How to Choose a Second Monitor


Looking to be more productive? It’s no secret that adding a second screen to your workspace increases focus and overall ergonomic comfort. But what you might not know is that your multi-screen setup doesn’t have to be confined to your desktop. In today’s world, it’s become more essential than ever to be able to adapt to the ever-changing work landscape with flexible work setups you can take on the go. 

Enter the portable monitor. Your key to workspace agility. 

But with so many different types of portable monitors out there, you might be thinking: Which multi-monitor setup is right for me?  

There are a variety of different styles of portable monitors to help you accomplish anything, from anywhere. Not all portable monitors are created equal, so before deciding on a second screen, you’ll want to understand what qualities are most important to you and what that means for your laptop’s compatibility. Let’s dive into some of the main features to consider when deciding on a portable monitor. 

  

Display and Panel Type 

LCD vs. LED Monitors. What’s the Difference? 

The two most common screen displays are LED and LCD displays. Both types of displays use liquid crystals to help produce an image, but the difference is all in the backlights. You know how all Poodles are dogs but not all dogs are Poodles? Well, it’s basically the same thing here. All LED monitors are LCD monitors. But not all LCD monitors are LED.  

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitors and use fluorescent backlights in their screen displays and feature a layer of liquid between two sheets of polarized glass. The lighting behind the screen shines through the glass and illuminates the crystals. Despite also using a liquid crystal display, Light Emitting Diode (LED) monitors feature backlighting that’s produced by LEDs instead of fluorescent lighting. 

LED monitors have superior picture quality, with a lifespan of about 50,000 hours compared to an LCD screen’s average lifespan of 30,000 hours. LED monitors are also often thinner and lighter, which you’ll want to consider if you’re consistently taking your second screen on the go. The downside to LED monitors is that they are often more expensive than LCD monitors and have a higher risk of screen burn than LCD monitors do. So, if you go with an LCD portable monitor, be sure to have your screen time out when not in use. 

 

Contrast Ratio and High Dynamic Range (HDR) 

Looking for an exceptional screen viewing? You’ll want a portable monitor with HDR. But to understand what HDR is, we’ll first need to understand contrast and why it’s so important.  

Contrast is the ratio between the maximum and minimum brightness of your screen, or the difference between the darkest blacks and the whitest whites. With a higher contrast ratio, monitors are able to display richer colors with more visible detailing in shadows and highlights. Higher contrast ratios are particularly useful in cases where being able to detect small differences in color and brightness are essential, such as graphic design, watching movies, or gaming.  

High dynamic-range (HDR) content uses the latest color-range technology to simulate true-to-life colors.  That means improving contrast quality by producing deeper blacks, purer whites, and the array of grays in between. Because HDR expands the range of both contrast and color significantly, portable monitors with HDR are recommended for both professional visual and higher-quality gaming setups. 

 

Resolution and Screen Size 

When it comes to screen resolution, a bigger screen isn’t always better. 

Microsoft defines screen resolution as the clarity of text and images displayed on your screen, which is built from thousands, or even millions, of integrated color-changing pixels. The higher the screen resolution, the higher the pixel density, and thus, the sharper the image quality. And the larger your portable monitor, the higher the resolution it will typically support. Monitors with a 4K resolution  – also referred to as Ultra HD - have a horizontal resolution of approximately pixels. 4,096 to be exact. 

If you’re comparing to identically sized screens, the one with the higher resolution not only produces better image quality, but also shows more, minimizing your need to scroll down to view content. This also means that images and icons will often appear smaller on your screen. On the flip side, if you have two different sized screens with the same resolution, the higher pixel density of the smaller screen will produce a higher-quality image, so it’s important to note that while screen size is important, you want to ensure that it comes with a higher resolution display to match. 

The resolution you can use depends on the resolutions your monitor supports. LCD monitors and laptop screens often support higher resolutions and work best at a specific resolution. 
 

Aspect Ratio 

When referring to digital displays, aspect ratio is the relationship between a screen’s display’s width and height. Because screen sizes are typically measured in inches from one corner to the corner diagonally across from it, based on screen size, the most popular LCD aspect ratio is 16:9 - though 16:10 and 15:9 ratios are also commonly used.  

While a 16:9 aspect ratio is ideal for nearly all types of viewing, 21:9 aspect ratios or widescreen LCD displays provide a larger viewing area beneficial for watching movies, gaming, and displaying multiple windows side by side.  

 

Brightness 

In addition to the display features discussed above, having the appropriate brightness is essential to a superior screen viewing experience. Brightness, sometimes referred to as a “luminance rating” is the measurement of the amount of light a monitor produces. Most LCD monitors feature varying degrees of brightness to suit your viewing preferences.  

Brightness is measured in “nits” or candelas per square meter (cd/m2) and most monitors have a brightness range from 250 to 350 cd/m2 - though for extra detailed viewing for movies or gaming, a higher brightness at around 500 cd/m2 is often preferred.  

If you work in a well-lit room or in bright, natural lighting, you may want to consider taking advantage of brighter displays for easier viewing.  

 

Response Rate vs. Refresh Rate 

Though closely related, response rate and refresh rate refer to two different aspects of loading screen visuals. 

Refresh rate refers to the frequency that a display updates the onscreen image, or how many times per second the display is able to draw a new image. The time between these updates, or response time, is measured in milliseconds (ms), while the refresh rate of the display is measured in hertz (Hz).  

