Over the winter we had some major construction done on our house. For a few weeks my office became a staging area for the crew. Before the project started I lowered my standing desk, threw a few tarps over it, and set myself up a temporary work space on a card table in the guest bedroom. I had an old 1080p monitor and keyboard, which I figured would be better ergonomically and for my productivity than working on my laptop. I was correct, but a few days in to working like this I had a new revelation: working without a second monitor is a big inconvenience for me.
Everyone works a little different. When I’m primarily programming, as I was during that time, I like to have my IDE full screen on my main screen so that I can see as many lines of code as possible. On my second screen I like to have my web browser, a to-do list, information about the database tables I’m working with, and/or other work related things such as Skype conversations or email (only if I’m waiting on an urgent reply). It doesn’t need to be as big as my main monitor, but without that second screen I do seem to lose some productivity. I tend to work faster if I can just glance to the side and continue typing, versus having to alt+tab over to another window and then back.
I had some Amazon gift cards so I started looking around at the prices of portable USB monitors. They all seemed a little too big and a little too pricey. Then I had a eureka moment: what if I used my old 2012 iPad 3 as a second monitor? I had recalled seeing articles about people doing this. After some research I settled on using Duet Display. I paid $9.99 for the iPad app, installed the Windows application, and was set up in minutes.
By default it sets the resolution to 1024 x 768, which seems about right from a normal working distance. That’s plenty of space for what I need my second screen for most of the time. For whatever reason, while the monitor is in use the iPad battery doesn’t charge, but I was able to get ~12 hours of use before needing a recharge so it didn’t end up being that big of a deal. I felt much closer to 100% productive for the remainder of the construction.
The more intriguing long-term result is that I now have a very portable second monitor that I can travel with! For all of $9.99. I put an old iPad cable in my bag so that any time I think I might need the second monitor I can just throw the iPad and my stand (similar to this one) in with my laptop and I’m good to go. That’s not much added space or weight given the benefits. I can effectively fit a dual monitor workspace in a slim backpack. Along with a mouse, headphones (that can be used to make Skype calls), and my Project Fi phone as a mobile hotspot, I can literally set up anywhere in the world where there’s a cell phone connection.
I don’t necessarily do this all that often, but having the ability to do so makes me more comfortable traveling during important periods of work. This second monitor is the icing on the cake.