Whether watching TV or working – a large screen makes the (camper) life more pleasant in any case! At home it is usually no problem, there is enough space and power. But how does it look in the camper? My discovery of the year 2019 was portable monitors that can only be operated with USB power and are the size of a laptop. Find out exactly what they can do and how I use them in this blog post.
|Small disclaimer: all the products I present in this article I have bought myself. I have no connection to the manufacturers of the products, nor have I received them free of charge, nor do I receive any money for this article. But in the following text you will find some sog. Amazon affiliate links (marked with *). If you want to support me and the blog and would buy anyway at amazon, I’m happy if you use the links for it!|
My mobile workstation – at least a large part of it – in the folded state
Looking for a solution: a monitor in the camper
Since I have been using laptops almost exclusively for business and private purposes for many years, the limited space of a 12 or 13 inch screen has always bothered me. That’s why I’ve long been a big fan of having a second or even third monitor at my workstation. At home or in the office it’s usually no problem – here a 20, 24 or even 27 inch monitor has its fixed place and juice from the socket. "but what do i do in the camper?"was quite quickly after the purchase of the nugget my consideration.
- a normal monitor was out of the question – much too big and power hungry (my eizo 24 inch monitor weighs almost 8 kg and draws on average 26 watt), especially since such a device could only be operated via an inverter with 230 V. So no option.
- A 12 V TV, as available with all the bells and whistles like DVB-T2, DVD player, WLAN, etc. Gives, already seemed to be a better option there. A weight of 2-3 kg and not very convincing reviews regarding the picture quality made me refrain from this option quite fast, too. Especially since such devices also need a lot of power and space – and who has that in the camper?.
- a more obvious solution was to use my (already existing) ipad as an external monitor. For this you need an app on the ipad, a free equivalent on the windows PC (for the mac there is now the integrated solution via sidecar) and a cable or wifi connection between the two devices. from my point of view this only worked half well, because unfortunately there were often connection problems and the mouse movements were not as smooth as you are used to from the monitor at home. So this was not an ideal solution either.
The solution: portable monitors
Not quite happy with my still unsolved problem I then set off with the nugget at the end of march 2019 in my time off. With me were two laptops (mac and windows pc) and two ipads (mini and 9,7″). with that i was able to work for several months on various tasks like the revision of my astrophotography book, writing technical articles, photo editing and of course writing blog articles. This worked somehow, but I was still not really satisfied.
this is how my workstation looked like during the time off – the small ipad mini was only conditionally suitable as an external monitor. The grandiose view, however, has a little consoled over it.
But it took me until the end of november to seriously look for a solution again. And when I was looking for a "12 V monitor" on amazon, suddenly the term "portable monitor" jumped into my eyes. Quickly I found the well rated 15.6 inch monitor from UPERFECT* and read enthusiastically the technical data: IPS display, full HD resolution, plug&play via play via USB-C or HDMI to connect, 1.250 g (incl. cover) and the best: it gets its power – ca. 7,5 watt at maximum brightness – directly via the USB-C cable from the laptop (or in case of HDMI via a 5 V USB port). That sounded like the dream of my sleepless nights! I wonder if it would work?
This is how the 15.6 inch monitor from UPERFECT looks when set up. The case also acts as a handy stand, but takes up a lot of space on the desk.
since the device was on sale for 159 € during the black friday week, the risk seemed to be manageable. And so I was more than curious if my search would finally come to an end… to make a long story short: yes, it had! The reviews didn’t lie – just plug it in via USB-C and the device is recognized as a normal external monitor – both on the mac and on the windows laptop. And also the connection via HDMI with power supply via the laptop or a USB powerbank worked on the first go. Also the performance from the specification fit quite well. My measurement showed that in HDMI mode (USB-C unfortunately I could not measure) at full brightness approx. 7 W consumed, at 50% brightness ca. 5 – 5,5 W.
I could hardly believe my luck! Why did I discover something like this only now?? A look at the product information revealed that this model was offered on amazon since mid may 2019. However, it has not run across me until the end of 2019. Apparently such devices were / are but generally little known. At least I haven’t found anyone who knew something like this before – but almost all of them were as surprised and enthusiastic as I was. So I hope that reading this article you might feel the same way…
My concrete purposes
Second monitor: quickly i got used to the comfort of a second monitor in the camper! Since I’ve owned my 15.6″ portable monitor (for more than a year now), I don’t think a workday has gone by that I haven’t plugged it into my laptop and been happy about it. this is also my primary use case: as a second monitor on the laptop. And not only in the camper it serves me as such, but also at temporary workplaces in the office or simply at the kitchen table if necessary. So not only do I have several windows in view at the same time while working, but I can also take notes undisturbed on the second screen in video conferences where I’m broadcasting my laptop screen o.a. Writing. for that i distribute my view on several screens (under windows "expand").
