What are the best portable monitors to buy in 2018? What is the difference between “portable monitor” and “USB-powered monitors”? Below we will answer all those questions and share with you some useful information which will help you to make a right choice.
Monitors have been the most conservative device as long as they exist. Apparently, we witnessed only one “revolution” when we switched from big CRT monitors to LCD panels. It happened about two decades ago, and since then nothing has really changed. LCD monitors are now more common and more affordable, and have increased in size and even shape, but in their core, they stayed the same – an essential device which is anchored in its place.
It seems natural that the next step in their evolution should be portability. The first steps in this direction were made around ten years ago, but the characteristics of video signal and power made further improvements almost impossible. Only with the invention of USB-C and USB 3.0, these issues were fully solved and the marked almost instantly flooded different types of portable monitors. Because most of them are USB-powered the terms “portable monitor” and “USB-powered monitors” are highly interchangeable.
Nowadays, many well-known monitor manufactures are starting to produce portable monitors. Despite this, the market is rapidly expanding and developing. You can find anything to meet your needs, from very affordable (around $80-100) to top-notch ($300-400), small size (less than 13 in.) and medium size (13-17 in.), but, for instance, there’s still no large (21+ inch) USB-powered displays. Surely we’ll see them soon. With all the different options on the market, it can be challenging to make best the decision for you. We ‘ll walk you through this maze of options and give you expert advice. Together, we will help you make the right choice.
Let’s start with looking at the Top 9 USB-Powered Monitors to buy in 2018.
List of Best USB Powered Monitors 2018
|Portable USB Monitor||Price Scale||Screen Size||Resolution||Panel Type||Response Time||Ports|
|Portable USB Monitor||Price Scale||Screen Size||Resolution||Panel Type||Response Time||Ports|
|Gechic 1503A||15.6″||1366×768||TFT||8 ms||1xMicro-HDMI, 1xVGA(Optional), 1xUSB(C), 1xRear Dock Port|
|ASUS MB16AC||15.6″||1920×1080||IPS||5 ms||1xUSB Type-C 3.0|
|Gechic 1503H||15.6″||1920×1080||IPS||12.5 ms||1xMicro-HDMI, 1xVGA(Optional), 1xUSB(C), 1xRear Dock Port|
|AOC I1601FWux||16″||1920×1080||IPS||5 ms||USB Type-C|
|Toguard 7||7″||1024×600||TFT||12 ms||AV(RCA), VGA, HDMI|
|AOC I1659Fwux||16″||1920×1080||IPS||25 ms||1xUSB 3.0|
|GeChic 1102I||11.6″||1920×1080||FFS||12.5 ms||1xMicro-HDMI, 1xVGA(Optional), 1xUSB, 1xRear Dock Port|
|Cocopar 10.1||10.1″||1280×800||TFT||*****||AV(RCA),DVI, VGA, HDMI|
|GeChic 1503I||15.6″||1920×1080||IPS||12.5 ms||1xMicro-HDMI, 1xVGA(Optional), 1xUSB(C), 1xRear Dock Port|
Always an Exception
Though we said in the beginning that “Portable Monitor” is a synonym for “USB-Powered,” that’s not entirely true. When we take a look at the small-sized segment, we’ll see that its power consumption is very low. Thus, theoretically, you can use an external battery and standard power port for energy supply. It’s an open question whether or not they can technically be called “portable.” From one point of view, the main device requires a little extra power, hence they are not “portable.” On the other hand, even with a battery they still are very easy to carry, much easier than a proper 15.6 inch “USB-Powered” monitor, which is completely portable. We’ll let you decide who is right, and for your benefit, we include these kind of monitors (battery powered) in our reviews.
There is one more technicality which may be helpful for you to understand. You may notice that many large-sized monitors have a USB-C port and support USB 3.0 or USB 3.1, which allows them to charge various types of devices and connect to them through one cable only. Don’t get confused here. Inside any USB network there is a host and a device. Power always comes from a host to a device, while data transfer is a two-way street. In this situation, a monitor will be a host and a laptop will be a device, thus a monitor can charge a laptop.
