First Impressions: Vikuiti Screen Filter

I travel a lot, mostly by train. While the German ICE trains have a nice, open-air design (for example: a largish gap between seats), I frequently catch my seat neighbor’s eyes flicking to my screen.
Okay, chances are it is envy (I use a Mac and can work productively) or mere interest in MacOS that makes most folks break established social rules, but you never know - every once an a while, I’m sure I have had a competitor or even a customer sitting next to me without knowing it.

To be brief: for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking about getting one of those screen filters that greatly reduce the field of view to the left and to the right. Patent holder seems to be 3M, as I’ve only seen this type of filter from them, so I picked up a Vikuiti filter made to fit the 13.3 inch diagonal screen of my MacBook Pro.

The distributor in Germany provided a very easy to use online shop and the product arrived two days later by parcel service.

The filter itself is two-sided, meaning that one side has a glossy finish and one has a matte finish. While I love the screen of the MacBook Pro, the glossiness can be an issue when working out side or in a train next to the window, so I chose the matte side forward.

The screen comes with a mounting kit for notebooks as well as desktop monitors. While the latter merely consists of double-sided tape (get serious, guys), the laptop version is in the form of clear plastic strips, which are sticky down half of their length. Two long strips are intended to go on the left and right sides of the screen, while several short ones go on the bottom and, optionally on the top sides and top.

Mounting looked easy enough, however there is something that wasn’t clear from the (non-verbal) instructions: you need to leave some space between the edge of the filter and the beginning of the sticky part of the strip, perhaps 2mm. If you stick it too tightly to the edge of the filter, getting the filter in is impossible. So - off they went, to be re-stuck a little further out. While the strips made nearly clear contact with the glass screen of the MacBook before, they now have a bunch of gunk under the sticky part. They still hold, but don’t look as nice anymore.

One thing I find irritating is that these strips stick out into the actual screen by a little bit - depending on how you place them, up to about 4mm. While they are clear and subsequently see-through, they still represent a bit of an irritation - I hope I get used to them. And, of course, the clear lines of the glossy MacBook display are completely destroyed, but such is life. I would have preferred a filter as large as the entire black part of the display, with clear dual-sided sticky dots to put the filter over the screen. Either with velcro to remove it or permanently.

The effect, of course, is immediately clear:
  • no chance for anyone sitting next to me of seeing anything - the display look completely black.
  • someone looking over your shoulder can still see your screen - the reduction in luminance is minimal in angles from top to bottom
  • the picture is clearly darker than without the filter, and seems slightly, well, out of focus. I guess the reduction in edge contrast makes it look that way.
  • if you get too close to the screen, you’ll have a serious issue reading anything that isn’t smack in the center, as the blocking effect of the filter also works in that direction (obviously) - you’ll have to maintain at least 50cm distance to the screen to avoid this effect, something that may be difficult on an economy airplane seat.

Summary: it works as advertised, though you have to live with some drawbacks. I’m certainly glad the filter is removable in situations where I work alone.

*** Second impression: June 20, 2011 ***

After using the filter for a month now, I can reflect in more detail on the system.
The solution for holding the filter to the screen is absolute crap. The plastic strips gather dust and grit and look like some grotesque outgrowth on the stylistically quite beautiful MacBook Pro screen.

The filter is impossible to insert with one hand, even with two it is difficult to get it to slide in properly. Making the filter the identical size of the actual display is not only unattractive but requires - as already detailed - for the holding tabs to overlap into the display, making it nearly unreadable at these points.

To summarize: the filter works as advertised. It even reduces reflections on the mirror-like glass screen of the MacBook Pro, which - especially in a window seat on a train - is a plus. The reduction in light transmission is acceptable and was expected.

The system used to hold the filter to the screen is absolutely unacceptable. The manufacturer really needs to think up something different, either a filter that is as large as the display plus border, possibly with velcro attachments or at least a little bit larger so that modified holding tabs can be moved onto the (non-display) border. The holding tabs need to be modified in such that there is a raised edge where the filter is to be inserted, so that it can be slid in without problems.