10 Reasons to Avoid a New Portable Monitor Today

portable monitor

10 Reasons to Avoid a New Portable Monitor Today

Key Points

  • There are several reasons to avoid portable monitors, including their high cost, limited connectivity options, poor functionality, and low resolution.
  • Portable monitors also tend to have issues with lag, color quality, durability, and brightness.
  • Despite these drawbacks, there are still some situations where a portable monitor can be useful, such as for increasing productivity while working on the go or for enhancing gaming setups.

A portable monitor can come to the rescue if you need more screen space on the go. Given the rise in remote work, many people are ditching the office while staying productive. As a result, people are becoming far more creative with their workstations, opting for practicality and style that can travel with them during the week.

A portable monitor may seem like the no-brainer solution to this new-age problem, but you’ll quickly find that these screens can cause more annoyance than they are worth. As someone who loves to work on the road, I’ve seen and tested my fair share of portable monitors. The low-down is that there are good ones and bad ones. But there are a lot more factors to keep in mind when choosing a portable monitor compared to a standard desktop monitor.

Today’s article will dive into all the reasons you might want to stay away from a portable monitor. If you’re set on using one, we won’t leave you hanging. At the end of the article, we recommend a few portable monitors that avoid most of the pitfalls and provide a reliable experience. Let’s dive in!

Some Background on Portable Monitors

Computing has transformed in many unforeseen ways over the past several decades. Namely, we’ve witnessed tech get physically smaller. Thin, sleek devices have overtaken large, bulky setups that used to grace homes and offices years ago.

Save for a few high-tech gaming setups, you don’t see many bulky tower desktop computers these days. Instead, many people like to connect an external monitor directly to their laptops and skip the desktop altogether. It’s a great solution when you want to bring your laptop back and forth to work. You can just connect your laptop to your monitors at work, and then connect it to your monitor when you get back home.

But what about that gray area between home and the office? What about when you need to stay productive somewhere else, but can’t quite feel at home without those extra monitors? That’s where the portable monitor comes in.

portable monitor
Portable monitors can be a great solution when you need more screen real estate on the go, but they come with their share of disadvantages.

Portable monitors have existed nearly as long as the first laptop computer. However, they were less of a perceived necessity then, as laptops were notably less portable when they were first conceived. Now, laptops are smaller — people must compensate for the lack of screen real estate they’re missing from a two-screen desk setup at work.

Portable monitors are typically USB-C compatible, making it easy to plug them into your laptop and instantly gain an extra screen. Many of them are the same size and weight as a laptop, too. So, you can easily add screen real estate if you’re working while traveling.

Reasons to Avoid a Portable Monitor

It’s tempting to opt for the convenience that portable monitors claim to provide. Sure, there definitely are a few reasons to buy a portable monitor. However, you could find that there are better options out there, especially when you consider the reasons that we’re about to get into.

Reason #1: The Cost

One of the biggest issues people have with portable monitors is their cost. You should expect to put in a few hundred dollars on top of your initial computer purchase. Laptops cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, making another three or four hundred a considerable effort added to the investment you’ve already made.

Something with the price tag of a portable monitor should provide exceptional quality. Unfortunately, most of the portable monitors on the market are just “average” compared to what brands are asking for them.

But the reality is this is nothing out of the ordinary. Just look at the prices of standard desktop monitors. They are equally expensive. The difference is that portable monitors can rarely match the quality of a full-size monitor. So, you don’t get as much bang for your buck.

Reason #2: USB Connectivity

These portable monitors aren’t as mobile as they’d like to proclaim. Usually, they are USB compatible, adding more wires and cable management to your setup when you’re trying to consolidate.

portable monitor
A portable monitor like this one has a few USB C and micro HDMI ports. However, not all portable monitors are created equal. Make sure whichever one you get is actually compatible with your laptop.

Some modern laptops don’t even have USB ports, rendering these monitors completely useless in certain circumstances. If a portable monitor is something you foresee yourself needing, research the model you plan on purchasing to see if it is compatible with your laptop ahead of time.

