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ViewSonic Airpanel Smart Display V110 review: ViewSonic Airpanel Smart Display V110

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MSRP: $799.00
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The Good Lets you access your PC from any room in the house; small and light.

The Bad Extremely pricey; limited viewable area; poor video and graphics capability.

The Bottom Line This display lets you access your PC from 150 feet away. But you can buy a full-featured, wireless laptop for a similar price.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7

Review Sections

According to Microsoft, "life is too short to be chained to a desk." To wit, behold the first Smart Display, a portable LCD with built-in 802.11b wireless hardware. The ViewSonic Airpanel V110 lets you work remotely from your wireless-enabled computer--as if you were sitting in front of it--but it isn't a notebook replacement. The Airpanel V110 acts as a PC extension, which lets you quickly, easily, and reliably conduct short sessions of e-mail, Web surfing, and other computing activities via your main PC from any room in the house. But for right now, the $1,000 Airpanel V110 is way too expensive. Until it comes down in price, Microsoft expects that only early adopters and the wealthy will buy one. Otherwise, we recommend a notebook with built-in wireless. You'll spend almost the same amount, and your files and applications can go anywhere you do. ViewSonic's mobile displays, the V110 and the V150, come with either 10 (10.4, according to our measurements) or 15 inches of viewable area, respectively. When other companies release their Smart Displays, the models may come in different shapes and sizes. On the whole, however, all of these displays share the same core features (as dictated by Microsoft): an integrated processor and graphics chip; dedicated ROM and RAM; a built-in 802.11b wireless card; a touch-sensitive LCD; an internal battery; and the Windows CE for Smart Displays OS. These components work together so that you can wirelessly tap into and operate a PC that's running the Windows XP Professional OS with Service Pack 1 (see below for more details) from about 150 feet away.

10.4-inch viewable area.

1 inch thin.

The ViewSonic Airpanel V110 resembles a typical, though tiny, flat-panel display. The device measures a modest 11.5 inches wide by 8.4 inches deep by 1 inch thick and weighs a light 2.9 pounds, making it easy to carry from room to room. A 1-inch strip of silver plastic surrounds the screen's 10.4-inch viewable area. These case and screen sizes fall in line with the dimensions of many ultralight laptops and tablet PCs.

The ViewSonic's setup is more involved than we'd like, but it's bearable. The biggest drawback: you're forced to upgrade your PC to the Windows XP Professional OS with Service Pack 1, as this is the only Windows OS that currently includes the required Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Fortunately, ViewSonic bundles a full upgrade to the OS, which can cost hundreds of dollars if purchased separately, with the Airpanel V110. Regrettably, Microsoft has no plans to make Smart Displays compatible with any other OS. At least, a full XP Pro install won't delete your present OS; rather, it provides a dual-boot option.

After installing the OS, just follow the simple instructions in the included QuickStart guide and Smart Display Software CD to set up your new Airpanel V110. In our tests, the setup went off largely without a hitch.

Once setup is complete, up pops the Airpanel V110's dashboard--Microsoft's term for a welcome screen--which shows the list of users who are authorized to access your PC via the Smart Display, plus handy battery and network status indicators. If you've set your preferences to require passwords, you next identify yourself in one of two ways: tap your username with the stylus or use the quarter-sized navigation button beneath the dashboard button to move the pointer over your name, then press the left-mouse button on the display's left side. We found the stylus option to be much faster and easier. One Microsoft rep told us he even allows his two-year-old son to tap the screen with his finger while playing Elmo games, but we doubt that many parents will want their kids messing with this $1,000 toy.

After logon, a mirror image of your PC's desktop appears on the Airpanel V110--minus the wallpaper because it sucks down a lot of power (you can override this default setting and allow your wallpaper to appear). Now just tap and drag the screen to open apps and surf the Web, much as you would with a handheld or a tablet PC. Pressing the Input Panel button on the right side of the display calls up the onscreen panel, which includes a soft keyboard and intuitive writing pad and lets you tap to dash off quick messages and edits.

The ViewSonic Airpanel V110 has virtually none of the settings that average flat-panel displays have. Whereas most LCDs let you adjust brightness, contrast, horizontal/vertical position, and other settings, you can adjust only the Airpanel V110's brightness. (Tap the Settings icon located on the dashboard--a.k.a., the welcome screen--then drag the bar across the brightness meter.) Those considering the 15-inch version of this device, the Airpanel V150, may balk at the product's lack of adjustability, since a Smart Display of this size could potentially double as your primary desktop monitor, although neither Airpanel Smart Display is meant to do so. In any event, the Airpanel V110's 800x600-pixel screen is as clear and crisp as those on most laptops. The Airpanel V150's 15-inch screen features a larger 1,024x768 resolution.

If you decide to make the Airpanel V150 your main monitor, you should purchase the optional docking station--otherwise, you'll have to prop the display against something for it to stand upright. But beware that the dock tacks another $199 on to the already exorbitant $1,299 price of the V150. The V110 costs a similarly expensive $999 for the display itself and $149 for its dock. Both docks double as battery chargers for their respective Airpanels and contain two extra USB ports for connecting to peripherals. In comparison, a 15-inch LCD screen costs about $350 to $400, and some notebooks, such as the Gateway 400, offer integrated wireless for around $1,100.