Presentation screen: when i am sitting in a small group with clients and/or colleagues and there is no projector available, such a screen is ideal to show a document or presentation for 2-3 people. Instead of looking at four on the small laptop screen, I simply put my monitor in front of my laptop and mirror the view (under windows "duplicate"). So the people opposite me see the same thing as I do, without wrenching their necks.
Mobile home cinemaafter work i enjoy the evening in the camper from time to time with a youtube video, a nice series or a thrilling movie, e.g.B. On netflix or amazon prime. sometimes i just use the ipad for this, but a screen twice as big makes the whole thing even more pleasant, of course. I therefore often connect an amazon fire TV stick* via HDMI to the monitor and supply both devices with power from a USB-C powerbank with 20100 mah*. For the connection, a 4-in-1 USB cable* is very handy – then you occupy only one USB port. According to my measurement (with the meter* which can be seen on the left in the next picture) this setup consumes about 7-8 W, which should be enough for almost 10 hours of movie enjoyment with the powerbank with 72 wh. For better sound, I connect my bluetooth-box* via 3.5 mm audio cable (jack) to the monitor and I have my small power-saving "home cinema" ready for use. even "real" tv can be watched this way – without any satellite dish or DVB-T2. With the free app "joyn" for the fire TV stick, for example, you can watch over 50 TV channels live or browse their media library. For more channels and more functions, there are paid services such as waipu.Tv (9,99 € per month).
My small home theater consisting of a monitor, amazon fire tv stick and music box – powered by a USB powerbank for many hours of movie enjoyment.
All these streaming services need an internet connection though. Since I have a LTE-flatrate (at least in Germany), this bothers me but less. If i didn’t have this, i would probably download movies or series to my tablet or smartphone and connect it to the monitor. android phones and ipad pro models with USB-C port can even power the monitor – and thus be connected with only one cable. Others, like z.B. the iphone or ipad (without USB-C) can be connected via an HDMI adapter similar to the fire TV stick.
And if you want to see the portable monitor in action, by the way, check out kai from travel camping living on youtube – at the end of last year we made this little video about my 15.6 inch monitor:
Are there also larger portable monitors?
in the course of optimizing my mobile workstation in the camper, which I also use as a stationary home office since the beginning of the corona pandemic, the desire for more screens came up at some point. while doing some research, i found a similar model to my 15.6 inch portable monitor, but in 17.3 inch – a size that is just suitable for mobile use, but offers a decent screen size! Since november 2020, I have therefore also been working with the UPERFECT 17.3″ portable monitor*, which fits less well in the backpack, but has significantly optimized my workspace in the camper. The functionality is analogous to the 15.6 inch model, so that I now connect the large monitor via USB-C directly to the computer and operate the previous 15.6 inch monitor via HDMI and separate USB power supply on the laptop. This works in battery mode (which of course runs out faster than without external monitors) as well as in 12 V power mode.
due to the limited space in my camper i also decided to use the 15.6 inch monitor in portrait mode – which is really ideal for reading and writing documents, and at the same time takes up much less space than a landscape monitor.
My laptop and the left monitor should be placed a bit higher, so a few boxes had to be used for elevation. You’ll find out more about the stands in which the monitors and the laptop are placed in a moment..
Can I connect more monitors?
free of the motto "you can never have enough screens", I googled one day – more for fun – how many monitors you can connect to a normal laptop so. I now knew the possibilities via USB-C and of course HDMI. But there is actually another solution that I hadn’t stumbled across before: a USB 3.0 to HDMI adapter – so to speak an external graphic card. And it should work even better: there are even adapters that allow you to convert a USB 3.0 port of the laptop into two HDMI outputs – and thus create the possibility to connect two additional monitors! Skeptical whether this would really work, I ordered the not quite cheap USB 3.0 to HDMI adapter with 2 HDMI outputs* and tried it out: and indeed, it worked. A few days of testing – mind you, even on a 4-way USB hub* on the laptop, which is also used to power other devices such as a mouse, keyboard and a conference phone – showed no interference o.a. I was really floored! and so i decided to get another small monitor to permanently display a MS teams chat window, which turned out to be very handy in the first days already! And so, in the meantime, another 8-inch monitor, which can also be connected to the laptop via HDMI and, like its big brothers, is operated with USB power, adorns my mobile desk. Unfortunately, it consumes just as much power as the "big ones", so I probably won’t always use it when I’m on the road and there’s a power shortage. But for the home office, which remains set up several days, really ingenious! And via the second, still free HDMI port I will connect an ipad as another monitor in the future – more about that in another blog post, when I could try the solution (probably mid 2021).
So this is what my mobile workstation looks like now, consisting of 4 monitors and a (currently still detached) ipad:
If you can’t have enough monitors like me, you can use portable monitors and an external graphics card via USB 3.0 use four to five monitors without any problems.
