No, the 3Qi display still isn't shipping in any commercially available products, but Pixel Qi is at long last offering a $275 10.1-inch screen replacement kit for netbooks through MakerShed. Needless to say, we jumped -- nay, leaped -- at the chance to finally get the display into our laboratories, roll up our sleeves and get to crankin'. That's right, we got out the screwdriver, wrangled up an old Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 netbook and swapped in the 3Qi display for Lenovo's glossy panel. You're surely sitting on a metric ton of questions. Was it hard to swap out? Has the screen been everything we've ever fantasized about and more? Is it really 80 percent more power efficient than standard LCDs? We've got plenty of answers as well as a step-by-step how-to after the break.
How-to replace your netbook screen with Pixel Qi's 3Qi
Before diving in there's a few things to remember. First, Pixel Qi has only confirmed the screen to work with Samsung N130 and Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 netbooks. We used the latter, though a handy chap from MakerShed had no issue getting it to work with his Acer Aspire One 532. Second, no matter how you slice it, removing your netbook's original LCD will void the warranty. So, don't blame us, Pixel Qi, MakerShed, or your mother, when you can't return your laptop. Got that all? Okay -- let's go.
1. Completely power down. Turn off the netbook, unplug it from the wall, and remove the battery. Seriously, do this all if you don't want to risk burning yourself or some part of the netbook.
2. Remove the bezel and original LCD. Find and pull off those rubber screw covers on the bezel. Grab a Philips screwdriver, unscrew the screws (put them in a safe place), and remove the plastic bezel. It helps to carefully slide the screwdriver or a fingernail along the bezel to open it up. We also had to get a bit rough with the S10-2's circular hinge to get the bottom of the bezel to loosen. After removing the bezel, the LCD will be in a metal frame -- carefully tilt it forward a bit.
3. Detach the video connector cable. This next step was the hardest part for us since Lenovo had taped the video connector cable down to the LCD. Carefully cut the plastic tape holding down the connector, and gently tug on the connector cable to unplug it from the back of the LCD. It should just pop out – there was no lock on the S10-2's connector. When the connector is removed, set it down, and start removing the additional screws around the frame holding the LCD in place. After those four (or so) screws have been removed, the original LCD should be free. Slip it out, set it to the side, and get out the Pixel Qi display.
PRO TIP: Famed modder JKKMobile, who talked us through this swap, suggests keeping the protective covering on the new display until the last second. He says you never know when you may drop the screwdriver and damage the screen by accident!
5. Power up. Once it's in there, you can test the screen to make sure it works. Just attach the power brick and quickly hit 'Power' to see if the boot sequence appears on the display. If you don't see anything, the cable may not be connected correctly. If you do see some glorious pixels, then... SUCCESS! You can now shut down and get the bezel and screws back on. And drink a cold beverage. Maybe even make some nachos! %Gallery-97625%
Living with Qi: the results
General LCD quality, viewing angles
Before we get into the promised benefits of the display, it's worth talking about how it looks in normal usage. When peering at the 1,024 x 600-resolution screen head-on and with brightness at 100 percent, we found it to be sufficiently bright. Colors were quite crisp when watching a standard definition video clip and looking at some preloaded pictures. Frankly, it looks like any other matte display -- there's no reflection while looking at it and all areas of the display appear gloss-free.
However, like we mentioned when we saw the screen at CES, the viewing angles are, well... poor. Though Pixel Qi has made a much-improved "wide-view" version of the screen, which we saw at Computex, the one being sold through MakerShed right now does not have the new viewing angle enhancements. (Pixel Qi CEO Mary Lou Jepsen tells us the wide-view screens will be available for purchase in Q4, though she says some do prefer the standard viewing screens for privacy, etc.) Standing to the left of the display caused all sorts of color saturation and color changes – for example, the bright royal blue on the desktop appeared light blue or white in some areas. Similarly, tilting the screen backwards resulted in color distortion. However, with the backlight turned down or off the viewing angles were better both indoors and out.
According to Pixel Qi, the 3Qi display uses 80 percent less power than a standard LCD screen, making it greener than any others out there. We're not EPEAT by any standard, but we can say that the 3Qi display sipped less of our home energy than did the original LCD that shipped with the Lenovo S10-2. The IdeaPad S10-2, with its original LCD at full brightness, pulled 11 watts. However, the netbook with the Pixel Qi display at full brightness pulled only 9 watts. When we turned off the backlight, our Kill-A-Watt power meter shot down to 7 watts. It's not going to make much of a difference on your monthly electric bill, but hey, Mother Earth will take whatever she can get these days!
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 (regular LCD)||11 watts||9 watts (50% brightness)|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 (Pixel Qi 3Qi display)||9 watts||7 watts|
With the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2's original glossy, 10.1-inch LCD set at 70 percent brightness, the six-cell 47Wh battery lasted for 4 hours and 21 minutes. Yeah, that's bad for a netbook with a six-cell battery, but keep in mind that the S10-2 was never known for its endurance, and it uses Intel's last generation N280 processor. With Pixel Qi's screen at 70 percent brightness, the system ran for 4:31 minutes – just ten minutes more. That's not really an improvement by any standard, but when we shut the backlight off, the S10-2 ran for 5:45 minutes, which is just about an hour and 15 minutes longer. That's about 25 percent more battery life, and exactly what PixelQi says the power savings should be on current netbooks with the screen.
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 (regular LCD)||4:21||4:45 (10% brightness)|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 (Pixel Qi 3Qi display)||4:31||5:45|
To be honest, we expected a bit more runtime out of the backlight off mode, but regardless, you can see that the reflective mode clearly sips less power than a standard LCD. In fact, when we just had it sit with an e-book on the screen with the backlight off it ran for about eight hours. We're certainly not anywhere near the 40 hour laptop that Pixel Qi has been dreaming of, but even the best displays cannot fix a netbook with already substandard endurance or, you know, the current state of computing hardware.
So, is it worth the $275? It does seem like quite a bit to add to such a cheap netbook, but if you're looking to use your machine outdoors and to add a bit more juice to it by being able to turn the backlight off, there's nothing quite like it out there. And now with our detailed instructions you should have no problem doing it on your own! But, beyond netbooks, we really believe the real appeal of this screen is truly in its ability to create mobile and multimodal tablets – ones that work in any lighting and that can transform from a fully functional slate with a color display to an e-reader with the flick of a switch. Now let's just hope that sea change doesn't require as much DIY effort on our end.
A major, major thanks to MakerShed for sending us the PixelQi display free of charge and to JKKMobile (@jkkmobile on twitter) for walking us through the screen replacement process.