BenQ ScreenBar Lite Hands-On Review: An e-Reading lamp designed for laptops
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Staring at a screen all day can have its effects, whether that be serious issues like computer vision syndrome (CVS) or affecting your sleep-wake cycle by suppressing melatonin levels. The problem extends beyond backlit screens though, with most manufacturers also equipping laptops with backlit keyboards. Discounting the RGB keyboards found in many gaming laptops, backlit keyboards tend to use white LEDs. While some people can touch type regardless of the lighting conditions, others will likely rely on a keyboard backlight if using a laptop at night or in a dark room. Having white LEDs shining back at you a few hours before going to sleep is not ideal either, in our opinion.
There have been alternatives for a while now, although there are few contemporary ones for laptops. IBM and latterly Lenovo developed the ThinkLight, for example, while Dell and HP both developed lights that illuminated keyboards from above. Keyboard lights have all but died out now though, with laptop manufacturers preferring backlit keyboards, instead.
Now, one could always use a lamp when working late into the night, but one may not always be available. Searching online reveals plenty of alternatives, although many are gooseneck USB lamps that illuminate just the keyboard and not the display. Programs like f.lux can reduce the blue light that your screen emits too, though. However, BenQ has sought to combine both into one compact unit, which it calls the Screenbar Lite.
The ScreenBar Lite combines hardware and software to deliver what BenQ claims is the "world’s first lamp that is specifically designed for digital screen time". Released almost a year ago, the ScreenBar Lite has seemingly inspired plenty of copycats.
BenQ sells several ScreenBar lamps, including ones for desktop monitors. However, the focus of this hands-on review will be the ScreenBar Lite. We would like to thank BenQ for kindly providing us with a unit to test, which we have been doing for just over a month now. All our opinions are our own. The ScreenBar Lite currently retails for US$99.00 or £89.00 in the UK. The lamp can be bought either from third-party retailers like Amazon or directly from BenQ.
Case - Unobtrusive and lightweight, but a little bulky
The ScreenBar Lite is mostly made from polycarbonate, ensuring that it remains relatively light at 170 g. BenQ has opted for brushed aluminium on the back of Lite's retaining clip, though. The unit measures 26 x 5.5 x 4.6 cm and is compatible with laptops that have 9 mm or thick display bezels.
The Lite has seven capacitive touch buttons, which all sit on the face of the unit, and connects via USB Type-A. Overall, our review unit is well-built and has no processing defects. Its clip holds the Lite securely in place and prevents the lamp from teetering as we type.
However, it is rather bulky for our tastes. While it will not weigh down your bag, it will take up a fair amount of space. Separately, we should point that the touch buttons offer no haptic feedback and not all are backlit. We often found ourselves scrambling around to find the power button, for example. While this is a minor gripe, it still one that should have been spotted in development, in our opinion.
Set-up & Operation - Simple enough to negate using the app
The ScreenBar Lite is simple to set up. Simply clip it to your laptop, connect its USB cable and power on the unit. Once you have done that, then you can tweak colour temperature and brightness using the capacitive touch buttons. There are also buttons for auto-dimming and saving your favourite preset, but the Lite will remember your last used settings.
In our experience, we adjusted colour temperature and brightness using the capacitive buttons on the unit, but BenQ has also developed a ScreenBar SmartLite APP. The program is a small utility that can control the colour temperature and brightness of your monitor too, negating the need to use other programs like f.lux or Windows 10's Night Light, for example. However, the SmartLite app only functions when the ScreenBar Lite is connected though, with it warning you to "Please check the lamp correctly connect the USB port" if you try to adjust your monitor's colour temperature or brightness when the lamp is disconnected. We tested V220.127.116.11 of SmartLite, for reference. Incidentally, V5.5 was the latest firmware available for the ScreenBar Lite when we tested it.
The ScreenBar Lite operates at between 2,700 and 6,500 K and can deliver up to 1,300 lux at around 30 cm away from the lamp. In our experience, the lamp can almost light a small room, and we never get anywhere near using its full luminosity on a daily basis.
The lamp does not glare against the screen, either. BenQ has developed the ScreenBar Lite with an "asymmetrical optical design" to achieve this, but you can adjust the lamp by up to 20° if you happen to notice any glare.
Power Consumption - Non-existent
The ScreenBar Lite is powered via USB Type-A, as we mentioned earlier. The operates on 5 V/1 A, with BenQ rating its power consumption at 5 W.
While this is not a helpful value for estimating its effect on battery life, we have noticed no adverse reduction in battery life when using the device for the last month or so.
Verdict - Expensive and bulky, but something to which we keep returning
We have mixed feelings about the BenQ ScreenBar Lite. On the one hand, we have found ourselves using it every day, albeit not always as intended. On the other hand, it is an expensive and bulky piece of kit. Having a USB cable trailing the back of your display does not look that elegant, either.
We should point out that while BenQ stresses that it has designed the ScreenBar Lite for laptops, it works perfectly well on external monitors. We had no issues with clipping the lamp to an HP 27f, a monitor that has thinner bezels than most modern laptops, for example.
The ScreenBar Lite is a great product, but its price and size may put some people off.
In short, the ScreenBar Lite can make a tangible difference to your workspace and with little setup or maintenance. The app, if a little superfluous because it only works when the lamp is connected despite also being able to control your monitor, works well too.
Ultimately, the functionality that the ScreenBar Lite offers may be enough for some people to overlook its exorbitant pricing. Even if we not one of those people, the simplicity and effectiveness of the ScreenBar Lite keeps us returning to it day after day.