by Marty Demarest
I'm just wondering: How many of you want to take your computer into the bathroom with you? Think about it -- surfing the Web and checking e-mail is barely more literary than bathroom reading is anyway. Why should it be limited to something that you do at your desk? For that matter, just think if you could take that recipe that you just found online straight into the kitchen without having to print it out first.

These are the things that some computer hardware manufacturers are anticipating that home computer users will want to do in the near future. But rather than depend upon a laptop computer to carry out these tasks, ViewSonic has created a flat, portable monitor that allows users to access their existing desktop computer over a wireless connection.

A number of companies will soon be releasing similar devices, but right now ViewSonic airpanels are leading the market and are available from retailers like CompUSA and in two different sizes -- 10 and 15 inches. These are generally smaller than a lot of computer monitors, but the airpanel can serve as either the primary monitor (set in a docking cradle on the desktop when not being carried around) or as an additional display.

Not having to haul around a separate computer in the form of a laptop or a tablet PC means not having to transfer documents between machines when you want to go portable. But don't start fantasizing about grabbing your monitor and wandering into the garden to write letters. While the airpanels have navigation buttons that take care of standard computer functions, and the screen is touch-sensitive, there isn't a keyboard attached, so text input can be tedious.

There are a few other things that early adopters should consider as well. With the declining price of laptops, the $1,000-plus price tag of an airpanel is a bit steep for something that you can't take out of the house. And there's plenty of software that allows users to access their desktop computer from a laptop over an in-house wireless network. But a wireless monitor may be perfect for casual users who want some portability without burdening themselves with excess technology. The wireless network sets itself up, and an already-existing computer is given some mobility. Just don't try to surf the Web in the bathtub: the monitors aren't waterproof. Yet.

Publication date: 03/13/03

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