Though some models can receive power via USB-C port, but the host will be a dock station, because even a standard laptop won’t produce enough energy to feed a large-sized monitor. However a few years back there was at least one 22’’ model from AOC, which could drag power from a laptop through USB 2.0 port, but it would completely drain a full laptop battery just after 40 minutes. Anyhow, today a large-sized monitor can be USB-powered from a dock station. Besides, can you really call a 4kg display “portable?”
1. Gechic 1503A
OnLap 1503A is a budget option from GeChic among medium-sized portable monitors. The TN panel has 1366*768 resolution, 200 cd/㎡ brightness and 500:1 contrast ratio. Don’t be frightened by the low contrast ratio; because the peak brightness is just 200, you won’t be able to use it anywhere but in a room where 500:1 is more than enough. Despite having 6 colors and 5 different color modes, don’t expect it to provide very accurate color, it was mainly designed for office purposes and working with documents.
It has HDMI and VGA ports for video input and USB-C for power. Like all other products from Gechic, it goes with rigid protective cover and a magnetic flexible detachable stand, which can prop a monitor up in three different positions, either landscape or portrait modes.
Overall, it’s a fair budget option for an office worker if for some reason he needs a 16 inch monitor on-the-go. We found this slightly overpriced, but it’s compatible with a very wide range of devices from smartphones to TV docks, so if you want to have a relatively cheap back-up option for everything, this is a good choice.
2. ASUS ZenScreen MB16AC
ASUS ZenScreen MB16AC is a practical device. Being very thin (only 8 mm) and very light (1.7 pounds without its cover) it can easily find its place in your travel bag. Another good feature for travelers – it requires only one cable for video signal and power supply.
It goes with full 15.6” HD display, 220 cd/㎡ brightness, less than 8W in power consumption in standard mode, and 0W in power-saving/off mode. ASUS also provides you with Smart Case, which looks like a standard cover for an iPad. It protects the display from scratches, dust, and allows you to prop a monitor in one of the pre-designed positions.
The other good thing which goes with the display is a USB type C to A adaptor. The original cable is USB C to USB C, but with this adapter, you can connect your monitor to almost any device. In practice, you might need to download extra drivers, or upgrade your OS, and in some rare cases, it might not connect at all. Still, it’s a very useful tool.
The words “fairly good” best describe its performance. It’s not bright enough to be used outside, but it delivers good, colorful visuals inside. It’s probably not good enough for photographers or designers. This portable monitor would work best for office workers (especially with its automatic orientation feature) who travel a lot and might want to watch HD movies between meetings.
3. Gechic 1503H
Gechic 1503H is a portable yet powerful monitor. It goes with 15.6“ full HD display with a 160 degree vertical and horizontal viewing angle, 300 cd/㎡ brightness, and various color settings. It means you can use Gechic 1503H outdoors. Besides, it’s 11 mm thick and weighs 1.75 pounds, so it won’t be a problem to carry it in your bag and use it in the field.
Gechic 1503H can be connected with a wide range of devices from your smartphone and game console to your laptop or computer. It uses two cables, one for a video signal (HDMI or mini DVI ) and one for power supply (USB-C). This monitor goes in a rigid case with a protective cover, which might protect it from damage if dropped. Another good feature is a dedicated stand on the back of a monitor that can prop monitor up in several different positions, either horizontal or vertical.
Overall it’s not a cheap option, but it delivers what it promises and if you need a monitor to take on the field, you need to consider this option.
4. AOC I1601FWux
AOC I1601FWux is one of the most affordable monitors on the market in its category (13-17 inches. It’s also probably the thinnest monitor (only 0.33 inches) and very light (1.8 pounds); therefore, it will fit ideally in your travel luggage. With a full HD display with 700:1 contrast, 5ms response time, it ranks high on the list, but does not rank #1, and with 220 cd/㎡ brightness, you won’t want to use it outdoors.
AOC I1601FWux has a Smart Cover, which looks identical to the cover on an iPad. It can prop up in landscape or portrait mode. You can effortlessly connect it to a device via USB-C cable, which supplies both power and video, but there is a trick. If your laptop doesn’t have one, you can’t use any sort of adaptor, if you don’t have USB-C ports on your laptop this monitor isn’t for you. Or you need a new laptop.
