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How to repurpose a phone or tablet into a second screen

How to use a tablet as a second monitor

Right now, more of us are working from home than ever before. Some of us are already old pros, while for others it’s a whole new world. Since work from home has long been part of how things work here at Ting, we’ve been happy to share what we’ve learned. One thing we know for sure – we’re really missing those second monitors from the office. We’ve got good news though. You can quickly and easily use your tablet or phone as a second monitor!

While it may be smaller, using your tablet or smartphone as a second monitor has the same benefits as a true second display. You’ll be able to split your windows between two screens, therefore avoiding having to play peekaboo with your open apps. Two screens are nearly indispensable when it comes to video conferencing as well. You can check out our full list of helpful video conferencing tips here. Of course, your smart devices don’t have video connections like a monitor. Thankfully, there are a number of ingenious apps that attempt to solve the problem.

Disclaimer: YMMV (your mileage may vary)

While we’d be the first in line to thank the geniuses behind these apps, the fact remains that what they do, in essence, is allow two devices to work together in ways they weren’t designed to. As a result, users have reported wildly varying levels of success. Whether they work for you and how well doesn’t only depend on the type of computer and tablet, but also which operating system and many other factors. In some cases, users have also experienced stability issues (computers crashing etc). Unfortunately, we’ve got to use that old cliche: these apps are to be used at your own risk. 

Duet Display (Android, iOS, PC, Mac)

This was originally the go-to for Mac and iPad users, but since Apple has added native support using Sidecar, Duet Display has expanded to support Android and PC as well. While the iOS version remains the more robust, offering a bunch of features and backward compatibility that Sidecar does not, the Android version also performs quite well. There’s by no means a 100% success rate with every tablet and computer, but current feedback seems to suggest your chances with Duet are pretty good. With more recent updates and better customer feedback, we’d suggest this one as the first to try.

Splashtop Wired XDisplay (Android, iOS, Kindle, PC, Mac)

This is another multi-platform solution that’s been getting very good feedback. It works like the rest – download drivers onto your computer, the app onto your tablet or phone, and you’re off to the races. Splashtop Wired even supports Kindle. Perhaps the biggest selling point is the ability to support up to 1080p at 60fps. However, there is a caveat. As the name suggests, there’s no Wi-Fi option and this app requires a USB connection. If that’s not an issue, Splashtop Wired may be your best bet. This is not to be confused with the company’s marquee offering, a remote access application named Splashtop Remote. 

Sidecar (iOS, Mac)

For those who own a recent Mac and iPad and need basic secondary screen functionality, Sidecar is baked right into your devices. It uses AirPlay for wireless operation so you can expect nearly lag-free performance. You can also choose a wired connection using USB-C and/or lightning cable. And while it doesn’t support advanced touch gestures on the iPad, there is Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard integration. If you want to use your iPad as a second monitor with your Mac without having to download new software, Sidecar’s your solution.

spacedesk (Android, PC)

On the flipside, spacedesk (yes, they do the cool-kid lower case name) allows you to turn your Android device or Chromebook into a secondary screen for your PC or Windows Surface tablet. It provides touch support, and works over Wi-Fi, USB and LAN. Users have reported noticeable lag when using Wi-Fi, but it’s always a nice option to have. Like Sidecar, the focus on one platform means that you’re likely to see a more stable experience with this one. 

iDisplay (Android, iOS, PC, Mac)

iDisplay may be the best-known app for turning a tablet or phone into a secondary display. With a dead easy setup and a bunch of helpful features included, at one point, it was the secondary screen go-to app. However, it was the uneven recent feedback from users during our research that prompted us to create the disclaimer above. We’re not trash-talking here. As operating systems become more complex and adopt additional security measures, it’s increasingly challenging to build these apps. Still, we need to point out that many recent reviews have highlighted a number of issues, including total non-operability. So we’ll say this: when it works, iDisplay is a gem. Simply download the app onto your smart device, drivers onto your Mac or PC and then connect your tablet or phone through Wi-Fi or USB (great if you experience a delay with Wi-Fi). iDisplay also beats out most competitors when it comes to features like display adjustment and control of your computer through your tablet.

Air Display (Android, iOS, PC, Mac)

Similar to iDisplay, Air Display is a great app… when it works. It allows up to four screens, supports HD (including Apple’s Retina Display), features impressive wireless performance and Air Stylus, which brings pressure-sensitive stylus operation to your computer. But whether you’re able to use the app at all, once again, depends on many considerations. First of all, the most recent version (Air Display 3) only supports Macs. Air Display 2 provides PC support, but there’s no USB connection option. And depending on which devices you’re attempting to pair and their respective OS’, just like iDisplay, you may or may not be in luck being able to use the app at all.

Remote access applications

Remote access apps like Google Remote Desktop and Splashtop Remote may work in a pinch, but it’s important to note a vital difference. With nearly all of these applications, you’re simply accessing and mirroring your computer’s screen with your tablet and phone. That means you won’t be able to put some windows on one screen and the rest on the other. Really, as a secondary screen, this solution is useful if you have a desktop and would like to work in a different part of your home. 

Better ways to work from home

We hope that, for those of you needing a unique second-screen solution, one of the above apps works for you. A buggy experience is likely to actually decrease your productivity, however, so if your secondary screen app is very problematic, it may be best to stick to a single screen until finding a better option. 

If you’re also looking for an alternative mobile plan to save some money, we’d encourage you to see if Ting Mobile might be right for you. Because you only pay for what you use, you’ll spend little to nothing on data if you have access to Wi-Fi for the majority of the time. You can find out more about how Ting works here

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