GeChic 1503I Portable Multitouch Monitor Review
The GeChic 1503i is a curious device that offers full multipoint touch support in a portable monitor format: you just supply the computer. This could be a full desktop, an Intel Computer stick or any of the other mini-PCs, or even a Raspberry Pi – and the On-Lap just needs power from a USB port. The result can be a DIY tablet, a custom Surface PC, or anything you want it to be.
At it’s core, GeChic 1503i is a 15.6 inch 1080p IPS panel display. It provides 10 point multitouch input – plug and play with a modern Windows system or the latest Raspbian Jessie with Pixel desktop. It should be able to run off the power from just a single USB port (though you can use two, or any standard USB charger if that isn’t enough).
The standard package includes an adaptor cables for the proprietary HDMI port, as well as a 2 amp USB power socket, and a dual USB-A to USB-C power and touch signal cable.
Cabling can be a bit confusing, so let’s clear that up now. In basic usage, a single USB port on your source computer should provide enough power for the display from the source machine, as well as transmit the touch input signal from the GeChic 1503i back to the source – you shouldn’t need any additional power sockets. This was the case when I used either the USB2 or USB3 port on my test laptop. However, if the GeChic display flickers or turns off at higher brightnesses, you can provide power through an additional USB port, or the included wall charger (nothing special, just the same 2A 5v kind you’d use for your phone). A standard USB extension cable is provided, too.
A hard cover is also provided, but my only complaint is that it doesn’t really clip over the screen – it’s slightly larger than the screen itself, and two rubber strips at the top and bottom are the only thing that holds it in place. Some small plastic clips to actually lock it, or even some kind of magnetic solution, might have felt better.
Around the rear you’ll find a dock connector, with rubber seal to protect it, as well as a neat folding kickstand. The stand slots into a number of rungs, and latches in place using a strong magnet. It’s all rubberised to prevent the device slipping on the table, or you can unscrew the entire stand mechanism if you want to attach the optional VESA mount (not included).
The side ports are functional, but I found they got in the way a little when using it like a tablet, and were prone to being knocked, which could potentially damage the ports with frequent movement. GeChic also sell a proprietary cable that uses this rear dock connector to provide a standard USB and dual USB-A cable, which I’d suggest buying to avoid stressing the side ports.
Usefully, loud but somewhat tinny speakers are also built-in, presenting themselves as an HDMI audio device.
I tried to source some similar products to compare, and came up short. The closest I could find were industrial 15″ TFT multitouch panels for around $250, but those came with only DVI connectors and had a significantly lower resolution. For around $450 you can find low powered built-in PC and resistive touchscreen units designed for point-of-sale systems (resistive touch screens don’t work very well, and offer only a single point of interaction).
For the Raspberry Pi specifically, you could buy a very small, low-res 4″ or 7″ touchscreen for less than $50, though they tend to be bare metal (add another $15 for a case). I can’t see you getting much work done on them – they’re best suited to reading output or debug information than a full-on desktop environment.
On the premium side, there are of course Wacom Cintiq devices for upwards of $800 ($1400 for the multitouch model). To be clear, the monitor device isn’t a pen digitizer and therefore not really comparable to a Wacom tablet, but the GeChic touchscreen will respond just fine to regular capacitive stylii for basic drawing, or just to a finger. I bought a two pack of stylii from Amazon for $10 to test with. You won’t get pressure sensitivity, but taking notes or quick sketches is fine.
It seems like GeChic have really found a niche for themselves.
Since this is a touchscreen monitor with no inherent computing capabilities, you can at the very least get an HDMI signal from anything capable of outputting one. The screen will also present itself over USB as an “HID-compliant touchscreen”, so anything with generic touchscreen support should work out of the box.
I tested on the Chuwi 14.1 Lapbook, and was able to power the display directly from the Lapbook itself. Just plugging in the HDMI and USB cables completed setup in Windows 10 – there were no additional drivers needed for the touchscreen to be functional. The same was true of my gaming rig, and even the latest Raspbian linux. Other forms of linux may need certain modules to be recompiled into the kernel.
Worth noting however is that the touch screen is not compatible with Mac OS. You can just use it as a second monitor of course, but the touchscreen functionality would be wasted, and there are cheaper devices you could use instead.
On the rear, covered up by a rubber bung, is a proprietary dock connector. GeChic sell a number of accessories for this, including a VGA or HDMI adaptor – in case you’d rather the cables came out of the rear, instead of the side of the device – and more interestingly, a rear dock (for $90).
The dock provides a full size HDMI and USB out port. The intended use is for HDMI dongle sized computing devices, like the Intel Compute Stick or a Chromecast, but can just be used instead of the side ports.
The dock also houses a powerful magnet, and in the package you’ll find two metal plates with 3M tape to attach them to a battery pack or other device. The maximum weight for a battery pack is 350g, so unfortunately the massive 27,000mAh battery I had to hand just wouldn’t stay attached. I used the other metal plate on a Raspberry Pi, which worked great.
The dock comes with a full size USB port, as well as as USB to micro-USB & USB connector. The micro-USB part of this cable is used to get power from the monitor to the dongle (or Raspberry Pi); the other USB connector provides the data signal to the device, if available. The dock also has a USB-C port to provide power in.
In testing, I found the single port 2.1A output from my battery pack wasn’t enough to power both the Pi and the monitor. If you have a battery capable of providing power through two ports simultaneously, that should be ok.
That said, after attaching a battery and Raspberry Pi, the whole thing felt a bit clunky. In future designs, it might be nice if they bulked up the rear panel a little: add USB and HDMI ports there as standard, include a battery, and a rear panel that could cover everything up; perhaps even ruggedise it a little. The magnetic clip certainly works, but it’s inelegant, and having the whole thing uncovered seems like a recipe for it getting a battery caught somewhere, or knocking the dongle out.
I should mention that I had great fun lazing in bed playing Civilization 6 with this device. While Windows tablets I’ve used have been generally too limited in power for modern gaming, I can use the On-Lap with my VR rig and everything just works. If you’ve ever wished you had a multitouch display for your daily Windows computing needs, the 1503i will absolutely fit the bill.
If you really want a 15.6″ touchscreen for your Raspberry Pi, it’ll also serve you well there. As a portable monitor which can work with a range of source inputs – whether that be a Raspberry Pi, massive Windows desktop, or miniscule Intel Compute Stick – the 1503i can handle them all with ease.
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