Neonode AirBar review: Transform your plain-Jane display into a ‘touchscreen,’ for just $69 – PCWorld

A Savile Row suit can make anyone look like a million bucks—but only if it’s tailored appropriately. And so it goes for the Neonode AirBar, a surprisingly good peripheral that adds “touch” capability to an ordinary laptop or monitor, provided you buy the correctly sized AirBar.

Neonode’s AirBar certainly sounds like a steal: The slender sensor wand attaches to a laptop screen or standalone monitor, very much like Tobii’s line of eye trackers. Typically, native touch capabilities add about $100 or so to the cost of a new monitor, with no way to retrofit an existing touch-less device. Until now. The AirBar, which began shipping this week, is priced right at just $69. This unique gizmo is also a recipient of the Innovations Award for CES 2017, though it was first announced a year ago.

The AirBar works by bouncing infrared light off your fingers, interpolating where your fingers touch the surface of the screen. Make no mistake: A genuine touchscreen is more precise and offers more flexibility in terms of multitouch capabilities. But for those who want an inexpensive-but-serviceable alternative, the AirBar does the job.

Neonode AirBar Mark Hachman / IDG

If you have a suitably sized monitor (in this case, 15.6 inches wide, which is a little small for an external monitor), the AirBar can add touch capabilities.

Setup is simple

Neonode blithely promises an Apple-esque level of simplicity: “Attach. Plug in. Touch,” the box copy says. No need to even download drivers! The AirBar works on both Windows 8 and Windows 10 machines, as well as Chromebooks.

Neonode’s calm assurances aren’t misleading. Unlike Tobii’s set-it-and-forget-it magnetic mounting bar, the AirBar attaches via magnets: a pair of small magnets with sticky backing that attach to your screen’s bezel, and which grab onto the magnets on the AirBar itself. (I didn’t try moving the sticky bits from one screen to another, but it seems like you could.) 

Neonode AirBar Mark Hachman / IDG

Sticky-backed magnetic couplings attach to your monitor and hold the AirBar in place.

It’s worth noting that while you can probably use the AirBar with a computer monitor, the company’s packaging tacitly encourages you to use it with an older notebook that lacks a touchscreen. Frankly, I see this as a far more useful peripheral for the vast majority of computer monitors that lack touch capabilities, but there you go. And, as I discovered, the differences between using it with a monitor and a laptop are like night and day.

Note that your laptop’s bezel must be about 0.67 inches wide to mount the AirBar, and since the AirBar is about 0.2 inches thick, you won’t want to close your laptop with the AirBar still mounted inside of it. (Crunch!) Also—and this is critical—be sure to match the length of the AirBar to your display size. Neonode ships three different versions, at 15.6 inches, 14.0 inches, and 13.3 inches, for 16:9 displays at those widths.

Neonode AirBar Mark Hachman / IDG

As this picture shows, the AirBar’s USB cord is a bit too short.

One of the AirBar’s big drawbacks, however, is its 9-inch USB cord—long enough to reach from a laptop screen to a USB port on the side of the notebook (provided your laptop has USB ports on the right-hand side), but too short to reach from a desktop monitor to that same laptop. I tested the AirBar two ways: first by mounting the device to a (non-touch) desktop monitor connected to a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Then later testing the AirBar with a varity of laptops in stock at my local computer retailer (with the store manager’s permission, natch). 

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