Reason #3: Poor Functionality

Portable monitors offer little leeway. For the price, you should be able to do a bunch of different things with your portable monitor that you can’t get from anything else. Simply put, these devices are completely replaceable.

You can get the same, if not better, elsewhere if you do a bit of digging online or at major retailers. Ultimately, portable monitors face a major issue with limitations that hinder the product in most cases. You might not have decent refresh rates, build quality, or features that a typical desktop monitor has.

Reason #4: Low Resolution

Some premium-priced portable monitors will suggest that they provide higher resolutions than their competitors. This certainly could be true — you do tend to get what you pay for. However, most of the time, the resolution will be much lower on a portable monitor due to its size and build.

portable monitor
Portable monitors often have adjustable stands like this one, allowing you to angle your display exactly how you like it.

These circumstances will vary by brand and product, but you can anticipate lower resolution overall with most portable monitors that you try.

Reason #5: Lag

These days, people expect their tech to operate at lightning speed — because, most of the time, it is more than capable of doing so. Sometimes, however, a device will fall short. Portable monitors have a bad reputation for lagging displays. Save yourself the trouble of wondering if it’s your monitor or Wi-Fi acting up.

Odds are, it’s the monitor causing a ruckus. The reason is that USB connectivity is a poor medium for transmitting graphics. You cannot enjoy the same high refresh rates as you can with HDMI or Display-port. So, you’ll have to deal with lag unless you opt for a more expensive HDMI-based portable monitor.

Reason #6: Color Quality

If you’re paying for a premium display, the colors should be crystal clear. The way most portable monitors are designed prevents the highest possible color quality from shining through the product. Instead, you tend to see grainy images and inaccurate colors.

If you’re a designer of any kind, this can be detrimental to your business. You can combat this issue by paying more for higher-quality color displays or by avoiding portable monitors altogether.

Reason #7: Durability 

You’re likely using your portable monitor for travel–that’s why it needs to be, well, portable! As a result, you likely expect your portable monitor to be sturdier than something that would permanently rest on the same desktop surface.

portable monitor
This portable monitor only has a soft cloth cover protecting its delicate screen.

Unfortunately, a lot of portable monitors are at risk of sustaining wear and tear damage from traveling all the time. Think about it; you’re constantly transferring it in and out of a backpack or laptop bag. Some products will simply not withstand the test of time. If you accidentally sit on it, or it falls off your desk — good luck!

Reason #8: Brightness

A portable monitor might not have as much brightness compared to a standard screen. Usually, you’ll also notice that there’s less potential for adjustments with portable monitors’ brightness. Many of these monitors can only supply limited brightness due to their power source — they are getting power through a USB port. So, they simply can’t power the display like a standard monitor.

You’re probably going to be working in unique lighting scenarios, like outdoors, where the direct light source will heavily impact the screen’s brightness. So, you’ll notice this lack of brightness even more.

Though, admittedly, portable monitors have generally improved their brightness capabilities over the years. If you’re set on getting yourself a portable monitor, make sure you look at its brightness rating. This is typically a number between 300 and 500 nits. Anything less, and you’ll be straining to see.

Reason #9: More Equipment

The idea of expanding your remote work or gaming setup is promising at first. You’ll be able to look at two screens, maximizing your efforts and productivity–hopefully. However, the dream is not as rosy as it appears to be.

Instead, it quickly becomes a balancing act, where you’re left to organize more equipment rather than utilize its beneficial qualities. It takes quite a bit of time to set up and tear down a rig with a computer, several monitors, and speakers. A portable monitor is admittedly less work to set up than a full-size desktop monitor, but you’ll still have to pack your bag with any extra power and USB cables the monitor needs.

Reason #10: Screen Size Restrictions

The goal is to expand your setup, easing the load on your eyes and maximizing efficiency. However, you might be hard-pressed to find a sufficiently sizeable portable monitor. These days, there are more options than there were previously, but there are still gaps in screen sizes, leaving many users jaded.

portable monitor
Most of the portable monitors you’ll find for sale come in sizes like 13-inch or 15-inch. Finding anything comparable to a desktop is next to impossible.

