Taihe Gemini portable 1080p touchscreen monitor preview



The Taihe Gemini portable monitor has made quite a splash since going up for pre-order on Kickstarter in January, having raised over $1 million from more than 3,200 backers so far — despite the project’s modest goal of just $10,000.

So what is it about this 12.5 inch portable display that’s striking a chord with people? After all, there are plenty of other portable monitors on the market… but few have the range of features Taihe managed to pack into the Gemini.

Like other options, it’s a screen that you can plug into a laptop, tablet, or other device if you want to use two displays at once. But it has more ports than most alternatives, features a built-in battery so you can use it with or without a power adapter, comes with a choice of a 4K display or a 1080p touchscreen display, and the Taihe Gemini has a fairly compact design.

The relatively inexpensive promotional pricing also probably didn’t hurt: Early backers of the Kickstarter campaign could reserve a 1080p Gemini for as little as $159 or a 4K model for $269… although prices have gone up since then.

The Kickstarter campaign ends on February 18th, 2019 and Taihe says the Gemini will begin shipping to customers in May, and the full retail prices will eventually be $299 for the 1080p model and $499 for the 4K version.

So is this portable display worth the asking price? The company sent me a 1080p demo unit so I could find out.

Overview

There are two versions of the Taihe Gemini monitor, but the one featured in this preview is the 1080p touchscreen version. It’s also a pre-release model — some of the features may be different on the full production models.

It features a 12.5 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel matte touchscreen display with a 60 Hz refresh rate. It’s an IPS display which looks pretty good from any angle, and the monitor’s matte finish means it doesn’t reflect as much glare as one with a glossy finish.

The Gemini monitor has relatively slim top and side bezels, and somewhat chunkier one along the bottom, giving the display a relatively small profile. It measures about 13.5″ x 9″ x 0.4″ and weighs about 2.6 pounds according to my scale.

That makes it a bit thicker and heavier than the 0.3 inches and 2 pounds claimed in the Kickstarter campaign, but I am testing a pre-release model, so it’s possible that Taihe will reduce the size and weight before it begins shipping to customers.

The monitor supports 10 finger capacitive touch input, which means you can use one or more fingers to interact with the screen. You should also be able to use a capacitive stylus, but there’s no support for pressure-sensitive active pens.

There’s an adjustable kickstand behind the screen with support for 180 degrees of rotation, allowing you to prop up the screen at a wide range of angles.

The hinge is pretty sturdy and does a good job of holding the monitor steady even if you’re poking or swiping the touchscreen display with your fingertips. But I do find that if I try to push it past 120 degrees or so, it tends to give, causing the Gemini to plop down onto the table.

Since the hinge is pretty rigid though, it can take a little effort to open the kickstand. Fortunately there’s a small piece of the kickstand that extends out a bit on the right side of the display, giving you something to grab onto when you want to extend the stand.

Theoretically you can also use the kickstand to prop up the Gemini in portrait mode, but it’s a lot less flexible in portrait orientation. Basically you can stand it up at a 90-degree angle to your desk or tabletop, and that’s it.

Since the ports and buttons are all on the shorter sides of the monitor, that also means you’ll end up with cables sticking out of the top and buttons smushed against your desk on the bottom (so if you push down too hard while setting up the display you might accidentally turn it off or switch inputs).

There’s also no support for automatic screen rotation, so you’ll need to go into your operating system’s display settings to manually rotate the display.

On the left side of the Gemini you’ll find a bunch of ports, including a power jack, a USB Type-C port, two micro USB ports, and two mini HDMI ports. Note that this may change by the time the monitor ships to customers — one of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign was an upgrade from mini HDMI to full-sized HDMI ports for the 1080p monitor.

My demo unit came with a 12V/3A power adapter, but another stretch goal that’s been reached means that the final version of the monitor may ship with a USB-C charger instead.

There’s also a built-in battery that will allow you to use the display for several hours at a time without a separate power source.

On the right side you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and five buttons: power, plus, minus, settings, and input selection.

