Will you be toting a notebook PC on your vacation? If so, a mobile monitor can give you a wider view, akin to what you'd get on your desktop PC back in the office.
Laptops aren't only getting lighter, but smaller as well. Ultrabooks frequently have 13-inch screens, and if you were one of the many who jumped on the netbook bandwagon, you're probably tired of squinting at a 10-inch screen.
Having a second monitor offers a number of benefits. One obvious advantage is the larger viewing area compared to laptops with smaller screens. The other key benefit is that external displays usually have a higher resolution ... meaning you can fit more on the screen. That's why it's pretty common to plug in a 19-inch to 24-inch monitor into your laptop when you're using it in an office.
Also, since most versions of Windows support multiple monitors, you can mirror the laptop display on a second or third monitor, split the screen between several monitors, or display completely different application outputs on separate monitors.
Finally, having an additional monitor makes it easier to do a presentation with only a few people. If your audience is sitting on your side of the desk or table your laptop might be enough, but if several people are seated across the desk from you, having a second display situated so that they can see the presentation obviates the need for a video projector.
This is pretty easy to accomplish if you're in your office, but much less so when you're on the road.
Fortunately, a number of vendors have stepped up to offer a solution in the form of 14-inch monitors which connect via USB. I looked at one from Toshiba, but other vendors including Lenovo and AOC offer similar products.
There's not much packed in the box. There's the monitor itself, which is shipped wrapped up in a folder-style "pleather" folio which protects the screen and when unfolded, serves as an easel for the display. Also included are a CD which contains the driver and a user manual in ODF format. Finally, a USB "Y" cord is provided and can be stored in the easel which has a place for it in the hinge. The Y cord has two USB plugs in case a single USB jack on the laptop doesn't provide enough current for the display to function. For maximum brightness output, an optional AC power adapter is required, which costs extra, is obviously not included (I did say optional), and is one more thing to clutter your laptop bag.
I tested the Mobile LCD Monitor using a Lenovo U310 Ultrabook. Second display performance can be affected by the graphic processing capability of the laptop it's being used with, and the U310 is a brand new model using a Core i5 CPU and Intel HD 4000 graphics. The Ultrabook does have a USB 3.0 port, but unfortunately, it's constrained by the limitations of the device that's connected to it.
Installing the monitor was easy, but it does point out something that Toshiba should have thought of. Many of the most likely users of the Mobile USB monitor are likely to have netbooks or Ultrabooks without an optical drive. The first step in the installation process requires that you install a driver on the laptop. And, of course, that driver is supplied on a CD. Given the MSRP (manufacture suggested retail price) of $200, it wouldn't have been difficult to provide the driver on a USB flash drive rather than a CD. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you're installing a driver for a USB monitor, the laptop is going to have a USB port. You can download the driver from the download section of Toshiba's web site, but there's no mention of this either in the Quick Start of the User's Manual. Nor is the driver particularly easy to find on the site.
While the Lenovo U310 I used for testing lacked an optical drive, I did have an Apricorn portable USB optical drive on the shelf, so I was able to install the driver with no difficulty. The rest of the installation consists of simply rebooting the laptop, plugging the USB cable between the laptop and the monitor, and hoping that your USB port has enough juice to power the monitor. The supplied Y cable is handy if your laptop isn't putting out enough current on a single USB port. But there's a potential problem here as well. The U310 I used for testing had two USB ports located side-by-side. But I've seen (and own) laptops where there's one port on one side panel of the laptop, and a second port on the back or other side panel of the laptop. The cable connecting the two USB plugs is 7 inches long -- way too short to use with two USB ports on a number of laptops. In this case, you might require the optional AC adapter (or have to buy a USB extender cable), and not find out that this is necessary until you try and finish the install. Again, it wouldn't have been much trouble to include a "T" cable with a longer cord between the two laptop-side connectors.
In truth, these are petty complaints. However, they do bear thinking about before you plunk down your credit card.
Once you've installed the driver, and plugged in the monitor, there are three buttons on the front panel. The larger of the three is the on/off switch, and the pair of smaller buttons brightens and dims the display. Toshiba rates the display brightness as being "up to" 220 nits but only if the optional AC power supply is used. Toshiba's spec sheets don't give the light output without the optional power supply, but it's pretty close to the brightness of the U310 it was connected to. To provide some basis of comparison, the Acer S series 22-inch monitor on my desktop is rated at 250 nits of brightness (with the brightness turned all the way up), and the difference in brightness isn't huge, but it is noticeable.
In addition to the driver, you need to go into the Windows Control Panel and set what you want the second monitor to do -- mirror the primary display, extend the primary display, or run a completely different application on the secondary display.
Check out our complete Executive Summer Tech Guide for more great ideas for staying productive over the summer, and take a look at our consumer Summer Tech Guide for ways to make the most out of the latest gadgets and gizmos while you're on vacation.
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