Screen plays: The Poly Studio P21 offers more room for your Zoom

The first monitor designed from the ground up for video chat, the P21 focuses on making you look and sound great.



This is the first article in a three-part series on products that take monitors in new directions. You can read the second article here and the third article here.

The pandemic had most tech device makers scrambling, frantic to prove their products were somehow responsive to the dramatic changes in work routines. 

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The attempts were mostly spin. 

Products like laptops and smartphones, which require years of lead time, could not respond to COVID-19 during the pandemic's height. And some features, such as souped-up webcams or microbial coatings, would have moved forward regardless.

In contrast, the Poly Studio P21 looks like one of the first products to anticipate the new world of remote work, answering the question: "What if the monitor were reinvented for the age of ubiquitous video chat?" It's a mashup of a second monitor, a soundbar, and a vanity mirror.

The P21 connects via DisplayLink, a USB-based video option that requires the installation of a driver on Macs and PCs; it has been built into Chromebooks for years and works well for extending Chrome's desktop. DisplayLink had been particularly popular in portable monitors before the uptake of supporting DisplayPort over USB-C. However, the 21" P21 is not a portable monitor. 

Also: The best large monitors in 2021

The P21 has a tilting base, requires a sizable power brick, and includes two USB-A ports on its underside, which are difficult to access without turning the device on its side or laying it flat. And while the charging base includes a Qi charging pad, the product's use of DisplayLink means that it can't be used by smartphones -- at least, not without a pricey DisplayLink dock. Even though DisplayLink drivers are in development for Android, the P21 is not a great match because it's not a touch display.

But Poly's software enables varied video-chat amenities, including being able to change the color balance of the P21's camera and setting the brightness of its front-facing sidelights. Its speakers also sound great -- particularly compared to most laptops -- and front-mounted mute and volume controls (not compatible with all video chat options) adjust a light above the speakers to indicate when the volume is moving up and down. The device is also compatible with Poly Lens, the company's device management and insights platform for IT pros.

Also: For laptops, multiple options for multiple screens

The P21 includes a physical slide switch to block access to its camera but, like many DisplayLink monitors before it, does not have an on/off switch. Of course, when you're not engaged in a video chat, the P21 provides all the benefits of a secondary display. It will dutifully blank the display if you turn off its host device or put it in sleep mode.

If you work in an area where the lighting is less than ideal, the P21 provides an integrated alternative to upgrading your microphone, camera, and lighting -- without having to plug in all those video chat-augmenting accessories.

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