Espresso Display is the ultraportable second screen for road warriors – TechCrunch
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2019, Espresso Display is back with version 2 of its USB-C-powered, ultraportable second display for people who love to get things done while on the go. Darrell tried out a pre-production unit of the original version of the monitor a couple of years ago, concluding that “the Espresso monitor manages to stand out,” and it looks like the company took a winning formula and doubled it down. I took a closer look to see how the screen performs on a 32,000 km trip to the other side of the earth.
There are many different ways to get a job done. Some people are able to use a laptop as their only tool for everything they do. Unfortunately, I am completely spoiled with my setup at home; Two 27-inch 4K monitors mean I have almost infinite screen property, and I enjoy spreading all those windows everywhere.
I’m writing this in Australia – 16,000km away from my usual home – and you will not be surprised to hear that my regular game rig with all its equipment did not fit in my hand luggage. However, what fit easily was the innovative layout from Espresso. The company sent me a 15-inch touch screen to review, along with a selection of accessories. The $ 749 screen plus $ 99 espressoStand, $ 69 espressoCase and $ 119 espressoPen adds up to a pretty hefty price tag of $ 1036. It puts the screen within reach of an iPad Pro, which can also be used as an extra screen for your computer, so you really have to want to take the show with you on the road to spend that much money.
So, is it worth it? The espresso screen is super thin, weighs almost nothing, and surprised me by easily fitting into the laptop case with the M1 MacBook Air. The monitor itself is powered by USB-C, so you can operate it from your laptop. Now the small battery in the MacBook Air means that the 7W cover on the screen absorbs a lot of extra power. At first I suspected it could be a breach of contract, but when I started using the setup a lot more, I realized that it was not a big deal: If you settle down somewhere long enough to have the time and space to To set up another monitor, you are probably not far from a power source anyway. Connect your laptop to power and you are ready. Or, if you leave the other monitor on for a while (for example, on the desk in the hotel room), you can connect power directly to the monitor. It has two USB-C ports and can supply power to the laptop; super smart, and means you only need to connect one cable when you want to get some work done.
However, the screen with the strange name has a good story behind the name: the name “Espresso” is derived from the idea that an espresso coffee gives you the shot of energy and productivity you need to get things done efficiently. “We believe the screen does the same thing – it’s portable, compact, efficient and packs power so our users can work from anywhere with maximum focus,” a company spokesman told me. Nice touch: Each of the Espresso team members has their favorite coffee order as part of their email signature. Long-legged? Of course, but a fun detail nonetheless.
Espresso Display has a number of peculiarities that fall into the same category as power consumption; at first glance, it seems like a disaster, but when you use the screen, the objection melts away. Another example is the screen resolution; both $ 529 13-inch screen, $ 669 13-inch touchscreen display and range-topping $ 749 15-inch touchscreen display package with only 1920 x 1080 resolutions (approximately 2 million pixels). Compare that to the 12-inch iPad Pro, which is smaller but has 2048 x 2732 (about 5.6 million pixels), and on paper, the Espresso screen does not make sense. Not so fast, though, because the iPad – like the iPhone, which introduced the concept of retina displays – is designed to be handheld. When you leave the Espresso screen propped up against the protective lid, or on the stand, it can be far enough away from your eyes that it does not make much difference in most work situations, in my experience.
This is where the inclusion of a pen as an optional accessory confuses the placement of the espresso screen, I think: The screen is designed to sit on your desk, further away from your face than a handheld device. As a result, the slightly limited resolution does not bother me at all. Pick it up and use it as a touch screen, and things change right away; the text is not as sharp as on my MacBook Air. (It also makes sense, since Air has a 2560 x 1600 screen, which is 4 million pixels, give or take, and the text looks smooth as butter.) And obviously, to use it with the pen, you have to get up close and personal with it.
Another problem I encountered was that the USB-C cables I had with me on the trip turned out to be power and data cables that did not support monitors. Quite my mistake, of course, but feel free to post a nonsense here about how cables that fit in one connector (USB-C) really should be able to be replaced with other cables that fit in that connector. I’m aware that there are lots of technical and financial reasons why it’s not feasible, but it’s a terrible user experience to have a USB-C cable that does not have all the wires to transport the DisplayPort standard.
The espresso screen comes with some really smart software that further enhances the capabilities. Turn the monitor sideways to landscape orientation on the magnetic stand, and it reports a change of direction to the computer, which then responds by rotating the monitor as well. Small details like that, the dual USB-C ports and other smart design features make you realize that the team has gone to great lengths to observe users and build a user-centric product.
The company told me that it plans to roll out additional functionality for the screens via the espressoFlow software, including a number of features that will start to step on the toes of Wacom and other smart tablet tools for graphic designers. It has sent screens to more than 10,000 people, and the team has grown to more than 20 full-time employees, with ambitious roadmaps and aggressive expansion plans.
Would I spend $ 1000 of my own money on this solution? It depends, honestly. These days I do most of my work in one of two modes: on the command center at home, where I have a standing desk, 64 GB of RAM, fast Intel i9 processors and can just as well be infinite screen property. The second mode is on the way – for example when I’m at TechCrunch’s events, or going out through devices or talking to entrepreneurs. In that mode, my MacBook Air and an audio recorder are all I need. In none of the working modes does Espresso Display make much sense.
But in earlier times, when travel was easier, I have definitely worked on the road for many weeks and months in a row. In that universe, I often longed for a new screen and the extra flexibility to work from anywhere. Of course, your mileage will vary, but for people who spend much more time on the road (or who need a quick-to-unpack other display solution), the Espresso Display may be just the thing.