For example, if your portable monitor has a refresh rate of 144Hz, it is refreshing the image 144 times per second. 

Response rate refers to the time it takes for a pixel to change from one color to another. It directly impacts refresh rate in that a monitor can only really refresh its image based on how quickly the pixels can respond. A faster response rate is ideal, as slow loading times can result in motion blur or a trailing “ghost image” behind the newly displaying image. The slower the pixels take to respond, the longer the trail and the less clear your image, especially when viewing videos or gaming. 

Portable monitors are available at many different refresh rates, ranging from standard 60Hz monitors with to higher end 240Hz refresh rates. Unless you’re using your second screen for gaming, 144Hz refresh rates are usually preferred. 

 

Touchscreen vs. Non-Touchscreen Displays 

In the past decade, touchscreen monitors have grown in both popularity and quality. When choosing a portable monitor, consider these touchscreen pros and cons: 

  

Pros 

  • Streamlined navigation 
  • Compared to trackpads and mouse devices, users can perform tasks more manageably, and it’s simpler to launch and shift between applications. 
  • Higher quality displays 
  • In order to respond faster to, well, touch, touchscreen displays are glossier than standard matte displays, producing more bright and vibrant colors, often at higher resolutions. 
  • Ideal for drawing and graphic design 
  • Because of their compatibility with stylists, touchscreen monitors are more apt for sketching and notetaking than their non-touchscreen counterparts. 

 

  Cons 

  • Quicker battery drains 
  • Because they process independently from your computer, touchscreens put extra strain on your PC or laptop’s battery life, meaning you’ll find yourself reaching for that computer charger more often. 
  • Heavier design 
  • Though it often only comes down to a few grams of weight difference, if you’re looking for the lightest portable monitor on the market, chances are, you won’t want a touchscreen model. 
  • More difficult to view in direct sunlight  
  • Because of the glossy display and tendency to smudge faster from increased direct contact with fingertips, touchscreen monitor displays can be difficult to view under direct lighting, and are better used in indoor, or dimmer light settings. 

   

Attachable Portable Monitors vs. Freestanding Portable Monitors  

Attachable Monitors 

If you’re like a lot of the world right now, working a hybrid schedule both at home and at the office, you know that your workspace can look very different day-to-day. Which means you need a portable monitor that can move where you do. 

When constantly on-the-go, it can be beneficial to have your second screens stay attached to your laptop, without the need for support from a table or worksurface. Portable monitors that securely attach to the back of your laptop often do so with device-safe metal plates, eliminating the need for working off a full-size desktop.  

That means you can work anywhere without sacrificing productivity by cutting your monitors in half - from the comfort of your couch to those tiny little airplane tray tables.  

  

Freestanding Monitors 

Looking for unparalleled screen viewing with the flexibility of a freestanding monitor? Well look no further. In today’s work environment location flexibility is key to working in a hybrid or work-from-home schedule.  

Freestanding portable monitors like the Solo HD have their own kickstand support, so there’s no need to modify your laptop with mounting plates to attach the monitor. This makes freestanding portable monitors ideal if you work off multiple computers and don’t want to commit your second screen to just one laptop or PC.  

 

Setting Up Your Second Screen 

Whether you choose an attachable portable monitor or freestanding second screen, check out our tips and tricks for simplifying your dual monitor setup and how to make the most of your added screen displays. 

 

Recommended Third-Party Tools 

Ok so now you’ve decided on a portable monitor, now what? Studies show that using a second screen can increase task efficiency, but only when set up correctly. Remember, having another screen is supposed to make your life easier, so it’s important to know how to maximize their potential before you buy.  

While there are likely plenty of built-in features in your computer’s operating system to support multiple monitors, third-party software may provide functionality for tasks like creating shortcuts for swapping displays or arranging windows. Check out our recommended apps for working from home to get the most out of your work setup. 

  

Is a Third Screen Right for Me? 

You’ve got the second monitor, but why stop there 

Most desktop and laptop computers are able to support connections with more than one additional screen, but before reaching for that extra monitor, there are a few important factors you should consider for your perfect triple screen setup. 

If you already have a second screen attached to your laptop or PC, you’ll want to make sure you still have enough input ports that correspond with your computer’s output ports.  

If you’ve run out of ports, you’ll need to use a conversion cable, such as DVI-to-HDMI or DisplayPort-to-DVI, or utilize a computer port adapter.  

Once you’ve connected your portable monitors, you’ll need to confirm that all the monitors are detected by your computer. Here are a few tips and tricks I recommend for making the most out of your multiple monitor setup.  

Setting Your Display Preferences 

When connecting a second or third screen to your computer, be sure to check out your display settings to manually adjust the configurations of your monitors and line up each screen's borders for seamless viewing. Whether you’re using your portable monitor with a laptop or desktop, take advantage of these handy display configurations: 

  1. Mirror / Duplicate Display 
  • Function: Projects identical displays on both your computer and second screen 
  • Best Used For: Presenting your second screen with others while still being able to work directly on your computer 
  1. Extend Display 
  • Function: Serves as an extension of your computer monitor as extra screen space 
  • Best Used For: Both work and home office computer setups where you want to utilize multiple open windows at once 

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