Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Asus MB169C+ Portable Monitor Review – MB16AC Zenscreen Overview

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So I’ve been researching for a portable monitor for quite some time. AOC makes some cheap ones, but they are obliviously inferior to the Asus ones. With the recent release of Asus MB16AC (aka Zenscreen) on the way, I just want to test the water on how good exactly these portable monitors are.
I’m currently working as a financial auditor, I work in client’s office most of the time. I don’t have the luxury of having traditional dual monitor setup. I used to carry two laptops, but even though either one weighed relatively reasonable at 2.7lb, the two combined at 5.4lb is just quite heavy. Both the Asus MB169C+ and MB16AC weighs only 800g (1.76lb) is one lb less, makes it a lot easier to carry around.
Since the Zenscreen has not yet shipped, the only choice I have now is last year’s MB169C+, world’s first USB Type C portable monitor. Also the main big difference aside from the infinite edge boarder size between the Zenscreen that MB16AC has a Glare finish vs MB169C+’s matte finish. I would choose the matte display any day. Glares are absolutely disgusting in day to day use unless it’s a touchscreen.
Two main issues for portable monitors are:
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1. Connector – display lag. Traditional USB 2.0/3.0 has limited bandwidth, thus the display lags. Also display drivers are required since the raw signal needs to be processed and compressed before being sent to the display. While the MB169C+ supports DP Alternate USB Type C, it doesn’t require any special software to run. Just think it as a DisplayPort monitor with the disguise of USB Type C connector. Thus the lag is non issue here.
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This solution obviously has big support issue though, currently on the market, there are only few laptops support DP alternate USB Type C, with the Dell XPS 13 9350 being one of them. Not every computer with the USB Type C connector can support this monitor results the high return rate for this MB169C+ model. That’s why in this year’s Zenscreen, Asus introduces the hybrid DP alternate with the USB 3.0. Both standards are supported.
2. The brightness suffered. Due to limited power draw (8W) these portable monitors allow, the max brightness on this MB169C+ is only 220 cd/m^2.
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The color accuracy is also not that great, thus not good for photography usage. Also the monitor draws current directly from the laptop, the battery life on laptop suffers drastically.
Now the review of the actual unit, I got it from Amazon Warehouse Deal, which is a returned unit. Price is $160 after tax. The design is very yester-year with thick bezels all around. The power light for some reason is placed at the left top corner instead of the traditional right lower corner which is very distracting. Three dimension 379.1 x 235.8 x 8.5 mm. It barely fits in my shoulder bag Urban Reporter 250. Weight 800g which is pretty light. But the included leather case adds another 500g or so, it was a very chunky design. I opt to not use it at all. I’m using the recommended Anker Multi-angle phone holder which works fine. The included USB Type C to USB Type C cable is not the longest cable, but it works fine for put the portable monitor next to the laptop. I wonder if the USB C to C cable from Nexus 5X would work?
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The biggest problem I have with display is that the controls are very clucky. It took me two minutes to figure out how the three buttons work. No, the ASUS DisplayWidget Software which allows adjusting physical control with software does not support MB169C+, however, the upcoming MB16AC Zenscreen does. The display supports blue light filter technology which supposedly helps eye strain.
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I have calibrated the display with i1Profiler calibration tool. I was able to get pretty close match with the calibrated XPS 13 9350 look. I did a lightroom session on it and found the display to have acceptable results.
In the end, I don’t think I would keep the MB169C+ as the design is quite outdated. It’s hard to go back with such huge bezel while looking at XPS 13 9350’s infinite edge. The huge bezel means I can barely fit the monitor inside my shoulder bag. The new Zenscreen has the thin bezel, and three size at 359.7 x 226.4 x 8.0 mm, is more reasonable (the horizontal size is 19.4mm shorter than MB169C+). But the glare finish for the upcoming Zenscreen is the final nail in the coffin as looking at a reflective screen is very hard on eyes. The Zenscreen’s launch price is a bit too high at $249 as well. I’ll have to wait longer for the perfect monitor to show up. My dream monitor would be a 3:2 aspect ratio with decent resolution at 14-15 inch. 3:2 aspect ratio is really the ideal ratio for placing the monitor horizontal or vertical position, 16:9 is really too tall which hardly makes any sense to use it vertically. The weight could be further reduced to maybe 600g. And keep the matte finish, or offer touchscreen if it’s glare finish.

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