The monitor also features stereo speakers, with one on each side of the device. Like the tiny speakers found in most laptop computers they’re not all that loud and lack bass, but I suppose it’s nice to have the option of using them.

If you’re plugging the Gemini into a laptop for a dual-monitor setup though, there’s a good chance that the speakers on your laptop will sound better.

There are LED lights on the left side that glow when the monitor is plugged in, charging, or turned on, and there are a set of lights on the right side that give you an indication of how much juice the battery holds.

While I haven’t tested the 4K version of the Gemini, I want to point out that the screen resolution isn’t the only thing that sets that model apart.

The entry-level model lacks support for touch input (although you can pay extra for a touch panel), and the 4K model has a different set of ports, with two USB 2.0 Type-A ports, a USB Type-C port, a mini DisplayPort, and full-sized HDMI port.

Using it

There are a few different reasons for using a portable display like the Taihe Gemini. You could connect it to a small device like a smartphone or tablet to use as a larger display. I didn’t have an appropriate adapter to try this, but I did get a kick out of plugging the Gemini into a GPD MicroPC, a handheld computer that has a 6 inch, 720p display.

Or you could connect it to a laptop so that you have a dual-screen setup that you can use at home or on the go.

When I’m working in my office, I tend to use a laptop + 21.5 inch monitor so that I have plenty of room for viewing multiple apps and windows without the need to keep flipping back and forth between different windows. But when I’m working away from home (or even in my living room or dining room), I usually have to adjust to using just a single display.

The Gemini allows me to use two… assuming I have room for it. I’ve found it’s a little tricky to fit both my HP Spectre x360 13t laptop and a Taihi Gemini side-by-side on a tablet at my favorite coffee shop. It’s be even tougher if I was using a larger laptop.

For the most part, the Gemini delivers on its promise. When I set up shop in my dining room one day recently, I was able to do a full day’s work just as easily as I would have in my office — while both the laptop and monitor were plugged into a wall jack.

Things get a little trickier when the display isn’t plugged in. The Gemini has a built-in 5,000 mAh battery that Taihe says should last for up to 5 hours of usage. I found that it more reliably gives me about 3.5 hours of run time.

If you need to work all day without stopping to plug in, that could be a problem. But I can think of plenty of situations where a few hours of battery life should be plenty. Maybe you just need to get a little work done between appointments.

Maybe you’re going to a meeting and want to share your screen across two displays so that everyone sitting around a conference table can see it. Or maybe you do expect to be able to charge the display at some point during the day, so you don’t necessarily need 5 full hours of battery life.

Unfortunately the placement of the status lights on the side of the Gemini means that you probably won’t see them when you’re actually looking at the monitor head-on. So I had no idea exactly when the display was going to die on me the first time I tried running down the battery.

If you usually rely on the battery power, it’s probably a good idea to peek at the right side of the device from time to time to keep an eye on the battery indicator lights.

If you are going to pack a charger when you take the Gemini with you, it might be a good idea to pack a laptop charger as well. While the Gemini doesn’t draw power from your laptop battery if it’s only plugged in via an HDMI cable, it does take more power to drive two displays than one.

My HP Spectre x360 13t can usually last for at least 6-8 hours when I’m using it unplugged. But using it with the Gemini seemed to cut that in half — shortly after the Gemini display runs out of battery power, my laptop follows suit.

Transporting the display presented me with some challenges. Thanks to a stretch goal, everyone who pre-orders a Gemini through the Kickstarter campaign will get a screen protector and multi-function bag. There’s also an option to pay $15 extra to get a sleeve.

The demo unit I received didn’t have any protective cover, and I didn’t have a laptop sleeve that was quite large enough. So I had to gently place it in my backpack and cover it with my laptop sleeve in hopes that nothing would get scratched. Hopefully this won’t be an issue for folks who start receiving their displays in May.

