolution, connection, and engagement. In this chapter, we’re going to talk about why.

    That said, this is a book for designers, and to that end, I’d like to start with a story—well, a journey, really. It’s a personal one, and I’m going to make myself a bit vulnerable along the way. I call it:

    The Tale of Justin’s Preposterous Pate

    When I was coming out of art school, a long-haired, goateed neophyte, print was a known quantity to me; design on the web, however, was rife with complexities to navigate and discover, a problem to be solved. Though I had been formally trained in graphic design, typography, and layout, what fascinated me was how these traditional skills might be applied to a fledgling digital landscape. This theme would ultimately shape the rest of my career.

    So rather than graduate and go into print like many of my friends, I devoured HTML and JavaScript books into the wee hours of the morning and taught myself how to code during my senior year. I wanted—nay, needed—to better understand the underlying implications of what my design decisions would mean once rendered in a browser.

    The late ’90s and early 2000s were the so-called “Wild West” of web design. Designers at the time were all figuring out how to apply design and visual communication to the digital landscape. What were the rules? How could we break them and still engage, entertain, and convey information? At a more macro level, how could my values, inclusive of humility, respect, and connection, align in tandem with that? I was hungry to find out.

    Though I’m talking about a different era, those are timeless considerations between non-career interactions and the world of design. What are your core passions, or values, that transcend medium? It’s essentially the same concept we discussed earlier on the direct parallels between what fulfills you, agnostic of the tangible or digital realms; the core themes are all the same.

    First within tables, animated GIFs, Flash, then with Web Standards, divs, and CSS, there was personality, raw unbridled creativity, and unique means of presentment that often defied any semblance of a visible grid. Splash screens and “browser requirement” pages aplenty. Usability and accessibility were typically victims of such a creation, but such paramount facets of any digital design were largely (and, in hindsight, unfairly) disregarded at the expense of experimentation.

    For example, this iteration of my personal portfolio site (“the pseudoroom”) from that era was experimental, if not a bit heavy- handed, in the visual communication of the concept of a living sketchbook. Very skeuomorphic. I collaborated with fellow designer and dear friend Marc Clancy (now a co-founder of the creative project organizing app Milanote) on this one, where we’d first sketch and then pass a Photoshop file back and forth to trick things out and play with varied user interactions. Then, I’d break it down and code it into a digital layout.

    Figure 1: “the pseudoroom” website, hitting the sketchbook metaphor hard.

    Along with design folio pieces, the site also offered free downloads for Mac OS customizations: desktop wallpapers that were effectively design experimentation, custom-designed typefaces, and desktop icons.

    From around the same time, GUI Galaxy was a design, pixel art, and Mac-centric news portal some graphic designer friends and I conceived, designed, developed, and deployed.

    Figure 2: GUI Galaxy, web standards-compliant design news portal

    Design news portals were incredibly popular during this period, featuring (what would now be considered) Tweet-size, small-format snippets of pertinent news from the categories I previously mentioned. If you took Twitter, curated it to a few categories, and wrapped it in a custom-branded experience, you’d have a design news portal from the late 90s / early 2000s.

    We as designers had evolved and created a bandwidth-sensitive, web standards award-winning, much more accessibility-conscious website. Still ripe with experimentation, yet more mindful of equitable engagement. You can see a couple of content panes here, noting general news (tech, design) and Mac-centric news below. We also offered many of the custom downloads I cited before as present on my folio site but branded and themed to GUI Galaxy.

    The site’s backbone was a homegrown CMS, with the presentation layer consisting of global design + illustration + news author collaboration. And the collaboration effort here, in addition to experimentation on a ‘brand’ and content delivery, was hitting my core. We were designing something bigger than any single one of us and connecting with a global audience.

    Collaboration and connection transcend medium in their impact, immensely fulfilling me as a designer.

    Now, why am I taking you down this trip of design memory lane? Two reasons.

    First, there’s a reason for the nostalgia for that design era (the “Wild West” era, as I called it earlier): the inherent exploration, personality, and creativity that saturated many design portals and personal portfolio sites. Ultra-finely detailed pixel art UI, custom illustration, bespoke vector graphics, all underpinned by a strong design community.

    Today’s web design has been in a period of stagnation. I suspect there’s a strong chance you’ve seen a site whose structure looks something like this: a hero image / banner with text overlaid, perhaps with a lovely rotating carousel of images (laying the snark on heavy there), a call to action, and three columns of sub-content directly beneath. Maybe an icon library is employed with selections that vaguely relate to their respective content.

    Design, as it’s applied to the digital landscape, is in dire need of thoughtful layout, typography, and visual engagement that goes hand-in-hand with all the modern considerations we now know are paramount: usability. Accessibility. Load times and bandwidth- sensitive content delivery. A responsive presentation that meets human beings wherever they’re engaging from. We must be mindful of, and respectful toward, those concerns—but not at the expense of creativity of visual communication or via replicating cookie-cutter layouts.

    Pixel Problems

    Websites during this period were often designed and built on Macs whose OS and desktops looked something like this. This is Mac OS 7.5, but 8 and 9 weren’t that different.

    Figure 3: A Mac OS 7.5-centric desktop.

    Desktop icons fascinated me: how could any single one, at any given point, stand out to get my attention? In this example, the user’s desktop is tidy, but think of a more realistic example with icon pandemonium. Or, say an icon was part of a larger system grouping (fonts, extensions, control panels)—how did it also maintain cohesion amongst a group?

    These were 32 x 32 pixel creations, utilizing a 256-color palette, designed pixel-by-pixel as mini mosaics. To me, this was the embodiment of digital visual communication under such ridiculous constraints. And often, ridiculous restrictions can yield the purification of concept and theme.

    So I began to research and do my homework. I was a student of this new medium, hungry to dissect, process, discover, and make it my own.

    Expanding upon the notion of exploration, I wanted to see how I could push the limits of a 32x32 pixel grid with that 256-color palette. Those ridiculous constraints forced a clarity of concept and presentation that I found incredibly appealing. The digital gauntlet had been tossed, and that challenge fueled me. And so, in my dorm room into the wee hours of the morning, I toiled away, bringing conceptual sketches into mini mosaic fruition.

    These are some of my creations, utilizing the only tool available at the time to create icons called ResEdit. ResEdit was a clunky, built-in Mac OS utility not really made for exactly what we were using it for. At the core of all of this work: Research. Challenge. Problem- solving. Again, these core connection-based values are agnostic of medium.

    Figure 4: A selection of my pixel art design, 32x32 pixel canvas, 8-bit palette

    There’s one more design portal I want to talk about, which also serves as the second reason for my story to bring this all together.

    This is K10k, short for Kaliber 1000. K10k was founded in 1998 by Michael Schmidt and Toke Nygaard, and was the design news portal on the web during this period. With its pixel art-fueled presentation, ultra-focused care given to every facet and detail, and with many of the more influential designers of the time who were invited to be news authors on the site, well... it was the place to be, my friend. With respect where respect is due, GUI Galaxy’s concept was inspired by what these folks were doing.

    Figure 5: The K10k website

    For my part, the combination of my web design work and pixel art exploration began to get me some notoriety in the design scene. Eventually, K10k noticed and added me as one of their very select group of news authors to contribute content to the site.

    Amongst my personal work and side projects—and now with this inclusion—in the design community, this put me on the map. My design work also began to be published in various printed collections, in magazines domestically and overseas, and featured on other design news portals. With that degree of success while in my early twenties, something else happened:

    I evolved—devolved, really—into a colossal asshole (and in just about a year out of art school, no less). The press and the praise became what fulfilled me, and they went straight to my head. They inflated my ego. I actually felt somewhat superior to my fellow designers.

    The casualties? My design stagnated. Its evolution—my evolution— stagnated.

    I felt so supremely confident in my abilities that I effectively stopped researching and discovering. When previously sketching concepts or iterating ideas in lead was my automatic step one, I instead leaped right into Photoshop. I drew my inspiration from the smallest of sources (and with blinders on). Any critique of my work from my peers was often vehemently dismissed. The most tragic loss: I had lost touch with my values.

    My ego almost cost me some of my friendships and burgeoning professional relationships. I was toxic in talking about design and in collaboration. But thankfully, those same friends gave me a priceless gift: candor. They called me out on my unhealthy behavior.

    Admittedly, it was a gift I initially did not accept but ultimately was able to deeply reflect upon. I was soon able to accept, and process, and course correct. The realization laid me low, but the re-awakening was essential. I let go of the “reward” of adulation and re-centered upon what stoked the fire for me in art school. Most importantly: I got back to my core values.

    Always Students

    Following that short-term regression, I was able to push forward in my personal design and career. And I could self-reflect as I got older to facilitate further growth and course correction as needed.

    As an example, let’s talk about the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC was designed “to help answer some of the fundamental open questions in physics, which concern the basic laws governing the interactions and forces among the elementary objects, the deep structure of space and time, and in particular the interrelation between quantum mechanics and general relativity.” Thanks, Wikipedia.

    Around fifteen years ago, in one of my earlier professional roles, I designed the interface for the application that generated the LHC’s particle collision diagrams. These diagrams are the rendering of what’s actually happening inside the Collider during any given particle collision event and are often considered works of art unto themselves.

    Designing the interface for this application was a fascinating process for me, in that I worked with Fermilab physicists to understand what the application was trying to achieve, but also how the physicists themselves would be using it. To that end, in this role,

    I cut my teeth on usability testing, working with the Fermilab team to iterate and improve the interface. How they spoke and what they spoke about was like an alien language to me. And by making myself humble and working under the mindset that I was but a student, I made myself available to be a part of their world to generate that vital connection.

    I also had my first ethnographic observation experience: going to the Fermilab location and observing how the physicists used the tool in their actual environment, on their actual terminals. For example, one takeaway was that due to the level of ambient light-driven contrast within the facility, the data columns ended up using white text on a dark gray background instead of black text-on-white. This enabled them to pore over reams of data during the day and ease their eye strain. And Fermilab and CERN are government entities with rigorous accessibility standards, so my knowledge in that realm also grew. The barrier-free design was another essential form of connection.

    So to those core drivers of my visual problem-solving soul and ultimate fulfillment: discovery, exposure to new media, observation, human connection, and evolution. What opened the door for those values was me checking my ego before I walked through it.

    An evergreen willingness to listen, learn, understand, grow, evolve, and connect yields our best work. In particular, I want to focus on the words ‘grow’ and ‘evolve’ in that statement. If we are always students of our craft, we are also continually making ourselves available to evolve. Yes, we have years of applicable design study under our belt. Or the focused lab sessions from a UX bootcamp. Or the monogrammed portfolio of our work. Or, ultimately, decades of a career behind us.

    But all that said: experience does not equal “expert.”

    As soon as we close our minds via an inner monologue of ‘knowing it all’ or branding ourselves a “#thoughtleader” on social media, the designer we are is our final form. The designer we can be will never exist.

  • Personalization Pyramid: A Framework for Designing with User Data

    As a UX professional in today’s data-driven landscape, it’s increasingly likely that you’ve been asked to design a personalized digital experience, whether it’s a public website, user portal, or native application. Yet while there continues to be no shortage of marketing hype around personalization platforms, we still have very few standardized approaches for implementing personalized UX.

