back to article Excited about dual-screen laptops? Make your own with duct tape and the ThinkVision M14

The problem with notebooks (and even those shiny new Surfaces at Microsoft's event last week) is that the screen is usually too small to be completely productive. The Register got hold of Lenovo's ThinkVision M14 to see if two screens are really better than one. Having finally become available in the UK over summer, the …

  1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

    Isn't that the portable monitor of yore?

    My father had (and still has) a CRT version of this. An 11" cube.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Envious of your dad

      I wish I had an eleven inch...........

      ........oh "cube"

  2. karlkarl Bronze badge

    "for those times when constant application switching becomes too much"

    1) Remove the visual effects (fade, blur and all that crap) and application switching will become a lot less exhausting.

    2) Use a window manager that has immediate desktops (CWM, DWM, even sodding CDE). Then you can switch to the desktop (thus groups of applications) rather than toggling between all these randomized application windows. Again less exhausting.

    3) Fix yourself and your workflow rather than just consuming more hardware. Multiple monitors are rarely needed; especially for portable computing (which this LCD is targeted at).

    1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge
      Joke

      Multiple monitors are rarely needed;

      But come on, even the BOFH uses three of them!

    2. thondwe

      Even Windows 10 has multiple desktops!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Even Windows 10 has multiple desktops!"

        That functionality was a powertoy first introduced back in the days of XP. I've never used it or whatever the Win10 equivalent is. Does it work like proper virtual desktops now and let you drag apps/windows across the extra desktops to where you want them or does it still treat each desktop as a separate, independent entity?

    3. sbt Silver badge
      Devil

      My workflow is fine, thanks

      My desktop has two screens and about 4-5 virtual desktops per screen, without visual effects except a wipe (which is useful for orientation). It's extremely handy to run two applications full screen at once, since I will other need to refer to both simultaneously. Sure I can keep swiping back and forth, but my short term memory's not that great. That's one reason I have a computer.

      I switched to two screens over ten years ago and you can pry them from my cold, dead hands. I haven't tried more, but I expect the laws of diminishing returns kicks in pretty quickly, unless you're in net ops or something.

      I can use a laptop with a single screen, but it's slower for complex tasks.

      It's a bit pricey, but I wonder if it'd work with the new Raspberry Pi 4's?

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: My workflow is fine, thanks

        It's a bit pricey, but I wonder if it'd work with the new Raspberry Pi 4's?

        Would be great if it handled touch!

      2. Glen 1 Silver badge

        Re: My workflow is fine, thanks

        The Pi 4 only has a USB c socket for power input (and even then doest conform to spec, as documented elsewhere)

        The USB 3 ports are 3.0, not 3.1

        So I can't be certain, but looks doubtful.

      3. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Re: My workflow is fine, thanks

        +1 for two teles being all but indispensable

    4. Dave K Silver badge

      I'm afraid I can't agree. It depends on your workload of course, but as someone who often works on multiple spreadsheets simultaneously, they're fine to work with across my three screens at home (two would also be good enough), yet very annoying when I'm travelling and hence restricted to my little laptop screen. It's nothing to do with flashy effects or anything like that, it's a simple issue of screen real-estate for having two spreadsheets open side-by-side.

      With a laptop screen, you're often restricted to having one app open at a time on the screen and having to alt-tab back and forth between other apps (or split them side-by-side and only have a few columns visible). The productivity improvements of 2 screens though can be hugely beneficial.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        I work on two remote devices that are talking to each other and it is much better to have them both visible at one time.

    5. teknopaul Silver badge

      Not needed? But at 100€ a pop I have 2000x1000 pixels stationed where ever I'm likely to drop my laptop. Productivity increase defo covers that in a ~4yr lifespan.

    6. Kiwi Silver badge
      Pint

      3) Fix yourself and your workflow rather than just consuming more hardware. Multiple monitors are rarely needed; especially for portable computing (which this LCD is targeted at).

      Agree. I've got much more powerful machines than this ageing D620 I use most of the time, but I seldom do much that really requires 2 screens. My most powerful desktop only gets turned on occasionally. I spent money and time on a dual-screen (with room for a 3rd) rig for it for gaming only to realise that I so seldom turn it on for anything other than to back up the laptop's data.

