By Edward N. Albro Someday, every truly digital home may have a convenient, wireless monitor-type device like ViewSonic's $999 Airpanel V110 Smart Display. But that day will not arrive until the products' prices drop significantly.
The Airpanel V110 is a Windows Powered Smart Display unit, which, like the Tablet PC, is a hardware product based on Microsoft-designed software. Smart Displays consist of an LCD touch screen that you can carry from room to room and use to control a fully functioning PC over a Wi-Fi (802.11b) network.
For instance, you can browse the Web or read e-mail using the V110 in the living room or kitchen, while your computer remains on in your home office or your den. The host PC does virtually all of the computing work, but the end result appears on the V110, which weighs 2.9 pounds and has a 10.4-inch screen.
Smart Displays will function only with systems running Windows XP Professional (because only XP Pro allows you to take over your PC remotely) and equipped with a Wi-Fi networking adapter. ViewSonic's pricey V110 package includes an XP Pro upgrade for XP Home users, as well as a USB Wi-Fi adapter for the host PC (the Smart Display's adapter is built-in).
A Smart Display's key advantage is convenience--it's hard to argue that anyone actually needs one. The device merely saves you from having to sit in front of your desktop computer or cart around a notebook, which may or may not be bulkier. For instance, the V110's 15-inch sibling, the $1299 V150, tips the scales at 5.9 pounds, making it heavier than many laptops (including the ones reviewed on the next page). Though both Smart Displays have optional docking stations ($149 for the V110 and $199 for the V150), only the V150's has a VGA pass-through, which lets that display also function as a primary monitor. However, both stations hold their Smart Display at angles suitable for viewing when you're standing or sitting above the level of the screens, and both recharge the lithium ion batteries.
Nonetheless, a Smart Display device is useful in ways that become clear only after you have lived with it for a while. Logging in to the Airpanel V110 takes less than 30 seconds, and fast lookups--such as a short Google search or a Quicken bank balance inquiry--don't seem to put much of a dent in its battery life. (ViewSonic says that the V110 will operate for 3.5 to 4 hours per charge, a claim that held up in my informal tests with a shipping unit.)
Using a Smart Display is definitely speedier than trekking over to a desktop. And even if you have an ultrathin notebook, it can be more convenient to leave that plugged in and logged on continuously while you use the V110 for the occasional digital nibble, since you don't have to log on and off and you avoid running down your laptop's battery.
Setting up my test unit was quick and relatively painless. And using the V110 is essentially the same as using your PC, since the Smart Display takes full control of the host computer once you log in.
For a device that is clearly intended for heavy Web surfing, however, the absence of a wheel or toggle for scrolling is mystifying and inexcusable. And due to Wi-Fi bandwidth limitations, the V110 can't handle video files or serious 3D games, but you can stream music to the V110 or use it as a remote for a computer connected to your stereo.
None of these drawbacks seriously affects the V110's value to the user. The problem is that the device's convenience simply isn't worth $1000. If Smart Displays drop to about $300, though, I'd certainly be tempted to add one to my home network. From the March 2003 issue of PC World magazine