Rethinking the dual screen paradigm

Recap: I’ve been on the pen computing bandwagon since EDIT: “the MS Tablet PC” started (circa 2002).

Realization: Pen first apps (OneNote, Whiteboard, sketching) require a different device orientation (usually flat and keyboard detached) than typing forward apps (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, needing the screen to be raised with keyboard). Whatever the windowing or multitasking features of a given OS, there is a frustration and a resulting loss of focus in pausing the creative process to reorient the device.

Problem: All existing dual screen and foldable devices (as of this writing) perpetuate that disconnect.

Work Around: I increasingly find myself setting up with two devices - one for typing and one for inking during the same work session. Often with different OSes, and depending on sync, poor recognition of the status of the apps between devices.

Suggestion: What about a device with two screens that are detachable and the OS and apps treat it as one screen? Think the form factor of 2 iPads, one with the air keyboard and the other a pencil.

Heavy? Yes. Expensive? Yes. The productivity gain from the ability to switch between ink and typing without losing focus or the time to change the orientation? Maybe priceless.


I like the Asus and Lenovo models that come with a separate screen next to the keyboard. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to test one in Japan, but since I annotate and don’t sketch the second smaller screen should probably be enough for those needs. That said, if I’m going through a whole book I’d probably still use my Galaxy Tab 6 Lite.


Dude, you missed a couple of things:

  • Momenta
  • PenPoint
  • GRiD
  • Windows for Pen Computing
  • Newton
  • Graffiti and the first half of Palm Computing

(I feel old)

I think you mean since Microsoft’s attempt to make pen computing mainstream when they coined the moniker “Microsoft Tablet PC for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system” and convinced Acer, Compaq, &c. to make devices such as the Compaq TC-1000 and Fujitsu Stylistic ST-4110.

That said, yes, the ubiquity of modern technology allows one to have multiple displays, positioned in such ways that each can be used to its best advantage — though I used to have something of this going on my NeXT:

  • NeXT Cube w/ 17" b/w display and Wacom ArtZ graphics tablet — for doing work
  • NCR-3125 w/ initial draft and sketches
  • Newton MessagePad w/ class notes and an outline (there were some great outliners for the Newton)

and I’m finally getting back to that now:

  • Samsung Galaxy Book 12 (soon to be supplemented by a Wacom One screen on my MacBook
  • Kindle Scribe
  • Galaxy Note 10+
1 Like

I had to look those up. Thanks for pointing them out.

From the photos, it appears the orientation is designed for right handed people. The screen size for inking is limited. So, are you using your Tab 6 as your inking companion to a laptop/desktop?

I was thinking of screens that could be joined or separated as needed, and OS that would allow the user to swipe apps from one screen to the other (like SDuo).

1 Like

Great point. And that’s a good description, “Since Microsoft…”

I did spend a lot of time with the Palm Graffiti - which made me more impatient for MS to get PCs up to speed.

1 Like

I know every time I think about one of those I cry in left-handed.

1 Like

I came to same conclusion, solution for me -

Home Office - I use an ASRock X300W Mini-PC connected to an LG 34" ultrawide and use my Surface Pro 9 5G for inking, OneNote, marking up documents and decks, reading.

Work Office - Surface Pro 9 5G takes over “desktop” duties and my Surface DUO 2 takes over as note taker.

1 Like

Props on the solution/work around.

1 Like

If memory serves then the Lenovo is clearly for right handed people, but thr Asus covers the whole keyboard length so it shouldn’t matter if it is left or right handed.

I wouldn’t say it is an inking companion, sometimes I do it directly on my Go, I just like the lighter experience on the Samsung.

1 Like

I think you just described a slate tablet with an external monitor. Or I’m missing something about how your imagined set up is different? What do you mean by it being treated as one screen? Like one window across two detached screens in two different planes? Or a scenario in which they would be placed side by side with one window spanned like the duo?

I sometimes run my Dex on my big monitor with the tablet driving it flat on the table. But I run into issues when on a Zoom class and the instructor wants the cameras on, because then my camera is pointed up at the ceiling and Android zoom won’t recognize an external webcam. But any windows slate should do this with an external monitor, right?

And there are any number of portable monitors that only need a single USB-C cable on the market now if you want a portable, flexible, dual screen set up. Just put the slate flat in front of the monitor.

I think that’s part of the idea with the foldable screen laptops - that you can use them half folded with either the keyboard over the bottom portion for typing, or remove the keyboard and have the bottom half of the screen as a flat writing surface.

Think Duo/Neo when it’s being treated as one screen.

The webcams are a great example of the kind of problems with the “add-on” nature of cabling a second screen. Also, if the inking capability is limited to the slate, it would need to be flat and the keyboard would need to drive the cabled monitor. Still, what you describe may be the best solution for mostly stationary use cases. I guess I’m aspiring to a more integrated approach.

Interestingly, it was rewatching the Lenovo X1 Fold 16 and Asus Zenbook 17 videos (late last night) that caused me to focus on the fact that, even if I bought one, I’d still be moving the device orientation, or backing up to slide the keyboard into place to go from inking to typing and back. And BTW, as a left hander with the back of the hand above the pen writing orientation, those semi-folded screens would force me to lose half the available “lower” screen to avoid bumping into the “upper” screen when inking.

Ironically, I think your use case requires an older solution. I think what you’re describing, in essence, is a laptop with something like a Wacom One plugged into it. Notes on the Wacom, and Excel and whatnot on the laptop screen.

