I am a big fan of USB monitors and I went through a number of them over the past four years. The Lenovo L2230x (which at one point was discounted for £80), the Lenovo ThinkVision LT1421 USB, the Samsung Syncmaster LD220 (which I am still using) and more recently, the Philips 221S3UCB and the AOC E2251Fwu.
Today, I received the Philips Brilliance 231P4UPES/00 23in which costs £221 at Misco. That’s more than twice the price of the LG 22EN33S which is on sale for £80 and which comes with a slightly smaller display size and the same resolution. So what explains that price difference? In a nutshell, USB 3.0.
This monitor is one of the very first to come with a USB 3.0 interface which, in theory, should allow users to enjoy a lag-free experience thanks to the extra bandwidth. USB 3.0 is capable of transferring up to 4.8Gbps, that’s ten times what USB 2.0 can achieve. In practice though, the expected transfer rate be around 3Gbps.
Unpacking the monitor proved to be an uninspiring exercise with nothing much to highlight. It was well packed without any protective film, with the stand detached from the actual monitor. There were three cables provided (USB 3.0, power and D-SUB), a quick guide brochure and an installation disc (note that Philips’s UK website only lists the older 231P4QPYES/00 at the time of writing).
Without actually reading any of the documentation, I put together the monitor, a doodle, thanks to the tool-less clip-and-go mechanism, swapped cables with my existing USB monitor, taking care of connecting the Philips Brilliance to my laptop’s USB 3.0 port. It was rapidly recognised and everything appears to be running smoothly. I did update the Displaylink drivers to v7.2m0 and was even able to daisy-chain the Samsung LD220 via the Philips monitor.
Aesthetically, the Philips Brilliance 231P4UPES/00 reminds me of the AOC 2436Pwa with whom it shares the ability to rotate (by 90 degrees), the grey colour scheme, a pair of speakers, the display size (around 23in) and a USB hub. The Philips model adds a few interesting features though and has a thinner bezel.
It has two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 one. Why on Earth Philips didn’t add more than that, we fail to see. There’s also a 10/100Mb Ethernet connector, audio in, audio out and a D-Sub connector. No HDMI or DVI-D, which is also a slight disappointment. The stand was solid if unimpressive and does the job decently.
As for the controls, we found them fairly easy to navigate and the fact that the monitor comes with touch sensitive ones means that you don’t need to run your fingers on the monitor frame to guess where the buttons are. Last but not least, the display has a sensing technology called PowerSensor that switches the monitor on and off automatically depending on whether there’s someone sitting in front of it.
When it comes to display quality, the Philips Brilliance 231P4UPES/00 fares well, thanks partly to white LEDs being used which according to Philips allows for “full, consistent brightness”. There are a number of pre-set viewing modes (photo, gaming, office etc) as part of the SmartImage feature that the company reckons “analyzes the content displayed on your screen and gives you optimized display performance”. In use, I did notice some almost imperceptible lag but couldn’t really put my finger on it and randomly, all my three displays would flicker for a couple of seconds.
All in all, the Philips Brilliance 231P4UPES/00 is a very decent monitor. As it stands, it has no real competition given that both Lenovo and Samsung have pulled out of the 20in+, USB monitor market. If, like me, you are on the market for an affordable two-display setup, then it is definitely worth a look.