It’s generated a lot of interest online, but is it really the best portable monitor in 2021? In our Espresso Display review we put the product to the test to see if it really lives up to the hype.
Being full-time digital nomads has its perks – the ability to work from anywhere in the world, the freedom to make your own hours and a potentially limitless ceiling to how far you can expand your online business.
What it doesn’t offer though is obvious pathways to high-level productivity, such as having an organised and dedicated home office setup.
Working in the creative and digital marketing industries means that as much our social media portrays a lifestyle of forever being on an adventure in the far-flung reaches of the globe, the majority of our time is spent staring at screens, managing our teams and navigating far too many browser tabs than we care to admit.
We have always wanted to expand our on-the-road office stack to include an external monitor to double our screen real estate, but the logistics of travelling with one was always impractical.
That was until a friend reached out to us about a new portable monitor on the marketing, which promised to bring a new option for those of us that work on the road – the stunningly-designed Espresso Display.
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Our Honest Espresso Display Review
We have been testing out the 15 inch Espresso Display for the last few months, connected to our Macbook Pros to be used as a second monitor for a variety of tasks.
After hundreds of hours of heavy use we’re finally ready to bring out our Espresso Display review, where we dive into the features we like, what we don’t, and whether we really believe it’s the best portable display for travel and digital nomads.
The benefits of using a second screen for work productivity is already well-documented, so we’re not going to touch on that in this review post. Instead we’ll focus on the product itself so you can decide whether you feel as though Espresso Displays are the right option for you.
What is the Espresso Portable Display?
Before we get too deep into our Espresso Displays review we just want to highlight exactly what the product is, and what it’s not.
Essentially Espresso is an Australian business that produces high-quality touchscreen external monitors with a focus on portability and ease of use.
They come in two sizes, 13 inch and 15 inch, both of which have a screen resolution of 1080p, are compatible with both PC laptops and Macbooks, a desktop computers such as a Mac Mini, smart phones and gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch.
Both sizes work in landscape and portrait orientation, have a couple of different connectivity options such as a USB C port and mini HDMI port, boast an ultra thin design and have stereo speakers built-in.
They don’t have an in-built battery, but nor do they require an additional power supply, instead using the USB C ports to power the monitor, and the company offers a few accessories available as well, such as the MountGo and MountPro stands and an optional flip case.
The Espresso Displays are designed to be portable, not necessarily for dedicated desktop use (although that is how we’re using ours for now), perfect for travel.
What they are not meant to be are spectacular second display suitable for high-end graphics work, such as gaming, photo or video editing, so if you’re looking for 4k screen quality for a permanent office setup, this isn’t the right product for you.
That’s enough about what the Espresso Display is – let’s see how it looks, feels and performs in the real world.
Design – 8/10
The very first thing we noticed when we opened the box to our new Espresso Display 15 inch was that the product was beautifully designed – and we say that as people who don’t normally notice nor care about how something looks.
Espresso Displays thoroughly impressed us on our first inspection with their sleek appearance, and once we pulled it out and had a proper look it was clear that the design behind this was carefully thought out by people who know a lot more about style than we do.
Built out of aeronautical grade aluminium, the high quality product is super thin at only 5.5mm (0.2″) – pretty remarkable for an external screen that promises stunning visuals at an affordable price point.
The brushed metal looks and feels great, and it seems to blend in with our Macbook Pros like they almost came from the same factory.
On the left edge there are two small buttons that adjust speaker volume and screen brightness, but there is no power button due to the screen running off of a single cable that can just be unplugged.
The bezels around the edges are quite large, particularly the bottom bezel where the logo is, and while it’s not something that we personally have a gripe with, that could be enough to put some people off purchasing this as a second screen if they consider this to be a dealbreaker.
Ease of Use – 9/10
This is where the Espresso Display really shines – it really is very, very simple to use.
As it runs off of your computer or phone’s battery there’s no additional requirements to plug this into a power outlet, so the only thing you need is a USB C cable and you’re good to (unless you’re using an older Macbook Pro like I am, in which case you’ll also need a HDMI cable for video transmission as well).
When we pulled it out of the box all we had to do was connect it to the laptop and within seconds it was up and running as a legitimate second screen. There are no additional software or drivers that need to be installed.
Portability – 9/10
The thin dimensions and lightweight design of the Espresso Displays really lend themselves to being one of the best portable monitors on the market today.
Even with the full-size Espresso Display 15.6 inch model, it slips into a backpack or laptop bag with ease.
For people like us who live and work out of a motorhome as well as constantly travelling internationally, it is easy to store and carry just about anywhere.
As there’s no need for a heavy power brick to charge it, all you need is the monitor itself, a USB type c cable (or HDMI if your laptop doesn’t use USB-C) and you’re good to go.
You might not think an external screen would really need a lot of features, and in some regards you’d be right.
However this is what sets Espresso Displays apart from other portable monitors on the market – it actually is fairly feature-heavy.
Besides being a complete plug-and-play setup, the Espresso Display has built in speakers so you can listen to audio on the go, but we’ll be the first to admit that the quality of these speakers are pretty lacklustre – only really usable in a pinch.