    That’s where we come in. After completing dozens of personalization projects over the past few years, we gave ourselves a goal: could you create a holistic personalization framework specifically for UX practitioners? The Personalization Pyramid is a designer-centric model for standing up human-centered personalization programs, spanning data, segmentation, content delivery, and overall goals. By using this approach, you will be able to understand the core components of a contemporary, UX-driven personalization program (or at the very least know enough to get started). 

    A chart answering the question Do you have the resources you need to run personalization in your organization? Globally, 13% don’t 33% have limited access, 39% have it (on demand), and 15% have it dedicated.

    Growing tools for personalization: According to a Dynamic Yield survey, 39% of respondents felt support is available on-demand when a business case is made for it (up 15% from 2020).

    Source: “The State of Personalization Maturity – Q4 2021” Dynamic Yield conducted its annual maturity survey across roles and sectors in the Americas (AMER), Europe and the Middle East (EMEA), and the Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions. This marks the fourth consecutive year publishing our research, which includes more than 450 responses from individuals in the C-Suite, Marketing, Merchandising, CX, Product, and IT.

    Getting Started

    For the sake of this article, we’ll assume you’re already familiar with the basics of digital personalization. A good overview can be found here: Website Personalization Planning. While UX projects in this area can take on many different forms, they often stem from similar starting points.      

    Common scenarios for starting a personalization project:

    • Your organization or client purchased a content management system (CMS) or marketing automation platform (MAP) or related technology that supports personalization
    • The CMO, CDO, or CIO has identified personalization as a goal
    • Customer data is disjointed or ambiguous
    • You are running some isolated targeting campaigns or A/B testing
    • Stakeholders disagree on personalization approach
    • Mandate of customer privacy rules (e.g. GDPR) requires revisiting existing user targeting practices
    Two men and a woman discussing personalization using a card deck. They are seated at a round table in a hotel conference room. The workshop leaders, two women, are at a podium in the background.
    Workshopping personalization at a conference.

    Regardless of where you begin, a successful personalization program will require the same core building blocks. We’ve captured these as the “levels” on the pyramid. Whether you are a UX designer, researcher, or strategist, understanding the core components can help make your contribution successful.  

    The Personalization Pyramid visualized. The pyramid is stacks labeled, from the bottom, raw data (1m+), actionable data (100k+), user segments (1k+), contexts & campaigns (100s), touchpoints (dozens), goals (handful). The North Star (one) is above. An arrow for prescriptive, business driven data goes up the left side and an arrow for adaptive user-driven data goes down the right side.
    From the ground up: Soup-to-nuts personalization, without going nuts.

    From top to bottom, the levels include:

    1. North Star: What larger strategic objective is driving the personalization program? 
    2. Goals: What are the specific, measurable outcomes of the program? 
    3. Touchpoints: Where will the personalized experience be served?
    4. Contexts and Campaigns: What personalization content will the user see?
    5. User Segments: What constitutes a unique, usable audience? 
    6. Actionable Data: What reliable and authoritative data is captured by our technical platform to drive personalization?  
    7. Raw Data: What wider set of data is conceivably available (already in our setting) allowing you to personalize?

    We’ll go through each of these levels in turn. To help make this actionable, we created an accompanying deck of cards to illustrate specific examples from each level. We’ve found them helpful in personalization brainstorming sessions, and will include examples for you here.

    A deck of personalization brainstorming cards (the size of playing cards) against a black background.
    Personalization pack: Deck of cards to help kickstart your personalization brainstorming.

    Starting at the Top

    The components of the pyramid are as follows:

    North Star

    A north star is what you are aiming for overall with your personalization program (big or small). The North Star defines the (one) overall mission of the personalization program. What do you wish to accomplish? North Stars cast a shadow. The bigger the star, the bigger the shadow. Example of North Starts might include: 

    1. Function: Personalize based on basic user inputs. Examples: “Raw” notifications, basic search results, system user settings and configuration options, general customization, basic optimizations
    2. Feature: Self-contained personalization componentry. Examples: “Cooked” notifications, advanced optimizations (geolocation), basic dynamic messaging, customized modules, automations, recommenders
    3. Experience: Personalized user experiences across multiple interactions and user flows. Examples: Email campaigns, landing pages, advanced messaging (i.e. C2C chat) or conversational interfaces, larger user flows and content-intensive optimizations (localization).
    4. Product: Highly differentiating personalized product experiences. Examples: Standalone, branded experiences with personalization at their core, like the “algotorial” playlists by Spotify such as Discover Weekly.
    Function: React to basic user inputs
    Feature: personalized modules
    Experience: Integrated personalization
    North star cards. These can help orient your team towards a common goal that personalization will help achieve; Also, these are useful for characterizing the end-state ambition of the presently stated personalization effort.

    Goals

    As in any good UX design, personalization can help accelerate designing with customer intentions. Goals are the tactical and measurable metrics that will prove the overall program is successful. A good place to start is with your current analytics and measurement program and metrics you can benchmark against. In some cases, new goals may be appropriate. The key thing to remember is that personalization itself is not a goal, rather it is a means to an end. Common goals include:

    • Conversion
    • Time on task
    • Net promoter score (NPS)
    • Customer satisfaction 
    NPS: Net Promoter Score
    Time on Task: Users move quicker
    Conversion: Move more of the thing
    Goal cards. Examples of some common KPIs related to personalization that are concrete and measurable.

    Touchpoints

    Touchpoints are where the personalization happens. As a UX designer, this will be one of your largest areas of responsibility. The touchpoints available to you will depend on how your personalization and associated technology capabilities are instrumented, and should be rooted in improving a user’s experience at a particular point in the journey. Touchpoints can be multi-device (mobile, in-store, website) but also more granular (web banner, web pop-up etc.). Here are some examples:

    Channel-level Touchpoints

    • Email: Role
    • Email: Time of open
    • In-store display (JSON endpoint)
    • Native app
    • Search

    Wireframe-level Touchpoints

    • Web overlay
    • Web alert bar
    • Web banner
    • Web content block
    • Web menu
    In-store Display: End-cap interfaces
    Email: Time, personalize at time of open
    Content Block: Into the woodwork
    Touchpoint cards. Examples of common personalization touchpoints: these can vary from narrow (e.g., email) to broad (e.g., in-store).

    If you’re designing for web interfaces, for example, you will likely need to include personalized “zones” in your wireframes. The content for these can be presented programmatically in touchpoints based on our next step, contexts and campaigns.

    Targeted Zones: Examples from Kibo of personalized “zones” on page-level wireframes occurring at various stages of a user journey (Engagement phase at left and Purchase phase at right.)

    Source: “Essential Guide to End-to-End Personaliztion” by Kibo.

    Contexts and Campaigns

    Once you’ve outlined some touchpoints, you can consider the actual personalized content a user will receive. Many personalization tools will refer to these as “campaigns” (so, for example, a campaign on a web banner for new visitors to the website). These will programmatically be shown at certain touchpoints to certain user segments, as defined by user data. At this stage, we find it helpful to consider two separate models: a context model and a content model. The context helps you consider the level of engagement of the user at the personalization moment, for example a user casually browsing information vs. doing a deep-dive. Think of it in terms of information retrieval behaviors. The content model can then help you determine what type of personalization to serve based on the context (for example, an “Enrich” campaign that shows related articles may be a suitable supplement to extant content).

    Personalization Context Model:

    1. Browse
    2. Skim
    3. Nudge
    4. Feast

    Personalization Content Model:

    1. Alert
    2. Make Easier
    3. Cross-Sell
    4. Enrich

    We’ve written extensively about each of these models elsewhere, so if you’d like to read more you can check out Colin’s Personalization Content Model and Jeff’s Personalization Context Model

    Cross Sell: You may also like…
    Enrich: You might find this interesting
    Browse: Lean back, shallow engagement
    Campaign and Context cards: This level of the pyramid can help your team focus around the types of personalization to deliver end users and the use-cases in which they will experience it.

    User Segments

    User segments can be created prescriptively or adaptively, based on user research (e.g. via rules and logic tied to set user behaviors or via A/B testing). At a minimum you will likely need to consider how to treat the unknown or first-time visitor, the guest or returning visitor for whom you may have a stateful cookie (or equivalent post-cookie identifier), or the authenticated visitor who is logged in. Here are some examples from the personalization pyramid:

    • Unknown
    • Guest
    • Authenticated
    • Default
    • Referred
    • Role
    • Cohort
    • Unique ID
    Authenticated: Logged in with token
    Unknown: Could be anyone really
    Guest: Dropped a cookie
    Segment cards. Examples of common personalization segments: at a minimum, you will need to consider the anonymous, guest, and logged in user types. Segmentation can get dramatically more complex from there.

    Actionable Data

    Every organization with any digital presence has data. It’s a matter of asking what data you can ethically collect on users, its inherent reliability and value, as to how can you use it (sometimes known as “data activation.”) Fortunately, the tide is turning to first-party data: a recent study by Twilio estimates some 80% of businesses are using at least some type of first-party data to personalize the customer experience. 

    Chart that answers the question "Why is your company focusing on using first-party data for personalization?" The top answer (at 53%) is "it’s higher quality." That is followed by "It’s easier to manage" (46%), "it provides better privacy" (45%), "it’s easier to obtain" (42%), "it’s more cost-effective" (40%), "it’s more ethical" (37%), "our customers want us to" (36%), "it’s the industry norm" (27%), "it’s easier to comply with regulations" (27%), and "we are phasing out 3rd party cookies" (21%).
    Source: “The State of Personalization 2021” by Twilio. Survey respondents were n=2,700 adult consumers who have purchased something online in the past 6 months, and n=300 adult manager+ decision-makers at consumer-facing companies that provide goods and/or services online. Respondents were from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.Data was collected from April 8 to April 20, 2021.

    First-party data represents multiple advantages on the UX front, including being relatively simple to collect, more likely to be accurate, and less susceptible to the “creep factor” of third-party data. So a key part of your UX strategy should be to determine what the best form of data collection is on your audiences. Here are some examples:

    Quizes: Tell us what you like
    Behavioral profiling: Males 40+ who wear fedoras
    Campaign Source: Your discount code 29780…
    Chart showing the impact of personalization across different phases of personalization maturity. It shows that effort is high in the early phases, but drops off quickly starting in phase 3 (machine learning) while at the same time conversion rates, AOV, and ROI increase from a relatively low level to off the chart.
    Figure 1.1.2: Example of a personalization maturity curve, showing progression from basic recommendations functionality to true individualization. Credit: https://kibocommerce.com/blog/kibos-personalization-maturity-chart/

    There is a progression of profiling when it comes to recognizing and making decisioning about different audiences and their signals. It tends to move towards more granular constructs about smaller and smaller cohorts of users as time and confidence and data volume grow.

    While some combination of implicit / explicit data is generally a prerequisite for any implementation (more commonly referred to as first party and third-party data) ML efforts are typically not cost-effective directly out of the box. This is because a strong data backbone and content repository is a prerequisite for optimization. But these approaches should be considered as part of the larger roadmap and may indeed help accelerate the organization’s overall progress. Typically at this point you will partner with key stakeholders and product owners to design a profiling model. The profiling model includes defining approach to configuring profiles, profile keys, profile cards and pattern cards. A multi-faceted approach to profiling which makes it scalable.