      Even when I was working in IT I've preferred the laptop to take away somewhere quiet and with less tech around, not more, to let me work on code, content or circuitry. I can leave any power-work for later. Hell, I now own a tablet which I use for a lot of stuff where I'll consume rather than write (a few years back I would never have gone with a tablet till someone gave me one and I saw their usefulness with a slight change in thinking).

      That said, a larger screen would be nice at times, and I did use a 17" laptop till, in classic HP fashion, it cooked itself (could take 2 hdd's as well which I really miss - must get me a DVD-bay HDD thingamy so I can have a boot SSD and larger data HDD). Where I've done any real graphic work it's been nice to split stuff up a bit (one of the things I like with GIMP and moveable toolboxes)

      I do enjoy with Linux where you can hover over a background program and the scroll wheel will scroll the text - great for having a tutorial/help page in the background and whatever I'm doing in the foreground, so I can just scroll if/as needed.

      This screen at least is light/thin enough for easy transport, but I agree with El Reg that it could use it's own battery. Otherwise I am going to need to be near a power source, and if I am near that I might as well carry a normal screen with me. I have a triple-laptop bag (yes it could take 3 laptops of at least 15" each, plus chargers for each) that would easily take a couple of screens and dock, and isn't too much hassle to carry loaded like that (for short distances).

      Oh, and I do at times to a bit of app switching with alt-tab. Might get a bit annoying when I have a few things running, but for the most part even my aging lazy mind finds it easy enough to use.

    7. katrinab Silver badge

      Lets suppose you are using your accounting software. Most of the time, you need to have something else running along side it to get the information you need to enter into it. This might be a pdf viewer, web browser, or spreadsheet. If you are entering the contents of your bank statement or credit card statement, then switching between them multiple times per statement page gets exhausting regardless of the switching mechanism your operating system offers.

    8. dnicholas Bronze badge

      Multiple monitors are rarely needed

      I beg to differ. Mobile, yes. But how else am I going to block out all the "people" without my 3 huge wrap around screens at work?

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        block out all the "people"

        Like this. Plus a hearing protector.

    9. Roland6 Silver badge

      >3) Fix yourself and your workflow ...

      Whilst I tend to agree, I frequently distribute my workflow across 'two' monitors: my laptop and my iPad.

      The iPad getting used for PIM/emails and those ad-hoc web lookups and isn't dependent upon the laptop being powered up. The only inconvenience is sharing stuff (ie. web URL's and cut-and-paste) between the two devices (there must be an app...).

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Boffin

        The only inconvenience is sharing stuff (ie. web URL's and cut-and-paste) between the two devices (there must be an app...).

        Some VNC software will do that happily (but tends to work 1-way, ie if the tablet is the viewer than you can copy from the PC but not send from the PC). There's the program Synergy but no idea if that does tablets (yet). Stuff like Team Viewer will do it, but same as with the VNC.

        That's assuming ipad has these of course. I know I can do that sort of stuff with Android and have done often :) (also nice having an android tablet with a 'cast everything' function built in - when you have the receiver to match of course, which I don't but a few others I know do :)

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    10. Goldmember

      Not everyone is the same. I have the cheaper Asus model for working remotely in Asia, and it has save me a shitload of time. The screen itself isn't the best and has a ridiculously huge stand, but the extra real estate is incredibly useful. I can open the code IDE in one window and see the results of alterations immediately in the second. No amount of desktop switching will achieve that in the same way.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    >The lack of a battery in the stand seems an odd omission

    Get a USB C power bank... and some duct tape. Bonus is that battery remains available for other devices, and can be swapped out at will. Actually, self adhesive velcro would be better than duct tape.

    1. gotes

      I can't see the point of giving it a battery when it requires a USB cable for the signal anyway. And touchscreen as well? May as well just get a tablet...

      1. Dave K Silver badge

        And if it is a touchscreen, it'd probably be glossy. And glossy screens are usually awful when travelling.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          And it wouldn't be 560 grams and a svelte 14mm with a battery in the screen.

          If you need a battery then there are options out there.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            >And it wouldn't be 560 grams and a svelte 14mm with a battery in the screen.

