Duet Display Review: Turn Your iOS Device into Another Monitor for your Mac
When it comes to getting things done, I’m constantly tweaking and experimenting with my process in order to be as efficient as possible. Sometimes this means exploring new software, while other times it means trying new equipment. I was recently made aware of Duet Display, which is an app that sort of hits the sweet spot between those two things I do to make myself more efficient in accomplishing my goals for work.
Duet Display is an app for the iPad that turns it into an external monitor for your Mac. I’m sure you’ve seen a few of these over the past couple years, and you’re probably shaking your head a little bit as you read this. You’re thinking, “Cool idea in theory, but those apps are typically buggy and give a lot of lag due to shoddy wifi connectivity.”
Duet Display doesn’t use wifi. It uses your Lightning cable.
All you need to do is download the app on your iPad, download the companion app for your Mac (free), plug your cable into both devices, and then launch the app. From there it sets itself up rather quickly, and you’ll soon find your Mac’s display background popping up on your iPad.
While most of us are increasingly doing whatever we can to go “cable-less”, I’m sure this option seems a bit…archaic? However, there’s no denying that a lot of over-the-air services out there just aren’t entirely ready for prime time yet. I’ve played around with some wifi-enabled apps to use my various iPads as external monitors, and none of them even come close to what Duet does for me. They’re laggy, and moving windows or playing videos can often create a choppy and frustrating experience; not to mention the graphics capability being significantly limited due to dependance on wifi connection strength.
While not perfect, I’ve found Duet to be more than serviceable, so long as I have my cable. That’s perhaps one of the only drawbacks, but only if I’m nitpicking. Chances are, if you’re the type of person who wants an external monitor, and is geeky enough to use his/her iPad to get it, you probably have a spare cable on hand. Your experience will vary depending on the iPad edition you’re using, but not too much.
I’ve been playing around on it with my first gen iPad Mini, which effectively has the guts of an original iPad 2. All this to say, I’m essentially using the most bottom line iPad Apple still offers. As a result, my performance is probably not as smooth as it would be on a newer iPad, but it’s hardly been something to quibble over, in my opinion.
The other thing is that I’m using a MacBook Pro with Retina display, and my iPad Mini doesn’t have a Retina screen. This means that sometimes the transference of windows and whatever I’m looking at can be slightly jarring at first, but only for a moment. I found myself getting pretty comfortable and acclimated to the difference. Besides, because the iPad screen is so much smaller than my MacBook’s, I’m only using it as a secondary display, which means secondary items are going there while I keep my most important and pressing work on my main monitor.
If you want to get even geekier, you can fiddle around with a few settings in the app that will make performance improve on a number of levels. For instance, there are three resolution settings: regular (energy efficient), Retina (requires Retina iPad), and High Resolution. You can also change the frame rate from 30 FPS (energy efficient) to 60 FPS (high performance) for battery purposes, and the overall performance from High Power to Efficient. I personally haven’t had to fiddle around too much with it, and just let the default settings for my device go into place (regular resolution, 60 FPS, and High Power performance) and it’s been just fine. One other thing to keep in mind is that you should probably keep your Mac as the main screen with the dock on it. Otherwise, you might find some more performance issues that cause a bit of frustration, but again, I doubt you want the iPad screen as your main monitor anyway.
Another cool feature I enjoy is that even though I’m using my iPad as a display, that doesn’t mean I can’t still use iPad specific apps. The display is effectively its own app, allowing you the ability to exit out of it and launch something else on your iPad, then return to the Duet Display app and pick up right where you left off. I kept a couple windows and items on the iPad desktop, and they were all there exactly how I left them when I returned. While the developers mention your iPad is touch enabled while being used, I wasn’t able to truly get a feel for that experience myself, but I think that has more to do with my iPad version than anything else. I’ve seen comments from a lot of other users who have mentioned the usefulness of that feature, so I’m not sure how common my issue would be.
As a bit of an experiment to test how the app works in extreme settings, I even attached it as a third monitor to my MacBook Pro with Retina and a 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display. Performance was just as good here as in any other situation, and it made for an incredibly delightful geeky setup that had some of my fellow co-working space friends shaking their heads.
While I’m not sure I would have much use for it at home considering I already have an external display there, I’ve found Duet Display to be perfect for those moments at a coffee shop or out in the wild. With a 13-inch MacBook, I’m sometimes wishing I had more screen real estate in order to keep from switching windows so often, and this gives me that opportunity. While some might view it as a little on the expensive side, it’s ultimately not that much more expensive than Air Display 2 ($9.99), and it outperforms it pretty well. If you’re anywhere as geeky as I am about these things, Duet Display is a must-have utility.