AirBar – Now Every Screen Is A Touchscreen

AIRBAR

Airbar
Source – Google

REVIEW

More and more laptops come with built-in touch screens, but what if the model you want (or already own) doesn’t have one? The $69 Neonode AirBar is a sleek, innovative device that lets you add affordable, accurate touch-screen capabilities to nearly any laptop. However, the semi-permanent magnets that hold the peripheral in place might give some consumers pause.

It turns any laptop display into an accurate touch screen, but the magnets it requires will permanently alter your laptop. It’s an intriguing, inexpensive USB peripheral that transforms an older non-touch display into a “touchscreen”.

Airbar
Source – Google

PROS

  • Does it says — gives touch capabilities to older displays
  • Accuracy is very good, if sized correctly
  • The price is right

CONS

  • Only three sizes, and they must match the display
  • Not especially portable
  • AirBar isn’t big enough to fit most desktop monitors

AT A GLANCE

A Savile Row suit can make anyone look like a million bucks—but only if it’s tailored appropriately. And so it goes for the Neonode AirBar, a surprisingly good peripheral that adds “touch” capability to an ordinary laptop or monitor.

Airbar
Source – Google

It certainly sounds like a steal: The slender sensor wand attaches to a laptop screen or standalone monitor, very much like Tobii’s line of eye trackers. Typically, native touch capabilities add about $100 or so to the cost of a new monitor, with no way to retrofit an existing touch-less device. Until now. The AirBar, which began shipping this week, is priced right at just $69. This unique gizmo is also a recipient of the Innovations Award for CES 2017, though it was first announced a year ago.

The AirBar works by bouncing infrared light off your fingers, interpolating where your fingers touch the surface of the screen. Make no mistake: A genuine touchscreen is more precise and offers more flexibility in terms of multitouch capabilities. But for those who want an inexpensive-but-serviceable alternative, the AirBar does the job.

Airbar
Source – Google

If you have a suitably sized monitor (in this case, 15.6 inches wide, which is a little small for an external monitor), the AirBar can add touch capabilities.

DESIGN

The AirBar is a sleek, thin, black bar. It comes in 13.3-, 14- and 15.6-inch options to fit your display perfectly (I reviewed the 15.6-inch version), and fits unobtrusively against the bezel beneath the screen.

Airbar
Source – Google

A 9.5-inch USB cable protrudes from the right side of the AirBar to attach to your notebook. You can’t remove the cord, so if you damage it, you’ll need to buy a new AirBar. It also means you have to use a USB port on the right side of your notebook, which might require you to change your current peripheral setup. (I tried using the AirBar upside down and plugged in on the other side, but it didn’t work.)

Airbar
Source – Google

You need to use the included magnets to keep the AirBar attached to the bezel. Their adhesive backs help fasten the first two magnets to the bezel. From there, the magnets built into the device can make a snug attachment along the bottom of the display. As such, it’s important that you align them correctly with the recommended 3 millimeters of space between the AirBar and the display the first time for proper calibration. As it is hard to remove afterwards.

After detaching it, I started worrying about what would happen if I accidentally closed my laptop on it. Turns out, I didn’t have to worry at all. Using its laser technology, the AirBar let out loud beeps when it detected my hand was at the top of the screen to shut the lid. It was more than enough to remind me to remove the device before closing the notebook. However, it can send those alerts only when the computer is on.

SETUP

Neonode blithely promises an Apple-esque level of simplicity: “Attach. Plug in. Touch,” the box copy says. No need to even download drivers! The AirBar works on both Windows 8 and Windows 10 machines, as well as Chromebooks.

Neonode’s calm assurances aren’t misleading. Unlike Tobii’s set-it-and-forget-it magnetic mounting bar, the AirBar attaches via magnets: a pair of small magnets with sticky backing that attach to your screen’s bezel, and which grab onto the magnets on the AirBar itself. (I didn’t try moving the sticky bits from one screen to another, but it seems like you could.)

Airbar
Source – Google

It’s worth noting that while you can probably use the AirBar with a computer monitor.

Note that your laptop’s bezel must be about 0.67 inches wide to mount the AirBar, and since the AirBar is about 0.2 inches thick, you won’t want to close your laptop with the AirBar still mounted inside of it. (Crunch!) Also—and this is critical—be sure to match the length of the AirBar to your display size. Neonode ships three different versions, at 15.6 inches, 14.0 inches, and 13.3 inches, for 16:9 displays at those widths.

Airbar
Source – Google

One of the AirBar’s big drawbacks, however, is its 9-inch USB cord—long enough to reach from a laptop screen to a USB port on the side of the notebook (provided your laptop has USB ports on the right-hand side), but too short to reach from a desktop monitor to that same laptop. I tested the AirBar two ways:

First by mounting the device to a (non-touch) desktop monitor connected to a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Then later testing the AirBar with a varity of laptops in stock at my local computer retailer (with the store manager’s permission, natch).

PERFORMANCE AND OS SUPPORT

The AirBar is the definition of plug-and-play. As soon as I attached it to an old Dell Vostro 3000, the peripheral’s driver installed, and it was ready to go. The AirBar projects an invisible light field above your screen that provides feedback to your notebook.

The technology is impressive, especially for such a sleek peripheral, but it’s not as accurate as a regular touch screen. Still, it’s capable of handling navigation, scrolling and pinch-to-zoom gestures with ease.

The AirBar only supports two-finger gestures, which is fine for the majority of Windows 10 functions. However, you can’t activate Cortana by touching the screen with three fingers or open the Action Center with four fingers. Neonode told me that this shortcoming will be addressed in the future via firmware updates.

The AirBar works with Chrome OS in addition to Windows 10, but it’s more of a toss-up with macOS. However, depending on your Mac, you might have some compatibility. The MacBook Air is your best bet for a touch screen Mac, thanks to its thick bottom bezel. I tried it with a 15.6-inch MacBook Pro and it worked only on part of the panel.

INCREDIBLE FOR LAPTOPS

Because the AirBar uses light to detect your touches, Neonode promises a degree of flexibility: You can use your fingers, or a gloved hand, or even a paintbrush. Only two touch points are supported, so we’re talking broad-strokes sensitivity.

With a true touchscreen, it really doesn’t matter where you position your fingers—as long as they’re touching the screen, you can really hold your hand almost however you want. With the AirBar, it does matter, with emphatic pointing toward the screen producing the best effect.

On my monitor, the “touch point,” visible as a small circle or dot, was consistently about an inch or so above my finger. Navigating to a specific spot on the screen was impossible, though pinch-to-zoom gestures worked.  Swiping, such as it was, like painting a fence—just flopping the screen around with broad, imprecise strokes.

CONFIGURATION

The Neonode AirBar for 15.6-inch displays was tested, which the company says is the most popular option based on sales.

If you prefer something more portable, you can get an AirBar for your 13.3 or 14-inch display for the same price.

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