Overall, AOC I1601FWux is a good option if you’re looking for a well-rounded USB-powered monitor and don’t have any specific needs in mind. It’s very well priced for a 15.6 inches 1080p display and it covers all your basic needs.
5. Toguard 7
Toguard 7 is a very simple, small portable monitor. Its screen has 1024*600 resolution, 300 cd/㎡ brightness, and 500:1 contrast ratio, though, it has some drawbacks. Although it has VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports (works with PS4, Xbox), you won’t want to use it for constantly watching videos or playing a game, especially with its 12ms response time.
Some of its bonus features include a touch button and a remote control, which helps with its main purpose – a screen for CCTV, or an external display for all sorts of scenarios where it’s not a problem to find a 12V power supply.
6. AOC I1659Fwux
This new model is the new and improved replacement of an older E1659Fwux, but surprisingly it cannot be seen as a total improvement. For some reason, AOC decided to increase contrast and viewing angles while decreasing brightness and response time. But let’s take a look at its specifications for a clearer picture.
AOC I1659FWux has a sharp 1080p IPS panel which delivers a 160 degree viewing angle, 700:1 contrast ratio, 220 cd/㎡ peak brightness; 60hz refresh rate, and 25 ms pixel response time. The panel provides fairly accurate colors and relatively sharp images. Enough to watch movies on, but might not be good enough for any serious work with graphic arts. A very slow response rate rules out this monitor as an option for gamers.
Coming in at 2.6 lbs, it is on the heavy side and 1.4 inches thick doesn’t make it the easiest to carry around. Still, it should fit in most laptop bags and it requires only one USB-C cable for a connection.
Overall, AOC I1659FWux is a perfect budget choice for 13-17’’- sized category. If you don’t mind the weight of carrying another laptop and wanted to save money, it might be your best option.
7. GeChic 1102I
They say “Good things come in small packages,” and, perhaps, GeChic 1102I is proof. This little cutie not only has a 1080p full HD resolution panel which delivers a spectacular 178 degree viewing angle, 1000:1 contrast ratio, and 250 cd/㎡ brightness, it also has a touchable display, which recognizes up to 10 touch points. It also recognizes different types of tapping, rotating, pinching to zoom, and unintentional touches, which makes whole experience smoother and nicer.
Obviously, having an 11.6″ display, 670g weight (w/o cover), and being ½” thin, GeChic 1102I easily fits not only in a laptop or travel bag but also in a simple briefcase. A rigid protective cover adds an extra 300g to the device, but it also protects it from scratches and even small falls.
GeChic 1102I uses a micro USB port for power supply and mini-HDMI or VGA for a video signal. Display performance is exquisite and this device might be useful for a person who works with video-/photo-editing programs. With a short response time response time (12.5 ms), it could be a good choice for gamers. Although it’s not the brightest display, you might be able to use it outside, but not if you’re competing with the sun.
Overall, it’s a top-notch option among small portable monitors. If money is not an option and you don’t need a bigger screen, you won’t find anything better.
8. Cocopar 10.1
Cocopar 10.1 is a portable HD display which is not USB-powered. It was mostly designed for Raspberry Pi, PS3+, Xbox, but it also can be used as an external monitor for any computer with Windows 7 or higher.
For a cheap screen, it has a very good resolution (1280*800), contrast of 800:1, and a brightness of 350 cd/㎡. It also has acceptable speakers. It’s power adaptor transforms 110-240v into 12V, which means, theoretically, you can use it as a car monitor. It comes with a metal stand, which makes it easy to use in lots of situations where it would be hard to find a place to mount it.
The main merits are its low price and quick response time. Basically, if you need a road monitor and you don’t mind finding a power supply for it, this is your choice.
9. GeChic 1503I
GeChic 1503I it’s a first-rate portable and touch monitor. Based on an IPS panel, it provides you with 1080p HD resolution, very wide viewing angles (160 degrees both vertical and horizontal), and exquisite color representation. At 250 cd/㎡ brightness, it is still not enough to be used outdoors, but it is good even for a very bright room on a sunny day. Although its images are very colorful and sharp, its response time is only 12.5 ms, which is very slow for real-time games.