It’s more worth it, usually, to buy a laptop with a larger screen size. Several PC and Mac options come with large screen sizes that are optimal for most users. Those screen size upgrades will cost money, but you’d still save money compared to buying entirely new monitors for your unit.

If You Must Buy a Portable Monitor…

While we don’t love portable monitors, we understand that they make great options for people who would genuinely benefit from them. Ultimately, the goal is your convenience and enhanced productivity without breaking the bank.

Best Overall: Lenovo ThinkVision M14 14″

Best Overall
Lenovo ThinkVision M14 14″
  • 14" FHD 1920 x 1080 IPS
  • Brightness: 300 nits
  • Response time: 6 ms
  • 60 Hz refresh
  • Ports: 2 x USB-C
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/17/2024 11:54 am GMT

Lenovo’s mid-budget option had the best reviews on Amazon out of any that we’ve explored, and for a few good reasons. It’s effortless to set up, doesn’t lag, and it provides several different brightness options. These are some of the biggest complaints that we usually have with portable monitors, but Lenovo was able to eliminate these issues while keeping their product under $300.

Best Budget Option: HelloPro Portable Monitor 15.6″

Best Budget Option
HelloPro Portable Monitor 15.6"
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 178° full viewing angle
  • Comes with a scratch-proof smart cover 
  • Built-in dual speakers
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01/17/2024 12:04 pm GMT

Coming in at just under $100, this portable monitor gives a lot of bang for your buck. 15.6 inches is pretty standard for a laptop screen. This offers extra space when you tack it onto your pre-existing laptop computer setup. HelloPro’s budget-friendly option is easy to set up and provides a clear picture, but might lack brightness, depending on how bright you like your display to be.

Most Unique Portable Monitor: KYY Laptop Screen Extender

Most Unique Option
KYY Laptop Screen Extender
  • 210° rotation
  • 60 Hz refresh rate
  • Applicable for 12"-16" laptops
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
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This portable monitor is a bit on the pricier side, but it’s worth the investment if you’re looking for an upgrade. Most people have a dual-screen setup when they buy a portable monitor, but this device allows you to have three screens without buying an extra one. It’s lightweight and easy to travel with, but a bit complicated to set up for beginners. After that, though, it’s a breeze that displays clear colors without much lag.

Reasons Why You Might Still Want to Buy a Portable Monitor

It may not be our cup of tea, but you might still find some use for a portable monitor. They aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, but there are certainly some important benefits that can positively impact your life.

If you find yourself needing to get some work done on the road, a good portable monitor will increase your productivity and organization. Most people are trying to get creative with their work-from-home setups, and a portable monitor is an easy way to do that.

Gaming setups can also benefit from dual or triple-screen rigs, with some offering pretty good resolution, allowing you to game or work from anywhere in the world. If you have the budget to spend a couple hundred extra on some screens, it might be well worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are portable monitors?

Portable monitors are screens that connect to your laptop or desktop computer via USB. They almost always have to be plugged in to connect to your device. These monitors are designed to allow you to have more screen space, even while you’re on the go. If you work from home, or you’re a gamer who travels, portable monitors can help enhance your productivity and organization.

Is a portable external monitor worth it?

It depends on your situation, honestly. Some people find value in a portable external monitor if they’re constantly on the go; you may need to have the same or similar quality screens that you have at home when you’re traveling. In this case, it’d be completely worth it to buy a portable external monitor. Keep in mind that these monitors can cost a few hundred dollars, typically ranging from $100 to $500, but can sometimes cost more. Opting for a cheaper model might leave you with a lousy experience.

How long will a portable monitor last?

You can expect to see most portable monitors last at least a few years. Of course, this will vary by brand, product, and warranty. However, portable monitors may not always last as long as your computer. If you use the portable monitor more often, you might need to replace it more frequently if you aren’t careful. People who use their portable monitor daily are typically willing to spend more money on a higher-end monitor that will last longer.

Do portable laptop monitors drain laptop battery?

A portable monitor that connects to your laptop via USB and does not use an external power source will run off of your laptop’s power. In this case, it will drain your battery. However, you can find portable monitors that use an external power source. These won’t drain your battery, but you’ll need an outlet to plug in.

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