May 18, 2013, 5:07 PM
Mobile monitors: a revolution for traveling graphic designers
It’s a real revolution for all graphic designers who like traveling and want to be able to work on the road, such as me. I love traveling, but the problem is that you are limited in both weight and volume when you do that, because there’s a maximum weight I can physically carry, and because of the weight limitations of airplane companies. You can’t carry with you an external screen. But that’s a necessity for any true graphic designer, because one quickly becomes cluttered with the huge amount of tools that come with graphic design software such as Photoshop, and that’s even more true with video software such as After Effects. Especially when you have invested in a light and small computer for convenience. Although small, it can be very powerful, more than enough for motion graphics, customized in order to be the most efficient possible, with an SSD hard drive an 8 gigabytes of memory, but the 13 inch screen quickly becomes an issue.
What about a tablet ? Basic tablets, Android or iOs powered, are not usable for graphic design by themselves, because of software and hardware limitations : not powerful enough, and touchscreens are not suitable for graphic design, you need either a stylus or a mouse. But what about using them as external screens for a laptop? Bad idea. There are software solutions for that, but they’re not suitable to graphic design as the tablet doesn’t work as a real screen, more like a second graphics card. That means it doesn’t use your graphics card’s graphic acceleration, a necessity for graphic design. Other than that the tablet is used as a server with these solutions, it’s a network system that enables connectivity with the computer. A USB2 network… That’s slow. Therefore you will have some lag on the display. Far from perfect.
But that’s the past.
What a surprise it was for me to find in the Taipei, Taiwan electronics market a mobile monitor, conceived to be used with a laptop… or anything else that can be plugged to it… It perfectly suited my needs… Small (13 inches), light, without the need of a power adapter, because using a USB port as power source, possible to connect either to an HDMI either to a VGA port. That was at the fall of 2011, and that Taiwanese brand, GeChic, was certainly the very first one to showcase this very innovative concept. It wasn’t cheap, about 130 euros, but I didn’t hesitate even a second, I now own this product. I’m now as efficient on the road as when I’m home thanks to that screen.
However that screen, first of its kind, has quickly become obsolete, because of this brand’s new models, but also because of competition which realized how attractive such a concept was and created products as good or even better.
Mine is the GeChic 1301, and it is flawed (but let’s be fair, as they actually created the concept – at least the very first ones to create a mobile monitor with a usable size : 13 inches or more, and the only ones I know of nowadays to use an actual display cable, HDMI or VGA, therefore no need for a driver and broad compatibility with any device with such a display port, not just Windows PCs desktops or laptops – to have the idea and to go all the way to the creation means it’s the most creative brand of the kind). Not expensive, but conceived to be stuck to the back of a laptop, which is not a good solution, not to mention the fact that the suction cups don’t work on all laptop models, I used to work on my Packard Bell, it doesn’t anymore on my Sony Vaio, because of the material used for the casing. Another problem is that once attached, it is hard to take it off, and I was always worried of damaging my laptop. I therefore prefer doing without these suction cups and use a temporary stand I make myself with anything I have at hand (books for example). Who would want to constantly have a screen attached to his / her laptop? Another issue is that it’s not a very strong-built product, a carrying case is necessary (I use that of my Wacom graphics tablet). And even that way, because I always carry it with me in a bag, I lost some little plastic pieces. The LCD screen is not protected either which is not very logical for something you carry around. Just some flexible plastic, just like the screen of a laptop computer. Except the keyboard of the laptop protects the screen when the computer is folded up. The screen’s resolution is low, 1366×768, but that’s a standard for that screen size, and no mobile monitor has a higher resolution.
The GeChic 1302 seems to have a much better finish, even though some of the flaws are still there. It’s much lighter, but the VGA cable has become an option which is a shame. There is a rubber stand which seems to be a much better solution than before, and avoids having to find temporary solutions. I don’t think the screen is more sturdy, and it’s still unprotected.
The 1501 seems to be a variant of the 1302, but bigger, en 15 inches wide. Its resolution is unfortunately not better.
With the 2501a, GeChic seems to have addressed many issues, an efficient integrated stand and a screen cover, and there is a mini jack plug and speakers as HDMI conveys audio as well as image. But there is only a 15.6 inches version of that product, which is quite bulky.
The 2501m is the same with a battery, and an MHL plug (the HDMI standard for mobile phones, when they have it).
Here is GeChic’s website. Buying is more complicated. Either you go to Taiwan like me (of course I didn’t go there for that at all but for discovering this wonderful country, but that’s another story). If you’re British, Scandinavian or American you’re lucky enough, there are solutions for you. Here is the list of distributors).
When a company creates an innovative and interesting concept, it doesn’t take much time for bigger companies to copy and distribute it broadly. A lot of companies have therefore entered the arena. That’s unfair for the pioneers because they’re too small to distribute their goods globally, but it can be good for you, putting a similar product at your reach.
That’s the case of Lenovo (Chinese company, ex end consumers part of the IBM group) which sells a 14 inches mobile monitor. Lenovo’s monitor has an advantage over the GeChic ones, but that advantage can also be considered as a huge drawback : it uses only a USB 2.0 cable for power and images, but that means it needs a driver. Therefore, only Windows PCs are compatible. No plugging to a video game console, a Mac, a standalone DVD or Blu-ray player, unlike all of the GeChic monitors… It doesn’t work in landscape mode either, and it is heavier than the Gechic ones, including the 15.6 inches versions. But it does have a screen cover, an integrated stand… And it is available in much more countries…
Of course other companies have entered the arena, the HP U160 for example, but it is not as broadly distributed as the Lenovo. But considering how big HP is it certainly will. But it’s 15.6 inches, which I think is too big for a mobile monitor, especially considering the resolution is the same as all the other ones I’ve written about. As the Lenovo, it works with a USB connection, which means it has the same compatibility flaws. And worst, it’s a Y shaped cable, meaning you need to use two ports… More expensive and heavier than both the Lenovo and GeChic monitors, les globally available than the Lenovo ones, I don’t think it has any advantages to it.
Finally you have the Toshiba mobile USB monitor, which as the Lenovo and HP monitors, and unlike the GeChic ones, use a USB plug, again with all the compatibility flaws that means. It seems quite similar to the Lenovo offering but is more expensive. Like the HP one, it is not as globally available as the Lenovo monitor.
As a conclusion, it’s a pity GeChic doesn’t have a broader distribution, as they clearly have the best offering for people searching for that kind of solution… And it’s a good thing for them the competition didn’t copy their main advantage, wrongly seeing it as an inconvenient because requiring more cables, and forgetting about compatibility: the fact they use proper display cables…