And honestly, the more I think about dual screen options, the less use I think I actually have for them, at least, for anything pocketable/travel sized. There are some advantages of something like a Surface Duo that provides basically a reference screen along with the main screen to interact with, but those use cases are pretty narrow. I think dual screens are mostly trying to solve a portability problem by making compromises, where we already have solutions if we’re willing to carry 2 things.

I do think the Asus second screen design is on the right track, from a portability standpoint, though I wonder if just making a smaller Wacom One like device might be even better, say an 8" screen to jot notes on.


As someone who has recently gotten a duo again (and what I remember from how I used the one I had before) I seldom span a single app unless it’s something like two pages of a book, or Outlook or OneNote that will put an overview list on one screen and content on the other. I would sometimes try to span a game, but that’s only because the single screen is too small. I’d imagine with a larger set up, the need to span would be even less.

Can you describe a scenario in which you’d want to span an app across two larger screens using the same set up you also want to use as a divided flat/monitor set up?

But if the slate is driving the monitor, then the keyboard connected to the slate would also be driving whatever app is open on the monitor. I use a bluetooth keyboard. You could even use the on screen keyboard on the slate to type into whatever app is up on the monitor. Easy enough to set up on a table, not so much in your lap if that’s what you mean by portable.

Or as James ninjaed in while I was typing, an attached penabled monitor with a regular laptop. You could even set it on top of the keyboard deck when you don’t need to type.


You all moved too fast and left me out of this excellent discussion, because I have been struggling with this very problem the past two weeks.

For so long I have championed, and frustratingly sought, an all in one solution for computing and note taking (elusive MacPad or WinPad) yet the last two weeks of Zoom/Teams hearings and meetings have cut the legs out from under me, and made me realize I’ve been on a fool’s errand. Even the usual computing needs (as @Bishop said “typing forward apps”) makes note taking a distinct problem because of either camera or keyboard needs. My dabbling with Fold3 last week has brought that home in spades.

Ah, the two device conundrum that is all too true to avoid. But for me the solution was already tested, I just kept running away from it:

MacBook Pro + iPad Pro


Why, you ask - @Bishop again to the rescue:

The MBP is a “typing forward only” solution; the iPad Pro the “inking” solution - and Apple’s ecosystem lets you control both from the same keyboard and mouse whether you want to use them in sidecar (extra monitor) or independently as during a Zoom conference with document sharing AND note taking.

So, by this point my old friend and mentor @Desertlap is tearing his hair out over my constant 3000 rpm spinning between devices and ecosystems. But I am on the prowl for a good MBP (possibly even 16") deal to get back into the walled garden and quit crossing the streams…


Mainly I’m just enjoying the ride.

While I’m not against this idea, wasn’t there something, or many somethings you liked better about Windows than MacOS for your workflow? Does airdrop/synergy with iPadOS trump that? Or would the same synergy with, say a Galaxy Tab S6 lite with Windows work just as well/better for the Windows OS?

Interesting. I span stuff on the Duo all the time. The main use case in the large format, single(ish?) device I’m proposing is complex document comparison and markup. Admittedly, if more apps supported multiple instances, there would be less need for “spanning” in the Duo context. The value of the physical attachment for this use case is instant identical side-by-side positioning, as opposed to a kludgier “remember to bring the stand” which is at a different angle for glare, progressive lens eye glasses, etc.

BT keyboard in front of the vertical monitor, while the slate is flat seems to get ~90% of the functionality when screens would be split - assuming the cabling doesn’t complicate the ergonomics. Another value of the form factor I’m suggesting is no need to carry/keep up with yet another cable for the screens; that should be built into the OS.

Good stuff @violajack. Thanks for helping me bat this around “out loud.”


Yes - window management, and even parts of the Windows Office 365 applications, are better in Windows. And of course, I will have to deal with my Finder aversion and deep nested hierarchical file structure if I retreat once again. Offsetting that is the synergy and the much better OneNote experience on my iPad.

Of course @violajack and @Bishop are discussing a course of action above that is very workable, but if my SP8 is in laptop mode for the Zoom/Teams meeting I need a note taking device: Fold3 wasn’t the answer (because of OneNote) and I just don’t want a regular Android tablet.

Of course, the SP8 and iPad Pro can do this as well, just NO interoperability…

All I want is my cake, generously frosted and with a good side dose of Hagen Das vanilla bean on the side, so I can eat it too!


Yeah, I missed the thing about the Zoom/Teams camera being in the slate lying flat instead of the upright monitor. :thinking:


I did try, once upon a time, an app that allowed my phone to function as a webcam to supply video to zoom on a windows computer. I used it to get a different angle for a workshop that needed a “violin cam” in addition to the face cam. Much easier than contorting posture to get a top down view from a laptop webcam. So, potentially, one could have a set up with a surface flat, driving an external monitor, with a cell phone mounted on the side of the monitor. But that’s two cables running from tablet to monitor and tablet to phone or monitor to phone depending. Plus whatever other input devices you might want if typing on the onscreen keyboard is not an option for how much text input would be required.

Fun fact, there is one parent at the gym that will occasssionally pull out an at least 15" portable display to set up next to their at least 15" laptop. That set up kind of dominates the one table in the lobby. You can’t really see in the gym from that table though, so I tend to take lapable things or just read on my phone or a small tablet so I can watch my kids some too.

One day, the guy behind me brought his steam deck. I don’t think he was watching his kid much. But it did make me think of the whole steam deck + lapdock thing that some people do.

I’m so tempted to get a set of Nreal airs for on the go dex. Oops, off to the things I want but can’t pull the trigger on thread.


Now that Apple has Continuity Camera, which from my own experience works exceptionally well, you can bet that Samsung will bring out a comparable product. Hopefully for Windows PCs not ChromeBooks.

1 Like