It’s only twelve mm thick and weighs just above one kilo. It won’t be a problem to put in a laptop bag, but you have to remember, with its cover, it weighs almost as much as some ultra-thin laptops.
Like all other GeChich products, it connects with two cables: USB-C for power and HDMI for a video signal. Because it’s a touch panel, GeChic put an extra-hard protective screen and durable touch glass, which was very clever and nice of them.
Overall it’s quite an interesting product. Unlike many other portable displays I wouldn’t recommend this one as a second monitor, simply because its main feature – touchscreen – would be useless. However, it might be very useful in connection with your smartphone or Raspberry Pi.
When do I need a portable monitor?
In our modern world, it’s quite often when you would need two monitors set up in your workplace, sometimes even at home. You’ve got one screen for `the main purpose` and the other for browsers, chat windows, or some temporary tasks. Obviously, you can’t take a 16lb monitor every time, but sometimes, it’s not enough to only work with your laptop screen.
Another frequent scenario is when you need to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, or you work with Excel, SQL database. Then, it’s quite handy to have the main table on one screen and your working process on another. As a businessman, you might travel a lot and be able to use 2 monitors, like during preparation or a final demonstration. Laptops enabled you to work everywhere; portable monitors make this process more efficient and pleasant.
On top of that, you might use a portable monitor not only as a second screen but as a “first” one. I put first in quotes because, technically, you have a screen on your phone or tablet, but want or need to display it on a bigger screen, so everyone can see and enjoy it. Standard monitors might not be an answer because they cannot use your device as a power supply. Portable monitors can, which is why they’re frequently called “USB-charged”.
What specifications are important and why?
Power is a huge factor to consider. Even through a USB 2.0 port, a monitor could get enough power to produce a good color image However, only with the invention USB 3.0 and USB type C, the image quality is almost equal to desktop monitors. You won’t spot a difference unless you are into photo or video editing. But honestly, it’s not fair just to compare the image quality between portable and desktop, because they’re designed for different purposes. Normally you don’t care how much power your desktop monitor consumes because you have an “infinite” power supply. The portable monitor is a different story. Because you need to use it on the go, you really care how much it consumes because that determines how long you can use it during your journey.
The other important factor to consider is weight. Because you might carry it a lot, every extra gram matters. There is one trick that many sellers use – they tell you the weight without a protective cover. As a result of a modern USB-powered monitor being ultra-light, the weight with the cover could be 150% higher than without it. For example a screen by itself at 650g, can go up to 900g with the cover. The other funny thing is that net weight, in this case, is somewhat useless because every time you transport a monitor, you use a cover. Speaking of the cover, there are two common types: a flexible cover, like a cover for an iPad, which helps to prop your display up, and a rigid cover, which you put away while you use your monitor but it protects the monitor during travel.
It’s also useful to know how thin you monitor is. Surprisingly, it’s more important for a small-sized category (less than 13 inches), because medium-sized monitors won’t fit in a standard bag or briefcase.
Their place is in laptop cases or big backpacks, and then it doesn’t really matter if they are ½” thick or ¾”.
Brightness can be a key factor for some buyers. Since it’s a portable monitor, it doesn’t only mean you’re only going to transport it from one place to another, it also implies you might use it during your journey. Therefore, you can work outside, or, at least, you might expect a monitor to be able to work outdoors. The most important specification for this matter is brightness. Brightness is the most power consuming aspect of the display, that’s why the old models, which use USB 2.0 port for power, look gloomy and dark. Since portable monitors have access to less energy, they cannot deliver the same amount of brightness, but you still can a good portable monitor for a rainy day, literally, because unfortunately there is no portable USB powered monitor which can work outdoors on a sunny day.
Speaking of numbers, you might want to know the minimum amount of cd/㎡ (candelas per meter squared) to be considered a field monitor. 300 cd/㎡ is the answer. Anything less than that and you can forget working outdoors or even in a bright room.
Unlike brightness, contrast ratio is not important at all. Basically, it’s the difference between the darkest and the brightest colors display can produce and typically it lies within 700:1 to 1000:1 range. Unless you use for some high-quality image editing needs, you won’t feel any difference.
Different type of panels. Different purposes.