    Pulling it Together

    While the cards comprise the starting point to an inventory of sorts (we provide blanks for you to tailor your own), a set of potential levers and motivations for the style of personalization activities you aspire to deliver, they are more valuable when thought of in a grouping. 

    In assembling a card “hand”, one can begin to trace the entire trajectory from leadership focus down through a strategic and tactical execution. It is also at the heart of the way both co-authors have conducted workshops in assembling a program backlog—which is a fine subject for another article.

    In the meantime, what is important to note is that each colored class of card is helpful to survey in understanding the range of choices potentially at your disposal, it is threading through and making concrete decisions about for whom this decisioning will be made: where, when, and how.

    Cards on a table. At the top: Function is the north star & customer satisfaction is the goal. User segment is unknown, the actionable data is a quiz, context is a nudge, campaign is to make something easier, and the touchpoint is a banner.
    Scenario A: We want to use personalization to improve customer satisfaction on the website. For unknown users, we will create a short quiz to better identify what the user has come to do. This is sometimes referred to as “badging” a user in onboarding contexts, to better characterize their present intent and context.

    Lay Down Your Cards

    Any sustainable personalization strategy must consider near, mid and long-term goals. Even with the leading CMS platforms like Sitecore and Adobe or the most exciting composable CMS DXP out there, there is simply no “easy button” wherein a personalization program can be stood up and immediately view meaningful results. That said, there is a common grammar to all personalization activities, just like every sentence has nouns and verbs. These cards attempt to map that territory.

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  • Best wireless gaming keyboards 2024: Top picks for untethered performance

    Way back when the world was new, and “ray tracing” was something that only happened in oceanographic illustrations, you needed a wired keyboard to play PC games. Otherwise the old-fashioned wireless connections could lag or skip out, possibly costing you that crucial shot or goal. But that’s no longer the case. Modern wireless keyboards are generally fast enough, and wireless gaming keyboards are faster than any human’s reaction time and rock-solid stable to boot.

    You can use any old keyboard to play PC games, but there’s an additional element to consider when you’re looking for the best wireless gaming keyboard: latency. The Bluetooth connection on a keyboard like the otherwise excellent Keychron Q1 Pro just isn’t up to snuff for the fast-paced world of online shooters and other multiplayer games, so you’ll want something with a dedicated RF connection and a USB-based dongle. A better alternative would be the Alienware Pro Wireless Keyboard, which lets you switch between a dedicated USB-C dongle for PCs and Bluetooth for mobile devices.

    For more tips about what to look for in a wireless gaming keyboard, scroll to our buying guide below our list of recommendations.

    Corsair K65 Plus Wireless – Best wireless gaming keyboard overall

    Corsair K65 Plus Wireless - Best wireless gaming keyboard overall

    Pros

    • Solid hardware
    • Great value for wireless
    • Tons of customization options 

    Cons

    • No wrist rest
    • slightly awkward default layout 

    Combining the specific and oddly popular niche category of “75% mechanical keyboard with a bunch of custom features” with easy and solid wireless, Corsair’s K65 Plus is a winning pick. It’s a solid all-around board that doesn’t blow you away in any one category, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With high-quality components, great customization options, good switches for both typing and gaming, and better software than most, plus a very competitive price, this is the keyboard you want if a wireless high-end board is on your radar. A dedicated button on the side to switch lighting on and off is particularly useful for untethered gamers.

    Read our full Corsair K65 Plus Wireless keyboard review

    Alienware Pro Wireless – Best gaming keyboard for travel

     Alienware Pro Wireless - Best gaming keyboard for travel

    Pros

    • Unique curvy body
    • Great switches
    • Dual wireless

    Cons

    • Expensive
    • Janky software
    • No wrist resto wrist rest
    Best Prices Today: $269.99 at Dell Canada

    Alienware offers another 75% layout with some custom-inspired features. It isn’t quite as good as the Corsair K65 above, with fewer customization options and some pretty terrible software. But it earns this spot because the Pro Wireless is extremely compact without giving up utility. Its curvy aluminum body is just begging to be slipped into a bag for some on-the-go gaming, and its absolutely massive battery can keep it going even if you insist on keeping the pretty lights on. Even the wireless dongle — a still-rare USB Type C one — is designed to more easily match with modern laptops.

    Read our full Alienware Pro Wireless keyboard review

    Razer Deathstalker V2 Pro keyboard – Best low-profile wireless gaming keyboard

    Razer Deathstalker V2 Pro keyboard - Best low-profile wireless gaming keyboard

    Pros

    • All the features of a big Razer board in a small size
    • Comfy media controls
    • Many connection options

    Cons

    • Default mute is a bit tricky
    • No wrist rest
    Best Prices Today: $249 at Amazon

    The Deathstalker V2 Pro is a bit of a throwback for Razer, recalling the days when expensive gaming keyboards were thin and sleek. This one’s still mechanical though, so it has that great typing and gaming feel with a bit less key travel. The big, finger-friendly volume wheel is particularly nice. There are thinner options out there, like the Corsair KIOO Air, but it’s both more expensive and less comfortable. The Deathstalker V2 also comes in a TKL size if you don’t need a num pad.

    Read our full Razer Deathstalker V2 Pro keyboard review

    Redragon K596 Wireless Keyboard – Best budget option

    Redragon K596 Wireless Keyboard - Best budget option

    Pros

    • Low price
    • Included wrist rest
    • Long battery life
    • Volume wheel

    Cons

    • Ugly keycaps
    • Can only program G keys
    • No Bluetooth
    Best Prices Today: $79.99 at Gamestop

    If you need a wireless gaming keyboard for under a C-note, Redragon (pronounced “re-dragon,” maybe, who knows?) is happy to provide. While this model lacks fancy features like multi-device Bluetooth, it includes a few that you wouldn’t expect at this price point, including a volume wheel and an included magnetic wrist rest. It also has a surprising focus on gaming functionality: Custom “G” buttons can be bound to individual functions or macros on the fly. The ABS plastic and branding aren’t exactly gorgeous, but you can use the money you’ve saved to grab some custom keycaps.

    Read our full Redragon K596 Wireless Keyboard review

    Keychron Lemokey L3 – Best 'custom' wireless keyboard for gaming

    Keychron Lemokey L3 - Best 'custom' wireless keyboard for gaming

    Pros

    • Typical Keychron build quality
    • Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless
    • Lots of extras

    Cons

    • No per-game programming
    • No adjustable typing angle
    • Takes forever to disassemble
    Best Prices Today: $214 at Keychron

    Premium mechanical keyboards in the “custom” category are hard to find in wireless form, and even harder if you want something with a speedy connection suitable for gaming. Keychron has made a name for itself with its high-quality designs featuring things like all-aluminum bodies, gasket mounting, and hot-swap switch sockets. The Lemokey L3 is the company’s first gaming-focused model, which has all that plus 2.4GHz wireless. Though you can program in a few profiles, there’s no per-game layout customization, and actually opening the keyboard to do some custom work will take you a long, long time.

    Read our full Keychron Lemokey L3 keyboard review

    Apex Pro TKL Wireless keyboard – Best wireless analog board

    Apex Pro TKL Wireless keyboard - Best wireless analog board

    Pros

    • Only wireless board in this niche
    • Good software package

    Cons

    • Chattery, uncomfortable switches
    • Limited dual actuation
    • Poor build quality
    • Short battery life
    Best Prices Today: $249.99 at Amazon

    To be perfectly clear: At the time of writing, this is the only wireless gaming keyboard on the market that also offers analog keys with adjustable actuation. That means you can set the Apex Pro TKL’s keys to activate at a light or hard press, and change each one to your liking, or even set two different functions to light or hard. But the Apex Pro is expensive, doesn’t feel great, and it has a completely superfluous OLED screen. If you absolutely must have an analog keyboard, you might want to consider going wired instead.

    Read our full Apex Pro TKL Wireless keyboard review

    Pardon me for being obvious, but wireless keyboard shoppers should care about the same things they would for a regular keyboard…only wireless. Expect to pay a significant premium over wired designs, at least when looking at multiple models from the same category or brand. More personal and subjective features, like the feel of mechanical switches, might necessitate a trip to your local electronics store (or tracking down a handy key switch tester for trying dozens at once).

    FAQ


    1.

    What kind of wireless should a gaming keyboard use?

    Gaming keyboards tend to use RF wireless with a USB dongle, instead of a Bluetooth connection, which is more popular with modern “standard” wireless keyboards. That’s because it allows manufacturers to use a more reliable direct connection, with a higher polling rate — that means the connection between the board and your computer refreshes itself much more often, minimizing input lag. Some advanced models still include Bluetooth, along with fancier options like pairing multiple devices to the same USB dongle. Range typically isn’t a concern if you’re using a keyboard with a gaming desktop, but you might want to think about it if you have a gaming PC hooked up to your TV.

    Most high-end wireless gaming keyboards can also use a direct wired USB connection, if you’re worried about wireless interference in a crowded environment.

    2.

    What kind of mechanical switches should I choose?

    Modern mechanical keyboards come in a staggering array of switch varieties, from smooth and linear to loud and clickly, with tons of options for mechanisms and spring strength. The only real way to know which one you prefer is to try ’em out (retail store displays are great for this). That being said, more expensive keyboards tend to come with nicer, high-quality switches from name brands like Cherry and Gateron. For the ultimate in customization, track down a keyboard with hotswap switches, which let you swap out the switches for new and different ones whenever you want.

    Recently more advanced types of switches have emerged, like optical and “laser” switches tripped by interrupting a beam of light, or “mag lev” switches that allow you to adjust the actuation force it takes to activate the key. These are interesting, but tend to lack actual utility (unless you have truly superhuman perception), and increase the price of keyboards phenomenally.

    3.

    Can I customize a keyboard’s keycaps?

    Keycaps are the little pieces of plastic that sit on top of the switches — what your fingers press down on. Switching out the keycaps for a set of nicer ones, maybe made of better PBT plastic or themed after your favorite TV show, is a popular and easy keyboard mod. Some keyboard makers even sell their own upgrade sets. Keycaps with a Cherry MX-compatible stem will work with almost all modern mechanical switches, just make sure you find a set that matches the layout of your keyboard.

    4.

    What keyboard layout should I choose?

    The layout of the keys on your keyboard varies more than you might think. Full-sized (100%) keyboards include a 10-key number area to the right of the arrow cluster, but gaming models often omit this in order to make more room for mouse movements, calling this the “10-key-less” or “TKL” layout. Some keyboards go even smaller, with 60% being the smallest that mainstream brands use, chopping off the Function row, 10-key area, and even the arrow keys (which have to be accessed via a Fn button). A few designs go even larger than the full layout, with an extra column or two of programmable keys for custom bindings or macros.

    But there are a wide range of layout choices between these broad categories. Popular 65% and 75% keyboards are quite small, but still keep the arrow keys for ease of use, while smooshing down some others to make room. Ergonomic layouts on split keyboards try to emulate the curvy designs of some elaborate conventional keyboards. Which one you want comes down to use-case, available space, and perhaps more pertinently, taste.

