Burney's Legal Tech Reviews - Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros - The Fabulous Life of a Pivoting Monitor

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions.

A concept that I’ve been passionate about for a long time is pivoting your monitor. Most people don’t even consider the orientation of their computer monitor, but I am a firm believer that a small change in something that all of use everyday can make a huge difference in personal productivity and efficiency.

The Case for Pivoting

Since you’ve used a word processor before, you’re aware of the difference between “portrait” and “landscape” modes. This page on Webopedia - gives a concise definition of the two terms.

When you read a letter or memo on a regular-sized sheet of paper (8½ x 11 inches), you are usually reading it in “portrait” mode – it is taller than it is wide. Spreadsheets are sometimes printed off in “landscape” mode because it’s easier to see more columns of information on a wider page.

Just about everything published today is in portrait mode (with that exception for many spreadsheets). Magazines, business letters, manuals and even newspapers are better viewed in the vertical portrait mode. The default template in a word processor is portrait mode. Anything you print off of your computer is in portrait mode by default – e-mail messages, Web pages, etc.

But for some reason, computer monitors are always in “landscape” mode – they are all wider than they are tall. A big reason for this is because computer monitors had their humble beginnings as televisions. I remember using a small 9-inch television for my TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack way back in the day. Since televisions generally have a 4:3 ratio for their width and height, computer monitors just followed suit (many widescreen TVs today are stretching out to a cinematic 16:9 ratio).

If you check your computer’s display properties, you’ll see this aspect ratio reflected in your resolution setting, which is probably set at 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 pixels. You’ll notice that the first number, the width of your computer screen, is larger than the second number, which is the height. These resolution settings make sense when you’re looking at a spreadsheet, playing a computer game, or watching a DVD, but since you probably use your computer more for business, shouldn’t your monitor accommodate you better?

Imagine if you could turn your computer monitor on its side – simply pivot it 90 degrees so that it is taller than it is wide. Instead of just seeing the top half of the letter you’re typing, you could view the whole thing. Instead of surfing CNN.com and staring at a huge bar of wasted white space on the right side of your screen, you could see twice as much of the Web page instead.

Pivoting your monitor could cut down on the precious few seconds that you take throughout the day to scroll up and down on the document you’re typing, or the Web page that you’re viewing. Pivoting your monitor would allow you to look at your document in its entirety, much like you would see it when you printed it out, rather than just the top or bottom half on your screen.

The Method to the Pivoting Madness

If you’re convinced that pivoting your monitor is worth a try, then you’ll need to get a monitor that will pivot and the software to properly support the function.

Physically pivoting a big, bulky CRT monitor is basically out of the question so you’ll need an LCD flat-panel monitor to enjoy pivoting pleasure. Several manufacturers sell LCD monitors that sit on your desk and easily pivot (see the Samsung 173P that I review below), but if you have a flat-panel monitor that doesn’t pivot on it’s own, you can accomplish the same thing with the help of a wall mount or something similar (several LCD flat-panels give you the option to take off the base and connect the flat-panel to a wall mount or monitor arm).

The best-known pivoting software is from the appropriately named Portrait Displays, Inc. Their flagship product is called “Pivot Pro” which can dynamically rotate your computer display to several different resolutions to accommodate a pivoting monitor. I’ve used a couple of older versions of Pivot Pro before and always thought that it could be improved, but the latest version (7.50) that I’ve been using with the Samsung 173P monitor appears solid and stable.

Pivot Pro supports all rotating orientations – 90, 180, 270 degrees, and landscape. The software also dynamically resizes any windows and applications that may be open when you switch orientations. You can make sure that your video card is compatible with the Pivot Pro software at this site - but there’s a good bet the software will work on what you have. You can check out a simple demonstration of how the software works at http://personalcomputing.portrait.com/us/products/pp_demo.html.
The Pivot Pro software costs $39.95 but it’s usually included free when you purchase a pivoting monitor.

One Thin Samsung

Several manufacturers including Philips, NEC, and Viewsonic all offer at least one pivoting monitor in their lineup. But I recently saw several ads for a new pivoting LCD from Samsung and decided to give it a try.

As soon as I saw the box it was shipped in, I knew the 173P was going to be an elegant and exciting monitor. The box was so slim and light – something you just don’t expect when you talk about computer monitors.

When I opened the box, I saw why it was so thin. The Samsung 173P was actually folded up on itself – that’s how flexible this monitor is. The base can be folded flat against the back of the monitor which means that the monitor can actually lay back so that it is parallel to your desktop (not that you would ever need that, but it can be done).

And the Samsung 173P is indeed elegant in its appearance. There is only one small power button on the front. All of the other functions like brightness and contrast are manipulated with the included software. The power button is sleek – it’s not a clunky button that you have to press in, you simply barely touch the area and the blue power indicator lights up with a short beep.

One reason the 173P is so slim is because Samsung went with an external power supply. This means you have to deal with another power brick, but it’s a small price to pay for such a clean looking monitor.

Once you have the monitor set up, then comes the pivoting magic. To rotate the screen, you simply just start turning. The 173P can rotate a full 180 degrees. Unfortunately, the 173P won’t “click” into place once you get to a 90 degree interval, but the freedom means that you can turn the monitor to any angle that you choose or need.

Pivoting the physical monitor is easy, but to get your actual computer display to rotate, you’ll need to install the included Pivot Pro software. The installation went easy enough, and I was able to immediately customize the software to my liking. You can switch your display with the icon in the taskbar tray, but I preferred turning the 173P and then using the hotkey (Ctrl + Shift + 9) to pivot the display 90 degrees. This worked very well.

The Samsung 173P is bright and responsive and it is really a joy to view everything. I’m writing this review with the monitor pivoted 90 degrees and I can see my whole document. Surfing is a joy because I can see so much more of the page without having to scroll up and down.

If you’re looking for a pivoting monitor, you certainly won’t go wrong with the Samsung 173P. The only downside is the price – the 173P retails for around $630. That is very expensive for 17-inch monitors these days, but then again, most monitors don’t look as sleek and function as smoothly as the 173P does.