MEDL Technology's 'The Panel' hands-on

MEDL Technology's portable LCD display "The Panel" sounded like the perfect laptop sidekick, but would you really want to slip the 13.3-inch screen into your messenger bag? We invited company co-founder Eric Liao -- and his prototype Panel -- to a local Starbucks to find out. The verdict? Lightweight and incredibly easy to use, but at this point most features (including those all-important analog video inputs) aren't quite ready for primetime. Housed in a silvery frame that perfectly matched the brushed aluminum finish of our Mac and Dell laptops, the screen was equally easy to hook up to either one. Using a DisplayLink USB graphics chip, we only had to plug in an USB cable to instantly connect the external screen, once the driver was installed. The Panel was nice and bright, even eclipsing our LED-backlit XPS M1330 on maximum settings -- though the screen looked washed out, viewed from off-angles -- and featured smooth action and no perceptible audio sync issues when playing a DVD-quality movie. Basic functionality's all we got to test, sadly, but Liao made a number of intriguing promises for The Panel's future.

At 80 percent brightness, Liao says the device's 4200mAh rechargeable battery gives it 4 to 5 hours of spreadsheet slinging bliss, and those buttons on the right side might be used to control more than brightness and contrast -- should the company adopt wireless USB as originally planned, Liao intends to have them double as arrow controls, allowing you to cut the cables and still have basic e-reader functionality. A headphone jack is still in the works, which should allow audio passthrough from HDMI and possibly USB. Last but not least, there's a reason The Panel looks so good lying prone next to that Macbook: should cost decrease, future revisions may include a tablet-style touchscreen. Shame most of these ideas are still on the drawing board, but even the primary product is shaping up nicely. Hit up our gallery for the visual scoop.

P.S. Those blotches on the LCD screen? Liao says that's a manufacturing defect, and that MEDL is testing LCD panels from a variety of manufacturers to avoid such mishaps in the final product.