August 3, 2015
Laptops have two big usability problems:
- Small displays - After using large desktop monitors, working on a laptop feels cramped and unproductive for anything beyond simple web browsing.
- Terrible ergonomics - Your head is tilted down to view the screen, which can lead to back problems after long periods. A common solution is to use a separate keyboard and mouse and raise the entire laptop using a stand (I haven’t tried it but The Roost looks like a good one).
With the release of decent USB powered monitors there’s now a simple solution to both these problems. Place a second display above the built in one:
Since this isn’t a common use case, I had to improvise… The stand is a clumsy combination of laptop stand and tablet stand, with a little bit of rubber wedged in to tilt the monitor.
This setup has the following advantages:
- Productive - Tons more screen space using the 1920 x 1080 ASUS 168B+ display in addition to a Retina MacBook Pro 13 set to 1440 x 900.
- Ergonomic - More time is spent looking straight ahead to the external monitor, which is closer to eye level. Less frequently viewed content is placed on the laptop screen.
- Portable - The monitor weighs only 800g (1.76 pounds) and draws power via the USB cable. No external keyboard or mouse is required.
There’s still room for improvement however…
- The ideal stand should hold the monitor closer to the laptop. A lightweight stand designed for this purpose would be awesome.
- The colors on the monitor are horrible compared to the MacBook. It’s OK for text, but not for color sensitive work.
- There’s a slight lag and jerkiness when large changes happen on screen, probably due to the bandwidth limitation of USB 3. Again, this isn’t a problem for manipulating text but could be annoying for graphically intensive tasks.
I’ve been using this only a short while, but so far it’s a huge improvement over the laptop on its own, and allows me to work away from home without affecting productivity too much.
UPDATE: After forgetting to pack my laptop stand one day, I decided to scour the flat for something that could permanently live in my backpack. I found this which works surprisingly well, it’s lighter, keeps the monitor closer to the laptop, and doubles as a container for cables :-)
Disclaimer - the amazon links in this article contain an affiliate code. I didn’t write the article to make money from these links, but since I was linking to these products anyway I thought it was worth experimenting.