Low Power Monitors from Samsung and Lenovo

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SAMSUNG P2070

Samsung's P2070 is a much glitzier product, with a glossy black bezel, invisible buttons that light up to the touch, and a soft blue LED that illuminated the transparent plastic stem of the stand. It is a Mac to Lenovo's PC; a work of art and sex appeal versus a utilitarian tool. The difference is immediately apparent in the marketing material on Samsung's web site. The monitor is described in non-terribly-subtle sexual terms, with "ultra-slim dimensions" and "image quality that's sure to catch your eye". The most outrageous is probably this: "This SAMSUNG monitor gives you something beautiful to stare at, whether it’s on or off."

Flirty as the marketing is, it disappoints when it comes to substance, which is frustratingly light on technical details and <ahem> hard data. Although it is apparently "eco-friendly" thanks to "a unique manufacturing process", only by digging through several reviews of other monitors online was I able to discover that the low power consumption is attributable to a "dual lamp" design, and I was unable to find any supporting data about what that design entails.

Unfortunately, thanks to this dearth of actual, useful information or any environmental certification (including the somewhat basic TCO'03 certification), the ways in which the P2070 is actually environmentally friendly shall have to remain a mystery.


Oooh, shiny sexy black bezel. A soft cloth is included for cleaning —
A warning that it won't stay pristine for long?


She looks good from behind as well...

The design principle of sexy over sanity is more than just skin deep. In comparison to the Lenovo, the Samsung feels very limited when it comes to actual use. The stand is short and not adjustable in any way except very slightly forward and back. There is only a single DVI-I input, with no adapter included for VGA inputs (luckily, the adapter included with many graphics cards should work).

Power is provided by an external 12V brick, which means more clutter under the desk. However, it does open up the possibility of replacing the default brick with a more efficient model if power consumption is critical (the small amount of watts saved will probably never offset the amount of power used to produce the new brick though...)


...but the input selection is kind of basic...

Perhaps the most irritating compromise between style and usability is the "Starlight tough buttons" that are invisible until you prod around the bezel with your finger to get five lighted icons that are touch-sensitive buttons. The buttons only stay lighted for a limited amount of time, and do not provide any tactile feedback. They are at their worst when trying to adjust brightness or color when you need to be looking at the screen during the adjustment, not staring at the bezel trying to find the right square centimeter to touch. Perhaps I'm being unfair, but the already-clumsy five-button interface that all modern monitors favor gets worse when you can't tell where each button begins and ends. But, yes, they are gorgeous. Just not very useful. (Editor's Note: Ironically, this is the same problem I noted in my review of the Lenovo all-in-one A600 PC.)


... and her buttons are hard to find.

Specifications: Samsung P2070
Screen Size
20" Wide
Resolution
1600x900
Brightness
250 CD/m²
Contrast Ratio
DC 50,000:1 (1000:1) (typ.)
Response Time
2 ms (GTG)
Viewing Angle (Horizontal / Vertical)
170° / 160° (CR > 10)
Colors Supported
16.7 M
Video Signal
analog RGB / DVI
Sync Signal
separate H / V, composite, SOG
Connector
DVI-I
Power Consumption (Typical / Standby)
26W / <1W
Dimensions (with stand)
500 x 382 x 190 mm
Weight
3.3 kg

The specs for the P2070 are quite similar to the Lenovo, with similar brightness, contrast, viewing angle, and size ratings. One place where the Samsung does seem superior is the aspect ratio, which at 16:9 properly accommodates DVD and Bluray formats without cropping or boxing. The 1600x900 resolution is also slightly higher — an additional bonus of the 16:9 aspect ratio.

One thing that is conspicuously absent from the spec sheet is any kind of certification. While Lenovo pushed the envelope by getting the L1940p rated by GreenGuard, Samsung doesn't even bother with TCO'03. Though "TCO" is listed as a possible spec, the rating for the P2070 is "No".

Power consumption is rated significantly higher, at 26W typical (as opposed to 16W for the Lenovo). As before, these are specs only — we did our own tests as well, but the Lenovo will be tough to beat given how much it improved over its specifications.

COLOR REPRODUCTION

Color fidelity was tested by comparing a slate of ten original photographs with a high quality (if aging) imaging monitor, a Viewsonic G225f, calibrated with a Spyder 2 calibration device. The P2070 was tested with various color profiles engaged, including a corrected profile calibrated in software using the Spyder 2. This corrected profile was used to see how good the monitor's color could potentially be, rather than to evaluate its color performance out of the box.

Reference photos were taken of the Lenovo's color reproduction, with the camera white-balanced to a solid white screen on the calibrated reference monitor (nominally 6,500°K). This ensured that, as far as possible, color variances could be attributed to the monitor, not the camera. Due to differences in brightness across the various monitor profiles, exposure was not corrected for in the camera, some artifacts related to brightness (notably the darker shadows in most shots) can be seen that are not monitor related.


