Portable monitors have been in existence for quite a while, but the industry is only just getting to a point of maturity for wide adoption, and this, in conjunction with the remote work lifestyle forced by happenings throughout the year 2020, has shot portable monitor tech into the limelight it otherwise didn't have access to. I recently got hold of the Lepow Z1, a budget portable monitor from a relatively unknown brand that manufactures accessories for smartphones and PCs.
I've been using the Lepow Z1 for about a month now, and in that time, I've come to the conclusion that it's one of the best budget portable monitors available right now, at its price point. This device strips out the bells and whistles - it's not a touchscreen, and it supports only up to 60Hz refresh rate. This is most probably how they managed to keep its price as low as it currently is, but when it comes to brass tacks - the primary function a monitor, albeit a portable one, is meant to perform, this monitor delivers well enough. Find out how, in this review.
Lepow Z1 Unboxing
The Lepow Z1 comes in a rectangular cardboard box as is expected of devices such as this (monitors and screens), but the packaging does not feel cheap at all.
The white box with only the Lepow name printed on top of it gives you the kind of vibes you get unboxing Apple products - an indication of a premium gadget underneath.
Removing the top cover reveals a USB-A to USB-C cable and wall charger in separate compartments on the left side, and a flap covering what seems to be the main area containing the monitor.
Taking off this flap reveals the remaining contents of the box. Below is a list of everything contained in the Lepow Z1 package:
- USB-A to USB Type-C cable.
- Wall Charger.
- Screen Protector with an installation kit.
- Warranty Card.
- A "monitor accessories introduction" card.
- A protective, magnetic cover (officially called "Smart" cover).
- The Lepow Z1 Portable Monitor.
- A USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable.
- A mini HDMI to HDMI cable.
- An instruction manual.
- A FAQ manual.
Thanks to the included installation kit, I was able to install the screen protector on the monitor screen with very few and little bubbles that are barely visible when the device is in use. The installation kit also contains a microfiber cloth for whenever you need to wipe the screen.
The monitor accessories introduction card is simply a card that tells you how to get a separate stand for using the Lepow Z1 in vertical orientation, as opposed to the horizontal orientation you're (seemingly) confined to with the cover included in the package. However, as you'll see later in the full review below, you can still use the monitor in vertical orientation with the included cover.
The company offers a warranty period of 3 years and 6 months on this monitor, which is pretty generous considering that the average warranty period for similarly-priced monitors is 2-3 years.
The FAQ manual proffers solutions to most questions you'd have about using the device, and the User Guide contains instructions on setting up and operating the monitor and included accessories.
Other items included in the box will be discussed over the course of the full Lepow Z1 Review below.
Lepow Z1 Review - Design & Build Quality
The first thing that struck me as I took the Lepow Z1 out of its box is how lightweight this monitor is - it weighs just 770g, which is slightly more than the weight of the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (643g). If the display was smaller, it could be mistaken for a tablet when carried.
The light weight isn't the only thing the Z1 has going for it - it's reasonably slim at 8.8mm, and the combination of these two properties makes it easy to throw this monitor into a backpack and carry around comfortably, as should be for a portable device.
Coming to build quality, the Lepow Z1 is covered by a material that feels to me like a combination of anodized aluminum and plastic. Regardless, it feels very durable and appropriate for the type of device it is (and of course, the price tag).
The 0.4-inch bezels on both sides of the display on the front could be thinner, but they aren't bad and would serve as extra protection for the screen. The top bezel is just 0.25-inch thick which is perfect for aesthetics, and while the 0.8-inch bottom bezel sounds huge on paper, it's necessary as that's what the monitor would be resting on most of the time while it's in use, and it actually doesn't look bad in person, either.
The back of the monitor does attract fingerprints and other smudges, but it isn't glossy so these smudges are quite muted and don't disfigure the design. You should also beware of fingerprint smudges if you're going to install the screen protector - it collects 'em.
The included cover/sleeve, which doubles as a stand for the monitor, is similar to what is included with most other portable monitors and tablets; it's made of PU leather and its insides are covered by a suede-style material, which is an extra layer of protection for the monitor's screen when covered.
The upper part of one side of the sleeve is magnetic and props up the top of the monitor, while the two grooves on the lower part of the other side of the sleeve provide two angle adjustment levels for the monitor.
Of course, you can place the monitor at almost any point before the outermost groove, but the device is most stable between those two grooves.
By default, the stand allows you to use the monitor in only landscape orientation, and the company even implies - via the monitor accessories introduction card included in the package - that you have to buy another stand to use the device in portrait orientation. However, you can use the Lepow Z1 in portrait mode with its included stand by simply placing it as seen in the image below.
Of course, this would only work when you're connecting only via the USB-C port on the left, or otherwise if you have an outlet on the surface you're placing it on to pass the cords on the bottom through, but this is the same scenario you would get with any other monitor you might want to buy specially for portrait mode.
Overall, in terms of design, the Lepow Z1 offers nothing fancy or head-turning, but that's fine since your attention would be focused on the display itself a large percentage of the time.
Ports & Connectivity
The Lepow Z1 comes with an array of connectivity options, and this is one of the best things about this device - it can be connected to almost anything.
The bottom left side houses a mini-HDMI port, a USB-C port, and a 3.5mm audio jack, while the bottom right has a second USB-C port, a roll key, and the power button.
The two USB-C ports have different functions; the one on the right is used only for power supply to the monitor, while the one on the left is a full-featured USB-C port which supports both video and audio data transmission, and bi-directional power supply.
