Screen plays: The Poly 21 offers more room for your Zoom

Zoom or Microsoft Teams? It’s not even close, say senior executives

This is the first in a three-part series on products that take monitors in new directions.

The pandemic had most tech device makers scrambling to make the case that their products were somehow responsive to the dramatic changes in work routines that were thrust upon many. But the attempts were mostly spin. Products like laptops and smartphones spend a year or two in the hopper and could not have responded to COVID-19 during the pandemic’s height. Some features such as souped-up webcams or microbial coatings would have moved forward regardless.

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In contrast, the Poly P21 feels like one of the first products to anticipate the new world of hybrid work and its oft-overbearing video chat demands by asking the question, “What if the monitor were reinvented for the age of ubiquitous video chat?” The answer is something of a mashup of a second monitor, a soundbar, and a vanity mirror.

The P21 connects via DisplayLink, a USB-based video option that requires the installation of a driver on Macs and PCs but has been built into Chromebooks for years and works well for extending Chrome’s desktop. DisplayLink had been particularly popular in portable monitors before the uptake of supporting DisplayPort over USB-C. However, the 21″ Poly 21 is not a portable monitor; in fact, it includes a tilting base and requires a sizable power brick, and includes two USB-A ports on its underside, which is difficult to access without turning the device on its side or laying it flat. And while the charging base includes a Qi charging pad, the product’s use of DisplayLink means that it can’t be used by smartphones, at least not without a pricey DisplayLink dock. Even though DisplayLink drivers are in development for Android, the Poly 21 is not a great match because it is not a touch display.

But Poly’s software enables all kinds of video-chat amenities, including being able to change the color balance of the P21’s camera, setting the brightness of its front-facing sidelights, which can be adjusted independently or in tandem. Its speakers also sound great, particularly compared to most laptops, and front-mounted mute and volume controls (not compatible with all video chat potions) adjust a light above the speakers to indicate when the volume is moving up and down. The device is also compatible with Poly Lens, the company’s device management and insights platform for IT pros.

The P21 also includes a physical slide switch to block access to its camera but, like many DisplayLink monitors before it, does not have an on/off switch. Of course, when you’re not engaged in a video chat, the P21 provides all the benefits of a secondary display and will dutifully blank the display if you turn off its host device or put it in sleep mode.

Particularly if you work in an area where the light is less than ideal, the P21 provides an integrated alternative to upgrading your microphone, camera, and lighting without having to juggle (and plug in) all those video chat-augmenting accessories.

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