Are portable monitors suitable for photographers??
as a photographer who travels a lot and has to work on a laptop, the question arises whether the portable monitors are also suitable for image processing on the road. Among other things, it is important how many percent of a suitable color space the monitor covers. Now i’m absolutely no expert in this field, so i’m happy to be corrected. By the way, you can read more about color spaces here at eizo – the manufacturer from whom I have a 24 inch monitor on my desk at home for image editing. But for my portable monitors and laptop i pulled out my old spyder 4 pro from 2014 to compare the coverage of different color spaces. The following measurements were taken:
The result shows quite clearly that (m)one laptop monitor covers a much larger color space than the portable monitors, which differ only minimally in the individual values. brightness, contrast, color temperature and other things can be adjusted on both monitors, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they reproduce photos in true color. so i still edit on my laptop when i’m on the road, but i like to use the portable monitor to display the lightroom library i’m working in on it in raster view. With this, I can fold away the film strip on the laptop screen in the develop module of lightroom and can thus display the image to be processed larger. This is a good compromise for mobile photo editing on the go in my opinion.
Here is a somewhat older setup, but it shows well the practical use of lightroom across multiple monitors.
Tips for the correct and optimal use of the monitors
Finally, I would like to give you a few tips from my own experience in the use of my two large portable monitors. Maybe one or the other will help you…
- Both of my larger monitors can be set up with the sleeves that come with them, but they take up a lot of space on the table and are not very flexible in terms of angle. A much more space-saving solution is a tablet stand. I use the lamicall A1 stand*, in which both monitors fit even with the cover – without it, however, it is more practical. at the same time they have the advantage that the screen is slightly elevated, so that the ergonomics is also a little better.
The tablet stand "A1" from lamicall seems to be made for the two portable monitors.
- All monitors (even the 8″ model) also come with a VESA wall mount bracket. I don’t use this, but who wants to hang up such a monitor for example in the mobile home as a TV replacement, is surely happy about this possibility.
- To be able to use the monitors with only one cable on a laptop, smartphone or tablet, the respective device needs a USB type-C port. the appropriate cable is of course included with both monitors. However, if you want to replace the included USB-C cable – for example because it is too short – then you should make sure to buy the right cable. This must be able to transmit both power and video and audio signals at the same time, which most USB-C to USB-C cables can not do. I have successfully tested this cable* on both monitors, which is available in 1, 2 or 3 meter lengths.
- Both monitors have two USB-C ports. It is important to use the lower connector if you want to connect the screen to the laptop via USB-C. The upper port is used for power supply (via USB-A to USB-C cable) when connecting the laptop via HDMI.
- When using the screen on edge, it can sometimes be helpful to display two program windows on top of each other – for example, a PDF document at the bottom and a file selector at the top (windows explorer). in landscape mode there is a nice docking function under windows, if you move a window to the right or left edge for example. Unfortunately these are not available in portrait format or. Does windows always display a program in full screen mode when you move it to the top edge?. Since it is annoying to move the windows manually, I bought the small tool "divvy" (13,99 $). With this I can define shortcuts to arrange windows in a certain grid on a screen. Extremely practical!
- UPERFECT’s 15.6-inch monitor has a small "quirk" (which can also be reproduced on other examples of this model): if you plug headphones or external speakers into the 3.5 mm jack of the monitor that’s already running, it suddenly makes an annoying beeping noise. It’s not the audio cable, but at some point I found out how to turn off the beeping: simply disconnect the power supply of the monitor once while the audio cable is plugged in – d.H. unplug the cable – and plug it in again, then you get pure sound without continuous beeping. In the video linked above, I have also demonstrated this live from minute 8:00.
My conclusion: full marks!
After several months of practical experience, I can only say one thing: I don’t want to do without my monitors! They are connected in no time and make the work (for me) really much more pleasant. In the meantime, I build even with only 30 min. work on at least one of the external monitors in one place.
All in all I now have 3.5 full-fledged monitors, all of which I can operate via 12 V (cigarette lighter). These screens make my mobile workplace – in addition to various other things, which I will also discuss in detail here on the website – a full-fledged office, which is in no way inferior to a fixed workplace for me! I am thrilled every day anew!
By the way, there are such devices not only in full HD resolution as I have them, but also in 4K. However, since all 4K devices I know of require an additional (not insignificant) power supply, I’m happy to do without the extra resolution. For work, the full HD resolution is also completely sufficient from my point of view.
Here again is a summary of all the command center "gadgets" mentioned in this article:
* * * * for the two monitors * to connect the monitors via USB-C (without additional power supply) * * * *
More about my entire equipment for self-sufficient business camping in the nugget can now be found in a very detailed blog article of its own!
And now of course I’m interested in your experiences… do you also work in the camper on the computer? Are you also such a nerd when it comes to the many monitors?? Do you know such portable monitors? Or maybe you have an alternative that I don’t know about? Feel free to write in the comments!