    These general layouts shouldn’t be confused with country- and region-specific key layouts for letters and numbers, like ANSI and ISO. Most popular designs are available in at least those two variants.

    5.

    How long does a wireless gaming keyboard battery last?

    Unlike gaming mice, battery life generally isn’t a big concern with gaming keyboards. They’re big enough that there’s plenty of space for internal batteries that last for weeks, or even months, between charges. That is, unless you over-use that fancy RGB lighting with dazzling animation…in which case, it might last just a few days or hours. It’s best to turn off the lights if you don’t know when you’ll get your next charge. If it’s available, check the milliamp-hour (mAh) rating for the battery.

    6.

    Do I need LED lighting on a gaming keyboard?

    Even budget gaming keyboards come with LED backlights these days, giving you a little extra help when hunting for keys in the dark. More elaborate models — especially from brands like Razer and Corsair — offer fully synchronized RGB light shows with elaborate animations. But unless you’re constantly playing in the dark and you can’t touch-type, it’s entirely cosmetic. It’s fun, that’s about it. You don’t need lights on a keyboard, it’s just a fun extra.

    7.

    What extras should I look for in a wireless gaming keyboard?

    Keyboard makers are forever trying to one-up each other with extra features. Larger boards usually include dedicated media controls, and the nicer ones get a fully programmable wheel or knob, as well as hot-swap switch sockets that let you experiment with different types of key switches. An especially nice option is on-device memory, allowing you to keep key layout programs without running a driver program on each new computer. The most expensive boards have premium metal bodies, internal foam for sound reduction, and sometimes even gasket mounting, which gives the keys an extra bit of bounce by suspending them between two layers of foam or silicone.

    None of these are really necessary, but they’re all nice and enhance the experience. Depending on your taste and budget, you can look for a board with a few extra features, or hunt down a super premium “endgame” design with all of them.

    Gaming, Keyboards
  • Best gaming monitors 2024: Level up your display

    Any monitor can be used for PC gaming, but a display built for productivity will likely leave you underwhelmed. Limited contrast, blurry motion, and slow refresh rates still hold basic productivity monitors back in games. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of excellent gaming monitors available at a wide range of price points—and the best of them embrace cutting-edge technology unavailable in any other PC display. 

    Here are the best gaming monitors of 2023 so far. If you aren’t sold on a gaming monitor, check out our recommendations for the best monitors overall or our roundup of the best 4K monitors for additional options.

    Updated 3/1/2024: To add the Alienware AW3225QF to our list as the best 4K gaming monitor. It impressed us with its 32-inch QD-OLED panel and 240Hz refresh rate (unique for 4K), along with other outstanding attributes, which we detail in the summary below.

    Alienware AW3423DW – Best gaming monitor overall

    Alienware AW3423DW - Best gaming monitor overall

    Pros

    • Excellent contrast ratio 
    • Top-notch color gamut and accuracy
    • Great motion clarity 
    • Respectable HDR performance
    • Extremely competitive price

    Cons

    • Stand is a bit too large
    • No USB-C
    • Maximum HDR brightness is lackluster
    Best Prices Today: $999.99 at Amazon

    Alienware’s AW3423DWF is an outstanding PC gaming monitor. 

    This monitor has a QD-OLED panel which is like that used in top-tier OLED televisions. OLED provides a nearly infinite contrast ratio, excellent color performance, and respectable brightness. The result is a punchy, vibrant image with an unparalleled sense of dimensionality. The monitor’s ultrawide aspect ratio only heightens the sense of immersion.

    Motion clarity is superb. The monitor has a refresh up to 165Hz and supports both AMD FreeSync Premium Pro and VESA Adaptive Sync. The OLED panel technology it uses has lower pixel response times than competitors, too, so there’s minimal added blur and ghosting in motion. Motion is as crisp as you’ll find below 240Hz. 

    The Alienware AW3423DWF is an alternative to the AW3423DW, a slightly older and nearly identical monitor. The AW3423DW has a higher fresh rate of 175Hz and supports Nvidia G-Sync Ultimate. It’s also $100 to $200 more expensive. Though we recommend the AW3423DWF for most people, the AW3423DW is better for owners of high-end Nvidia graphics cards.

    The AW3423DWF is expensive at $1,099.99, but its performance justifies the price. Competing 34-inch and 38-inch ultrawides without QD-OLED technology are often just as expensive but have less impressive image quality.

    Read our full Alienware AW3423DWF review

    Dell G2724D – Best budget gaming monitor

    Dell G2724D - Best budget gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Handsome design with functional stand
    • Attractive SDR image quality
    • Good motion clarity at 165Hz
    • Supports all Adaptive Sync standards

    Cons

    • No USB connectivity or 3.5mm audio-out
    • Lackluster HDR
    Best Prices Today: $299.99 at Dell Home

    The Dell G2724D is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a budget gaming monitor that doesn’t compromise on quality. With attractive design, strong motion clarity at 165Hz, and wide Adaptive Sync support, it provides an immersive gaming experience at an affordable price.

    It has a 27-inch IPS LCD panel with 1440p resolution and a 165Hz refresh rate. The color gamut spans 100 percent of sRGB, 86 percent of DCI-P3, and 82 percent of Adobe RGB, delivering a bright and vibrant image that’s excellent in games and adequate for most content creation. The monitor’s Adaptive Sync support is a standout feature, with official support for VESA Adaptive Sync, AMD FreeSync Premium, and Nvidia G-Sync.

    It also delivers a handsome design with a matte black and gray chassis and sporty rear vents that provide an aggressive yet unobtrusive look. The functional monitor stand offers a range of ergonomic adjustments and has a compact base that doesn’t consume excessive desk space.

    There are a few downsides: The monitor doesn’t offer USB connectivity or 3.5mm audio-out. HDR performance is lackluster, too, making it a so-so choice for HDR gaming.

    Yet it’s hard to beat the G2724D’s performance at $300 or below and, more importantly, it offers everything an average PC gamer is going to need for a smooth, responsive, and attractive gaming experience. It’s the kind of monitor that, despite its budget price, could have a place on your desk for several years.

    Read our full Dell G2724D review

    KTC H24T09P – Best gaming monitor under $200

    KTC H24T09P - Best gaming monitor under $200

    Pros

    • Vibrant, accurate color
    • 165Hz refresh rate
    • Supports FreeSync and G-Sync

    Cons

    • Generic design
    • No USB connectivity
    • Lacks height-adjustable stand
    Best Prices Today: $299.99 at Amazon

    The KTC H24T09P boasts a refresh rate of 165Hz alongside compatibility with AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync, enhancing the gaming experience with smooth, tear-free visuals. It even has an MRPT mode which further improves motion clarity when active. These features make the H24T09P a good choice for fast-paced competitive games. 

    Image quality is strong, too. The monitor has a 24-inch 1080p display panel that achieves a wide color gamut (covering 92 percent of DCI-P3), adequate brightness, and good color accuracy. The monitor’s contrast ratio is mid-pack overall but solid for a budget monitor. 

    The monitor’s design is generic. It also lacks useful features like USB connectivity and a height-adjustable stand. However, these drawbacks are typical for a budget gaming monitor. You’ll generally need to spend closer to $200, or more, to obtain them both. 

    And not all the monitor’s features are lacking. It has four video inputs (two HDMI, two DisplayPort), which is one more than usual. The on-screen menu system offers significant image quality customization, too.

    The KTC H24T09P is a smart investment for those seeking a top-quality gaming monitor at a low price. It delivers everything a modern PC gamer needs for just $150.

    Read our full KTC H24T09P review

    Asus TUF Gaming VG289Q – Best budget 4K gaming monitor

    Asus TUF Gaming VG289Q - Best budget 4K gaming monitor

    Pros

    • 4K resolution
    • Good gaming performance
    • Tons of ergonomic adjustment options
    • Inexpensive 

    Cons

    • A relatively low 60Hz refresh rate
    Best Prices Today: $287.58 at Amazon

    If you are a gamer who enjoys slower-paced games that feature beautiful graphic detail then you may want to consider a 4K gaming monitor. The Asus TUF Gaming VG289Q is a 28-inch 4K display with a refresh rate of 60Hz and adaptive sync, making it compatible with both FreeSync and G-Sync. It’s also only $400—a relative steal for a 4K display. It may not have the refresh rate that is required for quick e-sports or shooter games, but it makes up for that with an absolutely superb 4K display. It also has outstanding image quality and a vivid color range that will make most of the other monitors on this list weep.

    Asus branded the VG289Q as a gaming monitor and it will deliver on that in most aspects. But ultimately, it is all about getting a 4K display on a budget and in that respect this monitor is second to none in image quality value for your money.

    Read our full Asus TUF Gaming VG289Q review

    Alienware AW3225QF – Best 4K gaming monitor

    Alienware AW3225QF - Best 4K gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Excellent color performance and contrast
    • Good overall HDR performance
    • 240Hz refresh rate with great motion clarity
    • Big price drop from prior 4K OLED monitors

    Cons

    • Stand is too large
    • Curved panel is an acquired taste
    • HDR brightness is still just okay
    Best Prices Today: $1199.99 at Dell

    The Alienware AW3225QF is an easy recommendation for the best 4K gaming monitor.

    This 32-inch monitor boasts a 4K QD-OLED panel, offering a 240Hz refresh rate — a new feature for 4K OLED displays. Its motion performance is excellent. The 240Hz refresh rate delivers clear and detailed motion in fast-paced games. Nvidia G-Sync and VESA AdaptiveSync 240 are supported, as well (the monitor will work with FreeSync, though support is not officially listed).

    The monitor’s SDR image quality is impressive with true-to-life color accuracy, an infinite contrast ratio, and excellent sharpness. The AW3225QF also delivers good HDR performance, offering a cinematic experience with VESA DisplayHDR 400 True Black certification and Dolby Vision HDR support. Its HDR brightness can’t match Mini-LED displays but proves a hair better than most OLED competitors.

    The AW3225QF excels in video connectivity, including DisplayPort 1.4 and two HDMI 2.1 ports. That means all three ports can handle the monitor at maximum resolution and refresh rate, something that’s not true of many 4K displays. One HDMI port also offers eARC support, catering to enhanced audio setups. That’s handy if you want to use the monitor with home theater equipment, like a soundbar, and position the AW3225QF as a potential TV alternative in small spaces.

    Alienware’s design is both luxurious and attractive, with an appealing white-and-black colorway and sturdy materials. The ergonomic stand is too large, however, and won’t fit comfortably on smaller desks. VESA mount compatibility is included and provides an alternative mounting option.

    Read our full Alienware AW3225QF review

    Innocn 27M2V – Best budget HDR gaming monitor

    Innocn 27M2V - Best budget HDR gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Excellent color gamut and accuracy
    • Sharp, vivid picture
    • Strong HDR performance
    • Good connectivity

    Cons

    • Design looks nice, but feels inexpensive
    • Thin user manual
    • Confusing on-screen menu
    Best Prices Today: $799.99 at Amazon

    Innocn’s 27M2V is an awesome choice if you want punchy, brilliant HDR gaming for less than $1,000. It delivers excellent HDR brightness, 4K clarity, and smooth motion at a reasonable price.

