As more and more people spend an increasing amount of time in front of the screen, reducing eyestrain can have a huge impact on comfort and productivity levels. Having suitable lighting is one way to achieve this —your room might be bright but brightening the inevitable "shadowy areas" on your desk can make a big difference.
Cue, the screenbar. I've been using one for a while since my job went remote in 2020. What's a screenbar? Essentially, it's a desk lamp that clamps to your monitor, providing uniform lighting on your desk and reducing the glare you can get with traditional lamps.
Look at the difference a bit of extra light makes:
When BenQ approached me to test out two of their popular screenbar models – the standard Screenbar and the Screenbar Plus, I jumped at the chance. The reason I even have a screenbar was because of these premium models.
Up till then, I was using the Quntis Laptop Monitor Lamp, which I bought in October 2020 for CAD$42.99. In comparison, the BenQ Standard Screenbar retails for about CAD$179.47, and the Plus model at CAD$200.
I tested the BenQ models for about two weeks each, and here are my thoughts.
Attachment to Monitor
Let's start with how the screenbars clamp onto the monitor.
Hands down BenQ's attachment is way more usable than Quntis'. It's very solid and has a really nice weight. You literally just put it on top of your screen and it balances perfectly.
In contrast, the Quntis clamp is less weighted and has tape to stick it to the back of the monitor. The whole attachment is just much less smooth and requires more manual finesse. The parts are definitely more "plasticky", making it feel easier to snap or accidentally break something.
Rotating the light bar to adjust where the light shines on the desk is also much easier with the BenQ than the Quntis.
Light adjustment controls
The Quntis Laptop Monitor Lamp has an attachment on the wire that plugs into the USB. Although this control wasn't the most aesthetically beautiful, it was small and practical. I found it easy to turn on/off and adjust the brightness or temperature levels.
For the BenQ lamps, the standard Screenbar has the controls built into the bar, while the Plus model has a separate dial attachment. This is the main difference between the two models.
The touch buttons on the standard screenbar are responsive but in order to adjust brightness/temperature, you have to long-press on the button. I found this a bit fidgety and not the most intuitive. It was a little difficult to have fine control. As a result, once I settled on a temperature and brightness level I was happy with for the majority of my work, I rarely adjusted them.
On the other hand, with the Screenbar Plus, you can control these settings very easily by selecting which option you want to adjust and subsequently rotating the knob. This way, you can go up or down instead of the linear one-way adjustment of the standard version.
The BenQ also features auto-adjustment/dimmer but I didn't really use this so can't comment on it.
Brightness and Temperature
An advantage screenbars have over most traditional desk lamps is that not only can you adjust brightness (something not available on all desk lamps), but also colour temperature. This is useful depending on what time of day you're working. I usually want cooler temperature during the day and warmer towards the evening, matching the natural ambient lightning.
The Quntis Laptop Monitor Lamp has 10 levels of brightness and three colour temperatures— warm (3000k), natural (4000k) and cool (6500k).
By contrast, the BenQ Screenbars have much greater adjustment abilities. There are 14 brightness levels and eight colour temperatures, ranging from 2700k-6500k.
The difference in brightness levels between the two brands wasn't significant to me. During the day, I had them both at maximum brightness and they were both good.
However, I definitely noticed a difference in being able to adjust the temperature levels. The eight levels that BenQ provides are more than double that of Quntis's three. Practically speaking, three levels were usually enough in my day-to-day. However, I really appreciated the finer control BenQ provided when doing video calls, especially for conference talks.
Both brands of screenbars provided uniform lighting on my desk and there wasn't much difference in terms of coverage.
Build quality and design
BenQ's screenbars are incredibly well built. The aluminium alloy is a really classy finish and feels premium. The clamps are a very solid weight and unlike my Quntis, doesn't feel like they'll break easily during transportation. The cord is also thicker with a less fragile USB connector.
My Quntis screenbar just can't compare in terms of the pure beauty of the product design. It's like comparing the iconic Chemex pour-over carafe (displayed in The Museum of Modern Art) to a generic copy-cat brand. The designer in me is still fangirling over the how beautiful the BenQ screenbars are. Honestly, I spend so much of my time working, it pleases me to have something that not only works so well, but is also aesthetically pleasing.
After one month of testing
I started using the Screenbar Standard first. At first, because I had gotten so used to Quntis's adjustment control being at my fingertips, I thought I would prefer the BenQ Screenbar Plus.
However, after a couple of weeks of using the standard model, I found that it was no issue to stand and turn off the light. In fact, I prefer the light touch of the bar, compared to the more tactile dial of the Plus. This was quite a surprise for me. I also didn't mind being forced to stand up because I tend to get into a habit of just sitting.
Overall though, I prefer the adjustment capabilities of the dial so I'll be sticking to using the Plus version.
BenQ has a new model out – the Screenbar Halo. it doesn't have any wires and the controls look more touch-friendly, similar to the standard version I like. Perhaps one day I'll be able to upgrade to this version!
I absolutely love using a screenbar/monitor lamp over a traditional desk lamp. It saves me valuable desk real estate, allows me to work more comfortably and is so easy to use. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I can never go back to working without one!
But do you need the premium BenQ model? Probably not. There are much cheaper generic brands out there, and you'll get the same benefits. Many now also have the same mechanism as the BenQ screenbars for attaching to your monitor, unlike my old Quntis one which was a bit of a hassle if I needed to make adjustments or move my monitor.
However, if you value the brand, quality and look and feel of the BenQ models, providing you have the budget, I can definitely recommend them. They will elevate any desk setup and sometimes it's really nice to invest in a few key items that can make a big difference in your life. I never work without turning on my screenbar!