CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test monitors

Dell Crystal review: Dell Crystal

Although the performance is okay, Dell's Crystal is best left to those who want to prove they have money.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
4 min read

Dell's 22-inch "Crystal" marks another design divergence for the Texas-based company. The looks have polarised the CNET.com.au office, but needless to say it's certainly striking, and we think it depends on the Crystal's surrounds as to how impressive it seems. Modern display house, big thumbs up. Small rundown rental property, not so much.


Dell Crystal

The Good

Decent webcam. Good quality for a TN screen. Sound is above usual quality. HDMI and DVI input. New menu is excellent. Definite luxury feel.

The Bad

Stand doesn't let you adjust the height or swivel. Glass plating means huge amount of glare. Ordinary screen capability considering the cost. Glowing logos which can't be turned off. Non-removable cable. Colossal luxury price.

The Bottom Line

Although the performance is okay, Dell's Crystal is best left to those who want to prove they have money.

The monitor itself sits behind a glass panel, its borders exceeding that of the screen and giving the Crystal its distinctive look. The glass is much like that used on a plasma TV — so if used in a high-light environment, reflections and glare become a large problem, particularly when viewing dark scenes.

The glass bezel has four speakers embedded around the outside — these are "subtly wired" according to the Dell Web site, but in reality are marked by thick, black, obvious lines. Not bad, but certainly not subtle. A 2-megapixel webcam is set into the top of the screen, and it all stands upon a tripod of plastic silver legs, which means the only comfort adjustment available is a somewhat shallow tilt function.

Capacitive touch buttons are on the bottom right of the panel, which make a horrid error-like sound every time you touch them and will have you scrabbling to turn it off. Once this is achieved, you'll notice Dell's new menu — it appears in the right-hand corner, is translucent, and light years ahead of what appeared on the x07 and x08 series in terms of usability. When not in the menu, the up and down buttons function as volume controls.

A Dell logo glows blue underneath the monitor, suspended in the glass — while it is fairly low light, we found no way to turn it off as it may distract people trying to watch movies. When there's no video input, the Dell logo turns red. There's a big Dell logo that lights up blue on the back as well, and given the Crystal's "trophy product"-like status we wouldn't be surprised to see some product placement popping up on a TV show near you.

Menu options on the Crystal are all the standards, with brightness and contrast, RGB/YPbPr setting, the usual presets (including a vastly undersaturated sRGB mode and an oversaturated Standard mode, now seemingly common on Dell monitors) that will have you reaching for the custom RGB setting. A zoom function that can't be panned is also included (making it pretty much useless), and you can turn the response time, overdrive and dynamic contrast off if you so wish. Scaling modes of 1:1, 4:3, 16:9 and Fill are offered, should you choose to run something outside of the native 1,680x1,050 resolution.

The monitor comes with a single, non-removable cable that breaks out into a hydra's worth of little cables at the end — USB for the speakers and webcam, an HDMI connector with DVI adapter for the video, a power port (which plugs into a laptop-style power brick) and a jack for an optional subwoofer, which interestingly, isn't available for sale on the Dell Web site.

The speakers are certainly better than the usual monitor fanfare in both clarity and volume, the extra treble and bass settings in the menu helping even further — however, the extra sub would probably assist even more, and unless the treble is set to zero it's quite harsh. While listening to music languished, gaming was acceptable.

The most disappointing thing is that we suspect we're looking at a TN panel monitor here. Indicative of this are the brown shifts outside of the viewing angles, the inversion of colours from the bottom, the 2ms response time, the 92 percent colour gamut and 160° viewing angle. Dell's SP2208WFP has near identical specifications, except for the brightness, which can probably be explained due to the lack of glass bezel, and the kicker — sells for AU$1,070 less, all for giving up a slab of glass and some speakers. Ouch.

Don't get us wrong, as far as TN panels go this is quite a good one — but it still flies in the face of the premium product the Crystal is trying to be.

The AU$1,599 price tag relegates the Crystal to the level of a show-off device — it's something you buy to make your company seem swish, or perhaps purchase yourself leather-bound cushions to go with the sofa, because everything else in your house is real. The pragmatist in us prefers the 27-inch Dell for more resolution, bigger size, higher quality image, greater number of inputs, and the fact that it's AU$200 cheaper, or even the 24-inch for AU$600 less.

Accessories include a cleaning cloth to wipe off the highly fingerprint attracting glass, and the usual manuals and drivers, albeit in luxury black packaging.

DisplayMate performance was okay, with the monitor able to represent from five through to 254 in the greyscale tests, showing that it tends to crush blacks a bit quickly. Gradients also looked fine, although as the colours got darker the screen reflected more due to the glass, making this hard to see. Portal looked and played well, and video looked fantastic, so long as there was no light source in front of the monitor to create glare — needless to say this one isn't suited to an office environment, or in a room with a lot of windows.

While the Crystal can't handle 1080p content natively it can scale it down, and this looked fine when gaming through the Xbox 360 in HDMI. Still, we'd much prefer a native resolution capable of handling full high-definition content, especially at this price.

We're definitely a fan of luxury pieces, but the Crystal just doesn't add up value-wise, especially when you can get three SP2208WFPs for the same price, or a larger screen for significantly less.