            Agreed, however suspect adding a (laptop) battery would only increase the weight (and price) and if it were user removable it would be user choice whether to put a battery in the compartment or not.

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Mad

    It would be a LOT more use if it had HDMI too.

    1. gotes

      Re: Mad

      Such things do exist, for about half the price of the product featured in the article.

    2. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

      Re: Mad

      USB Type C to HDMI adapter? (#DongleLife)

      But would one justify it if it has to be sort of hacked up to add a proper HDMI connector, a touchscreen, a battery (as per @Dave 126 above), ... ?

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Mad

        Actually, you will need a HDMI-to-USB-C adaptor - the screen is an input only device. However, this is a potential minefield:

        Consider a simple USB-C HDMI adapter: It could implement HDMI over USB 3.0 or it could use Alternate Mode (native) HDMI. It could also use HDMI “multiplexed” with Thunderbolt Alternate Mode or even (theoretically) implement HDMI over Thunderbolt using an off-board graphics chip! Of these options, only the newest computers, like the MacBook Pro, would support all three. Can you imagine the consumer confusion when they purchase a “USB-C HDMI adapter” only to find that it doesn’t work with their MacBook or Pixel or whatever?

        [Donglelife Problems]

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Mad

          Lenovo website states:

          Be sure your laptop, tablet, or smartphone has a full-function USB-C connector that supports Display Port 1.2 Alt Mode and PD2.0.

          [https://www.lenovo.com/gb/en/monitors/thinkvisionM14 ]

          So it would seem HDMI signalling (over USB-C) is not supported.

          Also I note on the Lenovo forums the USB-C PD (Power Delivery) is causing headaches, as much depends upon the specification of the power supply ie. how much headroom it has over and above what the laptop requires. Hence whilst Lenovo show a picture of a PSU daisy chaining firstly to the M14 and then to the laptop, depending on the laptop that may not be possible and also depending on the PSU, you may need separate PSU's for the laptop and M14. What is not clear is whether there is any meaningful feedback to the user if one or other component is receiving insufficient power, thus guide a typical user to perform the correct corrective action.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Mad

      Well given Lenovo is advertising the M14 as the "Mobile display for the modern professional", it should be wireless/bluetooth connected. But then that would require a battery or a power supply...

  5. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Boffin

    Sleep is important

    Grrrr, low blue is not a gimmick it’s a good thing to have if you need to use the thing in the hours before bedtime. Blue light sets and resets the body clock. So using blue emitting screens before sleepy time helps to make it hard to get to sleep.

    It is now known that disturbed sleep underlies many mental illnesses. Without sleep we get visions of unreal things. The deep breathing of sleep is thought to help move the cerebro-spinal fluid about and out into the lymph carrying gunk and metabolites with it. Then there’s the need for sleep to put memories into proper storage and enhance learning.

    I run Twilight on my phone and Redshift of my laptop. I have little trouble getting to sleep.

    That devices are coming out with a blue reduction mode is a genuine GOOD THING. We all need healthy minds and every little helps.

    1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

      Re: Sleep is important

      In addition to that, use less electronics as sleep o'clock draws closer.

      Until E Ink monitors are a reality, nothing can completely fix the issues with LCDs like using them less.

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        Re: Sleep is important

        Porting synergy for a rooted ebook reader is on my never ending list of parked projects

        1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

          Re: Sleep is important

          Why port it? Almost all ebook readers run Linux, and a minority runs Android. Both can be set up with a Linux chroot, and the desktop version can then be run normally.

          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Sleep is important

            Problem is, one frame per second is absolutely fine for an ebook reader, but it is completely useless for general computer use.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Sleep is important

      Dasung do an E-Ink version of a side monitor. It's expensive, I use one as a solution for working outdoors but it's clumsy.

      There are also e-book readers like Boox which can work in similar way.

      1. Any other name

        Re: Sleep is important

        There are also e-book readers like Boox which can work in similar way.

        Thanks for the pointer! Now I know what I want for Christmas ....