Pay extra for the dock.

Two built-in USB ports.

On the bright side, an 802.11b airsync USB wireless network adapter ships with your Smart Display, so you don't have to pay extra to give your PC wireless capability. ViewSonic has equipped the Airpanel V110 with both headphone and microphone ports. Two USB ports on the top edge of the device let you opt to connect an external keyboard and mouse. Naturally, you can also use wireless versions of these peripherals. On the right-hand side of the bezel, you'll find dedicated buttons for launching the onscreen keyboard/writing pad and dashboard and moving your pointer; on the left-hand side sit two buttons for right and left mouse clicks. Unfortunately, the nickel-sized, snowflake-shaped speaker on the Airpanel's left side emits a dim sound.

Buttons control your pointer, among other things.

Dull-sounding speaker.

The Airpanel V110 includes other features that are likely to become standard among Smart Displays. Intel's power-saving PXA250 (X-Scale) processor for PDAs and cell phones run at the chip's maximum speed of 400MHz. The unit also delivers 32MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM. The integrated mini-PCI 802.11b wireless card means that you can connect to any wireless network or device that has granted you access. A LynxED graphics chip with 2MB of SDRAM helps with graphics rendering and performance. And, of course, the Airpanel V110 ships with a lithium-polymer battery, and the Windows CE for Smart Displays OS.

Rechargeable lithium-polymer battery.

Wireless adapter included.

These specs make for a generally satisfying file-sharing experience between Airpanel and PC, allowing you to open documents, surf the Web, and perform most activities your computer does without a frustratingly long lag time. However, these specs won't support viewing full-motion video. Microsoft acknowledges the absence of this capability and says that this will change in future iterations of the Windows CE for Smart Displays OS. The company also admits that you can't simultaneously access the PC from two screens, that is, the primary display and the Smart Display, but it plans to add this feature to later iterations of the CE for Smart Displays OS.

The Airpanel V110 offers security features to protect your data transmissions. In addition to the user passwords and security features endemic to the Windows XP Pro, the CE for Smart Displays OS includes support for network-specific wireless equivalent privacy (WEP) keys. This security standard requires every device that seeks access to a network to input an encryption key for that network.

The true test of the ViewSonic's capabilities begins when you move from room to room. In our unofficial tests, run in a home with one primary, wireless-enabled PC, the wireless connection between the Airpanel V110 and our PC held up pretty well, even from different floors. The consistently strong connection allowed us to perform computing tasks without much lag time. However, the Airpanel V110 inexplicably dropped the connection twice; both times, the Auto Reconnect feature automatically reconnected us, but contrary to the documentation's claims, we never received a warning when we were getting out of range.

When we completed our session, we simply pressed the power button in the upper-right corner; hitting the same button brings you back to the dashboard. ViewSonic warns that household appliances such as televisions or radios--especially those sharing the same 2.4GHz frequency as the Airpanel V110--may interfere with the wireless connection between Airpanel and PC. Aside from the dual disconnect, however, we did not experience any marked difference in performance when initiating a connection while standing next to any particular household device.

CNET Labs' official tests indicate that the V110 is a fast browsing platform, leaving an 802.11b-equipped handheld such as the Toshiba e740 Pocket PC in the dust. To test the V110, we used eTesting Labs I-Bench 3.0. Software engineers use I-Bench to see how changes in code affect performance, but because connection speeds and user environments are so diverse, you may not experience the speed differences that we measured. (Note: eTesting Labs makes no representations or warranties as to the results of the test.) Our I-Bench Web server was a Dell Dimension XPS B733r equipped with an Intel Pentium III microprocessor that runs at 733MHz, with 384MB of RAM on Windows 2000. Our client was a Compaq Evo N180 Notebook running a 1.2GHz Pentium III processor with 128MB of RAM, running Windows XP Pro at a screen resolution of 1,024x768.

Our CaffeineMark tests also indicated that the V110 Smart Display delivers fast performance, though not quite as fast as its host machine's. CaffeineMark 3.0 tests measure the display's performance related to the browser platform's use of the Java Virtual Machine, which includes both the software application and the hardware running that app. We ran Pendragon Software's CaffeineMark 3.0 tests without independent verification by Pendragon Software. (Pendragon Software makes no representations or warranties as to the results of the test.)

ViewSonic backs up its expensive Airpanel V110 with a satisfying one-year warranty on parts and labor. This warranty matches the one-year policies of many monitor and notebook manufacturers. But the best LCD warranties run three years and offer a dead-pixel policy. The Airpanel V110's does not.

The support term includes toll-free, 24/7 phone support. Usually, we place test calls to tech-support personnel and present them with hypothetical questions. However, at press time, there was no actual support service via phone, e-mail, or online. We'll revisit and evaluate the tech support once it becomes available.

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