    The 27M2V is a 4K Mini-LED monitor with a maximum refresh rate of 160Hz. It falls behind the smoothest monitors available, like the 500Hz Alienware AW2524H, but still looks excellent in motion. Only the most demanding competitive gamers will need a higher refresh rate. The monitor also supports AMD FreeSync Premium Pro.

    HDR is attractive thanks to the monitor’s maximum measured HDR brightness of 877 nits. This is a bit low compared to the best Mini-LED monitors, which can exceed 1,000 nits, but still enough to deliver an obvious boost in HDR games. Bright objects retain good detail, colors look wonderfully saturated, and the dynamic Mini-LED backlight delivers strong contrast.

    The 27M2V’s connectivity doesn’t disappoint. It features a USB-C port with a generous 90 watts of Power Delivery, complemented by a DisplayPort and dual HDMI 2.0 ports, tallying up to four video inputs. 

    It’s not without its quirks. The monitor’s build, while aesthetically pleasing, feels a bit lackluster when handled. Navigating the on-screen menus is a challenge and made more difficult by the absence of a comprehensive user manual. And while Innocn’s customer service exists, it’s limited to email correspondence.

    Yet these minor setbacks are forgiven by competitive pricing. With an MSRP of $799.99, and frequent discounts dropping it to a mere $679.99, the Innocn 27M2V offers unparalleled value for the price.

    Read our full Innocn 27M2V review

    Asus ROG Swift PG32UQX – Best HDR gaming monitor

    Asus ROG Swift PG32UQX - Best HDR gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Excellent gaming performance
    • 4K resolution
    • Dimmable mini-LED backlight
    • Ergonomic adjustment options

    Cons

    • High power consumption
    • Extremely expensive
    Best Prices Today: $1,899.99 at Amazon

    The best HDR games, like Forza Horizon 5 or Microsoft Flight Simulator, are transformed by a great HDR display. Unfortunately, most PC monitors fall short—except for Asus’ ROG Swift PG32UQX.

    This monitor has a mini-LED backlight with 1,152 LED light zones that can turn on or off independently, boosting contrast and brightness. The monitor achieves extreme brightness in both small areas of the display or across the entire display and does so without noticeable fluctuations in brightness, a problem sometimes visible on the otherwise excellent Alienware AW3423DW. 

    It’s got top-tier color performance, 4K resolution, and a refresh rate of up to 144Hz. It doesn’t support HDMI 2.1 but can handle 120Hz when connected to a Xbox Series X|S console thanks to a chroma subsampling mode. 

    The ROG Swift PG32UQX’s superb HDR performance comes at a high price. You can expect to pay around $3,000 for this monitor. Viewsonic’s XG321UG is a similar and slightly less expensive alternative, but it lacks 120Hz support for Xbox Series X|S consoles.

    Read our full Asus ROG Swift PG32UQX review

    Gigabyte GS34WQC- Best budget ultrawide gaming monitor

    Gigabyte GS34WQC- Best budget ultrawide gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Plenty of connectivity and menu options
    • Good contrast ratio
    • Solid color performance
    • Up to 144Hz refresh rate with good motion clarity

    Cons

    • Stand setup uses screws instead of clip mechanism
    • Modest maximum brightness
    • HDR is supported but lackluster
    Best Prices Today: $279.99 at Best Buy

    The Gigabyte GS34WQC stands out as an impressive ultrawide gaming monitor available at a low price. It has a sharp 34-inch display with a resolution of 3440×1440. That’s paired with good motion clarity driven by a 120Hz refresh rate (overclockable to 135Hz) and support for AMD FreeSync, ensuring smooth and consistent gameplay. Camera movements are detailed, and fast-paced action is easily tracked.

    Beyond its motion clarity, the GS34WQC delivers great image quality that’s comparable to monitors twice its price. It has a Vertical Alignment (VA) panel instead of the more common In-Plane Switching (IPS). This provides improved contrast with deeper black levels and more convincing shadow detail in dark scenes. These qualities make it especially suitable for games with a dark, gritty presentation.

    The monitor boasts a dull but functional design. It has an ergonomic stand that provides height and tilt adjustment, but its assembly requires manual attachment of four screws, unlike competitors with tool-free clip-in stands. The GS34WQC compensates with an intuitive menu system that has extensive customization options, allowing gamers to tailor the visuals to their preferences.

    Value, however, is where the GS34WQC really beats the competition. It’s not the least expensive budget ultrawide monitor, but it delivers better image quality and motion clarity than many competitors while keeping the price in check. Indeed, the GS34WQC is so good it makes $400-to-$500-dollar ultrawide gaming monitors more difficult to recommend. The GS34WQC looks just as good at a lower price.

    Read our full Gigabyte GS344WQC review

    Acer Predator CG48 – Best big-screen gaming monitor

    Acer Predator CG48 - Best big-screen gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Excellent SDR, strong HDR image
    • Great motion clarity
    • Superior contrast and wide color gamut
    • Multiple PC-friendly connections including USB-C hub
    • Useful bundled remote

    Cons

    • Only one HDMI 2.1 input
    • Sharpness is just ok
    • Stand offers no adjustment, no VESA mount

    Thinking about a TV for your next gaming display? Stop! The Acer Predator CG48 is as large as many OLED televisions and better suited to use with a PC.

    The Predator CG48 is a 48-inch OLED monitor with 4K resolution and a maximum refresh rate of 138Hz. It has the same OLED panel as LG’s OLED televisions and delivers great image quality. The monitor’s combination of excellent contrast, spot-on color accuracy, and a wide color gamut provides a realistic and lifelike picture. 

    Motion clarity is great, too. The 138Hz refresh rate provides excellent motion fluidity in fast-paced games. OLED also provides low pixel-response times, which minimizes blur across a wide range of refresh rates. 

    Unlike a television, the Acer Predator CG48 has a wide variety of options for connecting a PC. This includes DisplayPort, HDMI 2.1, and even USB-C with DisplayPort Alternate Mode and 65 watts of Power Delivery. You can easily connect several gaming PCs to this display, if needed. The bundled remote can access a wide range of image quality options and adjustments that help you customize the image to your preferences. 

    This monitor retails at $1,499.99, which is expensive, but it’s often on sale for at least a couple hundred dollars less. Be sure to shop around before buying.

    Read our full Acer Predator CG48 review

    Corsair Xeneon Flex 45WQHD240 – Best big-screen ultrawide

    Corsair Xeneon Flex 45WQHD240 - Best big-screen ultrawide

    Pros

    • Incredibly immersive gaming experience
    • Huge 45-inch ultrawide OLED panel can be adjusted from flat to 800R curve to suit your setup
    • Exceptional image quality, contrast, color performance, and HDR
    • Elite motion clarity on a 240Hz panel
    • Abundant connectivity with USB-C hub and power delivery options
    • It made four people who walked into my office stop and say “WHOA” like Keanu Reeves

    Cons

    • Poor text clarity and general sharpness for productivity work
    • Very expensive
    • No swivel or tilt options, stand can’t be replaced
    • Bending mechanism feels clunky and mildly terrifying at first
    • Enabling HDR mutes desktop contrast and vibrancy

    Want a monitor that takes immersion to a new level and outshines your friend’s measly 34-inch ultrawide? The Corsair Xeneon Flex 45WQHD240 is for you. 

    The Xeneon Flex is a superb way to enjoy visually stunning games. It has an extremely high contrast ratio and a wide color gamut. Maximum brightness is high (for OLED) as well, which is a benefit if you want to play games with HDR turned on. The monitor’s 240Hz refresh rate and low pixel response times provide top-notch motion clarity. Even its modest 3440×1440 resolution may be seen as a benefit. While it does soften the image, it also reduces the strain on your GPU, making it possible to enjoy high-quality settings on midrange hardware. 

    Of course, the Xeneon Flex’s most unique feature is in its name: a unique flexible OLED panel that can be adjusted from a completely flat position to an impressive 800R curvature, one of the tightest curves available in a monitor. The curve is adjusted manually with handles located on each side of the display. It’s a useful extra if you enjoy a wide variety of genres (you may want it flat while playing Civilization IV but curved in Cyberpunk 2077).

    Measuring a whopping 45 inches diagonally, the Xeneon Flex is significantly larger than a standard 34-inch ultrawide, providing an incredibly immersive gaming experience and ample space for multitasking applications. It stands taller than a 49-inch super-ultrawide like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G9, although it’s not as wide.

    Build quality is good, too, as the Corsair Xeneon Flex features a robust and stable stand with integrated ports including USB-C. However, the stand doesn’t offer height adjustment. With a retail price of nearly $2,000, the Xeneon Flex is an investment, but its versatile OLED panel and superior image quality make it an obvious choice for gamers. 

    Read our full Corsair Xeneon Flex review

    LG Ultragear 27GN950 – Best 144Hz gaming monitor

    LG Ultragear 27GN950 - Best 144Hz gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Excellent gaming performance
    • Incredible image quality
    • Ergonomic adjustment options
    • Special gaming configurations

    Cons

    • High power consumption
    Best Prices Today: $611.36 at Amazon$799.99 at LG

    If you’re not a professional gamer or you just don’t require the obscenely fast 240Hz, then you can find a whole host of great options at 144Hz instead. Our pick for the best of the bunch is the LG Ultragear 27GN950.

    Not only is it still super fast, but it also has 4K resolution, all of the ports your heart desires, and impressively high color fidelity. It is a great option for those who will use it for multimedia other than just gaming and don’t mind sacrificing a little speed to gain a lot of pixel density.

    Admittedly, it’s a bit pricey for a 27-inch monitor and you will need a high-end GPU to take advantage of its full potential, but if you can afford it, then this just might end up being the pièce de résistance in your display setup.

    Read our full LG Ultragear 27GN950 review

    LG UltraGear 27GR83Q-B – Best 240Hz gaming monitor

    LG UltraGear 27GR83Q-B - Best 240Hz gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Attractive design
    • Bright, colorful image
    • Excellent motion clarity
    • Officially supports both AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync

    Cons

    • Stand is still too large
    • Modest contrast ratio
    • HDR is available, but disappointing
    Best Prices Today: $488 at Amazon

    The LG UltraGear 27GR83Q-B is a 240Hz gaming monitor that offers buttery-smooth motion and great image quality at a reasonable price point.

    Its best trait is its stellar motion handling. A refresh rate of 240Hz helps the monitor deliver fast response times and smooth motion in competitive multiplayer games. Better still, the monitor supports both AMD FreeSync Premium and Nvidia G-Sync. Most similar monitors only support one or the other.

    LG delivers great image quality with a bright, colorful picture and a respectable contrast ratio of 1250:1. Although it can’t match the infinite contrast of more expensive OLED alternatives, the 27GR83Q-B provides a better sense of depth and immersion than most gaming monitors below $500.

    It has a couple flaws. The 27GR83Q-B’s HDR performance is lackluster, as it can’t achieve a brightness high enough to maximize HDR content. The same is true of the monitor’s competitors, however. LG also opts for an annoyingly large stand, so the monitor might feel oversized on a small desk.

    LG asks an MSRP of $499.99, but the monitor’s price has dipped as low as $399.99 on sale. It’s a good value at MSRP and a fantastic deal when discounted. The 27GR83Q-B’s image quality is at the top of its class, and LG’s decision to officially support both AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync makes the 27GR83Q-B wonderfully versatile.

