Road-warrior productivity boosters for laptops blessed with USB-C but no Ethernet or VGA

Posted by Paul Braren on May 15 2017 (updated on Oct 15 2017) in
  • Laptop
  • Productivity
  • Windows
  • Working in hotels with your laptop can be a pain, sometimes literally. I mean really working, and producing content. Here's just some of the issues commonly noticed when traveling for work like I do:

    1. no secondary display, man do I miss having one
    2. way-too-high desktop to type comfortably on
    3. terrible Wi-Fi speeds
    4. no mouse, and having to leave home row to reach the Trackpad

    This article features devices that resolved all 4 issues for me, completely. I've been using them for some months now, in my job, and in my leisure. Carefully TinkerTry'd and tested when actually out-and-about, both alone in hotel rooms, and in front of customers doing presentations. A big productivity boost, without a huge cost in dollars or travel weight, and easily stowed in my laptop bag that can already fit a 15.6" laptop like my Dell Precision 5510. This premium system is very similar to the Dell XPS 15, and pretty much any premium new laptop arrives with at least one USB-C connection these days, with all laptops featuring them soon.
     

    A second display for your laptop, no batteries, just one cable.

    ASUS ZenScreen MB16AC 15.6-Inch Full HD IPS Monitor on Amazon, B&H, and Newegg.

    See also the product page

    ASUS ZenScreen™ MB16AC is designed to keep you productive, wherever you are. It's the world's first portable monitor with a hybrid-signal solution, which means that it only needs a single USB connector cable to be fully compatible with almost any laptop. With a super-slim 8mm profile, and weighing just 0.78kg, ZenScreen MB16AC is also the world's lightest 15.6-inch companion display monitor.

    Video of me unboxing and testing this ZenScreen is coming soon.

    B071S84ZW7
    ASUS ZenScreen MB16AC 15.6-Inch Full HD IPS Monitor. About $249.

     

    Shorter, more flexible Thunderbolt 3 cable.

    Plugable Thunderbolt 3 1.65' Cable, available at Amazon and Plugable.

    Much more supple than the longer cable the monitor comes with. See the Photo Gallery below for how it all fits together.
     

    B01KGU0R9W
    [Certified] Plugable Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps USB-C Cable [1.65'/0.5m, 3A/60W, Thunderbolt and USB Compatible]. About $20.

     

    Keyboard that can use at a comfortable height.

    ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with TrackPoint on Amazon, Lenovo, and Newegg.

    For a much more comfortable typing position, right on your laptop, sparing you the annoyance of typing up high on those hotel desks. And honestly, not a big fan of Dell's use of Fn key combinations just to use Page Up / Page Down, along with the reversal of Fn and Ctrl keys at the bottom left. I simply rest this keyboard over the original, and TaDa, I have myself the latest generation of the legendary ThinkPad keyboard back. I though I wouldn't like the chicklet spacing, but I was wrong, I actually like it better than the original ThinkPad keyboards with keys all tight against one another.

    Of course, as a 21 year IBM veteran who touch typist, I'm rather accustomed to being very productive with the TrackPoint pointing stick red nubbin. And you don't have to trust Bluetooth, it comes with a micro USB connection and cable too. Or you can buy the same keyboard without the Bluetooth for about $12 less.

    Here's what Veeam's Anton Gostev had to say about this keyboard in his October 9 2016 issue of the weekly Veeam Community Forums Digest:

    As far as peripherals go, I am currently using Bluetooth keyboard and mouse – but being a TrackPoint freak, I will be buying this keyboard to have a single unit that can do it all. There are a bunch of alternatives with TrackPads too, but I am actually so good with TrackPoint that sometimes I feel I am more productive with it than with a regular mouse due to being able to keep both hands on keyboard all the time. Yeah, it takes some practice – but once you "get it" you will be stuck with buying ThinkPads for the rest of your lives like me (because IBM/Lenovo owns the patent for TrackPoint).

    B00C32FWJC
    ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with TrackPoint - US English. About $75.

     

    Skip that crummy Wi-Fi wherever possible, use Ethernet, and have VGA for old projectors.

