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Can't Touch This

An LCD Monitor

by Marko Peric

Recently I purchased a new computer monitor. For the record, there was nothing wrong with my old Samsung, apart from the fact that it dates from nine years ago, and is a little small by today's standards. But it has gone to a better place. No, , it's actually still in service, permanently connected to a laptop with a non-functional screen. Migrating it to a new job was the perfect excuse to get myself a new monitor. I shopped around for a week or so, and found a very good deal on a widescreen LG.

It took some time to get used to my new screen, what with the overall larger size and different aspect ratio, and of course it took a little while to get the colour balance, brightness, and contrast to a point I was happy with. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that the new monitor has absolutely no buttons. That's right, not even an on/off switch.

I know what you're thinking — how do you turn it on then? And how do you switch it off? Well, it turns out that instead of actual buttons, this monitor has sensors in the front bezel that act in much the same way as buttons, only instead of pressing them, you merely move a finger over the appropriate points. The sensors register your finger movements and react in much the same way as actual buttons would.

Sounds kinda cool, right? It's like being a short-range mission specific jedi. Instead of using the force to dissuade stormtroopers and retrieve dropped weaponry, you can manipulate the control mechanism of a high tech device without actually touching it. Okay, so maybe that's actually more like R2-D2's skillset, but still, being able to control something by waving your hand in front of it sounds pretty neat.

Only problem is that since there are no actual buttons, it's difficult to tell which sensor you are about to activate. I actually had to read the manual to figure out what was what and how to control it. And since the monitor didn't come with an actual manual, but rather a CD with digital documentation, I had to read the manual on the very screen I was attempting to adjust. This of course is somewhat like trying to adjust your car seat and mirrors while driving in traffic. I muddled through, and eventually got things set up the way I wanted them.

What I'm trying to figure out is how this is a useful feature. I can't imagine it saves on energy use. After all, the power on/off control is always at the ready, but the other sensors only activate when your fingers get close enough to almost touch the bezel. That means that there are at least two sensors always on when the unit is running, and the power sensor must still be on when the unit is supposedly 'off.' A monitor bezel isn't something you clean all that often, but I have no idea how to clean it without turning the monitor on and off a couple of times and potentially messing up half the settings. And if one of those sensors starts acting up, it's not like a fussy button where you just have to press it a bit harder to make it work.

Don't get me wrong, I like the monitor, and truthfully, apart from power on/off, I don't use the other controls hardly at all. I just don't see any imaginable need for this feature. It's almost like someone at LG said "How can we make our monitors different?" and this is what they came up with. It doesn't add anything, in fact, it actually makes the product worse. It's like or , neat in principle but in reality unwieldy and problematic.

Now, I recognize that design isn't easy, and I'm not just saying that — I've done design work professionally for the last five years, from CAD design computer cases and internal parts, to product brochures, to websites. And while nothing I've designed has been perfect in its first revision, the goal is to always to make things better. If a change can make something look better, or function better, or be more reliable, make the change. If it does two of those or even all three, so much the better. But if a change doesn't actually improve anything, don't do it. And if something works well, looks good, and people are happy with it, then whatever you do, don't mess with it.

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