Remember the 90’s? Computers were on a permabulking diet: massive CRT screens, ugly steaming desktops, a blocky keyboard and a hardly-responsive mouse. Some might have guessed that these things would progressively get bigger in size, but alas, here we are – it’s 2020, and the manufacturer with the most compact device wins.
Given today’s mobile lifestyle, neither the hobbyist nor the professionals can afford to have a hefty workstation, which is why many opt for nothing but a tablet. Obviously, these things are restrictive, so a laptop is probably your best bet. Except… In order to fit inside most bags, laptops have to make certain sacrifices in size, which also ends up drastically reducing your work desk, including the screen estate.
If you don’t like that idea, then welcome to our today’s guide on best portable monitors in 2021.
If you’re not familiar with this category of tech, try to imagine one external display and one simple cable which can transform your laptop into a dual-screen monstrosity that will make multitasking a breeze, regardless if you want to dual monitor some online poker games or just have your fav excel sheets on both screens. .
The portable monitor of your choice would fit nicely along with the laptop and will hardly add much to the travel weight. But, there’s just one problem: there’s enough of these things on the market to form a slideshow the length of the Great Wall of China, and one can get confused with all the options, but no worries, we’re here to help you out.
TL:DR best portable monitors for 2020:
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What you should be looking for when buying a portable monitor in 2020?
Choosing a portable monitor is no different than picking a regular or built-in one. There are numerous parameters that determine its image quality, motion reproduction and behavior in different environments. Some of the most important are:
1.) Which display type are you looking for? These days, it’s a battle between TN and IPS displays. TN (twisted nematic) displays are the most common – if you have an older LCD display in your home or office and you can’t view it properly from certain angles (it shifts colors), chances are it’s TN. Despite the impressive reproduction of modern models, TN displays are generally considered inferior to IPS (in-plane switching) ones. The latter tend to have better image quality on average, including more accurate coloring due to a higher contrast and improved angle viewing.
We say average because IPS displays aren’t the end-all-be-all, and the technology is actually some decades old. A lower-end IPS monitor will undoubtedly perform better than a TN one, which is something to keep in mind. IPS also sacrifices motion reproduction due to a lower response time, but this isn’t really going to be an issue for you (more on that in a bit). So, if possible, your portable display should carry the IPS tag, and you can expect a significant improvement in overall image quality from it.
2.) The refresh rate is important: For desktop monitors, 120Hz and 240Hz have replaced the standard 60Hz variety with most power users and gamers, and there’s no question that they produce less blur on moving objects. With portable monitors, it’s a bit different – there are just a few portable displays that go above 60Hz yet, although there are some that go below in certain modes.
Depending on the type of cable the monitor will be using, you need to check that the monitor’s refresh rate is 60Hz across the board. If it only goes up to 30Hz when displaying 1080i, for example, you could be facing a significant loss of image quality when streaming HD content. So in this case a 60Hz protable monitor would be the way to go.
3.) Contrast and brightness play a huge role also: Because every manufacturer uses their own contrast measurement, this value can be difficult to assess without actually having the portable monitor in front of you. What counts as 5000:1 for one manufacturer could look exactly the same as 5,000,000:0 for another. However, you can compare the contrast numbers of different models from the same manufacturer to give you an idea of which display from the same brand has the best colors.
With brightness, it’s a bit more straightforward: you want to look at a value called nits. The more the better, even if you don’t like particularly bright displays – in general, you should go for a minimum of 200 nits on your portable display while keeping in mind that this is still a fairly low number. Anything under that, and you’ll spend most of your time on the move playing Dungeon Keeper.
4.) Glossy vs matte, which is better? Possibly one of the most important things to look out for in a portable monitor, whether your screen is glossy or matte can make or break its utility. Simply put, a glossy display will reflect light from its environment while a matte one will absorb it. This means that glossy displays can do very little when used in a sun-lit room, airplane or, even worse, outdoors.
Because you’re likely to use your USB monitor in a wide variety of locations, choosing a matte one is the only way to ensure you’ll actually get to do work on a sunny day. We’d only advise you to go for a glossy display if you’re absolutely sure that you’ll only use it in artificially-lit areas, but even then, a matte surface will perform just as well while leaving you with more options.
