The first computer I ever used had a 12" green screen back in the early 1980s. Later my Dad bought our first family computer, an Amstrad CPC464 and I knew it was special because it was colour and could display up to 16 colours at once!
Fast forward to today and my desktop computer has two screens capable of millions of colours and resolutions unimaginable back in the day. One is a lovely 22" widescreen and I have a second 19" to the side. Certainly one screen is not enough for many of us, and plenty of people enjoy more than two even!
It's said that workers with two screens can be more efficient and for me it's certainly been a blessing, as the nature of my job has me benefitting from seeing what's going on in several applications at once without having to flick through them one at a time.
As the warm weather has kicked in and I've been tempted to take the laptop out to find somewhere more pleasant to sit and work, but I've often been held back by the thought of having to work slower due to trying to squeeze everything I'm doing on to one (relatively) tiny 14" monitor. Until recently, I wasn't even aware that technology had an answer for this, but, incredibly, it's now possible to run an extra 14" monitor off a single USB cable!
I got the chance to spend a morning with a Toshiba USB monitor and since it was a nice day, I decided what better test than to see how it handled use outdoors on a picnic bench outside a nearby cafe.
The first thing that impressed me is just how light the toshiba is. Including the integrated case, the whole thing weighs only 795g and it was no trouble to carry alongside my laptop.
Setup is also easy. Although Windows 7 will run the Toshiba without any additional software being required, I found taking a few minutes to install the drivers on the included CD offered a wider range of settings including the ability to run the Toshiba at a different resolution to your main screen.
After that, all I had to do was connect the supplied USB cable from the laptop to the screen! The USB cable takes up two of your computer's USB ports, one is for power only in order to get enough juice to supply the extra screen and the other end, which has a mini-usb connection, goes straight into the socket on the side. That's it, no other cables, no fuss.
As you can see from the pictures, the case doubles as a convenient stand and the benefits of all that extra desktop to work on, even when out and about are apparent.
The Toshiba USB monitor was dimmer outdoors than the Dell laptop I work on and only has two levels of brightness. I imagine it's having to be very frugal with power to work over USB's meagre power supply, but its matt-finish meant there was little reflection and I had no trouble using it to keep an eye on my email and instant message conversations as I did the bulk of my work on the Dell.
Indoors I found the Toshiba's screen to be of the same quality as a typical entry level laptop, with very good colour reproduction and fluidity. Under office lights, it was easily bright enough and the 720p resolution helped text look sharp and comfortable to read. I wondered if a USB connection would be fast enough to say, watch the BBC iPlayer, or Youtube, but it actually performed perfectly adequately with maybe the tiniest lip-sync issues being noticeable if you look closely. Certainly for any normal work activity like working on an Office document, or surfing the internet, you'll be more than happy.
I really enjoyed my few hours with the Toshiba USB monitor. Not only am I hugely impressed with how well it works, at the tender price of approx £120, I think it represents excellent value. If you're a laptop user who misses the benefits of working 'dual-screen' when mobile, or you perhaps only need an extra monitor from time to time, this comes as a highly recommended solution.
For an alternative read before you get tempted to spend, check out PC Pro's review here: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/monitors/372001/toshiba-mobile-usb-monitor-14in