Review: Avatron Software Air Display 2
I often have my iPad sitting on my desk displaying something when I’m not using it—usually it’s some sort of entertainment media, a weather map, or stock quotes. Still, there are times when I feel like it’s just displaying something to justify its presence on my desk. Avatron Software hopes to give your iPad (or iPhone, Android device, Mac, or Windows PC) another use by becoming a second display for your computer. Air Display is a tool aimed at anyone that could temporarily use some extra screen space.
Maybe it was because my first few Macs only offered mirroring with a second monitor, but I always thought the notion of multiple displays was a bit ridiculous. Good software should be able to work with the space you’ve got, right? I quickly learned this thinking was flawed once I started doing a lot of work with Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. When I upgraded from a G4 Mac mini to a MacBook Pro, I ended up using a spare second monitor and really enjoyed the additional space. Unfortunately, the setup took up a lot of desk space and I was more inclined to not disconnect the huge DVI connector and take my computer with me. Since upgrading to a newer model, I’ve actually downsized my home setup, but still use two displays at work (a 21″ iMac with a 19″ display connected to it). It’s handy being able to have quite a few things on the screen at once, especially how OS X’s improved support for fullscreen apps.
Still, there are times when a second display would be handy with my home setup, and Air Display hopes to fulfill that need. The paid app loads on a particular device you want to use as a display (iOS and Android are $10 each, Mac/Windows apps are $20 each), and then a free driver app loads on the Mac or PC that will actually “broadcast” the display. I tested the iOS version of the display app and the Mac version of the driver app.
The nice thing about the driver software being free is that you could use the same device as a display on multiple computers and only pay for the app once. For example, you could use your iPad as a display for a PC at work and then use it as a display for a Mac at home and only need to buy the $10 iOS app.
Set up with the system is pretty easy—you download the Air Display app on a device and open it—there aren’t any options, but it does display the device’s IP address if you need to connect across subnets. This is a nice feature, and often overlooked in iOS apps that have some sort of local network connection with their Mac counterparts. Once you download and install the driver, an extra icon appears in your menu bar. If both devices are on the same subnet, your iOS device should appear in the menu bar. If it isn’t, you can manually type in its IP address to connect.
All options are handled through the driver software. By default, the device’s touchscreen can interpret key presses and taps and pass them to the computer. A “Presentation Mode” is available, making the device strictly a display—especially useful if you plan on using an iPad for a fixed display. The next option allows devices with Retina Displays to run at their native resolution. For anyone who has used a Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pro, this is similar to the “More Space” option—everything is drawn at the traditional Mac resolution, giving you more space, but smaller, less-detailed content. The next option allows you to use HiDPI system resolution, giving you a sharper interface on Retina Display-equipped devices. Finally, there is an option to show inactive displays in a local window. This is a nice feature, as the software will gather displays that aren’t currently available or being used and temporarily “hold” windows and items until the device is available or you disconnect. At that point, windows return to your Mac’s main display(s), much like when you disconnect an external display that was displaying application windows.
Conversely, turning off the Presentation Mode setting allows you to use a touchscreen-equipped device as an input device and interact with items displayed on the screen. Taps register as clicks, and it will even allow you to use an on-screen keyboard. The killer feature with this is that the driver software also allows up to four external displays, giving you the ability to use it for virtual control surfaces in media production applications or quick access to certain tool palettes.
In testing, Air Display worked very well, and was great for needing extra space in a pinch. It is dependent on your particular network, so there may be some latency. Furthermore, it seems that a device using Air Display is probably not suited for video playback or other items that require immediacy (again, related to the latency). Still, $10 or $20 is a lot less than even buying a cheap LCD, especially if you have an iPad that can sometimes be repurposed. There’s also the portability factor—an iPad and a MacBook can be taken just about anywhere, as opposed to lugging a MacBook and an external display and then finding an electrical outlet for said display.
It’s hard to go wrong with Air Display—the low price, intuitive interface, and wide range of compatibility make it appealing to a wide audience. Even if you use it only a few times, it will be an excellent addition to your tech toolbox.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
Air Display quickly makes almost any device an external display for a Mac or PC and works well.
Pros: Simple interface and setup, reasonably priced, excellent functionality, consumer-friendly pricing structure
Cons: Responsiveness dependent on network connection
Product: Air Display 2
Company: Avatron Software Software
Platform: Mac OS X 10.7 Lion or later, iOS 6 or later, Windows 7 or 8
Price: $9.99 for iOS/Android, $19.99 for Mac/Windows, driver app free for Mac/Windows