5.) USB Type C is slowly pumping up the game, but other cable types are still there: Finally, we come to the way you’ll connect the portable monitor to your laptop. Portable displays are grouped into three categories: HDMI, USB and USB-C.
HDMI connectivity is the standard with desktop monitors, and many portable displays turn to it because it’s able to deliver high-definition imagery without a hitch. There’s just one problem – you need to have a separate USB cable to provide power to the display.
Since portable monitors don’t have batteries or adapters, they receive power from the laptop itself. And since HDMI can’t transmit power along with data, you’re forced to also plug in a Type-A USB cable. What this means is that you’ll have to carry two cables and use them whenever you want to use your portable display.
USB portable monitors promise to fix this, but the end result is rarely optimal. Using a high-end portable monitor with a single Type-A cable will likely impair performance and force you to switch to a Y cable. Not as clunky as two separate cables, but still a nuisance, and having to buy a separate cable isn’t exactly ideal.
Because USB Type-C can send data and provide power to the monitor much more effectively, it’s the best option between the three. However, since USB-C is so new, many laptops and devices come without a USB-C port, which will render your USB-C portable display useless.
A final point to make is that the port used for USB portable monitors needs to be 3.0 or higher to avoid a reduction in quality. If you’re forced to pair your USB portable monitor with a 2.0 USB port, expect a significant reduction in image quality and performance.
Now, since we explained everything regarding the technology being used in them, let’s go and check out the best portable monitors of 2020.
Best USB-C portable monitors of 2020 for your Mac or Windows laptop
Before we begin, keep in mind that manufacturers in this category are big fans of names which do not make that much sense to a consumer, but the engineer behind it probably knew what he was doing. So,to start of, let us first cover the MB16AP from Asus and after that with the I1601FWUX from AOC (see, I told you).
Our first USB C Portable Monitor recommendation: ASUS Zenscreen Go MB16AP 15.6
Asus isn’t new on the portable monitor market, they have been dominating it for quite some years now, especially with their previous MB line of USB C and A monitors which was included in our last years pick.
Now, in 2020, they have a new model on the market, the Asus Zenscreen Go MB16AP, which is further improving the features of the previous ones.
One of the main features of the device is the USB type C connectivity paired with a FHD IPS panel that has a brightness of 250 nits and a 1000:1 static contrast ration, packed in to a stylish aluminum design. Quite similar to the last years model, isn’t it? Yes, but with just one main difference; Asus also included a built-in 7800-mAh lithium-ion battery pack, which can reverse charge your laptop or Android device and can also serve as an external monitor for your Android phone or iPad Pro, where the battery would last up to four hours. Now isn’t that a game changer.
Although the price is a bit higher then expected (for current pricing check out their listing under this link), you do get a lot of extras within the box. Not only does the device feature basics like the quick start guide, USB C cable, USB C to A converter and the power adapter, you’ll also get a Zenscreen Pen and the Asus Smart Case. Quite a deal if you’re asking us.
Our second USB C Portable Monitor recommendation: AOC i1601fwux 16″ IPS
AOC wasn’t gonna let ASUS parade their high-tech gizmo around without an USB-C portable monitor of their own. The I1601FWUX is that answer: like his Asus competitor, it’s a USB-C portable monitor with a native resolution of 1920×1080, but it’s a bit brighter and 0,4 inches larger.
The I1601FWUX comes with dark and grayscale color reproduction that leaves something to be desired, especially when viewed at angles – even the IPS panel does little to offshoot this. Other colors are better, but not in games, as the I1601FWUX’s 5ms response time gives way to quite a bit of motion blur.
Being a bit cheaper than its rival (check the current price here), the I1601FWUX can work well as a budget option that offers slick design and reasonable features. Just don’t place it on the magnetic stand while offroading.
The best affordable and cheap USB 3.0 portable monitors
Ok, we get it, USB-C is not everyone’s game, so this is why we created a list of USB 3.0 portable monitors which are still worth the buck, and they are also quite useful if you’re low on desk space and just need something to make your older laptop a bit more useful until you update it.
