An iPad vs. a Portable Monitor: Which One Should You Choose?

An iPad vs. a Portable Monitor: Which One Should You Choose?

Deciding between an iPad or a portable monitor as a secondary display for your MacBook or Windows PC can be a daunting task. Both options offer unique advantages, and the choice ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences. In this article, we'll explore the key factors to consider when choosing between an iPad and a portable monitor, including portability, display quality, performance, compatibility, versatility, and cost.

Quick Comparision: iPad vs. Portable Monitor

Here is a table summarizing the key stats comparing iPads and portable monitors:

Feature iPad Portable Monitor
Portability Lightweight (e.g., 11" iPad Pro ~1 lb) Varies, some lightweight options
Screen Size Up to 12.9" Larger, typically 15-17"
Resolution High (e.g., 12.9" iPad Pro 2732x2048) Varies from 1080p to 4K
Pixel Density High (e.g., 12.9" iPad Pro 264 PPI) Lower for 1080p, higher for 4K
Display Type IPS/OLED, excellent color accuracy IPS common, some TN panels
Refresh Rate Typically 60Hz Some options for 120Hz+
Connectivity USB-C, wireless Sidecar (Mac only) USB-C, HDMI, VGA
Compatibility macOS Sidecar Windows, macOS, Android
Price Range $599+ for iPad Air $99+ for budget options, up to $500+
Battery Life Up to 10 hours Can be powered by USB-C connection
Versatility Tablet, drawing, touch input Dedicated display

Portability and Convenience

When it comes to portability and convenience, iPads have a clear advantage over portable monitors. They are generally lighter and more compact, making them easier to carry around. For example, the 11-inch iPad Pro weighs around 1 pound, while a 15.6-inch portable monitor can weigh 2-3 pounds. Additionally, iPads can be used wirelessly with Sidecar, although a wired connection is more stable.

Portable monitors offer a larger screen size compared to even the largest iPad Pro (12.9 inches), which can be more convenient for extended use and multitasking. However, setting up portable monitors requires connecting cables and a stand, adding to the setup time and items to carry. Some monitors are lightweight and use a USB-C connection for power and display signal transfer, making them easy to set up and carry around.

Compatibility and Connectivity

When it comes to compatibility and connectivity, both iPads and portable monitors have their advantages and limitations.


iPads with USB-C ports can directly connect to USB-C monitors using a USB-C cable. However, older iPads with Lightning ports require adapters to connect to USB-C monitors, so an additional adapter will be needed.

Portable monitors can connect to laptops via USB-C, HDMI, or VGA ports, depending on the monitor model. Wired options are generally more reliable.

portable monitor connectivity

For Mac users, iPads can be used wirelessly with Sidecar. However, Windows users or gaming console users, such as those with a Nintendo Switch, may need install additional apps for your iPads, which can be inconvenient.


iPads are compatible with macOS Sidecar, allowing wireless or wired connection to extend or mirror the display. However, Sidecar requires macOS Catalina or later. Portable monitors work with Windows PCs, macOS, and even Samsung DeX mode on Android phones, offering broader compatibility.

Sidecar system requirements


iPads have higher pixel density than most portable monitors, resulting in sharper text and icons. However, portable monitors generally have lower resolutions like 1080p, although some high-end models offer 4K. Sidecar on iPads provides a smooth, lag-free experience, but wired connections are more stable than wireless.

Display Quality and Performance

In terms of display quality and performance, iPads and portable monitors have their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Display Technology

iPads typically use high-quality IPS or OLED panels with excellent viewing angles and color accuracy. Many portable monitors also use IPS panels, but some cheaper models may have TN panels with narrower viewing angles and duller colors. OLED portable monitors offer exceptional contrast and low motion blur but are more expensive.

Resolution and Pixel Density

The latest iPad Pro models have resolutions of 2732x2048 (12.9") and 2388x1668 (11"), translating to a pixel density of 264 PPI. In comparison, a 1080p portable monitor around 15" would have a pixel density of around 157 PPI. The iPad's higher resolution makes text and icons appear sharper and more "true to size" compared to a 1080p portable monitor.

