- Review Price: £190.03
These days, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Asus also does other products beside a certain line of netbooks (the Eee PC, in case you’ve been holidaying on another planet). Whether it’s the catchy three-letter name or just the revolutionary – when it launched – hardware for the price, but the Eee is, in some ways at least, comparable to the Nintendo Wii when it comes to customer demand. But today, we’re not looking at another Eee. Instead, I have a comparatively unassuming monitor in front of me, the 22in VW223B, with an interesting surprise up its shiny sleeve.
By unassuming I do not mean bland-looking, mind you, as the VW223B is anything but. From the moment you unpack it you can see it’s rather stylish. It has an appeal that is somewhat similar to the Samsung SyncMaster 225uw, but sleeker. This is like the Samsung’s slimmer, more rounded little brother (okay, so in fact it looks more like the Samsung SyncMaster 226cw).
In keeping with this, the bezel around the screen is really rather thin – around 15mm, since you asked. Though it is almost 25mm at the bottom, a single silver strip divides up the lower edge to make it look just as thin as the rest. It’s a trick often employed on monitors (including the aforementioned Samsung), but rarely to such good effect. Apart from this strip, the bezel is cleaner than on most displays; like the Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP, the logo and menu buttons are the only visual blemishes, and both are incorporated into the aforementioned strip to minimize their intrusiveness. Thankfully, the LED is blue and so small it never distracts, and is actually integrated into the silver power button.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, the Asus sports the usual high-gloss piano black finish. Some people don’t like this due to its reflectivity, but it’s not something that’s ever bothered me enough to not appreciate the boost in looks. Furthermore, there are no curves to be found here: the bezel’s only concession being slightly rounded corners. The solid, round base forms a nice contrast in both shape and texture; concentric rings give it a unique matte appearance that’s quite fetching, with a narrow glossy edge adding that little extra touch.
The monitor’s back is also rather attractive, with a smooth, unified matte finish. There’s another thoughtful little touch in that the mounting holes for VESA compatibility are covered with small rubber plugs.
Assembly is easy as pie, and consists of clicking the base into the screen and stand. Disassembly isn’t quite as effortless, but for most that’s a non-issue. Build quality is another high-point of the VW223B, with solid construction all round (there is no creaking or flex anywhere on this entire monitor), and plastics that feel like they will stand the test of time.
You might initially be disappointed to find only find an analogue VGA cable included, and unpleasantly surprised to discover that this is because the Asus has no DVI input. But fear not, this monitor does have a form of digital connection. Regular readers might already know what’s coming here, because yes, the VW223B is equipped with DisplayLink (which Asus calls EZLink). We’ve already reviewed two striking examples of this technology in other monitors, like the superb 4:3 19in Samsung SyncMaster 940UX, and even better 20in widescreen LG Flatron L206WU. Look at Riyad’s 940UX if you want the low-down on the technology involved, but basically, it allows you to digitally hook up almost any recent Windows-based computer through USB (you can even connect to Macintosh if you’re willing to put up with a beta driver from www.displaylink.com). And while the novelty of this technology has worn off a little, that doesn’t make it any less impressive or interesting.
So at 22in the Asus is the biggest example of DisplayLink tech yet (and since 1,680 x 1,050 is the maximum widescreen resolution the technology supports, it’s as large as we’re likely to see), but is it also the best? Maybe, but the VW223B will have to overcome some significant drawbacks. One is the aforementioned lack of any digital input apart from USB. Leaving aside that DVI is theoretically still superior in terms of quality, it would allow you to hook up two PCs at the same time without needing to resort to analogue. You don’t even get a USB cable, though there is a three-port hub integrated on the left-hand side of the screen.
But probably the biggest drawback to the VW223B, considering its ambitions as a secondary or even seventh screen (keeping in mind DisplayLink lets you connect up to six monitors over a single USB port), is its lack of adjustability. Yes, you do get a very generous amount of tilt, and this works very smoothly. But there is no swivel, height adjustment or pivot. It’s bad enough for casual consumer monitors to offer so little adjustability, but you really should be able to put any work-oriented display below 30in into portrait mode.
Further ergonomic discomfort is provided by the OSD and buttons. Though they are easily accessible at the monitor’s front and their functions clearly legible with icons marked out in white above them, the buttons’ layout is not as good: the main glitch here being that up and down are on either side of the menu button, rather than beside each other. Probably the biggest OSD annoyance is that the input-shortcut button does not automatically switch inputs; rather, it takes you to a menu where – after yet another button press – you have to manually select the source you want and confirm. Since the VW223B only has two inputs, this is even more annoying, and completely unnecessary: why on Earth hasn’t Asus just made the shortcut change source automatically?
The installation of the DisplayLink driver and ‘virtual graphics card’ is actually one of those many situations where having Windows XP instead of Vista makes life slightly easier. If you’re running XP, installation will be automatic, while with Vista the driver requires a manual install. It’s also worth noting that the driver comes on a mini-CD, meaning slot-loaders will have to resort to downloading the relevant software from the net.
Unfortunately, this was also the most unstable version of DisplayLink I’ve encountered (including the Toshiba’s DynaDock DVI), with many glitches before I got it working properly. I wish I could say things improved once it was reasonably stable, but when it came to testing the panel’s visual quality there were further disappointments in store. I might as well get it over with: the image quality produed by the VW223B is terrible even for a TN. The first thing that you can spot as soon as you start using the Asus is its incredibly poor viewing angles. There is so much colour and contrast shift here that it’s not even suitable for light entertainment use, since especially on the vertical plane the image quickly turns into a visual negative. This is most definitely a monitor for working rather than gaming or watching movies.
There is some form of Dynamic Contrast present, which brings the claimed ratio up from 1000 to 3000 (still modest compared to the SyncMaster T200 20in LCD Monitor). It works well enough to want it on (though it’s sensibly only enabled during Theatre or Game modes) There’s also significant banding across a large range of colour tones. Though text is sharp colours aren’t clean, and the final nail in the VW223B’s shiny coffin is severe pixel tracking problems, all of which renders some surprisingly accomplished black levels rather pointless.
The VW223B goes to prove that bigger is not always better. It has the least adjustability, most awkward OSD and worst image quality of the DisplayLink screens we’ve tested (or of any we’ve had through the office in a while). So unless you’re desperate for the extra two inches, go for the rather good 20in LG Flatron L206WU instead.
Score in detail
Image Quality 4