We Review Amazon's Best Selling Monitor: the Acer SB220Q 21.5" is just $90
1080p 75Hz IPS: But Is It Any Good?By
We went out looking for Amazon's most popular monitor and what we discovered was Acer's SB220Q 1080p 75Hz IPS display. This monitor tops both the best selling and the most wished for monitors list, so that'd seem to indicate not only are customers buying this monitor, but they actually want it in significant numbers.
Another key indicator that caught our attention were user reviews. There are over 4,000 of them, giving it a 4.6 star average which is solid, so we’ll have to see how it holds up in our testing.
Clearly one of the reasons why the SB220Q is so popular comes down to that price tag. $90 is very cheap for a monitor and it’s hard to find many cheaper than this. Once you start hitting $70 or even $80 you start limiting yourself to sub-1080p options and plenty of outdated rubbish. So if you’ve just built a PC and you have nothing left in your budget, grabbing one of the cheapest 1080p displays on Amazon seems like something a lot of people are doing.
On paper, the specs also make this an enticing buy below $100. We’re looking at a 22-inch 1080p IPS panel with a 75 Hz refresh rate. Now if you’ve been following our monitor reviews, this is not in the same realm as the usual 1080p and 1440p 144Hz stuff we look at. But we think what Acer is offering is still impressive for the price.
This is an IPS panel, not TN, and TNs are usually the most affordable monitor category. On top of that, we do get a slight bump up in refresh rate from baseline 60 Hz to 75Hz. A few little extras here and there can go a long way to making an entry-level monitor stand out from the pack.
That said, 22-inches, or more accurately 21.5 inches, is small for a monitor. Even 24 or 25-inch displays feel like a substantial upgrade in panel size. Something 24.5-inches ends up nearly 30% larger, so this is one of the more significant trade-offs to bring the price down. We looked around just in case and you can’t find a 24-inch IPS display for less than $100.
With that said, the Acer SB220Q does feature adaptive sync support, but it only comes with a single HDMI port (alongside VGA). That means adaptive sync is only usable with AMD GPUs since Nvidia’s current-gen products don’t support adaptive sync over HDMI. The adaptive sync implementation isn’t great either: with just a 75 Hz maximum refresh and 48 Hz minimum, there’s no low framerate compensation. This means as soon as your frame rate drops below 48 FPS, adaptive sync disengages and you’ll start seeing tearing or stuttering depending on your Vsync settings.
It’s not a great experience to fluctuate in and out of the adaptive sync window, it can be quite jarring. So having a graphics card capable of consistent 1080p 60 fps gameplay is going to be key. Not everyone buying a $90 monitor is going to fall into that category, if you have an RX 560, for example, you might struggle. On the other hand, these sorts of adaptive sync issues are present with almost all sub-100Hz displays, so it is not a unique problem to the SB220Q.
Oh, and the SB220Q is the first monitor we’ve tested in a long time that only comes with a VGA cable in the box. HDMI cable sold separately. Given graphics cards ditched VGA around a decade ago, is the target for this cable choice those with ancient laptops or PCs?
In terms of build quality, the Acer SB220Q is basic as expected. The stand is almost entirely plastic, it’s surprisingly solid and overall the display is very thin, but this is a cheap design and build. Unspectacular plastic, average bezel size, and very limited adjustability. The stand only supports tilt adjustment, and because of the small display size, without height adjustability it sits very low on your desk. Most people will need to raise this up a good 10 to 20 centimeters for ergonomic viewing, and you can’t do that with a VESA arm, as there’s no mount. We don’t expect budget monitors to feature a height adjustable stand, but not having a VESA mount is a bit of a stinger and really limits this monitor’s usability.
There’s no directional toggle for controlling the on-screen display, but we'll do with with face buttons. On a positive note, Acer hasn’t skimped on the OSD, there’s plenty of settings in line with most of their other budget monitors, so we still get stuff like blue light filters and cheat crosshairs. There are also several overdrive settings, unlike some other budget monitors we’ve reviewed that completely neglect the feature.