    StarTech.com USB to Gigabit Ethernet NIC on Amazon and Newegg.

    StarTech.com HDMI to VGA adapter on Amazon and Newegg.

    This is a small device, my StarTech.com USB 3.0 3 port hub with gigabit ethernet. Gives me the extra USB 3.0 ports I need for my mouse's bluetooth dongle, and my clicker, for when I'm presenting, and a spare.

    I also prefer to avoid messing with DisplayLink drivers entirely, which I found out the hard way that I describe below. A safe-and-simple approach is best with StarTech.com HDMI to VGA adapter. It doesn't need video drivers, instead, it simply adapts your laptop's HDMI output to VGA, for those pesky legacy projectors and monitors still out there.

    B00MN27LXW
    B00BUKO6CW

     
     

    Get a thin and light Cat6A 14' network cable that can reach anywhere.

    Monoprice Slim Run Cat6A on Amazon, Monoprice.

    Everybody who sees these 10GbE capable cables in action at one of my user group demos is impressed by how thin they are, why not keep one of them in your travel bag, to stretch to whatever crazy place you locate an RJ45 jack on the hotel wall?

    B01BGV2OQO
    Monoprice 5-Pack, Slim Run Cat6A Ethernet Network Patch Cable, 14' Black [115145]. About $12.

    If there's no Ethernet jack, and the Wi-Fi is crummy, I use a USB tethered connection to my Personal Hotspot function of my iPhone, but most iOS and Android phone plans offer such robust LTE connections nowadays.
     

    Get yourself a good mouse, with smooth scrolling.

    Logitech M720 on Amazon, Newegg.

    Yeah, I'm fond of the original but now aging Logitech M705, as pictured below. Now that I'm used to smooth scrolling my way through the web, I can never use another brand of mouse that only has a ratcheting mouse wheel.

    Yeah, I'm fond of the original but now aging Logitech M705, as pictured below. Now that I'm used to smooth scrolling my way through the web, I can never use another brand of mouse that only has a ratcheting mouse wheel.

    Smooth-scrolling-highlighted
    In Logitech Options, turn on Smooth scrolling.

    I wrote quite a bit about convincing it to get along with Windows 10 nicely here. But Logitech seems to have no interest in updating that aging SetPoint 6.67.83 driver from Sep 2015, and lately in Chrome the smooth scrolling and any scrolling periodically stops working. With the very similarly designed new Logitech M720, it all "just works" with Windows 10 Creators Update, including multiple desktop switching, and that amazing smooth scrolling that I demonstrated here. The new 6.50.60 version of Logitech Options supports the M720, and not the M705. Just be sure to uninstall SetPoint if you have it already, along with the Logitech Smooth Scrolling 6.65.62 Chrome extension. Once Logitech Options is installed, turn on the Smooth scrolling option. Yeah, hardware obsolescence due to drivers that no longer get developed drives me a little crazy too. Hopefully I can keep using my M720 for many years

    B01LF37K80-side
    Logitech M720 Triathalon Multi-Device Wireless Mouse [910-004790]. About $36.

     

    This mouse pad will get your mouse to work on anything, even glass desks.

    Fellowes PlushTouch Mouse Pad on Amazon.

    and you'll get that single-pixel-at-a-time precision required for those careful image crops. The "Graphite" grey model allows the Logitech M720 mouse to track slightly better than the black model featured in my picture gallery below.

    B008CO4NCC
    Fellowes PlushTouch Mouse Pad/Wrist Rest with FoamFusion Technology, Graphite [9252201]. About $9.

     

    ASUS-monitor-in-laptop-bag-TinkerTry.JPG
    Everything packed up in my 15" laptop bag, nothing getting damaged.

    Video

    Unboxing and testing recorded in 4K! In this video, you'll see me trying out the onscreen menus on this IPS matt anti-glare LCD panel and using the carrying case/stand. Produced on my 12 core SuperServer Workstation, as seen rendering here.

    Intended to be run fullscreen. To get started, simply click on any of the photos below, then click "Toggle fullscreen" at top-right, then right arrow your way through, pressing ESC when done.

