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10 Reasons You Should Avoid Buying a Portable Monitor

Portable monitors have become increasingly popular in recent years as remote work has exploded in popularity. The idea of having a lightweight, compact display you can easily carry with you to expand your laptop‘s screen real estate is certainly appealing. Just plug it in and you instantly have a dual-screen setup anywhere you go.

However, after testing dozens of portable monitors here at TechGuru, I‘ve found that the reality rarely lives up to the dream. While the concept is great, today‘s portable monitors come with too many compromises. In most cases, you‘re better off sticking with your laptop screen or buying a standard desktop monitor instead.

To help you make a more informed decision, here are the top 10 reasons I recommend most people avoid buying a portable monitor:

1. Portable monitors cost 2-3x more than equivalent desktop displays

The biggest drawback of portable monitors is their hefty price tags. For example, a decent 1080p portable monitor like the Lenovo ThinkVision M14 costs around $250. But you can easily find a 24-inch desktop monitor with the same 1080p resolution for under $100. In fact, the Acer SB220Q, which is one of the best budget 1080p desktop monitors, can regularly be found for as little as $90.

So for the price of one 14-inch 1080p portable monitor, you could buy two 24-inch desktop monitors and still have money left over. Portable monitors also don‘t get cheaper as you go down in size. A smaller 12 or 13-inch portable display costs just as much or more than a 15 or 17-inch model.

2. Most portable monitors max out at 1080p resolution

Another major limitation of portable monitors is resolution. The vast majority top out at 1920 x 1080 pixels, also known as Full HD or 1080p. There are a small handful that offer 4K resolution, but those are very expensive ($600+) and still relatively rare.

In comparison, desktop monitors are readily available in 1440p and 4K resolution for not much more than a 1080p portable display. For example, you can get a 27-inch 1440p desktop monitor like the AOC CQ27G2 for around $250. 4K desktop monitors start around $300 for a 27-inch model.

The lower pixel density of portable monitors means text and images won‘t look as sharp, especially if you position the screen close to your face. 1080p is tolerable on a small 13 or 14-inch screen, but it looks noticeably pixelated and blurry on 15-inch or larger portable monitors.

3. Portable monitors have lackluster brightness and color

Two other key areas where portable monitors fall short compared to their desktop counterparts are brightness and color performance. Due to power constraints and the need to be thin and light, most portable monitors have a peak brightness of 250 nits or less. 300 nits is considered the minimum for comfortable viewing in a well-lit room.

Colors also tend to look muted and less vibrant on portable displays because of the limited color gamut they can achieve. Very few portable monitors cover 100% of the sRGB color space. Desktop monitors, especially those geared for creative professionals, commonly support 100% sRGB and even wider gamuts like DCI-P3.

4. Portable monitors are more fragile and prone to damage

By nature of being designed for portability, portable monitors are less durable than desktop displays. They have slim plastic housings that can easily crack or break if dropped or bumped around in your bag. The screen is also more susceptible to pressure damage and isn‘t as well protected as on a desktop monitor.

As someone who has traveled frequently with portable monitors, I can attest that they don‘t hold up well to the rigors of the road, even with a protective case or sleeve. They are simply too fragile compared to other tech accessories like headphones or portable battery packs. If you use a portable monitor daily and take it with you everywhere, expect it to show significant wear or potentially break within a couple years.

5. Many portable monitors have frustratingly short cables

Another frequent annoyance with portable monitors is cable length. Because they are designed to be as compact as possible, many come with USB-C or mini-HDMI cables that are only 1-3 feet long. This can make it awkward to position the screen where you want while still being able to reach your laptop‘s ports.

You can alleviate this to some degree by buying longer third-party cables. But that‘s an added expense on top of an already pricey monitor. And even if you have a longer cable, you‘re still constrained by the length of your laptop‘s power cable if you need to plug in both devices.

6. Portable monitors are limited to smaller screen sizes

While portable monitors are getting larger, they still top out at a smaller size than most desktop displays. The biggest portable monitors available are around 17 inches diagonal, with 15.6 inches being the most common size. In contrast, desktop monitors commonly range from 24 inches up to 43 inches or larger for a ultrawide.

