Archive for April, 2011

Product Review: Field Monitor Pro by Mobile Monitor Technologies

[UPDATE: See my follow up here]

I recently had the opportunity to test drive the new Field Monitor Pro from Mobile Monitor Technologies. A quick scan of the product page on the company’s website got me very excited. Sporting a 15.4” LCD screen, this monitor is designed to be extremely portable yet fully functional as a second monitor. The monitor can be setup like a laptop with a numerical keypad on its base, or as a simple monitor with a fold-out stand to prop it up.

To provide a little background, I work as an auditor for a CPA firm. I spend 90% of my working hours in the conference rooms and empty offices of my clients. I take with me a laptop, document scanner, laser printer, and network router for myself and team of 1 to 3 staff. Several years ago, my firm began supplying the audit staff with second monitors for our desks at the office. Naturally, we all got hooked on the increased screen real estate and improved efficiencies that accompany a multiple monitor setup. So, a year or so later, we began utilizing second monitors out in the field. While it’s great we can duplicate the experience of our desks, the extra load of equipment to carry around is not terribly enjoyable. That’s why I got excited about the Field Monitor Pro.

At first glance the product looks just like a tablet laptop. This was likely a design decision due to all of the extra “guts” that accompany an LCD monitor. The base features a numerical keypad on an otherwise flat, empty surface. The sides of the unit feature inputs for power and USB display connection, additional USB ports, and brightness control. There are no VGA, DVI, DisplayPort, or HDMI connections, so USB is the only option. The product is coated in a rubberized finish that feels velvety and soft, but overall the unit feels a little cheap and flimsy.

Overall, I have to say my experience was mixed. There are things I really liked about it, but several things may keep me from recommending it to my colleagues.

What I liked:

The form factor is perfect.
This monitor fits in a standard laptop bag. Some bags would fit both a laptop and this monitor, but honestly the total weight would be a little much. I don’t have any control over the environments in which I must work, so a monitor that takes up a minimum amount of space is much appreciated. This feature, above all others, is what makes this product a potential winner for those who do a lot of fieldwork.

Display quality is adequate.
Ok, it’s no LED-backlit superstar, but the screen is reasonably bright. I do have a few complaints about it in the next section, but overall it’s decently tolerable.

Extra USB ports are always good.
The company was smart enough to pay back 2:1 on the USB ports. You give up one on your laptop, but get two on the side in return.

The numerical keypad is a nice touch.
For those who don’t like to mess with keypad peripherals, the keypad is identical to what you would find on a standard desktop keyboard. For us accountants, such a feature is indispensible.

What I did NOT like:

Only available with resolution of 1280 X 800.
This may not be a big deal for some, but it would be nice to at least have the option for 1440 X 900 or 1680 X 1050 for a few extra bucks

No alternative to USB connection.
USB is wonderful for those situations when a VGA or other display connection is not available. However, I would be willing to bet that most users, at least those in my line of work, are using machines with at least a VGA out. Why does this matter? Using USB for display purposes slows down the machine because it bypasses the graphics adapter built into your machine and uses the main processor. I noticed right away that any work being done using the Field Monitor Pro was a bit sluggish compared to the main display or any monitor using the VGA port. This would definitely get annoying over time.

The whole thing feels a bit cheap and flimsy.
The build quality leaves me feeling like this product would not deal well with being schlepped about day in and day out. The clasp that holds the two panels together doesn’t always line up quite right, and the flip-out stand can be a little finicky. To top it off, there was a group of maybe 100 or so dead pixels staring me in the face from day one. I’m sure the dead pixel issue would be covered by warranty, but it did not leave a very good impression.

Display is a little grainy.
Although I mentioned earlier that the display quality was tolerable, it is far from perfect. Dead pixels aside, the color depth, viewing angle, and graininess could all stand to be improved.

The Field Monitor Pro is a wonderful concept, but not quite ready for prime time. The items on my cons list are not all deal breakers, but in combination make it very difficult to give this monitor a favorable review. With a little more R&D and perhaps some action on my suggestions, the company could provide a product that meets my demands, but the Field Monitor Pro is just not quite there.

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