Response Times / Overdrive Modes
Speaking of overdrive modes... let’s take a look at response time performance. Ther are three avialable modes: Normal is the default, there’s also Off and Extreme. Off is very slow, we’re facing a 16.24ms grey to grey average which is typical of entry-level 1080p IPS panels without overdrive. Ghosting is significant using this mode, with long smear trails following moving objects. Only 27% of transitions come close to meeting the lengthy 13.33ms refresh window, so this mode simply isn’t fast enough and wouldn’t be great at 60Hz either.
Normal takes things the other way, now we have a 6.40ms grey to grey average which is decent for an IPS monitor, and allows the SB220Q to achieve 100% refresh rate compliance. However, this has come at the expense of overshoot, and quite a significant amount of overshoot. An average error rate of 14.6% is high, and around half of all transitions experience inverse ghosting. Plenty of transitions are above 25% overshoot, which is noticeable.
The extreme mode is worse. It does push the grey to grey average up to 3.77ms, but overshoot becomes overwhelming, leading to huge bright halos around moving objects. This mode is unusable.
Unfortunately, when you look across these three modes neither is particularly good. In fact, we’d call Off and Normal ‘bad’ overdrive modes, and Extreme is terrible. So we’re left with a predicament: is it better to have 16ms transitions with no overshoot, or 6ms transitions with substantial overshoot? Neither is ideal, but this is what Acer presents us here.
When we look at pursuit camera footage using Blur Buster’s UFO Test, which simulates how the human eye sees motion on this display, you can see this in action and how neither Off nor Normal deliver a great experience. Off is very slow with huge amounts of ghosting and smearing, with trails behind the moving UFO. But then with Normal, these ghost trails are replaced with inverse ghosting, a bright trail that in some circumstances is more noticeable than the blur trail.
We’d probably slightly prefer the Normal mode with inverse ghosting, we think motion clarity is somewhat better but we’re choosing between two bad options.
The monitor is not any better at 60 Hz -- rather performance is worse at 60 Hz than it is at 75 Hz with even greater levels of overshoot. It is a budget monitor, so we guess we can’t expect more, but motion handling is definitely not one of this monitor’s strong points.
How does the SB220Q compare to other 1080p monitors we’ve tested? Well, in terms of grey to grey average using the Normal overdrive mode, 6.40ms is not too bad for an IPS monitor. We get decent dark level performance, beating some other cheap VA options like the Pixio PCX243, for example. Response time compliance using this mode is also fine, as you’d hope with a 75Hz refresh rate.
But it’s with error rates that everything falls apart for the SB220Q. An average error of 14.6% is the highest we’ve tested among 1080p monitors, most of which sit more in the 0 to 4% range using their optimal overdrive modes. This gets even worse when looking at inverse ghosting: 46% of transitions suffering from the issue is way higher than most 1080p monitors, to the point where inverse ghosting is more obvious than with any other monitor on this list.
Let’s run through some options here. The Viotek GN24C is a VA panel we’ve quite often recommended in the budget category, being 1080p 144Hz, and it puts up a 5ms grey to grey average with 5% inverse ghosting and similar dark level performance. That is significantly better motion handling than you get with the Acer SB220Q.
Another more recent addition is the Pixio PXC243, which has almost no inverse ghosting but suffers from a slower grey to grey average around 7.5ms. In other words, it’s about 1ms slower than the SB220Q, but completely eliminates the inverse ghosting trails, all with a VA panel. It too has significantly better motion handling, and of course we can see other options here too from AOC, LG and others.
Most of these other monitors are more expensive, around the $150 mark, so it makes sense they would perform better. But we're just not sure the SB220Q is delivering a great bang for buck experience with this sort of performance.
60 Hz performance is okay in terms of response times, but does suffer from severe inverse ghosting.
Input lag is typical of a budget monitor, we’re seeing a processing delay around 3.5ms, a slow refresh rate and modest response times, so this isn’t delivering a low lag experience. Getting a 144Hz panel instead would go a long way to lowering input lag but again, they’re more expensive.
Power consumption is low at around 16W, although not that much lower than some 24” monitors we’ve tested. Still, if heat output is a concern, the SB220Q is golden in this area.
At this point we’ve established the Acer SB220Q isn’t very good as a gaming monitor, how about as a general office type monitor or just something for web browsing? This is where color performance is much more important, so let’s dive right in...
