An easy upgrade: Using a portable display with a laptop


Mark Twain once said, “Buy land; they’re not making it anymore.” Real estate is indeed valuable, and that’s true with digital real estate. We’re talking, of course, about screen space.

When you’re working with musical notation, it goes without saying that you’d like to see as much of it as possible. That’s why I’ve long believed that the most valuable upgrade you can make to your workstation is to first maximize the size of your primary display, and then add a second, or third display.

Multiple displays are great, but setups like the one shown above aren’t exactly portable. What if you could take the multiple-display concept on the road with your laptop?

It turns out that you can. If you haven’t realized it, the quality of portable displays has improved in recent years, and their prices have dropped. It’s no surprise; with the ubiquity of tablets and laptops, portable screens are everywhere, but we usually think of them as just that — attached to some sort of computing device like an iPad or MacBook.

But good portable screens are available on their own, and at an affordable price. I recently picked up a KYY 4K 15.6″ Portable Monitor for just a little more than $200. It sports a 4K 3840 x 2160 resolution — essential for detailed music notation work — and can connect to a laptop, tablet or phone via HDMI or USB-C cables, which are included. When connecting a powered laptop via USB-C, you don’t even need the power cable that comes with the display; your laptop supplies enough power through the USB-C cable.

The KYY 4K 15.6″ Portable Monitor, available at Amazon

Connecting the display couldn’t be simpler. You just plug one end of the cable into your laptop, and the other end into the display, and that’s it. The display powers on automatically; in my case, no configuration was necessary, and my MacBook Pro placed it to the right of my primary display and at the correct resolution. But if you prefer to position it elsewhere, or adjust other settings, that’s easily configurable in your computer’s settings.


I’ve already used it as a presentation device where I’ve mirrored the display from my laptop and turned the secondary display around 180 degrees so that people seated on the other side of the table could view the screen.

Back in our corner of music notation, you can use the second display in any number of ways. An obvious choice is to display of the score and parts at the same time, as I’ve done above; another is to show a DAW on one screen and the score on another:

Now, if you’re a long-time reader of Scoring Notes, you might recall that I’ve been a fan of the second portable display concept for a long time. Back in 2015, I wrote about an app called Duet which turned your iPad into a second computer display. Apple clearly thought the idea was so good, it co-opted it and incorporated it directly, in a feature called Sidecar.

In fact, I had been using Sidecar with success, but then I wanted to use my iPad Pro as, you know, an iPad, and not as an overpriced second display. But if you’re looking to get a new iPad and have an older iPad that’s still compatible with Sidecar, you might find more value in repurposing it as a second display than by trading it in, instead of getting a dedicated second display as I’ve done.

So as I mention in the video I’ve made, I’m very pleased with the KYY display, but I’m not so much endorsing that particular brand or product as I am the concept of taking a second display on the road, however you get there. They may not be making any more land, as Mark Twain said, but screen real estate is a good investment, relative to the gain in productivity that you’ll enjoy.


  1. Alan West

    Quite agree, I use 2 large screens and the additional 1 is invaluable when comparing scores or copy/oasting notes etc. Highly recommended

  2. Engela

    I actually have 2 monitors, but I am so ready to get a third one (portable). Thank you, Phillip!

  3. Bill

    I bought a 40″ 4k a few years ago, and it’s the best single purchase I’ve made computer wise!

  4. Dejan

    Are those Dell U3023E monitors in the triple monitor setup? If yes, how do you find them?

    1. Philip Rothman

      They are U3223QE monitors and they are available on the Dell web site.

  5. trio3tech

    Thank you for sharing this insightful guide on an easy upgrade using a Portable display with a laptop! Your expertise is greatly appreciated.

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