Espresso Displays – 13 or 15″ portable monitor for the road warrior

Espresso Displays

Espresso Displays are for anyone that wants extra screen real estate – Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS… It is particularly good for Samsung DeX users too.

Espresso Displays is, wait for it, an Aussie company. It is fair to say that co-founders Will Scuderi and Scott McKeon have bet the farm on this venture. After initial financing via Indiegogo and Kickstarter, its goal is now a reality.

As a segue, crowdfunding is vital to get projects like this off the ground. Essentially a good idea and a few prototypes pitched to potential mum and dad investors (crowd funders) who secure the investment by buying the product. At the time of this review, they have shipped about 1500 units to investors, so it is over the first hurdle. Now they need to build awareness – hence this review.

GadgetGuy received a ‘pre-production’ 15.6″ 1920x1080p, 16:9 unit and some accessories for review. I say pre-production because each shipment uses later firmware or may use slightly different electronics. That is just the way it is with smaller scale OEM manufacturing in China.

On the whole, it is a perfect second screen for travellers or those who just need some extra screen real estate.

So says me who is writing this from COVID-lockup with a dual 27″ Samsung screens and the Surface Pro 7 – you can never have enough screen real estate. I really miss my dual HP z38C 38″ screens at the office – now that is big.

Espresso Displays
I love space!

Australian review – Espresso Displays 15.6″

Note that the 13.3″ shares similar characteristics.

  • Website here
  • Manual – none. Comes with a brief setup sheet for Windows, Mac, Smartphones and Nintendo Switch
  • Elevator Pitch: Portable USB-C/Thundebolt3/HDMI monitor
  • Warranty: 12-months ACL. Espresso is setting up a customer portal to handle registration and warranty
  • Price: 13/15″ $429/499 including Australian freight
  • From: Espresso Displays online only at this time to keep prices reasonable
  • Country of Manufacture: China
  • This is Aussie company Espresso Displays first product aimed at creating flexibility for remote workers and travellers.

First impression – EXCEED

It is a space grey (a.k.a. Applesque) anodised aluminium rear cover and a semi-gloss glass screen with small 8mm top and side bezels. The bottom bezel and base with the electronics are 55mm.

Espresso Displays

At 5mm thick its billed as the world’s thinnest portable screen although a few competitors make similar claims.

On the right side (base) are

  • USB-C PD power in (port 1) – it expects 5V/3A or any USB-C PD source. We tested with a 65W HP Spectre USB-C PD 3.0 adaptor and a Moshi ProGeo USB-C 65W PD 3.0 – our favourite USB-C charger. It supports up to 100W passthrough. Remember the panel takes the first 15W.
  • USB-C Alt DP (port 2) that works with any USB-C Alt DP (Display Port) device. It also works on Thunderbolt 3 devices. USB-C/USB-C and USB-A/USB-C cables provided.
  • Mini-HDMI (port 3) – using the provided HDMI/mini-HDMI cable to transmit video and audio

On the left side is

  • 2.5mm audio jack (output). Plugin earphones here – you will need a 3.5-2.5mm adapter
  • Combo volume/brightness up/down buttons
  • And there are dual stereo speakers on the left bottom side (they are not equidistant from the edges). Note at this time, the speakers are more of a ‘last minute’ add-on, and you should use the content device’s speakers or BT.

The screen – PASS++

This screen is typical of those used by many competitors – AOC, ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, HP etc. That probably is a good thing as these Innolux or BOE panels are well-proven.

  • 13.3 and 15.6″ IPS LCD bottom edge-lit panel
  • 165 and 141ppi
  • Glass panel covering – reflective (not specified)
  • Brightness: Typical 220-250 nits and maximum of 300 nits*
  • Contrast: 800:1
  • Gamma: 99% sRGB and Delta E 2.2
  • 8-bit 16.7 million colours
  • 170° Horiz/Vert FOV but colour shifts after about 135° – not an issue for personal use
  • SDR: Yes (not HDR)
  • Orientation: Landscape 16:9. Portrait (9:16) but requires a manual change to portrait mode in Windows or Mac.
  • Delay: We could not measure this, but the panel specs are 5ms
  • 10-point touch on Windows and ‘finger’ Mac with driver
  • Digitiser panel – Capacitive touch (finger) but works with the Espresso Active Pen option.
  • 15.6” screen is 435mm (diag), 360 (W) x 255 (D) mm x 5mm (H) x 905g.

*Our tests confirm those figures although it is a push to get to 300 nits – that depends on the host device and delivering the full 15W power.

At 220 nits (typical) it is not the brightest nor does it have high contrast (the difference between pure black and pure white). 800:1 means blacks tend towards grey. To be fair, it is very similar to all the competitor’s panels. I suspect that is a limitation of what you can achieve with the USB-C 5V/3A/15W downstream voltage.

Despite looking a little duller than the Surface Pro 7 (about 400 nits), it is pretty good; the colour is accurate and evenly spread. It is perfect for home or office use – perhaps a little washed out in direct sunlight.

Uses and Tests (pre-production firmware)

Note 1: It uses USB-C ALT DP to transmit an image. Some devices also transmit audio, but as we said, the speakers are not its strong point.

Note 2: At the time we were unable to test with Windows on ARM devices like the Surface Pro X, Samsung Galaxy Book2 or Galaxy Book S. Since then we confirm these devices do not work with the Espresso Display over USB-C nor via a USB-C to HDMI Dongle>HDMI/MiniHMDI cable+external power.

