A secondary display can be the difference between an assignment that is a walk in the park or one that's a pain in the you-know-what. Office-bound employees can attach an external monitor with relative ease, but what about road warriors? For them, there's Field Monitor Pro ($289) a 15.4-inch external monitor that connects to notebooks via USB and features a foldable design. With its standard 1280 x 800-pixel resolution and optional numeric keypad, the Field Monitor Pro has undeniable appeal for its target audience. But is it appealing enough to justify the cost of a netbook?
At first glance, the Field Monitor Pro could be confused for a laptop with only a number pad. The clamshell design opens to reveal the 15.4-inch screen on top; the bottom is a flat surface with a number pad on the left. The two halves are connected by a swivel joint, so that the display can be folded down like a convertible notebook. On the back of the Field Monitor Pro is a collapsible, but sturdy metal stand that can prop the display up in either landscape or portrait mode.
All of this makes for a bulky design: The Field Monitor Pro measures 14 x 10.2 x 1.3 inches and weighs 4.2 pounds (5 pounds with the adapter), so it feels like you're carrying an extra laptop with you. By comparison, the $199 Toshiba Mobile LCD Monitor has a smaller 14-inch display and measures 13.4 x 9.4 x 0.6 inches and weighs just 2.8 pounds. Along with a leather case that doubles as a display stand, Toshiba's portable display is a much neater package than the Field Monitor Pro.
On the left side of the Field Monitor Pro is a USB A port (which is also used on printers) for connecting the display to a notebook. The right side houses a brightness rocker control along with two USB 2.0 ports for attaching other devices, including as many as five additional Field Monitor Pros. You'll also find wall-mount slots along the back as well as two Kensington lock slots.
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With the Field Monitor Pro open like a traditional laptop, we liked that there was enough space to the right of the keypad to use a portable optical mouse. However, the rubberized surface made moving the mouse a bit difficult. The numeric pad--which the company said is popular with accountants--offered mushy tactile feedback. A keypad-less version of the Field Monitor Pro called the Monitor2Go costs $279.
Resolution and Viewing Angles
The Field Monitor Pro has a 15.4-inch LED-backlit display with a resolution of 1280 x 800; the smaller 14-inch Toshiba Mobile LCD Monitor has a resolution of 1366 x 768. The Field Monitor allowed us to see four more rows in a Google Doc spreadsheet on the external monitor than on the 12.5-inch display of our ThinkPad X220 notebook. We could also see two more rows on the Field Monitor Pro than on the Toshiba monitor, which has a more narrow 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. Visibility faded at about 160 degrees but overall viewing angles were acceptable.
It can't get any easier: We simply connected the Field Monitor Pro to our Windows 7 notebook via the included USB cable, and the software installed automatically in less than a minute. With a MacBook, it took a little more doing: The Field Monitor Pro drivers did not auto-install, so we had to download the driver from the company's website, after which we were up and running. Still, this processor took less than a minute. The Field Monitor Pro also comes with an install disc that supports both Macs and PCs.
In Windows XP, an icon in the system tray provided options to control the display. The device's resolution is locked to 1280 x 800 pixels, but we could rotate the display image in any direction, or change the lineup of screens via the system tray controls (with our two desktop monitors, the Field Monitor Pro made for three displays). When attached to the Lenovo X220 (Windows 7 Professional), the Field Monitor Pro automatically extended the desktop, but we could also mirror our primary display by changing Graphics Properties. The experience was similar with our MacBook; we used the display controls in System Preferences.
Note that this peripheral requires power from an AC adapter. The Toshiba Mobile LCD Monitor can be powered via USB (albeit at a lower brightness than when on AC power). The power adapter for that monitor costs an additional $39.99.
The Field Monitor Pro requires 30MB of free storage and at least one USB 2.0 port. DisplayLink says the display works best with PCs that have dual-core, quad-core, and Intel Core processors and a Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 3 or higher, though it will work with Intel Atom-powered netbooks as well. We used the Field Monitor Pro with multiple laptops, including an Apple MacBook (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600), HP Pavilion dm3t (a low-voltage Core i3-330UM), and the Samsung N150+ netbook (Intel Atom N450). We also used the device with a ThinkPad Edge 11 (a low-voltage Core i3 U380) and the 12.5-inch ThinkPad X220 (Core i5-2520M).
The Field Monitor Pro offered bright, clear video playback. With the Toshiba Mobile LCD Monitor plugged in via AC power, the two displays were equally bright. However, we noticed more visual definition on the Field Monitor Pro; the Toshiba display lacked detail, and we noticed pixelation in one Windows 7 desktop image.
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To test the Field Monitor Pro further we dragged windows across each display, streamed 720p video trailers in YouTube, and edited a spreadsheet in Google Docs. The Field Monitor Pro worked well with both the Apple MacBook and ThinkPad X220. New browser windows dragged smoothly to the extended desktop space, and the 720p video trailer of the film Hanna looked sharp and well-toned without any hiccups or stuttering.
We did notice some latency when we paired this monitor with the ThinkPad Edge 11. That notebook's low-voltage Core i3 CPU seemed taxed by the demand of another display: both the native display and the Field Monitor Pro were slow to drag windows from one desktop to another. Plus, YouTube video playback was a stop-and-go affair, and our cursor movements lagged in Google Docs. When we tested the Field Monitor Pro with the HP d3mt, a 13.3-inch system with a more powerful Core i3 CPU, the sluggishness went away.
Most netbooks--including the Samsung N150+ (Intel Atom N450)--run Windows Starter 7, which only allows users to mirror the display, not extend it. That service might not help mobile workers who need more screen real estate for work, but it is practical for small presentations. Regardless, we noticed sluggish video in YouTube and stuttering in Google Docs.
For those looking to bring an extra display with them on the road, the Field Monitor Pro is a pretty good choice. There's no doubt that this secondary display is convenient, thanks to its clamshell design, easy set up, and numeric keypad. However, the Toshiba USB Mobile Monitor, a 14-inch display, has a more stylish and portable design, weighs just 2.8 pounds, and costs $199 ($238 with optional AC adapter). The $289 price tag and 5-pound weight of the Field Monitor Pro means only those who really want a mobile 15-inch display and number pad will want to tote this accessory around.