So if you want a truly expansive second screen to complement your laptop, a portable monitor likely won‘t cut it. You‘ll be better off with a desktop display to really boost your screen real estate and multitasking capabilities. Having a giant portable screen also somewhat defeats the purpose of an easily transportable monitor.

7. Most portable monitors are limited to a 60Hz refresh rate

If you‘re a gamer or anyone who values smooth visuals, most portable monitors will leave you disappointed. The majority are limited to a 60Hz refresh rate, which means they can only display up to 60 frames per second. That‘s fine for productivity and general use. But for gaming and fast-paced video, you‘ll definitely notice the lack of fluidity compared to desktop monitors that commonly offer 144Hz or higher refresh rates.

There are a few portable gaming monitors capable of 144Hz or even 240Hz. But those are very expensive and harder to find. For the price, you‘re better off buying a dedicated desktop gaming monitor that likely has a larger screen as well.

8. Portable monitors lack ergonomic adjustments

Ergonomics is another weak point for many portable monitors. Few offer any kind of height adjustment, which means you‘re stuck with whatever viewing position and angle the built-in stand allows. Some omit a stand altogether and require you to prop up the screen against something else.

Tilt is also usually limited to 10-15 degrees at most. And I‘ve yet to see a portable monitor with swivel or pivot capability. All of these ergonomic limitations can make portable monitors uncomfortable to use for extended periods, leading to neck and eye strain. A fully adjustable desktop monitor stand is far superior for achieving a proper viewing position you can use all day.

9. USB-C connectivity can be finicky

Nearly all portable monitors rely on USB-C for both power and video signal. While convenient in theory, USB-C connectivity often proves finicky in practice. Some laptops have underpowered USB-C ports that can‘t adequately run the monitor. So you end up with a flickering or glitching display. Other times, the portable monitor will cause the laptop‘s battery to drain extremely quickly.

I‘ve also encountered issues with portable monitors not waking up properly from sleep mode, requiring you to unplug and replug in the USB-C cable. HDMI-based portable monitors are generally more reliable. But those require a separate power cable, negating some of the simplicity of a USB-C connection.

10. Your laptop screen may already be big enough

A final reason to reconsider buying a portable monitor is that your laptop display might be sufficient on its own. If you have a 15-inch or larger laptop, especially one with a taller 16:10 or 3:2 aspect ratio screen, you probably have enough screen space for most mobile productivity scenarios.

I find my 16-inch MacBook Pro is a capable standalone device when I‘m working at a coffee shop or while traveling. The screen is large enough to have two apps open side-by-side. And I can always use macOS‘s virtual desktops if I need even more space. Adding a 1080p portable monitor wouldn‘t provide much benefit, especially if it‘s the same size or smaller than my laptop display.

Of course, this calculus changes if you have a more compact 13 or 14-inch laptop. In that case, a portable monitor might make sense if you want extra screen space on the go. Just be aware of all the limitations I‘ve outlined so far.

Consider a Portable All-in-One Setup Instead

If you‘re dead set on having a multi-screen setup wherever you go, a portable monitor isn‘t your only option. Another route is to invest in multiple portable all-in-one computers that have built-in displays. For example, something like an HP EliteOne 800 G6 packs a 23.8-inch display and full desktop PC components into a design that‘s still easily movable.

You could buy two of these, set them up side-by-side, and have a full dual-screen workstation you can take anywhere. Portable all-in-ones do cost more than a laptop plus portable monitor combo. But you end up with a much larger total screen area, more power, and likely better durability and reliability.

The Bottom Line

As someone who has tested dozens of portable monitors, my honest advice is that most people are better off avoiding them. The dream of an ultra-versatile, go-anywhere display that turns any space into a productivity powerhouse sounds great. But today‘s portable monitors simply have too many compromises and limitations.

You‘ll get a far better experience with a standard desktop monitor that‘s larger, brighter, more color-accurate, and more reliable. And you‘ll likely still save money compared to buying a portable display. If you absolutely need a second screen for travel, consider a portable all-in-one computer setup instead. It will perform better and last longer than any portable monitor.