Color Accuracy and Calibration

iPads have factory color calibration optimized for sRGB and DCI-P3 color spaces, while many portable monitors are not factory calibrated, resulting in varying color accuracy. For color-critical work, an iPad with its factory calibration may be preferable to an uncalibrated portable monitor.

Refresh Rate and Response Time

Most iPads have 60Hz refresh rates, while some portable monitors offer 120Hz or higher. Higher refresh rates provide smoother motion for gaming and video. Additionally, response times are important for gaming, and both iPads and portable monitors vary in this specification.

60hz vs 120hz

Versatility and Multi-Functionality

While an iPad can be a versatile device beyond just a second screen, offering features like drawing capabilities and standalone computing power, portable monitors also provide unique benefits for various professionals and use cases.

iPad Versatility

  • Excellent for reading single documents, books, or comic books due to the handheld form factor
  • Supports handwritten notes, diagrams, and highlights for better information retention
  • Can serve as a drawing tablet with the Apple Pencil
  • Provides a touchscreen interface for content consumption

Portable Monitor Versatility

  • Expands screen real estate for laptops, making it easier to multitask and navigate between applications
  • Offers a larger display for media consumption, gaming, and productivity
  • Provides a dedicated screen for specific tasks like photo/video editing or coding
  • Allows for dual-screen setups with laptops for increased efficiency
  • Available in various sizes, resolutions, and features to suit different needs and budgets

    Cost Analysis

    When considering the cost-effectiveness of an iPad versus a portable monitor, there are several factors to consider:

    Cost of the Device Itself

    • iPad Air starts at around $599, while a decent portable monitor can cost as little as $130-$224. Higher-end portable monitors like the Espresso Display V2 can cost up to $499.

      Accessories and Software

      • For an iPad, you may need to purchase a stylus ($99+) and a keyboard case ($99+) for optimal productivity.
      • With a portable monitor, you may need to buy a stand or cover, but these are often included or cost much less than iPad accessories.
      • iPadOS 16 enables using external displays, but you'll need to ensure your iPad model is compatible.

      Portability and Versatility

      • iPads are highly portable and can be used for many tasks beyond video editing.
      • Portable monitors are dedicated displays that provide more screen real estate for editing but are less versatile than iPads.


      • iPads connect to MacBooks via Sidecar, but this requires compatible models.
      • Portable monitors connect via USB-C or HDMI, which is more universal.

      Real-World User Experiences

      Here are the key points comparing using an iPad vs a portable monitor in real-world professional workflows:

      iPad as a Second Monitor

      • Using an iPad as a second monitor can work in a pinch, but the performance is subpar compared to a dedicated portable monitor. The smaller screen size of even the largest iPad Pro 12.9" is limiting for many tasks.
      • Apps and workflows are often not optimized for using an iPad as a display. It requires extra steps and workarounds that can slow you down. The lack of a precise mouse pointer and inability to separate work/personal accounts are drawbacks.
      • However, using an iPad as a wireless second display with apps like Sidecar or Duet can be convenient when traveling light. It's great for monitoring apps like email and Slack on the side.

      Portable Monitors

      • Portable monitors provide a better experience and value than using an iPad as a display. They are OS-agnostic and often come with multiple connectivity options.
      • Affordable portable monitors in the 15-16" range can be easily packed in a laptop bag. Buying a cheap used monitor and reselling it later is an option for longer trips.
      • Portable monitors allow you to take advantage of the full power of your laptop. They are ideal for tasks like video editing, coding, and database work that require a larger screen.

      Also see: Arzopa Z1FC 144Hz Portable Gaming Monitor
      With world-leading refresh rates of up to 144Hz, you will experience amazingly fluid gaming visuls, giving you the upper hand in games. Meet the next-level of gaming tahnks to anultra-large 16.1" monitor, for a game-changing, immersive experience.

      Arzopa Z1FC 144Hz Portable Gaming Monitor 16.1" Screen

      Arzopa Z1FC 144Hz Portable Gaming Monitor 16.1 Inch Screen
      • 16.1 Inch Full HD (1920x1080p) IPS with a premium aluminum design.
      • 1.7 lb weight and 0.3-inch thickness make it ideal for on-the-go use.
      • Supports PS5, Xbox, Switch, Steam Deck, PCs, phone, and more.
      • Includes a built-in stand for both portrait and landscape viewing.