ASUS MB169C+ 15.6″ IPS as the first choice
The sequel to “the world’s slimmest portable monitor”, the MB169C+ is one of the first monitors with a USB 3.0 port. A single cable without struggles to transfer data or power is a definitive plus. Whereas many USB 3.0 portable displays are confined to a 1366×768 resolution, the MB169C+ offers full support for 1920×1080 on a clear, 15.6″ IPS display.
The superior viewing angles that come from the IPS panel mean you can position the monitor virtually anywhere and still enjoy crystal-clear imagery. It’s compatible with all “DP Alternate Mode” or “DisplayPort over USB 3.0” devices, without the need for additional drivers or programs. It needs just one USB cable for both its video signal and power.
The laptop’s powerful screen is also its downside, however, as it will rapidly drain the battery from whichever device it’s connected to. Along with less-than-ideal brightness numbers, there isn’t really a lot to complain about this model, as it has quickly become one of the portable standard-bearers. Click here for the current price on the official Asus Amazon store.
The AOC e1659Fwu 16-Inch Ultra Slim as the budget option
It’s not uncommon for portable monitors to cost as much as a decent laptop. So what do you do if you aren’t willing to spend as much but still need dual screens on the go? You go over to AOC and ask them for their opinion.
The AOC’s e1659Fwu is among the best budget options on the market, so much so that it can seem as if it makes heavy sacrifices in quality. Not the case, though – the 16″ display, although in its TN version, produces impressive image quality, helped by a brightness of 200 nits and an 8ms response time that rival much more expensive laptops. Plus, it’s as slick and portable as any other high-end model (we’d hope so, given its “Ultra Slim” moniker.
On the downside, the 1366 x 768 resolution and the TN panel are not exactly market-leading and the absence of a HDMI port means you’ll probably have to use a Y cable for decent performance. Still, you can’t beat the quality versus the below $100 price. Click here for the current price on the official AOC Amazon store.
Are you in to gaming? There’s finally a 120Hz portable gaming monitor available
If you’re searching for a 120Hz portable gaming monitor, then the G-STORY 17.3 Inch HDR 120Hz 1ms FHD 1080P is your best bet.
Most of the review and best buy sites are claiming that this is an IPS monitor, but don’t be fooled, it’s just a really good VA panel that offers best of both worlds, the speed of a TN panel and the viewing angels of an IPS panel.
With that said, you’ll enjoy a 120Hz 1ms experience on a 17,3″ 1080p monitor that supports AMD’s FreeSync and features one HDMI port for your consoles or the PC, one USB Type A port for your controller or keyboard and one USB Type C port for your phone, iPad or laptop.
So, basically, with this setup you could connect up to three different devices on to one, fast monitor. Sounds interesting? Check out further details and the pricing over on their official Amazon store under this link.
Where is the market of portable monitors heading?
With the ever-increasing surface requirements both professionally and in our free time, it’s safe to say that portable displays are just getting started. Over the coming years, we expect to see a couple of trends take roots in the market, starting with the screen type.
We’re quickly reaching a point where TN displays are looking outdated even though they were the standard just a few years ago, not to mention that they themselves pushed out the clunky CRT monitors. It doesn’t matter that some TN screens are considerably better than their IPS rivals – the users want IPS, and they want it now. Fortunately, IPS really is a better option between the two, and it’s bound to keep improving.
Another major drawback of current portable monitors is their refresh rate and response times. While 144Hz displays are becoming common for the desktop power user, the complete absence of anything above 120Hz for portable monitors shows that the market still has some ways to go. Paired with this is the abysmal response time that even some top-of-the-line models have – 25ms is way too much lag for a monitor in 2020, especially one that calls itself modern.
Since gaming is quickly moving out of a niche and becoming a common hobby, we’ll undoubtedly see portable gaming monitors with 144Hz or even 240Hz in the coming years, along with an elimination of double-digit response times.
A final point to make is the touchscreen option – currently, portable touchscreen monitors are prohibitively expensive for many would-be users, which is a shame considering they are actually useful compared to their desktop cousins. While there’s no timeline to put on it, touchscreen should slowly become the norm with portable displays as there are very few users that won’t benefit from it.