    Read our full LG UltraGear 27GR83Q-B review

    Alienware AW2524H – Best 500Hz gaming monitor

    Alienware AW2524H - Best 500Hz gaming monitor

    Pros

    • The best motion clarity available today
    • Bright, vivid image quality
    • Compact ergonomic stand

    Cons

    • Limited video input selection
    • Mediocre image quality
    • High pricing for a 24-inch monitor

    Want unparalleled motion clarity? Look no further than Alienware’s AW2524H, the world’s first 500Hz gaming monitor.

    This monitor delivers fantastic detail in fast-moving objects and remains legible during rapid in-game map navigation. Competitive gamers will appreciate its ultra-low input latency, complemented by Nvidia Reflex Analyzer, which accurately measures PC response to input. The monitor’s refresh rate is so high, in fact, that you’ll need to double-check the maximum frame rate of your favorite games. Some have a hard frame rate cap below 500 frames per second. 

    The AW2524H’s design is outstanding. It relies on Alienware’s sleek, futuristic aesthetic and outstanding build quality. The compact stand enables ergonomic adjustments while minimizing desk space consumption, and a headphone stand is included on the display’s left flank.

    The monitor’s image quality doesn’t rival similarly priced monitors but remains respectable and defeats most 24.5-inch 360Hz monitors. This is thanks to the monitor’s vibrant, vivid color. HDR performance is underwhelming, but competitive gamers are unlikely to find this a problem. 

    Snagging the world’s first 500Hz monitor doesn’t come cheap: note the monitor’s $829.99 price tag. That’s a hefty sum for a 24.5-inch display. But, if you’re on the path to pro, the monitor’s price is a fair exchange for its class-leading motion clarity and responsiveness.

    Read our full Alienware AW2524H review

    Dell G3223Q – Best HDMI 2.1 gaming monitor

    Dell G3223Q - Best HDMI 2.1 gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Bright, sharp SDR image
    • Good color gamut and accuracy
    • Solid build quality and ergonomic stand
    • Great motion clarity at 120Hz or 144Hz

    Cons

    • Disappointing HDR performance
    • Odd menu choices for creators 
    • Modest USB connectivity

    The Dell G3223Q is a large, attractive 32-inch gaming monitor that’s ideal for PC gamers who also want to connect a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S.

    It supports 4K resolution at a refresh rate of up to 144Hz and has two HDMI 2.1 connections. You can connect a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S console simultaneously. DisplayPort is also available for your PC. The monitor supports AMD FreeSync Premium Pro and Nvidia G-Sync.

    Image quality is strong with excellent brightness, good contrast, and great color performance. These traits, combined with the sharpness of 4K, makes for an excellent SDR experience. HDR isn’t impressive, which could be a concern for console gamers. Most monitors in this price range aren’t great at HDR, however, so we think this issue can be overlooked (for now).

    The Dell G3223Q is a good value, too. Typically priced around $825, the G3223Q is among the more affordable HDMI 2.1 monitors with a 32-inch, 4K display panel. We also appreciate the monitor’s design, which feels more durable and looks more attractive than similarly priced alternatives.

    Read our full Dell G3223Q review

    Asus ROG Strix XG17AHPE – Best gaming monitor for mobile use

    Asus ROG Strix XG17AHPE - Best gaming monitor for mobile use

    Pros

    • Gaming monitor for mobile use
    • 240Hz refresh rate
    • Independent operation
    • Complete equipment included

    Cons

    • High power consumption
    • Expensive

    The Asus ROG Strix XG17AHPE is a bit unique in that it was designed and built to be a top-quality gaming monitor that is easily portable and mobile friendly.

    It is a 17.3-inch display with 1080p resolution and a screaming fast refresh rate of 240Hz. It also has adaptive sync technology and built-in speakers. You can easily connect it to your laptop or next-gen console of choice for on-the-go gaming.

    The battery should last you about 3.5 hours without needing to be charged and it comes with a cover that can be folded back to make a stand for the monitor itself. However, if you can afford to buy the extra tripod stand it is recommended as this provides a more stable base as well as height adjustment options.

    The specs alone make this an excellent gaming monitor in its own rights, but the ability to pack it up and take it with you makes this a great option for those who like to game on the go. You will pay for this convenience though as even the base option is quite steep, let alone the bundle which includes the tripod stand.

    Read our full Asus ROG Strix XG17AHPE review

    Asus ProArt PA348CGV – Best dual-purpose gaming monitor

    Asus ProArt PA348CGV - Best dual-purpose gaming monitor

    Pros

    • Excellent SDR image quality 
    • Sturdy, hefty design 
    • Wide range of customization
    • 120Hz refresh rate

    Cons

    • USB-C hub lacks video-out or ethernet
    • HDR is merely passable
    Best Prices Today: $729 at Amazon

    Asus’ ProArt PA348CGV is an excellent ultrawide for professionals, digital artists, creatives, and anyone else wanting to work and play on the same display. 

    The PA348CGV delivers top-notch color accuracy, a wide color gamut, and numerous image-quality adjustments, making it ideal for demanding users who need to precisely calibrate a display. Pro users can switch to a preset mode, such as the DCI-P3 mode, or use a custom display mode to calibrate the image in detail. 

    Most monitors of this caliber leave gamers in the cold, but the PA348CGV invites them in with a 120Hz refresh rate and support for AMD FreeSync Premium Pro. It offers smooth frame pacing and great motion clarity, especially at high frame rates. It looks great straight out of the box and is particularly pleasing in bright, vivid games like World of Warcraft or Forza Horizon 5

    Sold at an MSRP of $729, the PA348CGV is priced to compete with other premium ultrawides, yet its image quality leaves alternatives in the dust. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in this category.

    Read our full Asus ProArt PA348CGV review

    What to look for in a gaming monitor

    Gamers have unique needs that exceed an average user. Here’s what PC gamers should look for in a gaming monitor.

    Resolution

    Most widescreen gaming monitors have a resolution of 1920×1080 (1080p), 2560×1440 (1440p), or 4K (3840×2160). A higher resolution improves sharpness and clarity, which helps games look more detailed and lifelike. Increasing resolution also increases demand on your video card, however. Gamers with less powerful hardware may want to avoid 4K. 

    Refresh rate

    A higher refresh leads to smoother motion by increasing the number of frames that can appear each second. It also reduces input lag, as each frame appears more quickly. A 144Hz refresh rate is a big improvement over the standard 60Hz, and 240Hz is better still. The improvement becomes more difficult to notice after 240Hz, but 360Hz monitors exist for those who want the lowest input lag possible.

    DIsplayPort and HDMI 2.1

    DisplayPort is the best connection for PC gaming. Even DisplayPort 1.4, which is rather old, can support 4K at 144Hz. HDMI 2.1 can handle 4K at 120Hz and is an acceptable connection for PC gaming, though most gamers will use it for a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S game console.

    How we test gaming monitors

    We test all monitors with a DataColor SpyderXElite calibration tool. This tool can report objective measurements for brightness, contrast, color gamut, color accuracy, color temperature, gamma, and other metrics. 

    Our results are recorded and compared to the results for past monitors. Though we rely on our eyes for initial impressions, comparing objective results lets us evaluate monitors against hundreds of older models from past reviews and testing. 

    We examine motion clarity by quickly moving the camera across the map in Civilization VI, playing a round of Rocket League, and panning the camera across the landscape in Final Fantasy XIV—among other games. Finally, we use the popular UFO Test for an apples-to-apples comparison between displays.

    In addition to gaming prowess, we consider a monitor’s on-screen menu, ergonomic stand (or lack thereof), and overall build quality—all important qualities irrespective of use case.

    FAQ


    1.

    What resolution is best for a gaming monitor?

    Many competitive gamers prefer 1080p resolution because it allows for high frame rates and low input lag even on modest hardware. This also makes it ideal for budget shoppers. 1080p is not as crisp as higher resolutions but, if it allows for higher frame rates, can look good in motion.

    1440p remains a great mid-range option. It looks much sharper than 1080p but doesn’t drastically increase load on your video card. A variety of 1440p monitors now support a refresh rate up to 240Hz. 

    4K is the last word in sharpness and clarity. Playing a modern game on a 4K monitor takes the experience to a new level. It’s very demanding on your video card, however, so you’ll need top-tier hardware for a smooth experience. 

    Ultrawide monitors differ in resolution because they have a wider screen. Most ultrawide monitors have a resolution of 3440×1440, which delivers sharpness similar to a 1440p ultrawide. Some larger monitors have more exotic resolutions: the 49-inch Samsung Odyssey G9 Neo, for example, has 5120×1440 resolution.

    2.

    Should I use AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync?

    AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync can synchronize the refresh rate of a compatible monitor with the output of an AMD or Nvidia video card. This ensures smooth motion and eliminates screen tearing, a distracting visual artifact.

    You might be surprised to learn that most AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync monitors rely on the VESA Adaptive Sync standard. This is why many gaming monitors now support both. The difference in performance is minimal.

    Our G-Sync vs. FreeSync comparison goes in-depth on their similarities and differences.

    3.

    Should I buy an ultrawide gaming monitor?

    The short answer? Yes

    Our top choice, the Alienware AW3423DW, is an ultrawide gaming monitor. An ultrawide aspect ratio is more immersive in racing, simulation, and role-playing games. It also offers a large, more impressive perspective in many strategy games. 

    Not all games support an ultrawide aspect ratio, however. It’s wise to check that your favorite games support ultrawide monitors before making a purchase. Consoles rarely support ultrawide aspect ratios, so console gamers should stick with a widescreen display.

    Monitors
  • Save $200 on this sharp and spacious 4K Dell monitor

    Attention, content creators! If you’ve been shopping around for a brand new 4K monitor, I’m going to ask you to cease your search immediately. B&H is currently selling the Dell UltraSharp 4K monitor for $699.99, which is a savings of $200. Not only are you getting a gorgeous 4K display with wide color gamut cover, but it’s also quite spacious at 31.5-inches. That’s a good amount of screen real estate right there, which is useful for editing photos or videos.

    The Dell UltraSharp features a resolution of 3840×2160, a refresh rate of 60Hz, and a maximum brightness o 400 nits. It also has a contrast ratio of 2000:1, which means the monitor will deliver deeper blacks and brighter whites. The reviews on Dell’s website are favorable too, with one person saying the text is super sharp and the screen is both large and bright. As for connectivity options, you’re getting one DisplayPort 1.4 and one HDMI.

    This is a solid deal for the specs this monitor offers. Get it now.

    Get the Dell UltraSharp 4K monitor for $699.99 at B&H

    Monitors
  • Helldivers 2 made me love friendly fire again

    Friendly fire has been a personal scourge ever since it turned me off in Tom Clancy’s original Rainbow Six, where I quickly got tired of waiting five minutes to respawn after being mowed down by over-enthusiastic teammates in the first five seconds of each match. Games franchises like Counter-Strike have taken some meaning away from what was originally meant to make gameplay a multifaceted experience, turning friendly fire into a mere penalty for bad play rather than an incentive to develop skill. Helldivers 2 isn’t the kind of game I expected to change the status quo on that, with its gritty attitude and extensive array of weapons, but the third-person squad-based space marine shooter by the makers of Magicka goes a long way to redeeming it as a fun and refreshing gameplay mechanic.

