There's nothing like a big screen monitor to help you get into the image or video editing zone. But what if you need more screen real estate when you're on the go? That's where the best portable monitors come in. These clever displays are a similar size and thickness to a typical laptop screen, so they can slide into a laptop backpack with no trouble. They also tend to feature a tablet-style cover that folds into a prop stand, so the display can sit alongside your laptop screen at a similar angle.
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But what makes a portable monitor really special is it doesn't need to be plugged into an AC wall outlet. Thanks to the incredible power efficiency of modern LCD panels, a portable monitor can be powered from your laptop via a single USB-C connection, and this also carries the display data, so there are no other wires to clutter your work area. What's more, if you don't fancy putting extra demand on your laptop's battery, some portable monitors even pack their own built-in rechargeable battery that can power the display for around 3-4 hours. A self-powered portable monitor is also ideal if you want to extend the screen space of your camera phone.
Portable monitors range in size from around 14 inches up to 17 inches, though most have a maximum Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution, so going for a bigger screen won't necessarily get you more screen space for image editing pallets and toolbars. The majority of portable monitors also use IPS screen technology to give you the best possible color and contrast accuracy, as well as consistent image quality regardless of your viewing angle. All the monitors on this list are IPS displays, so whichever screen takes your fancy, you can be assured of a satisfying viewing experience.
So whether you're working from home or image editing on the go, don't be confined to the display area of your laptop, tablet or phone screen - add a portable monitor and see the bigger picture while still maintaining total portability.
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The best portable monitors in 2021
Asus produces several versions of its sleek ZenScreen portable monitor, with the 15.6-inch variants being the most common in the range, and some are almost identical. A the time of writing, the catchily named ZenScreen MB16ACE just edges out its similar stablemates in terms of bang per buck. You get solid screen specs: Full HD 1920 x 1080 res, IPS colour and contrast accuracy, and a decent - though not spectacular - 250 cd/m2 brightness. Slim screen bezels keep the overall size small at 359.7 x 226.4, and just 8mm thick. Asus also includes a useful wraparound smart case cover that converts to a prop stand, and as you'd expect for a portable monitor, you tap into your laptop's battery via a single USB-C connection to power the ZenScreen. If you'd prefer to keep your laptop juiced up for as long as possible, then go for the ZenScreen MB16AP variant which packs a built-in 7800mAh rechargeable battery giving up to 4 hours of screen time.
AOC is renowned for producing well-specced monitors at bargain prices, and it's latest portable offering is no exception. Despite the low price tag, its 15.6-inch display still boasts a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, and it uses IPS display tech, so you can expect consistent color and contrast, along with wide viewing angles. Although it's worth noting AOC quotes the latter as 160/160 degrees horizontal/vertical, rather than the usual, wider 178/178 degrees usually associated with an IPS screen. A USB-C connection provides a simultaneous video and power feed to the monitor; the almost identical AOC I1659FWUX model uses an older USB 3.0 socket, and it's heavier at 1.2kg as well as being bulkier, so the 820g I1601FWUX is definitely the model to go for unless you just don't have a USB-C port. Downsides? a 220 cd/m2 peak brightness is fairly weak if you're viewing under direct sunlight. The gloss black casing and slightly large screen bezels don't exactly scream quality, but you can't have everything at this price point.
ViewSonic is a new name to the portable monitor game, but its experience with conventional computer monitors certainly shows in its first portable offering. The 15.6-inch TD1655 is only 15mm thick and weighs in at a mere 800g, but still gives you premium IPS display tech that promises wide viewing angles and consistent contrast. The 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution may not be 4K, but at this screen size it's easily enough for crisp image quality. An 800:1 contrast ratio is also impressive, and the 250 cd/m2 brightness should be punchy enough for this monitor to work well in sunny spaces. The TD1655 can be conveniently powered straight from your laptop via a USB 3.2 Type-C connection, or even a mobile power bank, so you can use the screen alongside your phone without having to find a mains outlet. The Viewsonic VG1655 is a sister model for those who can live without the touchscreen functionality.
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Who says portable monitors have to be small? Asus' ROG Strix is built primarily for gaming on the go, with its larger than average 17.3-inch screen size designed to give a more immersive gaming experience. This also makes it less restrictive and easier to view when image or video editing. However, don't go thinking this will give you a larger preview area relative to toolbars and pallets alongside - the display resolution is still Full HD 1920 x 1080, so compared to a 15.6-inch portable monitor with the same resolution, the ROG Strix simply displays everything a little bit bigger.
But raw size isn't the only feature here. The 240Hz refresh rate is designed for super-smooth video playback and gaming, and the IPS panel boasts a seriously impressive 1,000:1 contrast ratio, along with 100% sRGB color space coverage and factory color calibration - there's even stereo speakers up front as well. Positioning options are also well catered for, with a small tabletop tripod thrown in, along with a Smart Cover that doubles as a prop stand.
What's more, this display is especially unusual in the portable monitor market as it conceals a 7800mAh battery, giving it 3.5 hours of mobile power at the fastest 240Hz refresh rate. That's great news if you don't want to suck your laptop or phone's battery life to power your portable monitor.
The problem with most portable monitors is you'll usually need a desk space large enough to stand your monitor alongside your laptop or smart device. The beauty of the innovative SideTrak monitor is it attaches to the back of your laptop's screen and hinges out to sit alongside, giving you dual screens without the need for extra desk space - you can even use your laptop as the name intends - on your lap - with the SideTrak securely supported by your laptop. The display's bracket attaches to a wide variety of laptops via special metal plates that have been designed not to cause any damage to your device, and the sliding support bracket ensures the SideTrak can be positioned just where you want it, regardless of your laptop's screen size.
At 12.5 inches, screen real estate isn't exactly spacious, but the 1920 x 1080 resolution does make it extremely sharp, and it uses IPS screen tech that should give reliable colour and contrast - great for photo viewing and editing. a 300 cd/m2 brightness is also respectable, as is the frugal 4.5w power consumption. What's more, despite requiring the extra hardware bracket to attach to your monitor, weight is still impressively low at 748g.
This isn't a screen designed for gaming though, as the 30ms response time is positively sluggish, and the 600:1 contrast ratio is nothing special. You can also find larger, better-specced portable monitors for less money, but if you want to extend your laptop's screen in the most convenient way possible, the SideTrak could well be worth the extra outlay.
At 14 inches, HP's sole portable monitor offering is slightly smaller than most of its rivals. This makes it ideal if portability is paramount for you, especially as the screen is also a wafer-thin 9mm. Thankfully the smaller screen size doesn't mean you get a lower screen resolution - this is still a Full HD 1920 x 1080 panel, translating to super-crisp image quality due to the relatively small display area. This is also a premium IPS screen, so expect accurate colour and contrast, along with wide viewing angles. The only weak link is screen brightness, which at 200 cd/m2 is a little dimmer than average. The panel's efficient 5w typical power consumption means it can be powered direct from your laptop via USB-C. Factor the convenient wrap-around case that folds into an easel stand for tabletop use and the EliteDisplay S14 shapes up as an ultra-portable portable monitor.
This 13.5x7.6 inch IPS screen offers USB-C inputs on both sides, plus HDMI and headphone sockets of the left. It comes with a functional, magnetic cover which doubles as a prop stand. The max brightness at 300cd/msq is impressive, and you get lots of control over the settings, although the plasticky interface is a bit fiddly to use. The twin speakers work well enough - but in our tests they were not as good as those on our Apple Macbook.
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