21 Dec 2016

How to Use an Android Device as a Second Monitor for Your PC or Mac

It’s no secret that two monitors can improve your productivity, but not everyone needs a pair of screens all the time. If you find yourself in a situation where a second screen could be beneficial, however, you can easily make your Android device serve double duty.

Now, before we get into how, I first want to point out that, while it makes the most sense to use an Android tablet as a second monitor, this will also work with phones. If you just really, really need to get a tiny bit of information from off of your main screen, then go ahead and give it a shot with the small screen. But really, a tablet is best.

For this little experiment, you’re going to need a few things: a computer (both Windows and Mac are supported—sorry, Linux users), an Android device, a copy of iDisplay ($9.99) from the Play Store, and the iDisplay driver on your computer. You may also want a little stand like this one, or a case that has the ability to keep your tablet upright while you work. Lastly, iDisplay works over Wi-Fi and USB, and works decently well on both—but depending on where you are, you may want a USB cable to connect your tablet to your PC. We’ll talk about this more in a bit.

Step One: Install iDisplay on Your Tablet and Computer

Once you have all the necessary files downloaded, getting everything set up is super easy. Since the iDisplay installation is basically automated on your Android device (just grab it from the Play Store), let’s focus on how to set it up on the computer. I’ll be using a PC for this example, but the process should be similar enough on a Mac.
First, double-click the downloaded driver file to start the process. Depending on what version of Windows you’re using, you may or may not see a warning screen—if you get this, go ahead and click “Yes” to allow the program to install.
The rest of the installation process is pretty self-explanatory—just click through and let iDisplay do its thing. It doesn’t include any bundled garbage or anything like that, so you don’t have to worry about the Ask Toolbar showing on Firefox or Internet Explorer the next time you fire up your browser.
Depending on the speed of your system, it may take a few minutes for the installation process to complete. The screen will likely flicker a few times as the display driver is installed, and once it’s finished you’ll need to restart your computer. I know, I know—it’s 2016. I hate it as much as you do.
After restarting, the iDisplay driver should automatically start—check the system tray to make sure. If it didn’t start, just hit the Windows key on your keyboard and start typing “iDisplay.” It should show up in the menu, and you can launch it from there.

Step Two: Connect Your Tablet

Now that the server is running, go ahead and launch iDisplay on your Android device. There is literally no setup here—just launch it, and it’ll start looking for a computer running the iDisplay server.
Here’s the cool thing about iDisplay: it uses a hybrid connection, so it works with Wi-Fi and/or USB. It’s rad. If you’re in a place where the Wi-Fi is slow (or it’s a public connection), just plug in a USB cable. At home? Wi-Fi should do the job just fine. Between the two, I noticed very little latency on Wi-Fi versus a USB connection, so I feel comfortable recommending both.
Once iDisplay has found the computer you want to connect to, go ahead and tap it. If you have multiple computers, you can swipe to cycle through them. A warning will pop up on the PC when it’s trying to establish a connection—if you’re using your personal computer (which I assume that you are), just click “Always allow” so this warning won’t show up again for that particular Android device.
One more warning will show up to let you know that your screen will flicker while the driver loads, and a few seconds later the Android device will show your PC screen.

Step Three: Adjust Your Display Settings

From here, you can tweak and adjust it the same way you would any other monitor: just right-click on the desktop and choose “Display Settings.”
Again, depending on what version of Window you’re using, this may look different than my screenshots—the concept, however, is still the same. You can treat your new mobile display as anything hard-wired: you can move it from right to left, top to bottom; choose to extend it; or even make it the main display. I can’t imagine why you’d want to do that, but hey—you can.
Once you’re finished doing that, disconnecting the display is just as easy as connecting it. First, tap the green action button in the bottom right corner (you have to tap it—this can’t be clicked with the computer’s mouse). This will open the menu in the left side, where you can select “Disconnect.” Once you tap that, your computer screen will flicker once again as the server disconnects, and everything will go back to normal.
There are also a handful of other useful options in this menu, like the option to show the on-screen keyboard, for example. Even more useful, however, is probably the “Show window” option, which give you a full list of all the currently-running software on the computer, then automatically pull it to the device. It’s rad. You can also start applications in the taskbar using the “Start Application.”
Screenshot_20161101-124640 Screenshot_20161101-125340
Finally, there are a few things worth noting in the Settings menu. They’re mostly self-explanatory, but definitely something you should take a look at if you want to make the most out of your second screen. Definitely check out the Resolution option–depending on the resolution of your tablet, you may want to tweak this option so that windows and icons don’t show up all tiny. Experiment and find the best settings that work for you.

Android tablets can be useful productivity machines, but sometimes they’re simply not enough. Using iDisplay, you can easily switch gears and use your Android device as a second screen with your laptop. Boom.

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