The touch screen is a nifty feature to have, although Mac users out there will have to purchase additional software to use this on Apple products.
Working as a rotating screen as well means you can use the Espresso Display in landscape or portrait mode, however we haven’t really found a need to ever switch it to portrait.
Ports – 8/10
The Espresso Display has a number of useful ports to cover just about any type of connection you would need.
There are two USB C ports that handle power and video transfers, and after a few weeks of use we actually discovered that the second USB C port also has through-charging capabilities.
Beneath the dual USB C ports on the bottom edge there’s mini HDMI port, which allows the Espresso Display to work with older laptops and computers.
This does mean that you need two cables running from your screen to your laptop, which isn’t ideal, but it does make it a more compatible unit.
Finally you’ll also find a headphone jack below the volume/brightness buttons, allowing you to connect headphones and listen to audio privately when using the display connected to an iPhone.
There are no USB A ports, but luckily Espresso Display pack in a variety of cables so you don’t need to use an adaptor or purchase any extras.
Display Quality – 6/10
So far you’ve seen us singing its praises, but now we’re going to talk about where the monitor fails to shine – Image quality.
One thing we need to talk about in our Espresso Display review is that while the image quality is good, it’s not great, and despite having a 1080p resolution, watching videos on it isn’t a great experience.
The 60hz refresh rate is more than sufficient, but even though it boasts 99% sRGB gamut and 16 million colours, the display doesn’t ‘wow’ us as professional travel photographers.
To be fair, the display on its own looks great. But as soon as you pair it with a high resolution Retina screen and compare them side-by-side, the difference is huge.
Perfect colour calibration is hard to get right, but even after using our X-Rite i1 calibrator multiple times we couldn’t get the device colours to be perfect. And the contrast ratio isn’t anything to write home about.
The brightness also isn’t overly strong, but considering it’s a portable external monitor running off of USB C, that’s to be expected.
For general use such as running internet browsers, spreadsheets, word documents, data analysis, and even setting up Adobe timelines and sliders on it, it excels as a second screen though.
Overall the image quality isn’t bad, and considering the price point and portability of this external screen it does a pretty good job, but if we were to find one major fault in our Espresso Display review, this would be it.
Accessories – 8/10
Besides making fantastic portable displays, Espresso also have a number of accessories for sale on their website which helps add a bit more flexibility and practicality to the ultra thin display.
The most popular accessory you can buy is the leather flip case, which not only looks and feels great, it protects the display from scratches and can be used to stand it upright.
The other must-have accessory for anyone who plans on using their Espresso Display on a desk is the MountGo stand.
Using a magnetic connection to hold the Espresso Display in place, the MountGo is height and angle adjustable, and can rotate the display to be used in portrait or landscape orientations.
If you’re the kind of user who likes to work with VESA arms and or a proper monitor stand, then the MountPro is the tool for you.
Finally the Espresso Mac Touch Software allows your touch screen display to work with Apple products, and while it might seem ridiculous to have to purchase this in order to make the most of a standard feature, you can thank Apple’s ludicrous control systems over third-party products for this.
If you had to get at least one accessory, we’d highly recommend the folio case, which is what we have. The MountGo comes in a close second if you need a stand as well.
Value – 9/10
Finally we can’t talk about the best portable monitors on the market without diving into the cost, and luckily the Espresso Display is extremely affordable!
Dedicated external monitors can range from a few hundred dollars right up to thousands, but of course you can’t just throw these in your backpack and go travelling.
The closest portable second screen on the market that we’d consider to be comparable is of course the ever-popular iPad, but then you’re locked into the Apple ecosystem.
And while the image quality is of course way higher, an iPad Pro will set you back as much as a whole new laptop.
The 13 inch Espresso comes in at a very reasonable USD$299 plus tax (AUD$499), while the Espresso Display 15 inch is only marginally higher at USD$349 plus tax (AUD$529).
Espresso Displays Overall Review – 8/10
After months of use, literally staring at the monitor for 8-12 hours a day, we’ve tried to find everything we can to love and not love about the Espresso products.
We’ve considered all the features, such as the touch screen capabilities, image quality, use of mini HDMI ports and USB C, customer support (which is really good) and of course just how portable it is, and we’ve decided to give our Espresso Display review a pretty outstanding 8/10.
It’s not a perfect product, but when you consider all of the above matched with just how affordable it is, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better portable external monitor on the market.
We’d love to see future models have a higher resolution screen and slightly thinner bezel, and maybe even Bluetooth connectivity, but that would most likely send the price well beyond a few hundred dollars.
In our opinion, if you’re looking for the best image quality for photography and videography work, this falls a little short.
But if you’re a digital nomad or a frequent traveller that loves the productivity having a second screen offers, then you cannot beat the Espresso Display as an affordable, quality portable monitor.
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Espresso Display Review - The Best Portable Monitor in 2021?
After months of use we have put together our comprehensive, honest Espresso Display review to see if this really is the best portable monitor on the market.
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