    No, I haven’t gone mad, nor do I have a masochistic wish to see myself or my co-op mates pulverized in a flash of tomato-colored vapor – although that can be extremely funny at times. On the contrary, I play Helldivers 2 like I do just about any co-op game; I’m target driven, I want to win and that means not being a total flapjack with my weapons fire.

    What’s refreshing about friendly fire in Helldivers 2, though, is that it’s not just an afterthought of the development process, where the devs have gone and made a stellar game only to add it in because everyone else is doing that, spoiling the gameplay and annoying the heck out of players that keep getting smoked by their friends. That’s obvious by the fact you can’t turn it off in the game settings, but it’s also obvious in the gameplay. A few minutes into the game proves how integral it is to the fast and frenetic action; it’s intertwined with the damage system, and it relies on you knowing the game, developing skill, and also letting loose at times and resigning yourself to the fact that, at the end of the day, there are some parts of your game that are out of your control.

    Helldivers 2

    “Hey move over there buddy, you’re blocking my best shot!”

    Dominic Bayley / IDG

    The weapons in Helldivers 2 play a big part in why it works so well. Weapons like the SG-225 breaker shotgun are futuristic, almost comical, which fits perfectly in with the game’s Starship Troopers vibe. Unloading these strange and exotic weapons is deeply satisfying when the bugs get the brunt of the fire, but some will take out your teammates in creative and dramatic ways too. This of course means there’s an emphasis on learning the intricacies of the weapons and the team play, which adds a nice complexity to the game.

    Where in Call Of Duty you might simply get away with lobbing a grenade or two around a corner, Helldivers 2 makes you use your noggin a bit more. You have to wait for breaks in the play, ins and outs, think about the weapons you’re using, their blast radius, and any damage the equipment you might call in does. The stakes are high, which keeps you on the edge of your seat and more invested in the game than you might be in a game with, say, WWII rifles or submachine guns. When you get it wrong in Helldivers 2 it’s usually with great dramatic effect – a release that will have you screaming with joy, delight, and or frustration. Yes, this game can really move you, which is what a good game should be able to do.

    That brings me to what I love most about friendly fire in Helldivers 2 – the spontaneity it brings. For the same reason that Goat Simulator was so fun, Helldivers 2 delivers a randomness that you won’t find in other shooters. Having interesting weapons and creative ways to deploy them means there’s also a million ways to slay your teammates. While the bugs that attack you will try to suck the life out of you (not a very tasteful way to meet one’s maker), dying at the hands of your teammates is a lot more varied, culminating in hilarious moments that will cause the laughs to roll out like barrels of brandy. Those moments become the perfect food for the comments you’ll inevitably drop in team chat – like: “Dom did you just wallop me with a 500kg Egale Bomb?” “Errr… no… that was Tony,” I’d say, in the most convincing tone I could muster.

    Helldivers 2

    Calling a stratagem weapon can be a saving grace for your squad in the long run but in the short term it can wipe them out. 

    Dominic Bayley / IDG

    One minute you might be blown into the air by an Orbital 380mm HE Barrage and the next a teammate may drop a load of landmines on your head like a sack of potatoes. They mostly won’t mean to, nor have I with my various deployments – it just happens, which makes for a surprise each time, and gameplay that never gets old.

    But friendly fire in Helldivers 2 goes just beyond encouraging you to become more skillful or just merely adding an element of spontaneity. It’s deeply entrenched in the decision-making process and vital to the strategy that will win or lose you a game.

    I’m talking about knowing when to use your stratagems – the strategic equipment drops and player reinforcement each round. In any one map you’ll be swarmed by more enemies than you can safely handle alone. Damage from your enemies needs to be carefully weighed up against the firepower you have at your disposal. In a split second you may be forced to decide whether to let your teammates stand and take on an overwhelming force of bugs alone and surely die or risk teamkilling them by dropping a 500-pound Egale bomb on their heads (then bringing them back to life with a reinforce stratagem). These micro calculations are tremendously fun to make.

    Helldivers 2

    Friendly fire is especially fun when playing with friends. 

    Dominic Bayley / IDG

    There is one caveat to what I’ve said here about friendly fire: that you play Helldivers 2 with friends you know and like, rather than random players online. There’s just something about being blown to bits by a friend that’s a lot funnier than a complete stranger. Make sure you have some pals at the ready, and you’ll have a blast in Helldivers 2, even though you’re almost certain to lose your cool once in a while.

    Gaming
  • Avast One review: Well-priced PC security with excellent protection
    At a glance

    Expert's Rating

    Pros

    • Clean, uncluttered interface
    • Excellent antivirus protection
    • Well-priced for its feature set

    Cons

    • Full scans affect PC performance when using Microsoft Office apps
    • No included password manager

    Our Verdict

    Avast One expands upon the company’s free security suite, with upgraded defenses against online threats and additional features. You don’t get just excellent antivirus protection, but tools to safeguard your identity and privacy (including a VPN with unlimited bandwidth), as well as tune up your PC. While it lacks a password manager and parental controls, if you’re all set on those fronts, this app’s polish is hard to beat.

    You could let Windows protect your PC — it does already shield against online threats. But independent antivirus software like Avast One is better at catching viruses and malware, and wins on user friendliness, too.

    Avast actually has two lines of paid products, both powered by the same antivirus engine. They have similarly clean interfaces, too. But the Avast One line focuses on identity and privacy concerns, making it arguably the better choice for most people. Life is largely conducted online these days, and staying safe is more than just thwarting malware and exploits. Phishing schemes and personal information leaked in data breaches can weaken your security, too. 

    Avast One lets you stay on top of these issues, which are currently unavoidable in modern life, and does so with polish.

    Further reading: See our roundup of the best antivirus software for Windows to learn about competing products.

    What does Avast One include?

    Avast One enhances the already wide protection against online threats available in the free Essentials plan — it both upgrades existing defenses and adds new ones to the set, too.

    The fundamentals include the company’s top-notch antivirus and firewall, which block malware, ransomware, malicious websites and downloads, and network intrusions. The suite also monitors for vulnerable networks, compromised applications, attempts at unauthorized access to the saved passwords in your browser, and appearances of your data on the dark web. And you get PC utilities, too: a system optimizer and software updater.

    Avast One comparison chart

    PCWorld

    Upgrading to Avast One unlocks safeguards against dangers like webcam takeovers; webmail messages containing malware and phishing attempts; shady apps hunting for sensitive data (like social security numbers) on your PC; and malicious redirects for websites you visit (aka DNS hijacking). 

    You get strengthened identity and privacy protections as well. For starters, dark web monitoring becomes continuous in the background. The VPN puts no restrictions on bandwidth or server usage, too, and online trackers get blocked. Avast One even ties these latter two features together in a “Private Mode” setting for your default browser’s incognito tabs. When enabled, a secure VPN connection and tracking prevention will automatically kick in whenever you start an incognito session. 

    As for PC utilities, you get three extras: a disk cleaner, driver updater, and duplicate file finder.

    Avast One does not include a password manager or parental controls. You’ll have to look elsewhere for these services, as Avast doesn’t offer them at all.

    How much does Avast One cost?

    If you buy a license directly from Avast, you get a discounted rate for the first year, then the standard price afterward. Plans purchased through Avast come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and are automatically enrolled in auto-renewal.

    Individual plan (5 devices)

    • $51 for the first year
    • $110 per year thereafter

    Family plan (30 devices)

    • $70 for the first year
    • $150 per year thereafter

    For more savings on Avast One plans, you can take advantage of a special offer for PCWorld readers, which drops the cost of the first year to $33 for 5 devices and $53 for 30 devices. You can also check out our article on discounted antivirus software that explains how to get deals through online stores like Newegg.

    Avast One special pricing for PCWorld readers

    If you use our link, PCWorld readers get a special rate for Avast One plans on the Avast website.

    PCWorld

    You can install Avast One on PC, Android, macOS, and iOS devices. The Avast One Family plan also includes a Family Sharing feature — it allows you to invite other users with separate accounts to share in that bigger device limit.

    Relative to Avast’s Premium Security plan, which has a similar number of features, you’ll pay less for Avast One in the first year (relative to the number of devices you have). However, Avast One is more expensive in subsequent years, when the cost rises to the full list price.

    Key features of Avast One

    Installation and user interface

    After downloading Avast One from your online account dashboard and installing, you’ll see a screen asking to start a scan of your PC. You can choose to do so (which is recommended), or skip to access the app.

    Avast One’s interface is light-themed, with a mix of cream, tan, and orange accents for its color theme. A simple navigation bar lives on the left side of the screen, giving quick access to the dashboard, features, notifications, and settings. The tabs aren’t labeled as clearly as in competing software — Account is where you’ll find settings and other app-related info, for example. But you can get oriented quickly, thanks to good descriptions within each section of the software.

    Avast One dashboard
    The Avast One dashboard view.

    PCWorld

    Opening the app will show the Home screen, which is a dashboard that lets you run a scan, turn on the VPN, or run one of several utilities. You have just two options for scanning here, a smart scan and a deep scan. For others, you must head to the Scan Center within the Explore tab, which houses all Avast One features. There you’ll find options for Targeted Scan and Boot-Time Scan in addition to the smart and deep scan defaults. You can also create a custom scan. But unlike Avast’s Premium Security suite, Avast One’s scan settings are more limited. In fact, this difference is how the two products diverge — Avast One focuses on a simpler experience geared toward life online, while Premium Security prioritizes greater control over security on your PC.

    Some users may not like the list format of the Explore tab. Though it groups the different settings by type (Device Protection, Online Privacy, Smooth Performance), those who like to see everything on a screen at once may find it frustrating to have to scroll. But each entry is labeled clearly and described well.

    Surprisingly, Avast One’s attempt to upsell its more premium plans is a fairly discreet button at the top of the window, next to the minimize and exit buttons. It’s far more subtle than the approach taken by Avast’s sister company, AVG.

    Virus, malware, and threat protection

    Real-time protection

    Avast One keeps continuous watch for real-time threats, both online and on your PC. When you browse the web, the software scans pages for malware and watches for attempts to redirect you to fake sites. The traffic going to and from your PC also get screened for suspicious activity, as do attempts to access passwords saved to your browser. If you choose to give Avast access to your webmail account (like Gmail), it will also monitor your email for phishing scams and malware.

    On your PC, Avast One scans files you add or open, checks downloaded email in Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird for malicious attachments, and limits access to folders often target by ransomware (and any others you add to the list). It also allows only approved apps to use your webcam.

    Avast One dark web monitoring screen
    Avast One includes continuous dark web monitoring—an upgrade from the free plan, which only lets you manually check for your info in known breaches.

    PCWorld

    Avast One also tracks data breaches to see if any of your email addresses (up to five) have appeared in them. You’ll get notified whenever a match is found. Changing your password on that service or site — and any others where you might have also used it or a close variant — will be up to you to perform yourself, though. (Which is when a password manager comes in handy.)

    Scheduled and manual scans

    Unlike other antivirus software makers, Avast does not set up a default scheduled scan in a freshly installed app — and so Avast One lacks this feature out of the box (so to speak), too. It’s an odd move, since scheduled scans keep up the security of a PC with minimal user effort needed.