        Portable Monitors Specifically Designed for iPad Pro

        Portable monitors tailored for the iPad Pro have recently emerged in the market, like Arzopa Type-C Portable Monitor, offering users a whole new experience.

        1. Perfect Compatibility and Seamless Connection

        These monitors typically feature USB-C or Thunderbolt ports that perfectly match the iPad Pro, enabling plug-and-play functionality without the need for additional drivers or software. They seamlessly integrate with the iPad Pro's operating system, providing an extended display and intuitive interaction.

        2. High-Resolution Display and Touch Functionality

        Designed specifically for the iPad Pro, these monitors often boast high-resolution displays with excellent color reproduction and detail clarity. Additionally, they support touch functionality, allowing users to interact directly with the screen, just as they would on an iPad Pro's display.

        3. Multiple Connection Options

        Apart from USB-C or Thunderbolt connectivity with the iPad Pro, these monitors also support other connection methods like wireless projection, Bluetooth, and more. This flexibility allows users to choose the most suitable connection method based on their usage scenarios and needs.

        4. Portability and Expandability

        While these monitors are larger and heavier than the iPad Pro itself, they still maintain a relatively lightweight design. Additionally, they offer various expansion ports like HDMI and VGA, enabling users to connect to other devices like projectors and televisions, further expanding usage scenarios and flexibility.


        Choosing between an iPad and a portable monitor ultimately depends on your specific needs, preferences, and the tasks at hand. While an iPad offers superior portability and additional functionality, a portable monitor provides a larger screen, better compatibility, and lower cost for video editing and other productivity tasks.

        Consider not just the technical specifications but also how each option fits into your lifestyle and work habits. An iPad may be a better choice if you value versatility and portability, while a portable monitor might be the way to go if you prioritize screen real estate and compatibility with your existing setup.

        Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the decision should be based on your unique requirements. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, and don't hesitate to reach out if you have any specific questions.


        Here are some frequently asked questions comparing using an iPad vs a portable monitor for work, along with tips and recommendations:

        Q: Can I use an iPad as a wireless second monitor?

        Yes, you can use an iPad as a wireless second monitor with apps like Sidecar (for Macs) or Duet Display. This allows you to extend your laptop's screen to the iPad over Wi-Fi or USB. However, the performance is not as good as a dedicated portable monitor.

        Q: What are the limitations of using an iPad as a second monitor?

        • Smaller screen size, even on the largest 12.9" iPad Pro, can be limiting for many tasks
        • Apps and workflows are often not optimized for using an iPad as a display, requiring extra steps
        • Lack of precise mouse pointer and inability to separate work/personal accounts on iPad
        • Battery drain when used as a continuous display

        Q: How do I set up an iPad as a second monitor?

        1. Install a second monitor app like Sidecar, Duet Display or Astropad on your iPad
        2. Connect your iPad to your laptop via USB or enable wireless connection in the app
        3. Adjust display settings to extend or mirror your laptop's screen to the iPad

        Q: What size portable monitor should I get?

        Portable monitors typically range from 12-17". A 15-16" model is a good balance of screen real estate and portability. The 12.9" iPad Pro is also a viable option if you already own one.

        See more about Arzopa Z1FC 144Hz Portable Gaming Monitor

        Q: What connectivity options do portable monitors have?

        Most portable monitors connect via USB-C or HDMI. USB-C is preferred as it provides video, data and power over a single cable. Some also have mini HDMI ports.

        Q: What accessories do I need for a portable monitor?

        • Cables: USB-C or HDMI cable to connect to your laptop
        • Stand: A foldable stand or case with adjustable viewing angles
        • Power: Some portable monitors require a separate power adapter

        Q: How do I set up a portable monitor?

        1. Connect the portable monitor to your laptop using the appropriate USB-C or HDMI cable
        2. If needed, connect the monitor to power using a USB-C PD adapter or included power cable
        3. Adjust the stand to your preferred viewing angle
        4. Extend or mirror your laptop's display to the portable monitor in display settings


        Leave a comment

        Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

        Please note, comments must be approved before they are published