One of the trade-offs of using a laptop is the smaller screen. This has especially become the case as 20-inch-plus monitors have become the norm for desktop computers. Furthermore, many computer users now have multiple-monitor setups, which means using a laptop results in a severely reduced amount of viewing area. One way to overcome this is to pair your laptop with a second monitor. Over the last few years, a number of portable monitors have come to market that are geared toward laptop users looking to carry a second monitor with them. These monitors aren’t like the ones you are used to. They are more like tablets than traditional monitors; they lack a pedestal base, making them easy to carry. Furthermore, they do not require an AC power unit; they receive their power directly from your laptop via USB plug.
Recently I have been trying out two of the newer models of portable USB monitors—the AOC e1649Fwu Portable USB Monitor and the Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor, both of which were loaned to me.
The biggest difference between the two monitors is size. The AOC monitor measures 15.6 inches diagonally, versus 14 inches for the Toshiba. If all you were interested in was viewable space, the AOC would be the clear winner. However, as I started using the two, other differences started to surface.
First off, the two monitors are distinctly different in their packaging. The Toshiba Mobile Monitor is less than an inch thick and weighs approximately 3.6 pounds. Part of this is the smart faux-leather carrying case and stand that offers the screen some protection while in transit. The AOC monitor is 1.4 inches thick, but weighs 2.3 pounds. Personally, I found the relative bulkiness of the AOC monitor more off-putting than the added weight of the Toshiba, even taking into account that the Toshiba is a smaller monitor. Given that laptop bag space is often at a premium, the Toshiba wins out. Furthermore, the combo case and stand makes the Toshiba much more conducive to traveling.
The AOC monitor has a high-gloss black finish, which looks good for the first couple of minutes. Almost immediately, however, it is covered with fingerprints. The Toshiba has a matte finish, which masks fingerprints, as does its carrying case.
The AOC does not have any native controls for power, picture or brightness. Also, it does not offer you the option of plugging it into an AC adapter. It turns on when you plug it into your computer and shuts off when it is unplugged or when the PC is shut off. On the front of the Toshiba Mobile Monitor, you will find a power button as well as brightness controls. In addition, there is a power adapter port (power adapter sold separately).
Lastly, the AOC has a glossy screen covering, which makes it very difficult to view the screen in most lighted situations. I am writing this review in AAII’s conference room with my back to the windows (and the AOC monitor facing the windows), and it is very hard to see what is on the screen. The Toshiba Mobile Monitor has a non-reflective screen, making it much easier to see, even in well-lit conditions.
While the Toshiba Mobile Monitor has a dual-purpose case and stand, the stand doesn’t offer the most stable footing. Unlike some tablet cases that double as stands, you don’t have the option of choosing different viewing angles: The Toshiba is intended solely for landscape (horizontal) viewing. The AOC has a support arm that folds out of the back of the monitor cabinet. The arm is mounted on a swivel, which allows you to view the monitor in either landscape or portrait mode. The monitor is smart enough to adjust the screen orientation automatically, according to its positioning.
Both the AOC and Toshiba USB monitors are DisplayLink certified, which means they require special drivers to be installed prior to use to make full use of DisplayLink. However, in most cases, both monitors are plug-and-play as well. Installation is relatively easy—load the software and plug in the monitor. Both monitors pull power from a USB port and come with a Y-Shaped USB cable with two connectors, since some laptops don’t offer enough power through a single USB port. This is something to keep in mind, since some laptops do not have side-by-side USB ports. In what I consider a bit of a design flaw, the AOC’s mini-USB plug is recessed within the space the support arms fold out of. This makes it somewhat cumbersome to plug in the monitor, and you can only do so when the stand is open. In contrast, the plug for the Toshiba Mobile Monitor is on the side.
After you plug in the monitor, you can use the DisplayLink software to configure the display. You can have the display mirror your laptop display, use it as an extended desktop, or set it as your main monitor. You can also optimize the display for video, which doesn't help much, since you are transferring video over a USB 2.0 connection (more on performance in a moment).
The Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor and the AOC e1649Fwu Portable USB Monitor perform admirably. While the colors are sharp and bright with the AOC monitor, the highly reflective screen became annoying to look at for extended periods of time.
I found the colors to be more subdued on the Toshiba monitor. I read in another review that USB only provides enough power to brighten the display to 50 percent; otherwise, you need a separate power adapter to achieve full brightness. I preferred the Toshiba’s non-reflective matte finish. Both mobile monitors offer a maximum resolution of 1366 x 768.
Both monitors experienced slightly choppy video playback when viewing movies via Netflix. Keep in mind that monitor performance is tied somewhat to the graphics capabilities and processing power of your PC.
The AOC supports Windows XP, Vista and 7 as well as Apple OS X Tiger, Leopard and Lion. The Toshiba is also Windows and Mac compatible. I tested both monitors on a Toshiba Portege Z830 with an Intel Core i5-2557M 1.7GHz processor running Windows 7 Professional (64-bit).
The Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor and the AOC e1649Fwu Portable USB Monitor are perfect for those looking to expand the amount of screen “real estate” without breaking the bank, or their backs. The AOC offers a slightly larger screen size, but both monitors are reasonably portable. I prefer the Toshiba’s “compact” size, even if it weighs a bit more than the AOC. Furthermore, the Toshiba’s carrying case and stand protects the screen from scratches if you are carrying it in a bag. The AOC does top the Toshiba in terms of picture brightness—assuming you are using the Toshiba without the optional power adapter—but its reflective screen surface detracts from the viewing experience.
All this being said, however, it is important to point out that these monitors are geared toward professionals who need a second monitor while on the road. If you are looking for a second monitor at home, I think it’s worth it to purchase a 20-inch LCD, which typically costs under $150.
If you are in the market for a mobile monitor, I give the edge to the Toshiba Mobile Monitor, even with its smaller screen size and higher price tag. With its case, it is truly mobile. The AOC USB Monitor strikes me as merely a lightweight monitor, not a truly portable one. With its fold-out stand, the AOC comes across as a more static option. Furthermore, its high-gloss screen makes it difficult to view, and the plastic finish is a fingerprint magnet. The Toshiba’s glare-free screen was much easier to view, which for me was the clincher.
Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor:
AOC Portable USB Monitor
Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor:
AOC Portable USB Monitor:
Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor
$199.99 (currently $179.99 from Amazon.com)
AOC Portable USB Monitor
$129.99 (currently $99.99 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.