Out of the box calibration is decent, which is welcome news for buyers after a great color experience. Our unit had near-perfect white levels, and while this did fall off slightly when moving through the rest of the greyscale with a minor yellow tint, it wasn’t that noticeable and far exceeded my expectations from a dirt cheap monitor. A greyscale deltaE of 2.45 isn’t perfectly accurate, but very good in this price category.
Default Color Performance
Saturation performance is similar with a deltaE average of 2.48, mostly limited by some oddities with reds and greens. The panel used here can’t quite hit 100% sRGB coverage, we’re more at 93% so there is a bit of clipping with greens, but overall performance is solid even though we end up with a 3.39 deltaE average in ColorChecker.
Calibrated Color Performance
There isn’t much that can be done to improve things using the OSD controls given the white point is already quite good, so the next step is a full calibration. As usual, this resolves most of our issues with this display’s factory performance, tightening us up to a below 1.0 deltaE average across the board. It’s not perfect, again we run into clipping issues with green and cyan, so we wouldn’t recommend this display for color critical work, but for a sub-$100 display this can deliver great color performance.
Brightness from the SB220Q is mediocre at 240 nits after calibration, although not too far away from most budget monitors. This is still bright enough for most use cases but if you have a really bright viewing environment like a sunny room, this might not be enough.
Contrast ratio is mediocre. Not surprising given it’s a cheap IPS panel but 882:1 puts it in the bottom rungs of our charts and generally this is low for an IPS. If you want better black levels and contrast ratio, you’ll have to fork out for a VA display. It’s also worth pointing out this is a native 6-bit panel that achieves 8-bit through FRC, so color banding with gradients is a little more noticeable here than with a true 6-bit display.
Viewing angles are excellent and the coating handles reflections well, so despite not having the most punchy blacks, the viewing experience here for colors we think is quite good. If you’re doing some office work, watching a few YouTube videos and so forth, it’s hard to complain about what the SB220Q delivers.
Uniformity is good as well. Not the best we’ve seen but the central area is well under control. There was a bit of fall off in the top left and bottom right of my retail unit, and there was also a small amount of IPS glow noticeable in darker viewing environments, but nothing too terrible.
By now you should have a pretty good idea of how the Acer SB220Q performs as a sub-$100 monitor. We haven’t reviewed a ton of monitors in this price category despite how popular they are, but here are some final thoughts and comparisons based on what we’d expect from an entry-level product.
To reach this kind of price point, clearly lots of compromises had to be made. Outside of panel performance, the small 21.5-inch size and lack of VESA mount immediately jump out as trade-offs, along with the dull design all-round. But these are common areas where we’d expect costs to be cut and honestly, for a lot of use cases it’s not a big deal.
In terms of actual panel performance, we think the Acer SB220Q is perfectly fine for basic viewing, office tasks, productivity, video playback and those kind of tasks. We’re getting good factory calibration with a very solid white point. There’s no obvious tint and that makes it great for document editing and web browsing, which is still dominated by expansive white areas. Combine that with excellent viewing angles and acceptable uniformity, and yes, for a $90 monitor we’re impressed with the colors.
As was to be expected, the SB220Q is not good for gaming. If you were fooled by the 75Hz refresh rate and adaptive sync at the dirt cheap price point, unfortunately none of the overdrive modes are good, leaving us with either bad levels of smearing or bad levels of inverse ghosting. This is an ultra-affordable low-end IPS panel with slow response times. And to its credit, it’s probably not that different to other 60 to 75 Hz IPS monitors around the same price.
With today’s low prices for 144Hz 1080p monitors, we don’t think the SB220Q delivers a lot of bang for buck as a gaming display. The Viotek GN24C, PXC243 and AOC C24G1 are all $140 to $160. That's ~60% more expensive than the SB220Q, but what you get is at least twice as fast and twice as good at motion handling.
But of course, $90 vs $150 for a lot of buyers is comparing apple to oranges. For around $90 we can’t see many better options than the SB220Q.
We feel this situation is somewhat similar to low-end graphics cards. The value isn’t quite there with the absolute cheapest GPUs, and you’re better off moving one tier up where you get significant improvements. Those 144Hz monitors are such great value right now that our recommendation for entry-level gaming monitors is going to stay with them, but for simpler web browsing, office productivity, YouTube, watching movies, maybe you want it as a second monitor, it’s really not bad for $90.