Affordable; Accurate touch control; Chrome OS and Windows support
Magnet setup can be tricky (and permanent); USB cable aligns only on the right
The Neonode AirBar turns any laptop display into an accurate touch screen, but the magnets it requires will permanently alter your laptop.
More and more laptops come with built-in touch screens, but what if the model you want (or already own) doesn’t have one? The $69 Neonode AirBar is a sleek, innovative device that lets you add affordable, accurate touch-screen capabilities to nearly any laptop. However, the semi-permanent magnets that hold the peripheral in place might give some consumers pause.
The AirBar is a sleek, thin, black bar. It comes in 13.3-, 14- and 15.6-inch options to fit your display perfectly (I reviewed the 15.6-inch version), and fits unobtrusively against the bezel beneath the screen.
A 9.5-inch USB cable protrudes from the right side of the AirBar to attach to your notebook. You can’t remove the cord, so if you damage it, you’ll need to buy a new AirBar. It also means you have to use a USB port on the right side of your notebook, which might require you to change your current peripheral setup. (I tried using the AirBar upside down and plugged in on the other side, but it didn’t work.)
You need to use the included magnets to keep the AirBar attached to the bezel. Their adhesive backs help fasten the first two magnets to the bezel. From there, the magnets built into the device can make a snug attachment along the bottom of the display. Unfortunately, the adhesive-attached magnets are hard to remove, so they will be stuck to your display for a long time. As such, it’s important that you align them correctly with the recommended 3 millimeters of space between the AirBar and the display the first time for proper calibration.
After it was attached, I started worrying about what would happen if I accidentally closed my laptop on it. Turns out, I didn’t have to worry at all. Using its laser technology, the AirBar let out loud beeps when it detected my hand was at the top of the screen to shut the lid. It was more than enough to remind me to remove the device before closing the notebook. However, it can send those alerts only when the computer is on.
Performance and OS Support
The AirBar is the definition of plug-and-play. As soon as I attached it to an old Dell Vostro 3000, the peripheral’s driver installed, and it was ready to go. The AirBar projects an invisible light field above your screen that provides feedback to your notebook. When you break the field with a finger, stylus or anything else, it knows where on the screen your finger is.
The technology is impressive, especially for such a sleek peripheral, but it’s not as accurate as a regular touch screen. Still, it’s capable of handling navigation, scrolling and pinch-to-zoom gestures with ease.
The AirBar only supports two-finger gestures, which is fine for the majority of Windows 10 functions. However, you can’t activate Cortana by touching the screen with three fingers or open the Action Center with four fingers. Neonode told me that this shortcoming will be addressed in the future via firmware updates.
The biggest issue I noticed was that the AirBar sometimes wouldn’t recognize a second finger when it was placed on top of another. My guess is that this happened because both of my fingers blocked the light in the same space, so it noticed only one digit.
The AirBar works with Chrome OS in addition to Windows 10, but it’s more of a toss-up with macOS. A representative for AirBar explained that this is because macOS isn’t made with touch in mind. However, depending on your Mac, you might have some compatibility. The MacBook Air is your best bet for a touch screen Mac, thanks to its thick bottom bezel. I tried it with a 15.6-inch MacBook Pro and it worked only on part of the panel.
I tested the Neonode AirBar for 15.6-inch displays, which the company says is the most popular option based on sales. If you prefer something a little more portable, you can also get an AirBar for your 13.3- or 14-inch display for the same $69 price.
A touch display isn’t a necessity for most people, but it’s nice to have.
That add-on, though, can be pricey. The Neonode AirBar doesn’t exactly replicate the precision of modern laptop touch screens, but it comes very close (if you don’t mind having magnets stuck to your laptop). For shoppers buying budget notebooks or people who are still holding on to years-old laptops, the AirBar is a simple, affordable alternative that can be enabled and disabled at whim.