"Original" is the uncorrected original photo. "Stock color" shows the color out-of-the-box. "Hardware corrected" shows a calibrated version using the red, green, and blue sliders in the monitor itself, while, and "Software corrected" shows a calibration done solely in software. Calibration was done with a Spyder 2 calibration device. Note how unnatural the green cast of the default color profile looks next to the original photo and the corrected versions.

Out of the box, the Samsung P2070 looked far more natural than the Lenovo. The default color profile had a slight green cast, but nothing too serious. However, the default brightness (set at 100) caused the blacks to glow quite a bit; blacks looked much more natural with the brightness turned down.

A number of unhelpfully labeled color profiles are built into the monitor. Each profile is labeled "Gamma Mode" followed by a number. No explanation of what each mode corresponded to could be found, but they appeared to range up and down the color temperature scale to be used "to taste". There was also a mode called "MagicColor", which may or may not have adapted to the ambient lighting in the room — the only explanation we could find did little more but tout "dynamic" color, without explaining what dynamic color might mean. In our lab, the effect of enabling it was to boost the reds and saturation in a rather unnatural way. Because no good explanation of any of the various color modes could be found, we did not feel justified in testing any of them in detail.

On a more serious note, the monitor exhibited a serious color shift depending on which angle it was viewed. Above 90°, the monitor took on a green cast, while below 90° it looked magenta. The shift from green to magenta was sudden, not gradual, and was particular annoying when the screen was angled at close to 90°, since the color cast would change depending on the position of the viewer's head.


The lighting on the downpipe clearly shows the unnatural green color cast of the default color profile. Corrected versions appeared much better, but also much more saturated than the original.

Two separate calibrations were done with the P2070. The first was done "in hardware" by tweaking the red, green and blue sliders in the menu of the monitor itself. This calibration was less than satisfactory, since it tinted the whites significantly even while correcting the midtones. We do not recommend attempting any correction in hardware for this reason.

The second calibration was done with all the color sliders left at their default value of 50, using only the custom gamma curve generated by the Spyder 2 sensor to correct color fidelity. This method produced a much better result.

We also briefly played around with Samsung's proprietary color correction utility called "Natural Color Pro" — until it caused a BSOD on our machine. We were unable to ever get this software working properly, even with the latest version downloaded from Samsung's web site. A different problem occurred with the "Premium Magic Tune" utility which is intended to allow control of the hardware menu via a Windows application. In this case, it simply refused to recognize the monitor, popping up a message stating the monitor was "incompatible" and then closing immediately. Like the Natural Color Pro application, downloading the latest version from Samsung did not resolve the issue.

POWER CONSUMPTION

Power consumption is tied to the amount of light the monitor must produce, so power was measured several times with the monitor in two states: pure white and pure black. Power was measured at the wall with a Kill-a-Watt AC power meter.

Samsung P2070 Power Consumption
Setting Screen Output Power Consumption
Default:
100 Brightness
75 Contrast
Black 24W
White 22W
Calibrated:
73 Brightness
75 Contrast
Black 19W
White 17W

As with the Lenovo, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the typical power consumption the we measured for the P2070 was noticeably lower than the rated consumption. This was particularly true when the brightness was turned down to the correct level; power consumption averaged 18W. While it didn't hit the 11W level reached by the Lenovo, the under-20W performance still puts the P2070 in good company. Whether it's Samsung's "Dual lamp" technology or something else, it still qualifies as a power miser in our books.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Perhaps it's just the starkly different market segments they are targeted at, but seems like the engineers at Lenovo and Samsung should have teamed up and produced one monitor between them. Lenovo's offering is eminently practical, well thought-out, and usable — but very stodgy and a bit ugly. Samsung's P2070 is the opposite; here style appears to be the guiding principle, to hell with usability (or comprehensible menu options). And both companies would probably benefit from stealing an engineer from Apple to redo the awkward five-button interface that has become standard on monitors for some reason.

Lenovo's strength is in its focus on ergonomics and providing a complete package. And, of course, its extremely power-frugal performance cannot be ignored — if power efficiency is your main criteria in a monitor, this is your choice hands down. However, color performance — especially uncalibrated — was pretty poor. The extremely blue color cast may be acceptable for an office environment where it's all spreadsheets and word processing, but it's not suitable for any sort of color work, and it's not the nicest monitor to view photos on either.

Samsung's advantage is style, a better out-of-the-box color calibration (if you discount the odd color shift above and below 90°), and, if you watch movies on your PC, its 16:9 aspect ratio. Its relatively efficient power performance doesn't hurt either, though it's not good enough to stand out on the strength of efficiency alone. Subjectively, it may have had slightly higher contrast (and thus a punchier image), but it's not clear whether this reflects more accurate color performance.

The Samsung's downsides are all related to the compromises made in the name of style that sacrificed usability. Poorly labeled and unexplained menu options, nonfunctional software package, and the maddening lack of any useful information on its web site all speak volumes of a division run by marketing executives rather than engineers. And, though it definitely exudes style, it has the cheap gaudiness of a $10 disposable watch. If the P2070 were a woman as the marketing material suggests, she's is a tramp rather than a Milan supermodel.

Our thanks to Lenovo and Samsung for the monitor samples.

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