Portable Monitors: The Productivity Gadget You Didn’t Know You Needed
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Portable Monitors: The Productivity Gadget You Didn’t Know You Needed

Lightweight displays and repurposed tablets can turn any space into a mobile multiscreen office.

By Nicole Ngyuen
Mon, Feb 14, 2022 11:18amGrey Clock 4 min

Hybrid workers like me tend to bounce around. At home, I’m in whatever spot is quietest. At the office, thanks to Covid-19, I’m hot-desking. And right now, at the Airbnb where I’m enjoying a skiing work vacation, my writing desk is a kitchen table.

Laptops make all this possible, but their relatively small screens tend to cramp productivity. A seminal 2007 study by researchers at the University of Utah found that participants who used a larger display completed tasks 52% faster. A few years later, researchers at Wichita State University concluded that using dual monitors boosted productivity, regardless of screen size.

So if you want to be more effective while working from anywhere, you’re going to want a monitor, and not a heavy desktop one. New lighter-weight portable screens are hitting the market, and there are more ways now to turn old devices into extra displays, too. Here are your main options:

  • USB-powered screens often cost as much as traditional monitors, but they are slimmer and lighter, and get their electricity straight from your laptop. Some products include two added side monitors.
  • Second-screen software turns your existing tablets (and computers) into extended displays. Apple built it into the Mac and iPad operating systems, and Windows is now compatible with certain Samsung tablets. There’s also an app that lets you choose other devices.

I reviewed four different multiscreen scenarios that made my work tasks easier. Whichever screen or app you choose, be mindful of your laptop’s battery—plug-in displays guzzle power—and your potential neighbours. On a plane, don’t pull out your mega triple-screen setup unless you got lucky and have the row to yourself.

EspressoDisplay v2 Touch-Screen Monitor

The appeal: Big screens, slick design

Price: $669 for the 13-inch, $749 for the 15-inch at espres.so

Compatibility: Most Mac, Windows and Chrome computers

Pros: The Espresso display looks like a superslim iMac. Colours are vivid, and pixels are barely perceptible with the screen’s 1080p resolution. Even the larger of the two models weighs under 1kg, and the magnetically attached stand, sold separately, folds flat to fit in a computer bag.

There are two USB-C ports on the side of the screen: One drives the display connection, while the other can connect to a power brick to charge your laptop, if its own ports are in short supply. The Espresso is touch-enabled, even for Macs, which don’t natively support the capability. You can use two fingers to scroll, or pinch to zoom. The display can also be used in portrait orientation.

Cons: At maximum brightness, the Espresso still isn’t as bright as my M1 MacBook Air, and the screen is reflective, so it can be hard to see in some lighting. You need to download software called EspressoFlow to adjust settings such as brightness and volume. The setup is pricey: Essential accessories such as the stand ($69) and protective case ($39) cost extra. And if your laptop still uses Mini DisplayPort, the older mobile video standard, the adapter costs $40.

Xebec Tri-Screen 2 Laptop System

The appeal: More screens, compact rig

Price: $699 at thexebec.com

Compatibility: Most Mac, Windows and Chrome laptop

Pros: The Tri-Screen 2 adds two thin 10-inch screens, each with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels, to either side of your laptop. An expandable holster attaches to the back of your laptop’s display. A rear kickstand supports the added weight (about 2 pounds). The style is great for smaller spaces. You can even work on the couch if you have a sturdy pillow or something else to prop the kickstand on. As with the Espresso, an additional USB-C port supports laptop charging.

Cons: The screens are small, and you need to tinker with the displays’ resolutions to make text readable. My laptop, a late-2020 M1 MacBook Air, required extra setup: an additional adapter ($70), two dongles and a cable, plus a driver download, because the computer only natively supports one external monitor. Those cables need to be disconnected every time you retract the displays. Alex Levine, the company’s chief executive, said his team is working on larger screens and simpler setups.

Sidecar for Mac and iPad

The appeal: Ready-made for Apple users

Price: Free, but requires a supported iPad and Mac

Compatibility: Macs running MacOS Catalina or later, and an iPad using iPadOS 13 or later

Pros: Sidecar is built into Macs and allows you to use an iPad as an extended display. It works with even the basic 10.2-inch tablet model. Both devices need to be connected to the same Apple ID. Sidecar can work wirelessly over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but I recommend using a USB cable for the most stable connection.

The feature provides basic touch interaction. Sidecar even unlocks some limited functionality of the Apple Pencil, so you can select and tap things on the iPad’s screen. Some apps, including Apple’s own Preview, also support drawing and markup.

Cons: There’s no iPad camera support, so you still have to use your Mac’s camera for video calls. The touch gestures are limited to scrolling, copy/cut/paste and undo/redo. You can’t use an iPhone as a second screen. You also can’t customize iPad screen resolution to adjust text size. Sidecar won’t work on older devices or devices that can’t be updated (for instance, some employer-administered devices).

Duet Second-Screen App

The appeal: Works across different platforms

Price: $21 for iOS, $10 for Android/Chromebooks, free for Mac/Windows, pre-installed on select HP computers; $28 a year for premium features; at duetdisplay.com

Compatibility: For iOS, Android, Windows 10, Chromebooks and Mac devices

Pros: Duet is fully platform-agnostic. With a Mac or PC as the primary screen, you can use a variety of other devices, from an Android tablet to an old iMac, as a secondary or mirrored display. Touch-wise, there’s slightly more functionality than Apple’s Sidecar: You can click with a tap, and right-click with a tap-and-hold, or use your finger to pan in Google Street view or virtual real-estate tours. Duet also supports portrait orientation. People with new HP Envy and Spectre models get free access to Duet’s iOS and Android apps.

Cons: A subscription is required for wireless connections, Apple Pencil input, additional touch gestures and remote desktop access. Also, you can’t use the cameras of those connected devices for your video calls.

Coming Soon: Samsung’s Giant Windows-Compatible Tablet

Samsung recently announced new tablets, including a massive 14.6-inch Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, the biggest tablet on the market to use the high-contrast screen tech found mostly in premium smartphones. Galaxy Tab tablets, starting with last year’s S7 models, can be used as a wireless extended display for Windows 10 computers over a Wi-Fi connection. I haven’t had the chance to test the new Tab yet, but it looks like a promising portable Windows monitor—for around $1540.


Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: February 13, 2022.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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