Surface Pro 7 Windows with USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps)

The supplied 1m USB-C to USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cable supports Alt DP, touch and power (no Audio) to the screen.

We also tested with a Moshi USB-C USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 monitor cable – PASS. You can’t use a standard USB-C cable.

Surface Go 2 Windows with USB-C 3.1 gen 1 (5Gbps)

Ditto to Surface Pro 7

HP x360 2019 Spectre Windows with Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps)

It finds it as a ‘CoolTouch’ device and then ditto to the Surface Pro. We achieved the highest brightness levels of all tests and suspect it is because it delivers precisely 15W downstream power.

Macbook Pro

With the right driver, it will act as a capacitive touch screen for Mac – halleluiah. It delivers video and audio to the screen.

Espresso Displays

iPad/Pro

Will mirror the screen but not offer touch (at this time). It delivers audio disabling the iPad speakers.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra with DeX

First power the device via port 1. Then plug in the USB-C to USB-C cable to the device and then to the Samsung. The DeX desktop complete with touch awaits. No audio – that comes from the smartphone.

Note this will reflect the Android screen of any smartphone that has a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 output like Google Pixel, LG etc.

HDMI via a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 HDMI dongle

Requires both a 5V/3A power source (via USB-C port 1) and an HDMI/mini-HDMI cable (supplied).

This supplies video and audio via the speakers or 2.5mm jack but not touch (not expected).

QuattroPod Lite screencasting

We tested the device with QuattroPod Lite that enables HDMI casting as well as Chromecast and AirPlay 2. As the Espresso sees this as HDMI input plus power (port 1) you get audio and video but of course, no-touch.

This should be similar to any casting dongle like Google Chromecast or Microsoft Miracast.

Other HDMI devices

Any HDMI output (Blu-ray, NVIDIA TV Shield, etc.) will work as long as it scales the video to [email protected]

Accessories (optional)

There is a flip case (13 or 15″) that acts as a protective transport sleeve – you will need that. It gives about a 110° viewing angle. But we did not find it particularly stable or angle adjustable. It places the bottom of the screen on the desk muffling the speakers.

A foldable magnetic stand offers better functionality and gives up to 90mm lift. The magnetic attachment is strong enough. The stand folds flat to 140 x 120 x 15mm x 483g. A word of advice to Espresso – the hinges need a tension screw to accommodate future wear.

There is a magnetic VESA wall mount plate as well that suits 75 or 100mm mounts.

Finally, a micro-USB chargeable stylus. This is a capacitive stylus with a pen-like tip. It works like a standard pen without pressure levels and tilt – its fine for annotation.

Accessories

 Audio issue – FAIL

While audio over USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is not a major issue, it is something that Espresso hopes to address by a firmware update. For now, buy it with the knowledge that you are better using the audio on the content device.

In any case, the dual speakers only achieve 70dB with distortion and deliver a sound that, being kind, is shallow, weak, and tinny. It is not the ‘Dual Hi-Fi Stereo speakers’ as claimed and there is no stereo Left/Right separated sound stage.

Espresso Displays frequency response
  • Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – Nil
  • Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – Nil
  • High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – Nil
  • Low-mid: 200-400Hz – Nil
  • Mid: 400-1000Hz – starting a very slow climb
  • High-mid: 1-2kHz – still climbing
  • Low-treble: 2-4kHz- pretty well all the frequency response peaks between 2.4-3.7kHz
  • Treble:4-6kHz – drops off quickly to Nil
  • High Treble: 6-10kHz – Nil
  • Dog whistle: 10-20kHz – Nil

It is an ‘analytical’ sound signature – (you can read more here, but essentially bass/mid recessed, treble boosted). Despite playing with an EQ, we could not get any bass, mid or remove any of the treble harshnesses. If I had one suggestion for the next model – put some work into the amplifier to get at least 80-85dB volume and get the sound signature to ‘warm and sweet’ by boosting bass and mid and reducing treble.

Power – PASS+

It requires 5V/3A/15W downstream via USB-C or a separate charger. According to our power meter that will just about halve the run-time of a Surface Pro 7.

But fear not. Port 1 supports power passthrough back to the content device.

 We tested with 5V/3A PD 1.0, and it provides enough power for the screen. Note the screen takes the first 15W, and there is nothing left to pass through to the Surface Pro 7.

But when used with a 65W Moshi PD 3.0 charger, it passes 50W to the Surface Pro 7 – perfect. The maximum PD passthrough is 100W.

GadgetGuy’s take – Espresso Displays deserves to succeed. Aussie ethos and on the right track

I know a lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into this. It deserves to succeed. While there are heaps of competitors, it is unique in that its Aussie designed and supported.

Two pieces of advice for the inventors – fix the audio over USB-C Alt DP (Windows) and fix the speaker’s volume and frequency response.

The audio is not such a big issue as you can use Bluetooth (BT) to the host device and connect headphones or a mono or stereo speaker. Even when you use the HDMI connection, you can either use the 2.5mm audio jack (Aux Out) or again use BT to the host.

It is perfect when travelling and will give you a LARGER TOUCH SCREEN than most laptops. DeX compatibility is a bonus. iPhone users will only see a mirrored screen.

Note this video is an early concept device. Te final has three ports.

Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
Thin and portable at 5mm
10-point touch for Windows – finger touch on Mac
Only adds 1kg to your luggage (plus the choice of a stand)
Draws power either from USB-C downstream or a separate charger
Support an Aussie company
Audio over USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 still to be addressed
Speakers – volume and sound signature needs considerable work
4.3