When it comes to best portable monitors, they all have a very similar form factor. Typically you get a 12- to 17-inch screen with an integrated stand to keep it on a desk/flat surface. Every portable monitor we’ve reviewed so far has stuck to that formula.
However, the SideTrak Swivel eschews the norm in this category by opting for a semi-permanent attachment to the back of your laptop’s screen cover. This attachment point has advantages and disadvantages, which I will discuss in more detail in this review.
If you’re looking for a portable monitor to expand your workspace without a desk or flat surface nearby, the SideTrak swivel is an interesting option in this category. However, if you want precise control over display settings or expect excellent image quality, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Specifications of the SideTrak swivel portable monitor
|Panel type / Back light||IPS / WLED|
|Screen size / aspect ratio||12.5 inches / 16:9|
|Maximum resolution and refresh rate||1920 x 1080 @ 60 Hz|
|Maximum brightness||300 nits|
|Ports||1x Mini-HDMI 2.0, 1x USB-C|
|(DisplayPort 1.2 Alt Mode)|
|Dimensions:||12 x 7.4 x 0.7 inches|
|The weight||1.3 pounds|
SideTrak swivel portable monitor design
Our SideTrak Swivel review unit has a 12.5-inch screen, but SideTrak also makes options 13.3 inch and 14 inch sizes (opens in new tab) to match your laptop model. The bezels along the side and top are 0.25 inches thick, while the bottom bezel or “chin” is only 1 inch thick. The entire unit is incredibly light, weighing only 1.3 pounds. A lightweight design is imperative given that most people will be using the Swivel hanging from the back of their laptop screen, and you don’t want to add so much extra weight that your laptop becomes unstable.
However, the lightweight design also means the Swivel feels very cheap. The easily scratchable plastics used are of poor quality, with the top and bottom halves glued together a bit haphazardly. On my unit, not only were the seams uneven between the two halves, but there were a lot of flashing/mold lines along the plastic that were very sharp (one edge was sharp enough to cut my finger).
There are only two buttons on the swivel, and both are unmarked. They adjust the brightness up or down. You’ll also find just two ports on the Swivel: a micro HDMI port and a USB-C port with DisplayPort Alt-Mode support. The SideTrak includes a USB-C to USB-C cable (with a USB-C to USB-A adapter attached if needed) to provide a single video/power connection to a supported laptop and a micro HDMI to HDMI cable.
We should also note that the Swivel does not have a traditional on-screen display (OSD). There is only one setting to adjust: brightness. There is only one display mode and no other configurable options. So, good luck with the screen colors on your laptop panel.
Connecting the SideTrak Swivel to a laptop
The main appeal of the SideTrak Swivel is its ability to connect directly to your laptop. Attaching the swivel requires a little preparation, starting with the display attachment guide that SideTrak includes in the box. You use the paper guide as a template to attach a metal plate to the back of your laptop screen in either a right- or left-handed configuration. The metal plate attaches to the back of your screen using double-sided tape. Once installed, SideTrak says this is a semi-permanent mount that you must remove using the included plastic scraper tool. SideTrak includes two metal plates if you want to use the Swivel with a second laptop.
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After attaching the metal plate, the swivel arm is connected by four magnets. Magnets provide a strong bond that doesn’t break easily. It also allows the screen to slide in and out of the side of your laptop. As its name suggests, the Swivel also rotates 360 degrees and rotates 270 degrees. There’s a built-in gyroscope to automatically orient the screen depending on whether it’s placed on the left or right side of your laptop.
However, build quality issues resurface with the rotating mechanism. The attachment point where the screen attaches and rotates around the arm is poorly constructed, with tight tolerances. As a result, the screen hangs along the pivot point instead of sticking straight out. So instead of your Swivel sitting perfectly square, it leans down at an angle of 2 to 3 degrees, which is unsightly.
Another issue is that although the Swivel weighs just over a pound, the uneven weight balance caused my Motile laptop to tilt to the right during use. My Motile M141 weighs 2.55 pounds, which probably exacerbates the problem, but a heavier laptop probably won’t experience the tilt issue. However, there is no getting around the hanging swivel mechanism.
When not in use, the Swivel slides and folds neatly into the back of your laptop screen. Strong magnets ensure it doesn’t come off during transport.
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You can also use the Swivel like a traditional portable monitor. The “arm” of the swivel attachment can serve as a stand, adjustable to set your angle. The arm also serves as a stand to place the rotator in portrait mode.
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SideTrak Swivel image quality
Compared to other portable monitors aimed at productivity, the SideTrak Swivel ranks at the back of the pack in our display tests, with one exception. Its brightness rating was above average and ever so slightly above its manufacturer’s specifications of 301.4 nits.
However, sRGB color gamut coverage was measured at 72.4 percent, while DCI-P3 only reached 51.3 percent. Both results are among the lowest we’ve ever recorded on a portable monitor, and actual results were average, as we’d expect with these numbers.
While brightness was a definite high point, colors were muted. For example, when editing photos in Pixelmator Pro, colors that should have been solid red tend to lean more towards orange-red. This also threw off the content I was watching on the screen, incl The Mandalorian (Season 3: Episode 2). Also, the lack of an OSD means it’s not possible to adjust color and picture settings for the Swivel. What you see is what you get, which unfortunately is not ideal in this case.
My review sample also had a hot spot in the lower center of the screen, which shows up as a cluster of bright pixels about the size of my pinky nail.
The concept of the Sidetrak Swivel is intriguing, but its execution unfortunately misses the mark on several fronts. First and foremost. The build quality of the swivel is poor, some missteps can affect functionality. It feels so thin, hollow and flimsy that I doubt how long it can be thrown into a laptop bag on various excursions before cracking.
The hinge that allows the screen to twist and turn is also a weak point, literally. Because the hinge isn’t rigid enough, it allows the screen to tilt, creating a non-level view.
There’s no OSD to adjust color and picture settings, limiting the ability to tweak the image to your taste. We often take OSDs for granted with monitors, so the lack of anything other than brightness control is disappointing.
And then there’s the price. $329 is a lot to ask for a portable monitor, especially considering we’ve seen some impressive ones OLED panels cost around $200 in recent months. We applaud SideTrak for trying something different with its approach to portable monitors with the Swivel, but there are too many trade-offs (and far better portable displays that cost less) to recommend it.
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