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BenQ EX3501R review: An impressive curved HDR monitor

Christopher Minasians
3 Dec 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
640
inc VAT

With HDR, a vibrant 1440p panel and an impressive perceived response time, this monitor ticks almost every single box

Pros 
Excellent colour reproduction
HDR compatible
Minimal inverse ghosting
Cons 
Suffers from frame skipping at 100Hz with an Nvidia GPU
Below-par brightness uniformity
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HDR monitors and TVs have been growing in popularity since HDR hit modern consoles, bringing with it the stunning visuals you’ll see in Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Sony’s God of War. Microsoft has stepped up its Windows game as well, automatically detecting an HDR signal on Windows 10; something that came through the Fall Creators Update in late 2017. Many display manufacturers have also embraced the shift, including BenQ, leading to the EX3501R we’re looking at today.

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BenQ EX3501R review: What you need to know

The BenQ EX3501R is somewhat special. It’s the only 21:9 ultrawide monitor that runs at a native resolution of 3,440 x 1,440 at 100Hz, while also featuring HDR. What’s more, this 35in curved monitor is based on a contrast-rich VA panel.

Alongside its core specs, the EX3501R has a USB Type-C connection, thin bezels and a built-in sensor that’s aimed to reduce eye strain. However, there’s a catch – tested with my Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, the monitor achieves a maximum refresh rate of 98Hz, which needs to be manually set. We’ll talk about this more in the performance section.

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BenQ EX3501R review: Price and competition

Here in the UK, the EX3501R costs £640. As there’s no direct competition, I can only suggest alternatives that get close to its spec.

If we take away the ultrawide element, you’ll find the Samsung C32HG70 at around £530 and the Acer XZ321QU at £475. Both offer a 16:9 31.5in curved display, HDR and 1440p that runs at 144Hz.

Not fussed about HDR? Then there’s the incredibly impressive AOC AG352UCG6 Black Edition at £730, the Asus PG348Q at £940, the Acer XR341CK at £720, and the Samsung CF791 at £680. Like the BenQ, the Acer and Samsung monitors both feature AMD FreeSync. The AOC and Asus screens opt for Nvidia G-Sync instead.

BenQ EX3501R review: Design, features and build quality

The EX3501R looks the part – it has a three-side borderless design with a sleek silver and black colour scheme. Its design helps it stand out, with an all-metal stand and an elegant cable management hole situated around the bottom.

The stand itself is sturdy and provides 120mm of height and -5/+20 degrees tilt adjustment, though if you want more freedom, you can replace it with any compatible VESA stand. If it wasn’t already obvious, the EX3501R has a 1800R curvature, providing an extra degree of immersion for those using it for movies and gaming.

In comparison to the AOC AG352UCG6, the BenQ monitor doesn’t have a headphone arm or a customisable LED strip around the back of the monitor. There is, however, a sensor alongside the bottom bezel. This is designed to help reduce eye strain, by actively adjusting the colour temperature and the overall brightness of the panel depending on the ambient light conditions.

To access the OSD, there are a row of buttons that are awkwardly placed at the bottom centre-right edge of the monitor. They’re not clearly indicated, which makes using them on a regular basis frustrating. Within the OSD, there are plenty of options to go through that allow you to customise the monitor to your liking – there’s even a dedicated ‘HDR’ picture mode, which optimises the panel’s colour saturation and gamma tone.

As for connectivity, there are two HDMI 2.0 ports, a single DisplayPort 1.4, plus a USB-C (power, video and data) input. There are also two downstream USB 3.0 ports at your disposal. Finally, the BenQ has support for AMD FreeSync, which is great if you have a compatible AMD graphics card; Nvidia G-Sync is not supported.

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BenQ EX3501R review: Performance

BenQ uses a VA panel in the EX3501R, running at a native resolution of 3,440 x 1,440 (UWQHD). The manufacturer claims that it runs at 100Hz, but after testing it with my Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, I found the monitor was unable to run without frame skipping.

As you’ll be able to see in the image below – the monitor doesn’t pass the Blur Busters motion test. I've seen this behaviour from other large-sized monitors in the past, and it all boils down to the graphics card. Basically, you’ll need an AMD graphics card to run the monitor at its advertised spec.

There is, however, a workaround. By only losing two frames, you can set a custom resolution through Nvidia’s control panel – here, I found the monitor was perfectly capable of achieving 1440p at 98Hz with my GTX 1080.

With these settings, the monitor responds well in competitive games. It might not be the fastest monitor around, but as far as ultrawide monitors go, it’s impressive. Thanks to Advanced Motion Acceleration (AMA) set to ‘Premium’ the monitor felt close to its quoted 4ms GtG response time. Its input lag is remarkably low, too.

So, if you’re looking to game on the monitor, go ahead. It has minimal inverse ghosting (with AMA at Premium), a fast response time, perceivably low input lag and is just shy of achieving 100Hz – all of which, make it a real treat for casual and competitive gamers.

As for its image quality, I was pleasantly surprised. Set to sRGB mode, the BenQ EX3501R achieves a 99.1% sRGB, 76.1% Adobe RGB and 83.5% DCI P3 gamut coverage. Colours are rich, vibrant, and aren’t washed out either.

The contrast ratio of 1960:1 is impressive, too – it’s capable of showcasing the darkest of scenes in games, while also portraying excellent light tones. And it does this while achieving a maximum brightness of 343cd/m2, which is plenty even for rooms that have a lot of ambient light.

What isn’t as spectacular is its brightness uniformity, which is below the average ultrawide panel, though, there’s an element of panel lottery in play. Colour accuracy isn’t fantastic either. The average Delta E of 2.61 is not ideal for those looking to use the monitor for professional photo editing or colour grading.

Finally, there’s HDR. When there’s the appropriate signal, the monitor automatically picks up and switches HDR on, so your PS4 Pro or Xbox One X should work automatically. There HDR brings out a wider range of colours and boosts the contrast ratio, giving you brighter highlights and richer colour tones, though the panel’s maximum brightness levels are well below the 540cd/m2 brightness levels of the lowest HDR10 standard.

If you intend on using HDR on a Windows machine, however, then you’ll need the appropriate content and settings to get it to work. We’re still in the early, rather primitive days of HDR on Windows 10, but if set correctly it’ll display your HDR games and movies in all their glory.

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BenQ EX3501R review: Verdict

There’s a lot the EX3501R does right – starting with its price, which is impressively aggressive. Even if you’re not really bothered about HDR, it’s hard to overlook the monitor’s other capabilities. In fact, there are only a handful of ultrawide 1440p monitors that offer around 100hz and this one is certainly up there with the best.

But the best? Well, that depends. If you’re looking for a competent monitor for gaming and productivity – and looking to utilise HDR in the near future  – then look no further than the BenQ EX3501R. If you don’t see yourself using HDR, get the AOC AG352UCG6 Black Edition instead – it has better brightness uniformity, Nvidia G-Sync and runs at 120Hz without frame skipping.