Hardware Review: 15.6″ USB-C Portable Monitor. My Phone Just Became a Media Server!

Hardware Review: 15.6" USB-C Portable Monitor. My Phone Just Became a Media Server!

Have you noticed how many messenger apps there are in the wild right now? Every month there seems to be something new that people want to use to communicate with. As of now on my desktop, I have skype, whatsapp, telegram, and discord open. I rarely have signal open (I love the idea of it, but just not enough users at the moment to justify the real estate) and facebook messenger is just terrible, and I refuse to use it. From time to time I also need to have Slack open as well as restream.io (I’m a streamer and the overlay is great for monitoring your live chat on twitch). My point is that screen real estate is valuable. Prevor day to day use, I use Microsoft Power Toys and ran the following set up.

Previous 4 Panel Layout on the Main Screen
Previous 4 Panel Layout on the Main Screen

I’m running a single 28″ 4k display, so for normal day to day work, browsing, writing, coding, this worked well. Where I started to get irritations was whilst I was needing to use full screen applications. I game a lot and obviously want the game window maximised. I’m also a keen photographer (https://www.instagram.com/baldfox1) and trying to learn videography. You can appreciate that Adobe applications don’t like to share valuable screen space with others. I had been looking for a solution for a while when I came across these portable monitors on Aliexpress. After a few days of reading up and researching I decided to order one and give it a go. It arrived yesterday and I wanted to review it.

I ordered it here (affiliate link, won’t cost you anything, but supports the blog): https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_AnghHq

Total cost was around £90.00 delivered.

Options:

The portable monitors on Aliexpress, all seem to be pretty similar. They all seem to fall under the same variations and have the following options:

USB-C or HDMI?

I opted for USB-C. The reason this was important to me is because I have a One Plus 7 Pro that outputs video over USB-C, therefore I can take just this portable monitor and plug it into my smartphone and play videos directly on the screen. All I need is one USB-C to USB-C cable (more on this later).

1080p or 4k?

I opted for 1080p. I’ll admit, I’m missing the resolution (extra screen real estate) that 4k offers me, but in a 15.6″ widescreen monitor, I’m not sure how readable the text would be, and the 4k options online were significantly more expensive.

Touchscreen or No Touch?

Again, keeping the price down, I opted for the no touch variant. In hindsight, this might have been an oversight. In my head this was always going to be used as a screen for the communication apps and so I didn’t think a touchscreen option would be useful, however, looking back now, I’m thinking maybe I should have opted for the touchscreen as it could have been useful as a home-assistant screen. The difference in price between touch and no touch wasn’t that large, so if I was ordering again, I would go that route.

 

Specifications (from the page on Ali):

Screen size: 15.6 inch
Panel type: IPS
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 IPS
Response time: 2ms
Brightness:300cd / m
Contrast: 800:1
Widescreen: yes
Colour: Black
Condition: A + rating
Backlight: LED backlight
Voltage input: USB 5V
Current input: 2~3A
Speaker: Built-in two 1.5W cavity speakers.
Multi-interface: HDMI input / USB C input /USB C Power interface/ headphone jack/ Micro USB interface for more connection
Screen ratio: 16:9
Viewing angle: 85°
Frequency: 60HZ

15.6" Panel + Cover
15.6″ Panel + Cover

Contents:

So to clarify, I ordered a USB-C, 1080p No-touch panel. It arrived in a very well packed box, sturdy enough, with a decent thick film protecting the screen. Inside the box it contained a quickstart guide and a wealth of cables:

USB-C to USB-C

Micro-USB to USB extension x 2

HDMI to Mini HDMI

USB-C to USB 2.0 (presumably for powering from a charger).

The panel itself came wrapped in plenty of bubblewrap, complete with a thick vinyl case (similar in style to what you’d find on an ipad). The case is certainly protective enough, but getting it to stand initially took some trial and error.

Contents of the box
Contents of the box
Inputs
Inputs

 

Connections: Desktop

Here on the side you can see what connections you have at your disposal

My RTX 2080 has USB-C out. I plugged the cable straight from the GPU to the Screen and it burst into life. Out of the box, the brightness and contrast was pretty low both set at ’50’. I turned the brightness to 100 and the contrast to 85. This instantly looked better to me. The screen has a matte finish and handles reflections very well. Not sure how well it would do in direct sunlight, but for my purposes, it works very well. I fired up Power Toys and immediately set about creating a zone layout for it. Within a minute I was done.

New 4 Panel Layout on the Monitor
New 4 Panel Layout on the Monitor

My most active chat windows sitting nicely on the second screen on my desk, visible at all times. The screen goes to sleep when my main monitor does, so there are no issues there (in the settings on the panel you can play with the timing). I also set the panel up to be directly below my main monitor in windows, which allows me to drag and drop windows much easier given it’s relative position on my desk.