Now let’s take a look at the display itself. USB-powered monitors normally use either a TN panel or IPS panel. Both of them can easily deliver full HD resolution with true color depth. TN panel is an older option, which is usually cheaper to produce, but it has some very important qualities for a portable monitor. TN panels are lower in power consumption and it weighs less. They also have a very high refresh rate and low response time, so if you a gamer you should look for a TN panel.
The downsides are poor image quality under sunlight, very limited viewing angles, and even color representation leaves much to be desired. IPS panels fixed almost every bad thing about TN panels. They have an amazing color depth and quality and a nearly 180 degree viewing angle, but their response and refresh rates are awful, which excludes them for any gaming purposes, even if you only play casually. However, even with TN panel, pro-gamers won’t be satisfied. While a gaming-specific desktop monitor has 1ms response rate, even a 5ms (which is the lowest rate so far for portable monitors) could feel like molasses spilling down the screen. In other words, when we speak about a gaming portable monitor, we mean a back-up plan for a gamer, rather than a main option.
Compatibility is a relevant quality for a portable monitor. While you connect your desktop monitor only once in its life, a portable version often works with different devices; so the ability to connect them quickly and smoothly is quite vital. Usually, it won’t be a problem for you, particularly if you want to connect it to a device with Windows 7 or higher and you use standard cables.
However, sometimes you might be forced to use various kinds of adaptors (from USB C to USB A or from USB C to HDMI), which may cause problems with compatibility. Some problems can be resolved by downloading a necessary driver, but some issues cannot be fixed and it’s very hard to tell in advance if you can use a monitor with some sort of adaptor or if you can use a monitor with a unique OS. It’s better to ask the manufacturer directly about your unique case before you buy the monitor.
A common point of confusion about portable monitors is that many people assume they’re all touchscreens. Although a lot of models, especially in a small-sized segment, have a touchscreen, they don’t all come with a touchscreen. Having touchscreen and being portable are different options, which don’t always coexist. Some progress has been made in this field. If older models (3-4 years old) could recognize one or two types of touch, the modern ones can easily recognize up to 10.
Therefore, the touchscreen is a very useful option for all sort of creativity. Designers and photo-editors will be very interested in these kinds of displays. When a screen can recognize tapping, dragging, touching, flicking, etc. it becomes much easier to create complex images and work with graphics. The other popular customers for touchscreen are kids. Firstly, the touchscreen enables many interactive apps. Secondly, this sort of display is covered with extra protective layer and durable glass, so it has more chances to survive in kid’s hands.
Market and Manufacturers
There are fewer manufacturers of portable monitors than of standard ones. Hopefully, this will change soon, but for now, we have 3-4 major players and some of those only make one or two models. For instance, HP introduced a portable monitor 3 years ago and it is still its only model on the market. The main players are GeChic, AOC, and ASUS. They offer 4-6 different models each.
ASUS is a Taiwanese company, which needs no introduction. They were among the first companies to invent a new protocol, and, therefore, taught the world how to connect several monitors to one laptop via USB ports. Having so much experience and leading in different fields, ASUS produces only reliable devices. Maybe that’s why they took a rule to introduce only one model each year. The newest one is from May 2017 and the oldest one, which they still produce, is from 2014. However, you can find even older options in some stores, but please be aware that these might not have factory warranty anymore.
AOC is another Taiwanese company which specializes in monitors, displays, and TVs. Currently, they have two brand new models and two old models on the market. For some reason all of them have a 16” display (well, technically three have 15.6” display and one, the oldest, – 17”). Despite being the same size they, are very different inside, and AOC is the only manufactory which uses three kinds of panels for USB-powered monitors. As a result, AOC can be an interesting option for almost every type of user – gamers, designers, even office workers. I believe they will keep extending their range of USB-powered monitors and soon we’ll see a small-sized AOC USB-powered monitor.
GeChic is a new Taiwanese company; it was founded in 2011 and their main area of expertise is exclusively portable monitors. Maybe that’s why they present the widest range of devices. They have budget models, which usually ends with the letter “A,” high-quality models, which usually ends with the letter “H,” and touch screens, with the letter “I.” GeChic is also famous for having a big selection of accessories, including a multi-mount kit and a rear dock which makes using portable monitors even easier.