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ViewSonic airpanel V110

  • Editors' rating
    7.3 Very good

Pros

  • Lets you access your PC from any room in the house
  • small and light.

Cons

  • Poor video and graphics capability
  • limited viewable area
  • very expensive.

According to Microsoft, 'life is too short to be chained to a desk'. Enter the first Smart Display, a portable LCD monitor with built-in 802.11b wireless networking. ViewSonic's airpanel V110, which will be launched at CeBIT 2003 in Hannover next month, 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 email, Web surfing and other computing activities via your main PC from any room in the house. But at the moment, the £999 (inc. VAT) 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.

Design
ViewSonic's V110 and the V150 models come with either 10in. (10.4in., according to our measurements) or 15in. of viewable area, respectively. When other companies release their Smart Displays, the products 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 operating system. These components work together so that you can wirelessly tap into and operate a PC that's running Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 (see below for more details) from about 45m away. The ViewSonic airpanel V110 resembles a typical, if tiny, flat-panel display. The device measures a modest 29.2cm wide by 21.3cm deep by 2.54cm thick and weighs a light 1.31kg, making it easy to carry from room to room. A 2.5cm strip of silver plastic surrounds the screen's 10.4in. viewable area. These case and screen sizes fall in line with the dimensions of many ultraportable notebooks and tablet PCs. The ViewSonic's setup is more involved than we'd like, but it's bearable. The biggest drawback is that you're forced to upgrade your PC to Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1, as this is the only Windows version that currently includes the required Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Fortunately, ViewSonic bundles a full upgrade -- which is costly 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 operating system; rather, it provides a dual-boot option. After installing XP Pro, 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 authorised 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, and then press the left-mouse button on the left-hand side of the display. We found the stylus option to be much faster and easier. After log-on, 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 applications 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 on-screen panel, which includes a soft keyboard and intuitive writing pad and lets you tap to dash off quick messages and edits.

Features
The 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 V110's brightness. This you do by tapping the Settings icon located on the dashboard, and dragging the bar across the brightness meter. Those considering the 15in. 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 product is meant to do so. In any event, the airpanel V110's 800 by 600-pixel screen is as clear and crisp as those on most notebooks. The V150 model's 15in. screen has a larger 1,024 by 768 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, in the US, the dock tacks another $199 onto the already exorbitant $1,299 (£1,299 in the UK) price of the V150. The V110 costs a similarly expensive $999 (£999 in the UK) for the display itself and, in the US, $149 for its dock. If the US docking station prices convert on a 1:1 basis like the main units (ViewSonic hasn't yet confirmed this), then you're looking at a significant extra expense. Both docking stations double as battery chargers for their respective airpanels and contain two extra USB ports for connecting to peripherals. In comparison, a regular 15in. LCD screen can cost as little as £250, and some notebooks offer integrated wireless for around £750. 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 host 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 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 on-screen 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 small, snowflake-shaped speaker on the airpanel's left side emits a dim sound. The airpanel V110 includes other features that are likely to become standard among Smart Displays. Intel's power-saving PXA250 (XScale) processor for handhelds and cell phones runs at the chip's maximum speed of 400MHz. The unit also provides 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 Windows CE for Smart Displays. These specifications make for a generally satisfying file-sharing experience between Smart Display 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 Windows CE for Smart Displays. 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 also plans to add this feature at a later date. The airpanel V110 offers security features to protect your data transmissions. In addition to the user passwords and security features endemic to Windows XP Professional, Windows CE for Smart Displays 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.

Performance
The true test of the airpanel V110'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 V110 and our host 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 Smart Display and host PC. Aside from the dual disconnect, however, we didn't experience any marked difference in performance when initiating a connection while standing next to any particular household device. ZDNet Labs' official tests indicate that the V110 is a fast browsing platform, beating an 802.11b-equipped handheld such as the Toshiba e740 Pocket PC by some distance. 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 1,024 by 768. Our CaffeineMark tests also indicated that the V110 Smart Display delivers fast performance, although 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 application. 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).

Service & support
ViewSonic backs up its expensive airpanel V110 with a one-year warranty on parts and labour. 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, which the airpanel V110's does not.

Specifications

Display
Resolution 800 x 600
Type LCD display
Technology TFT active matrix
Diagonal Size 10 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 25.4 cm
Native Resolution 800 x 600
Processor
Processor Intel
Clock Speed 400 MHz
Manufacturer Intel
Audio
Type speaker(s)
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11b
Networking
Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11b
Input Device
Type touchscreen
Multimedia
Audio Speaker
Battery
Technology Lithium polymer
Run Time (Up To) 4 sec
Type handheld battery
Technology lithium polymer
Header
Brand ViewSonic
Product Line ViewSonic airpanel
Model V110
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
System
Platform Windows
Handheld Type CE tablet
Expansion and Connectivity
Expansion Slots 1 x PC Card
Interfaces 2
Expansion / Connectivity
Free Qty 1
ROM
Installed Size 32 MB
RAM
Technology SDRAM
Installed Size 64 MB
Audio Output
Type speaker
Audio Input
Type none
Expansion Slots
Type PC Card
Total Qty 1
Interface Provided
Qty 2
OS Provided
Type Microsoft Windows CE for Smart Displays
Power Device
Type power adapter

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