By Contributing Editor Steve Casimiro, editor of Adventure Journal. See more of Casimiro's gear recommendations in our Gear of the Year 2011 - Fall-Winter >>
The Air Display ($9.99) app solves a problem of the modern world: Not enough screen. Even on a 15-inch laptop, real estate is lacking. Processes as simple as emailing can feel constrained and if you’re working on something more involved, say, bouncing between Power Point and a spreadsheet, forget about it. But Air Display turns your iPad (or iPhone, but let’s get real) into a second display and, while we aren’t talking about magically adding a 30-inch big screen, it does improve the situation dramatically.
Like many people, I bought an iPad thinking it would serve as a laptop lite. It has, but it’s still a far cry from the full functionality of a lappie. So now, instead of taking one or the other, I find myself carrying both, and by connecting them, Air Display makes the iPad less of a toy and more of a tool.
The app works just the way adding a second monitor does. In fact, you are adding a second monitor, it just happens to be wirelessly over wi-fi. Download the program to laptop (or desktop, Windows or Mac), download it to iPad, and with one click the iPad serves as an extension of your screen. It look me less than five minutes to get it running, and there wasn’t the slightest hiccup.
Once connected, you simply work on your laptop, dragging any files or program windows you want off the right side of the screen and they appear on the iPad. If you’ve used a second display, you know exactly what to expect.
Processing is driven by your laptop, so the measure of Air Display is how well it shows what’s on the screen, and in that regard it earns a B+. Less graphics-intensive tasks, like word processing and even photo editing, look amazing on the iPad’s screen. There’s an occasional flicker in the cursor, but none in the windows or what they’re displaying. It’s only when you throw heat at it with videos that Air Display lags: Whether via YouTube or a QuickTime located on your hard drive, playback tends to stutter. It’s not horrible—catching up on the Daily Show is fine—but you won’t want to watch a movie on it.
The only remarkable quirk of Air Display comes when you change orientation on the iPad. Switch from portrait to landscape or vice versa and a blue screen appears during the two- to five-second delay until the screen reorients itself. It’s remarkably similar to the blue screen of death and the first time it occurs is disconcerting. But as the saying goes, no harm no foul, and you get used to it.