Another few quirks that I hope are limited to my pre-release demo unit include the fact that it shipped with a remote control with Chinese labels on the buttons, and with a full-sized HDMI cable despite only having mini HDMI inputs. Fortunately I have an HDMI-to-mini-HDMI cable which I was able to use to plug in several different devices including an Acer Aspire S13 laptop as well as the aforementioned GPD MicroPC and HP Spectre x360 13t.

Getting up and running is pretty simple. The monitor supports automatic input detection. So all I had to do was connect one end of an HDMI cable to my computer and the other to the monitor, press the power button for a moment to turn it on, and the monitor displayed a mirror image of what I could see on the laptop.

A quick dive into the Windows 10 display settings allowed me to extend my desktop to use the Gemini has extra screen real estate so I could view different content on each screen.

For example I could have a web browser open in one window and an application for editing photos or documents in the other. I could watch a full-screen video on one display, while working on a spreadsheet in the other. Or when working on a podcast editing job, I could view my digital audio editor in one window and a transcript of the conversation I was editing in the other.

I only tested the Gemini with Windows, but it should work with other operating systems including Linux and macOS.

And while I only used it with HDMI input, the monitor should also be able to accept video input via a USB-C cable, but I don’t have a compatible cable so I couldn’t test that functionality.

What I was able to test was the touchscreen — which also requires a USB connection. With just an HDMI cable connected to the monitor, it’s just a display and speaker. But when I run a USB cable from my computer into the Gemini’s USB-C port, it adds support for touch input.

I tested this with the USB Type-A to Type-C cable that was included in the box, as well as with a USB Type-C to Type-C cable I had lying around, and both worked. As long as the USB and HDMI cables were both connected, I could use my fingers to interact with the touchscreen display.

The Gemini’s two micro USB ports do not seem to work for touch input though. You can use them in other ways though — the micro USB ports let you use the Gemini as a sort of USB hub for connecting peripherals such as USB flash drives, mice, or keyboards… although you may need a micro USB to USB-A adapter to do that.

I was also able to charge my phone by plugging it into the monitor, so the Gemini also serves as a really big portable power bank.

Adjusting display input source is pretty simple. Just press the input button once to bring up the menu and then hit it again to toggle through auto-select, USB-C, and the two HDMI ports.

Other settings can be a little trickier to navigate until you get used to the menu system (it took me a while to remember which buttons were up/down/select since I couldn’t easily see them and the screen at the same time). But once you get the hang of it, there are plenty of options for adjusting the backlight level, brightness, contrast, color, and other settings.

Overall the Taihe Gemini does seem to deliver on its promise — it’s a portable display that you can use in a variety of situations. The relatively compact size and built-in battery means you can take it places a full-sized monitor wouldn’t go.

With multiple inputs including HDMI and USB Type-C ports, it’s also more versatile than many other portable monitors (many of which only accept USB/DisplayLink input), and if you’re looking for a portable 4K display, there isn’t a lot of competition in this space.

That said, my laptop weighs 2.8 pounds. This monitor weighs 2.6. That means I’m nearly doubling the weight of my mobile computing gear when I pack them both in my laptop… and as I mentioned above I’m also cutting my battery life in half by using the two devices together.

Is is worth it? That depends how devoted you are to the idea of dual-screen computing… and how and when you plan to use this setup. I do tend to work a little faster when I’m not constantly flipping between windows on a single-screen display, so I have to admit it was nice to have the screen with me in my coffee shop experiment. But I also didn’t have a lot of room on the table for my coffee mug.

If your workspace has larger tables, you may not have to choose between caffeine and screen real estate.

The early bird $159 (1080p) and $299 (4K) prices are also a lot more attractive than the full retail prices of $299 and $499… and it’s already too late to score one for those low prices. As of February 9th, 2019, the Full HD Gemini is going for $219, while the 4K UHD version is going for $329 and up.

All of which is to say, I like this monitor. Over the past few weeks I’ve been finding it a useful addition to my toolkit. But I’m not sure it’s something I’d use often enough to justify paying full price for one.

What about you?

The Taihe Gemini portable monitor is up for pre-order through February 18, 2019 at Kickstarter.com.





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