  6. mikeymac

    Portable monitors rock

    I carried around an AOC portable monitor for YEARS. In fact, I used it as my second monitor EVERYWHERE I went. Even at my office desk. Just an awesome way to work. Whether in the office, at home or in a Dunkin Donuts in Yonkers, I always had the exact same setup. Unfortunately, our latest work laptops have security features that prevents USB monitors from functioning, so that's the end of that. I would definitely recommend something like this to anyone on the go (can't vouch for this specific model).

    1. Bruce Ordway

      Re: Portable monitors rock

      >>AOC portable monitor ......USB

      Same here, AOC is a nice, cheap way to get some extra screen space.

      The model I have won't work with every laptop though.

      Depends on two free USB connection types.. and have discovered that USB on laptops are all created equally.

  7. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    considering how slim and light laptop are...

    ...how about a second screen on the outside of the lid which can either be used as-is like an ungainly tablet, or folded around to give a double width screen. Hinged, of course! Or it could be two "half screens" which fold either side of the main screen, again making a double wide screen. You'f probably only end up with the thickness and weight of a laptop from a few years ago, or even a current "heavy duty" laptop.

  8. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Another option is buying an Android tablet and using an app such as Miracast receiver to make it into a wireless display. You could also do the same with a Windows 10 tablet as that has the ability to use it as a Miracast display built into the OS.

    A tablet has its own battery so isn't draining your laptop and when your not using it as a display you can use for other things such as watching videos, browsing the internet etc.

    A 14 inch tablet can be quite expensive, but you can get brand new Lenovo or Huawei tablets for around £100 if a 10 inch screen is big enough for your needs.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge

      A 14 inch tablet can be quite expensive, but you can get brand new Lenovo or Huawei tablets for around £100 if a 10 inch screen is big enough for your needs.

      Given how so many people must have the latest device, there's a lot of cheaply available 2nd hand tablets in pretty good condition.

  9. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Big kit sorted

    I don't work on a laptop. I have one if I want to check email and bang around when I'm away from office/home, but I'm not doing real work on it. I can't see the draw of a laptop for work. I don't want to take work with me everywhere I go and don't need to.

    I'm also spoiled rotten with two 24" monitors on a MacPro with a big display card. I can run Mac, Linux and Windows all at the same time with any 2 up front or one OS and several applications or a single application across both monitors.

    A real estate broker I work with has a dual monitor set up with his laptop that's pretty slick but I can't remember the brand/model. It's a Windows machine because he doesn't know any better. I've tried to get him set up with a better office server and a virtualized desktop so he can work from either home or the office but it's too much for him to understand/I'm not explaining it well enough. It's one of those things that would be easier to show than to explain in words. The office still uses Dropbox to share files even though they have their own server. Bonkers.

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Big?

    It seems bulky for a device with no battery. Cellphones dedicate maybe 3 mm to the display, driver, and glass covers. Might as well put a battery in there if it's going to be 14mm and 570g.

  11. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Yesterday I cried.

    As I sent my 20 year old Hitachi 21" monitor that weighed about 70lbs and still worked off to the tip as no-one else wanted it and it just had to go somewhere else. In its place is a whole portable computer - a Pi4, keyboard and mouse on a piece of hardboard with a 21" monitor slid into a slot glued on the top of the hardboard. To transport it the monitor slides out and can be placed on the top of the hardboard with some velcro straps to hold it all in place, the power cord and plug hung on the back over the rope handle glued on the back of the monitor and the whole thing is really easy to carry. It can be used as a laptop too. All for less than £150!

    It does get laughed at but not for long. I am thinking about experimenting with a 40Ahour battery and inverter but most places seem to have mains these days.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Yesterday I cried.

      You don't need an inverter.

      If you pop open the monitor you'll almost certainly find a 12 to 36VDC power supply (depending on the backlight)

  12. slartybartfast

    If someone needs a bigger monitor, tablets/laptops should just output to larger monitors. None of this dual screen nonsense. Mobile devices should stay small for obvious reasons but with the option to connect to larger monitors when the user is in a fixed spot like an office or home.

  13. Lorribot

    Given low end HD screens are around £90 this smacks of Lenovo charging what it thinks it can get away with in the enterprise market.

    Given the low resolution and small size it should be £120-130 not £230.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      I’d love to see you running a business. Into the ground.

      If I wanted one of these, the price would not stop me.

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