    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-1-of-7.JPG
    Dell Precision 5510, hotel arrival simulation, with way too high desk. ______________________________________________________
    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-2-of-7.JPG
    Fire it up, check a web page. TrackPad OK for light use/short durations. ____________________________________________________
    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-3-of-7.JPG
    Doing some content creation, mouse required, mousepad handles any [too high] desktop surface. ________________________
    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-4-of-7.JPG
    TrackPoint for single-pixel-precision image edits, and wireless use over Bluetooth lets me point and touch-type from comfort of lap height.
    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-5-of-7.JPG
    Uh oh, battery low, time to plug in, got lots of things to accomplish, going to be here a while. _________________________
    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-6-of-7.JPG
    This hotel Wi-Fi sucks, time to hard-wire, handy adapter has VGA for VGA-only projectors. ________________________________
    Dell-Precision-5510-or-XPS15-Road-Warrior-Productivity-Boosters-by-TinkerTry-7-of-7.JPG
    Like-sized 15.6" USB-C powered travel display with AR coating, huge productivity boost. ____________________________________

    Aug 07 2017 Update

    IMG_2497

    I've now gone 10GbE, on my laptop. Wow! Thunderbolt 3 allows this to happen, along with a Dell TB16 dock, detailed at:

    The lack of dedicated PgUp/Pg/Dn, Home, and End keys continues to drive me a bit nuts when using the Dell's keyboard, along with the reversed Ctrl and Fn keys that can't be swapped in the BIOS. So I tend use the Lenovo keyboard, problem solved, or at least side-stepped.

    This is how I get stuff done, when I'm not at home. I now have a photo of my use of most of this gear in a New York City hotel room, with the usual way too high work surface. Note, the keyboard is actually on my lap, for comfortable typing. The ASUS monitor is slid to the right in its stand, to reduce the distance between the screens.

    94713992664494081

    Oct 15 2017 Update

    asus-zenscreen-secondary-travel-monitor

    I've created a separate article with video just about the ASUS ZenScreen MB16AC, see:


    Archive

    The article originally appeared with the following text, archived here in case the information is useful to others.

    Dell Universal Adapter DA100 on Amazon, Dell.

    Use that hotel Ethernet whenever you can, tends to be faster than Wi-Fi. Also handy to have a VGA connection, for those podiums and customer projectors that just don't have HDMI. For the
    JUA370 / 370BE - USB 3.0 Multi-Adapter VGA & Gigabit Ethernet that I had tried, the current gotcha with Windows 10 Creators Update is that auto-installed driver V17.01.0413.3192 can cause Windows stability issues. Instead, before plugging in, get the backlevel driver v16.09.1121.3179 or v17.02.0516.3179 installed first, at least until J5Create gets a new driver out on the product support page, which is currently an untested and potentially problematic v17.02.0516.3192.

    Because of these issues with the JUA370, I'm now experimenting with the use of the Dell Universal Adapter DA100 instead, with similar functionality. While Dell makes a USB-C version, my Dell Precision 5510 has only one of those USB-C ports used for my 2nd monitor, so I'm using the USB 3.0 Dell adapter instead. Another advantage of Dell branding is Dell support, with some driver commonality with their docking solutions that I'm also experimenting with.

    Kit-Dell-DA100-front-and-back
    Dell DA100 front and back views.

    Here's the original monitor I used, but have now given to another family member.

    ASUS MB169C+ 15.6" Full HD 1920x1080 IPS USB Type-C Powered Eye Care Portable Monitor on Amazon, Newegg.

    B01C83BE06
    ASUS MB169C+ 15.6" Full HD 1920x1080 IPS USB Type-C Powered Eye Care Portable Monitor. About $200.
    Unboxing and testing the ASUS MB169C+ 15.6" Full HD 1920x1080 IPS USB Type-C Powered Eye Care Portable Monitor.

    See also at TinkerTry

    dell-precision-5510-downgrade-battery-to-add-25-sata-ssd
    Logitech Hyper-fast scrolling demonstration