What this means is; if your display source (your laptop, smartphone, etc) has a full-featured USB-C port, you can project your screen onto the Lepow Z1 monitor and power it simultaneously through just the USB-C port, eliminating the need for you to carry multiple cables around.
The monitor draws a lot of power while in operation, though, so you might want to keep your laptop plugged in while using this monitor. For devices like Apple's latest Macbooks that have a single USB-C port, an elegant solution is to connect to the monitor via the USB-C port on the laptop, and then plug the monitor into power via the second USB-C port on the right. This way, the monitor charges the laptop via the USB-C connection while the laptop projects its video onto the monitor via the same connection. 👌
For other devices, you can project your screen to the monitor via the mini-HDMI port (using an adapter that plugs into a VGA/HDMI port on your display source) and power the monitor via its second USB-C port. I've found that the USB-A port on my laptop supplies enough power to the monitor via the USB-A to USB-C cable included in the package, so I don't even have to carry the power brick around anymore.
The availability of multiple connectivity options is one of the reasons why the Lepow Z1 is a good recommendation for a portable monitor. As long as your gadget supports video/audio data transmission via HDMI or USB-C, you can hook it up to this monitor. That includes a very wide range of devices, including laptops, smartphones, game consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, etc), Amazon Fire TV Stick, and even devices like the Apple Mac Mini and a Raspberry Pi!
The dual stereo speakers on the sides of the monitor are a nice addition. You won't be using these to stream music as they deliver feeble and thin sound completely devoid of bass, but they're just appropriate for things like podcasts and non-intense gaming, where the focus is not on the richness of sound, but its audibility.
I also found a pretty interesting use case for the 3.5mm audio jack on the monitor - if you're connected to a recent (flagship) smartphone with no 3.5mm audio jack, you could switch the audio output to the monitor and connect your headphones or speaker to the monitor via the audio jack, which eliminates the latency you might encounter while streaming via Bluetooth.
The roll key which is nested between the power button and USB-C port on the bottom right of the device, is a button with a wheel that can be rolled upwards or downwards and pressed to navigate and manipulate the OSD Menu on the monitor.
The aforementioned roll key is the only control knob available on the Lepow Z1 monitor, but it offers an interface into much more extensive controls in the device's OSD (On-Screen Display) menu. Right off the bat, the key can be rolled once upwards to bring up the brightness control interface and once downwards for the volume control interface, and once these interfaces are up, the wheel can be rolled up or down to increase or decrease the brightness or volume on the device respectively.
Pressing the roll key brings up the OSD menu, which contains 6 sub-menus for tweaking your viewing experiences with the monitor. The Brightness menu allows you to adjust the brightness, contrast, sharpness, and black levels, while the Image menu has an Eco setting for choosing among different picture modes - Standard, RTS, FPS, Text, Movie, and Game. You can also turn DCR (Dynamic Contrast Ratio) off/on and switch between a Wide (16:9) and 4:3 Aspect Ratio from the Image menu.
The Color Temp. menu gives you control over the Red, Green and Blue colour levels of the display, while the OSD Setting menu allows you to change settings related to the OSD Menu itself - Language, background transparency and the display countdown timer.
The 5th menu - Reset - lets you control the volume levels, mute it entirely, and reset the OSD Menu to factory settings, while the last menu - Misc. - allows you to switch between HDMI and USB-C for the display source, as well as adjust the blue light levels and switch HDR modes for the display.
Your settings are kept across restarts on the Lepow Z1, which is refreshing as I've come across some portable monitors that don't keep these settings and force you to re-configure them whenever you restart the device.
Lepow Z1 Review - Display Quality
The display on the Lepow Z1 is a 15.6-inch IPS panel with a Full HD (1080 * 1920) resolution and a 141.2 PPI pixel density. On paper, these are impressive specs for the display size, and the Lepow Z1 translates this to modest performance in real-life usage.
The Z1 display struggles with the reproduction of certain colour profiles, though. I've noticed that blacks are quite muted and not very dark on this monitor, and reds and purples are many times represented too dully. The Lepow Z1 has a 65.4% measured Color Gamut in the sRGB space, which is quite average for portable monitors in its price range.
The display is not very bright either, at a measured brightness level of 169 nits as opposed to the company's specification of 320 nits, and while my laptop's display is noticeably brighter when both are cranked to the highest brightness level, the Lepow monitor has proven adequate in my day-to-day usage ever since I got it.
If you're using the monitor for functions that require high levels of clarity but not accuracy (like gaming or coding), you might want to try out the HDR mode which increases the contrast and color levels. This also comes with a significant oversaturation of reds, though, so keep an eye out for that.
In summary, the Lepow Z1 is a good monitor for casual use, business, or light gaming, but if you require a monitor for tasks like intensive photo/video editing which involve high levels of accuracy of color reproduction, you might want to look further at more high-end (and expensive) options.
Lepow Z1 Portable Monitor Review - Final Verdict
The Lepow Z1 has its target user base well defined - if you want a portable monitor with a budget price tag that does the job well, and do not care very much about color accuracy, nor do you require extra features like a touchscreen display, then this is the monitor to get.
The Lepow Z1 is a steal at its regular list price of $189.99, and you'll occasionally find it on sale for even cheaper, like it is at $139.99 ($149.99 on discount + $10 coupon savings) on Amazon at the time of publishing this review.