Portable monitor primer: A guide to the best productivity power-up

Laptops could send video to external displays since their early days. The first ThinkPad-branded laptops introduced in 1992, for example, had ports to mirror VGA signals to bulky CRT monitors. Building on long-established research about the improved productivity of extending a workspace across multiple displays, though, the first external LCD monitors designed for portable use from brands such as AOC and ASUS launched about a decade ago. They could fit into the same bag as a laptop and included a kickstand or folding cover that propped them up. Arriving long before USB-C came on the scene, they used a technology called DisplayLink to receive power and video over a standard USB port.

Nowadays, Amazon lists hundreds of portable monitors that stretch from about 10.5 to 18.5 inches, with 17.3-inch models such as the SideTrak Solo topping out the touchscreen options. (Models smaller than 10 inches are often used for maker projects, security monitoring, or as a display for checking camera output while those above 18.5 inches get significantly thicker and are often used in industrial applications such as digital signage and kiosks). Portable monitors also vary by aspect ratio, touchscreen support, and resolution sizes (FHD, 2.5K and 4K); touch support and higher resolution create the biggest price differences as you step up. Several 15.6-inch FHD devices (a popular choice) can cost less than $100.

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