    To get your PC on a regular scan schedule, you can click the Automated Smart Scan scheduling button in the Scan Center’s Scan Now tab. A smart scan checks for malware, vulnerabilities in your browser and apps, and other issues, in order to keep your PC clean overall.

    Alternatively, you can create your own custom scan, which lets you pick from Deep Scan, Targeted Scan, or Quick Scan as your template. Deep scans dig thoroughly through your PC, while targeted scans examine specific files or folders. Quick scans look at commonly targeted and critical areas of your system. You can then further tweak a handful of advanced settings.

    Avast One custom scan creation screen
    Avast One’s custom scan creation screen.

    PCWorld

    For both smart scan and custom scan scheduling, your options are to run the scan just once, daily, weekly, or monthly. Of the options, I recommend scheduling a quick scan or custom scan — they require no user input to complete. Smart scans ask for your input on findings for each portion of the scan before moving to the next piece.

    If you prefer to manually run a scan, your options are Smart Scan, Deep Scan, Targeted Scan, Boot-Time Scan (which searches for any threats before Windows starts), and any of your custom scans. Unlike Avast’s Premium Security suite, you can only adjust your custom scan’s settings.

    Firewall

    Avast One’s firewall handles all traffic coming and going from your PC, completely replacing Windows own default protection. For most people, it will feel like an upgrade — the interface makes monitoring and controlling app access feel easy, rather than scary. You can clearly see which Windows programs and services are currently online and which have asked for access, as well as immediately block any suspicious items on the list.

    (Windows may have come a long way with its security suite, but dig into its firewall settings, and you’ll see a mix of interfaces from different eras—and most of them are not friendly to a non-technical audience.)

    The default settings are adequate for most people, though Avast One doesn’t allow much customization. You can add new apps, block apps or devices, and change three settings (two of which are related to notifications). But that covers the basics sufficiently.

    Ransomware Shield

    A common protection against ransomware, which encrypts files so that the attacker can extort money from victims, is to limit software access to folders often targeted by such malware. Untrusted apps can’t change or delete files in those locations. So even if you accidentally install ransomware on your system, you get an extra layer of defense.

    Avast One Ransomware Protection screen

    By default, Avast One protects select Windows folders from ransomware by limiting app access to them and certain file types within.

    PCWorld

    By default, Avast One monitors specific file types within your Documents, Pictures, Desktop, Videos, and Music folders, including documents, pictures, and videos. You can manually add more folders and file types (using file extensions like .tiff or .pdf) to the protected list. Well-known apps (e.g. Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop) automatically get access, but not any others.

    For a stronger defense, you can change the settings to let only approved apps through, as well as wholesale protect all files within protected folders. But be aware these tighter restrictions can require intervention on your part to ensure apps like games still function normally.

    Of course, for the best protection, you should still independently keep at least one current, offline copy of your files — like on an external drive you only connect to your PC when performing the backup. Your PC could fall to ransomware, but your data won’t be lost to you.

    In addition to excellent malware protection, Avast One provides tools that simplify safeguarding your privacy and keeping your PC in tip-top shape

    Additional features

    Browser extensions

    Avast One automatically screens and blocks malicious websites, but the optional Avast Online Security & Privacy extension can help you avoid clicking on bad links to begin with. Search results in Google and Bing get visual badges that indicate if a site is safe or not. They can be easy to miss at first, though, since the icons are smaller and more subtle.

    The extension will also block trackers, several ad networks, and cookie permissions. In fact, it automatically requests only necessary cookies from sites. If you’re tired of pop-ups asking you for your cookie preferences, you’ll like the last feature. Having to manually install the extension becomes worth the effort.

    Network Inspector

    Avast One Network Inspector screen

    Avast One’s Network Inspector tool can be a good way to get verification that you’ve indeed done the basics to secure your home network.

    PCWorld

    Hopping onto a new network can expose you to vulnerabilities — an issue that Avast tries to solve with its Network Inspector feature. You run the scanner to look for potential threats lurking on the network you’re connected to, like DNS hijacking or a weak password on a router, or a vulnerable device.

    This tool has limited utility, especially for public networks. To protect yourself on such connections, the answer is simple: Use the included VPN to maintain your security and privacy. For a private network that you trust (like the one you have at home), it can help you verify your router is configured with at least basic safeguards in place.

    You can adjust the settings for automatic scanning and if devices are checked for weak passwords. You can also check to your connection history to see what networks you’ve recently used.

    PC utilities (Disk Cleaner, Driver Updater, and Duplicate File Finder)

    Avast One unlocks three additional utilities to help keep your PC running efficiently: Disk Cleaner, Driver Updater, and Duplicate File Finder.

    Disk Cleaner and Driver Updater simplify tasks you can perform yourself in Windows. Disk Cleaner lets you dump temporary files, downloads, items in the Recycle Bin, broken shortcuts, and broken registry keys to free space on your PC. Driver Updater scans your PC for outdated drivers and handles updating any that are out of date.

    Both have clean interfaces that are explained with clear, simple language, which is an improvement over poking around in Windows to do the same work. Disk Cleaner also lets you see exactly which temporary files are on the chopping block, and unselect specific categories to keep them around.

    Avast One Disk Cleanup screen

    Avast One’s Disk Cleanup utility helps you purge temporary files from your PC — but its easy-to-use interface is a double-edged sword.

    PCWorld

    There’s just one downside to these two tools — how easy it is to use them. Disk Cleaner makes deleting elements from registry too quick and simple. Fiddling with your Windows registry can cause problems, so you should always understand what you’re changing; yet with Disk Cleaner, you can wipe parts of your registry without having to know where to dig and why. Similarly, updating a driver without knowing its source can also lead to later issues, though usually not as bad as a botched registry.

    Happily, Duplicate File Finder gives no reason for concern. It performed surprisingly well in my light testing — the utility could tell the difference between files that were created separately but functionally the same, and actual copies with different names. Video files created as part of my Handbrake benchmarks are the same for real-world purposes, but the tool didn’t flag them. It did catch files I copied but renamed.

    Sensitive Data Shield

    Many people store files containing sensitive information on their computer, such as banking details, social security numbers, paycheck info, and even passwords — and that practice can become a liability if your computer is compromised. 

    (Side note: Storing passwords in a document on your PC is very insecure. Use a password manager with a database stored on your computer instead — it will encrypt the data and greatly strengthen your security.)

    Avast tries to shield your PC from this threat with its Sensitive Data Shield feature. It scans your PC for documents for common types of private information, then restricts access to the list of the files found. Malicious apps won’t be able to discover and extract that data. You can manually flag additional files for protection, as well as allow or block specific apps.

    The feature has limited effectiveness, though. The scanner doesn’t always catch every file with sensitive info — and it only looks for .pdf, .doc, .docx, .xls, and .xlsx files. You can’t manually add files of other types, either.

    VPN

    Accessing Avast One’s VPN is most easily done through the main dashboard, where you can instantly flip on a connection to the preselected server. You can also tap the tile to jump to the VPN Secure Connection screen, which lets you adjust a handful of settings.

    Avast One VPN Secure Connection settings screen

    Avast One gives more granular control over automatic connection of the VPN when compared to some rivals.

    PCWorld

    If you choose the latter option, you can turn the VPN on and off, select a specific server, and change the connection settings. The VPN can be configured to automatically activate in certain scenarios, like when on an untrusted network (e.g., public Wi-Fi), a banking website, streaming, or shopping. It also supports peer-to-peer connections.

    Additionally, you can toggle whether Avast sends autoconnection notifications, kills all internet traffic if the VPN accidentally disconnects while active, and allows your PC to see local devices (like printers) when the VPN is on. The first two features are enabled by default, while the latter is disabled.

    Avast offers servers in 37 countries, which span Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, UK, Ukraine, and the USA. You can choose a specific city for five countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, UK, and the USA).

    Customer support

    If you have questions about Avast One, you can use Avast’s support website or help forums to find answers. Customer service is also available by phone, email, or chat. The support website is the best place to start with for basic questions — there’s even a helpful user guide if you want to get properly acquainted with the software.

    Updates and maintenance

    Avast One automatically updates its virus definitions and the app itself in the background by default — you don’t have to check on it. However, you can change these settings so that you only get notified when updates are available, or go for complete manual control (not advisable). You can also manually check for updates in the app settings (Account > Settings > General).

    Performance

    Avast’s antivirus engine generally performs well in tests conducted by leading security research institutions. It detected 100 percent of the threats in AV-Test’s zero-day attack and malware evaluation for November and December 2023 (the most current as of this article’s publishing). All 11,859 samples for recently discovered and widespread malware and 210 samples for zero-day attacks were blocked.

    AV-Comparatives Real-World Test results for July-Oct 2023 (Avast)

    PCWorld

    In AV-Comparatives’ real-world protection test for July through October 2023, Avast also blocked 100 percent of the 512 test cases, with just two false positives. It performed almost as well in AV-Comparatives’ September 2023 malware protection test, with a strong 99.97 percent online protection and 99.5 percent online detection rate. Its offline detection rate was a bit lower than the top performers, coming in at 95.3 percent — though that’s still markedly higher than the actual low performers of the group. (Trend Micro sits at the bottom with a 57.1 percent offline detection rate.)

    For more sophisticated, targeted threats, Avast still has room to improve — it caught 11 of the 15 test cases in AV-Comparatives’ November 2023 Advanced Threat Protection Test, which involves threats like fileless attacks and malicious scripts. However, Avast caught test cases that higher performing rivals missed, suggesting that antivirus vendors are all still strengthening their protection in this area.

    AV-Comparatives Malware Test (Sep 2023)

    PCWorld

    In daily use, expect Avast to have minimal impact on system resources during most typical tasks, especially when left idle in the background. When I ran PCMark 10’s Extended benchmark, which simulates web browsing, video chatting, gaming, and image and document editing in free, open-source apps, the scores remained the same as before installing Avast One. The software also had little effect on our Handbrake encoding test, which transforms a large, uncompressed video file into a smaller, compressed version. When running a deep scan continuously in the background, performance dipped by about 10 percent for both benchmarks — a modest amount compared to competitors.

    The one exception to this behavior is when working on Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Avast was aggressive during in its scans when I ran UL Procyon’s Office Productivity benchmark, which focuses on Microsoft Office use. When Avast One was idle in the background, scores dropped by about 11 percent when idle. They fell by 25 percent when a deep scan was run continuously.

    In the real world, these results suggest heavy Microsoft Office users on slower PCs should be strategic about the timing of scans. A full system scan scheduled for off-hours (like when you’re asleep) won’t interfere with getting work done. During active hours, you could see some performance effects when in Office apps, but not as notably.

    Should you buy Avast One?

    Avast One provides strong, broad defense against online threats, with features that make an upgrade from the free version (or Microsoft Defender) worthwhile. In addition to excellent malware protection, it provides tools that simplify safeguarding your privacy and keeping your PC in tip-top shape — and the interface for managing everything is clean and simple, to boot. This security suite does lack a password manager and parental controls, but if you’re set on those fronts, this app’s polish is hard to beat.

    Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.

    Antivirus, Security Software and Services
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