by Jennifer Allen on
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Claiming something is the perfect computer desk lamp is a rather, well, bold claim. The BenQ ScreenBar, however, is as close to perfect for the task as we’ve ever seen. Doubt us? Read on and see.
Before we even dive into the features of the ScreenBar, let’s start by setting the stage for our claim of it’s perfection with a hard look at the challenges that come with designing a desk lamp used in parallel with a computer and why so many lamps fall short.
If you have a desk without a computer screen on it, selecting a lamp is simple. You pick any old lamp that meets whatever requirements you have (warm white light for comfortable reading, bright crisp light for fine task work like crafting or electronics) and you’re good. You can pay more or you can pay less for various features or light quality, but it’s not too terribly complex.
Introduce a computer monitor, however, and suddenly it’s more than a little bit complex. First, the monitor itself is a large physical object that blocks some or all of the desk span. Monitors are getting bigger, wider, and multiple monitor setups aren’t uncommon. It’s quite possible to have a desk where there simply isn’t a good spot to place a lamp that isn’t in the way or unwieldy to use.
You don’t realize what a terrible fit most lamps are for a computer desk until you use one uniquely designed for the task.
Second, you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) place the lamp anywhere that it will cast light onto the screen and create glare. Not only does it make using the computer screen difficult but it can lead to eye strain and headaches. That rules out placing the lamp in front of the monitors or hanging down over the monitor, say, on a swing arm. In fact, this is why many people, myself included, use a bias light behind their monitors.
Bias lighting has a pretty severe limitation though. It’s perfect for alleviating eye strain and providing some ambient light, but by its very nature bias lighting is not task lighting. Task lighting is light that shines directly down on the things in front of you so that whatever your task is, there’s light to do it. As much as I love bias lighting (and I incorporate it into every desk setup and use it behind every TV in my house) it’s not suitable for task work.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us in want of a highly specialized lamp that casts light only in a band in front of the monitor without shining the light onto the screens or into the eyes of the person sitting at the desk. The BenQ ScreenBar is that specialized light.
The ScreenBar’s design is significantly different than other desk lamps. There’s no base, no gooseneck or mechanical arm, and nothing to move out of the way (or to get in the way). The lamp rests on the top of your monitor just like a webcam, with a form factor highly reminiscent of picture lights found over paintings in art galleries and well appointed homes.
It sports a long cylindrical shape 18 inches in length with a hefty counterweight that rests on the backside of your monitor. Looking at a photo of the device you might be inclined to worry it would slide about or tip forward, but nothing is moving this thing short of directly smacking it with your hand (and purposefully at that).
The ScreenBar is USB powered via a micro USB cable and intended to be plugged into your computer or your monitor as a power source (if you wish to use it without the computer powered on, you could always plug it into any old 5V 1A phone charger).
Before we look at the specific features of the light let’s talk about the absolute bare minimum the BenQ ScreenBar needs to do in order to meet our expectations and get our stamp of approval. Our absolute bare expectations for this product is that it provide clean, crisp, flicker free light that illuminates our work space without shining light on the screen.
The ScreenBar not only achieves that end but even positioned on the center monitor of my triple monitor setup, it manages to not only keep the center monitor glare free but no light leaks onto the adjacent monitors either. In the photo above you can see how razor sharp the lighting is. That’s not a camera trick. If the ScreenBar is the only light source in the room the light it casts is so focused everything but the desk directly under it is dark.
That alone would 100% sell me on the product. I’ve gone almost ten years without a desk lamp because desk lamps are so problematic for multimonitor setups, but here we are—there’s a lamp on my desk again.
But let’s not stop at just highlighting how well the ScreenBar performs its most basic function, let’s look at what I would consider the “bonus” features that push us towards considering the ScreenBar the best computer desklamp, period.
The lamp is set to provide 500 lux of brightness, per the guidelines set out by the American National Standard Practice for Office Lighting. When the auto-dimming feature is toggled on the lamp will automatically brighten and dim to throw 500 lux on your desk.
This feature functions flawlessly and on a stormy day where the changing density of the clouds outside caused significant fluctuations in the natural light of my office, the ScreenBar responded immediately to changes always keeping the level of light even and steady.
Don’t want auto adjustment? No problem. You can turn it off with a tap and manually adjust the light as dim or as bright as you want.
Out of the box the ScreenBar casts a very bright crisp and cool white light in the 6500K range. With a simple touch of the temperature button on the top of the bar, you can slide from the surgical-suite cool white range all the way to a very warm 2700K white in the same color range as warm white reading lights.
Capturing lighting temperature changes accurately with a camera is always tricky, but the above image does a very good job of showcasing exactly how far the range on the ScreenBar is. With the tap of a button you enjoy any shade of white you want. If you adjust your monitors with a tool like F.lux to cut down on blue light in the evening, you can now easily adjust your task lighting too.
As soon as I looked at the ScreenBar my very first thought was “Where am I going to put my webcam?” It turns out the answer to that question is “Right where I’ve always put it”.
It wouldn’t have been the end of the world to put it on one of my side monitors (though it would have felt weird), but for someone with only one monitor this is a much bigger consideration. Thankfully, in almost every case, it’s no consideration at all.
The top of the ScreenBar is flat and broad enough (and the weight of the unit makes it sturdy enough) that the majority of webcams will sit right on it without issue.
Under normal circumstances we’d wrap up a review with a careful cataloging of any negative aspects of a product, caveats, recommendations to the manufacturer for improvements we’d like to see in Ver. 2.0 of the product, and so on.
In the case of the ScreenBar, however, there’s nothing to even put in this space. The only complaint I can even drum up is that for 99 bucks it should include a USB power plug so you can plug it into the wall if you want. But even including it would just be a token gesture because, let’s be real here, at this point most of us have so many USB chargers we look like hoarders keeping them all stuffed in desk drawers and bins.
The take away then, and my very firm opinion after living for weeks with the ScreenBar, is that it’s the perfect product for anyone in want of a a proper and bright lamp for their computer desk.
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