Windows Setup
Windows Setup
Desktop Connection USB-C to USB-C
Desktop Connection USB-C to USB-C

Connections: Smartphone

Next I tested the panel with my OnePlus 7 Pro. Using USB-C to USB-C initially the panel refused to show up. I was unable to find any option in the Android OS to make a “second display” appear. A quick google search and soon enough I came across a video suggesting I needed to turn some features on in the developer settings. I did that, and plugged the phone back in and suddenly it sprang into life.

One Plus 7 Pro Advanced Settings
One Plus 7 Pro Advanced Settings

Not only was the screen showing a mirror of my phone (rotating in portrait and landscape mode as I rotated the phone) but it would also show video in full screen. This was one of the main reasons I wanted the USB-C option. Given phones are large enough to store films on now (256GB), when travelling (hopefully in the not to distant future) I’ll be able to potentially just take my “loaded” phone with me and watch on a nicer sized screen. I’m sure it won’t be long before Google comes out with some kind of Android desktop mode, and that could add to the usefulness further. The speakers on the panel are decent and more than loud enough to watch a film. Note I didn’t try this with an iphone, but I believe the later versions can output video over their respective ports so I’d imagine this would work also (although with the respective cable/dongle). I am not sure how long the battery in my phone would last powering such a screen, or if there’s a way to power the phone + screen combo with the power bank for added longevitiy. I will need to do some more homework.

One Plus 7 Pro Portrait
One Plus 7 Pro Portrait
One Plus 7 Pro Landscape (Plex)
One Plus 7 Pro Landscape (Plex)

Connections: Laptop

Finally I tested the panel with the laptop. I’m running a Lenovo X1 carbon (6th Gen) with HDMI out. HDMI to mini HDMI and within a few seconds I could hear that familiar windows bong noise that it had recognised the peripheral. The screen came up with the correct resolution ready to go. It must be said that the quality of the screen was nowhere near as nice as that on my laptop, but given the difference in price and the screen option I went for with the lappy, it’s not surprising. That said, this is still a nice addition to my 14″ screen and I could happily leave the chat windows on it, or have it watching a film or monitoring something at the same time as using the latop for “regular” work/play. Whilst using the HDMI option, you need to power the screen additionally. The screen has no battery, but I was easily able to run the screen on an Anker portable power brick (a requirement if using it with just HDMI which doesn’t carry power). I also tried the one cable solution (USB-C to USB-C) and that worked perfectly well too.

USB-C to UISB-C
USB-C to USB-C

 

HDMI and USB charging
HDMI and USB charging

 

HDMI and Power Bank Adaptor
HDMI and Power Bank Adaptor

 

Summary

Pro’s:

  • Decent Quality 16:9 non-reflective screen, with good viewing angles.
  • Decent Price (as per the spec. I ordered).
  • Good connectability.
  • Portable with a variety of use cases.
  • All cables and a case included.
  • Simple but decent design, branding on the panel is small and inoffensive.
  • Decent speakers.
  • Has a VESA mount

 

Con’s:

  • Heavier than I thought it would be, but still feels lighter than my Ipad 12.9″
  • The case is protective, but the stand isn’t ideal. It works, but can be a bit fiddly.
  • Menu system isn’t the best and the brightness defaults back to ’50’ everytime you swap inputs which is annoying.
  • No battery backup.
  • Delivery took about 5 weeks (could have just been due to covid/christmas etc).

 

Instruction Manual
Instruction Manual

Final thoughts:

I’m really pleased with this little purchase. It’s perfect for the use case that I mainly wanted it for i.e. an additional window on my desk for messaging apps. The fact that I can just take the panel with me and play media from my phone is also a plus. I like the wideangled nature of it, and it’s good for watching films etc. For the price paid, I think it’s offering great value for money. Time will tell if it develops a fault or not, but for now I would buy again. I would, however, probably pick up the touchscreen variant for me to be able to use it as a home-assistant panel as well. I’m also wondering if these would be good to convert to stream decks. I missed a trick there and am kicking myself a bit, although I don’t know how well the touch would perform or not. There’s a good chance that this will be added to my monitor stand in the future due to the VESA mount on the back. Obviously that means I’ll lose the portability, but it will fit in with the rest of my set up better. Apologies for the crap quality of the pictures, they really don’t do it justice.

 

If your interested in sharing your own solutions, tips and tricks with like minded people perhaps you’d consider joining our facebook group. The aim of this group will hopefully be more show and tell rather than support, but that’s not to say we can’t lend a helping hand!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/386238285944105

 

The Smarthome Book
The Smarthome Book

 

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