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      08.01.2013 20:17
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      If you're sick of people looking at your screen, you need one of these.

      ~Bond and M undoubtedly have these~

      A privacy screen is a special type of filter which slides over your laptop screen (or your monitor) and allows you, the user, to see the screen clearly but prevents people who are to the side of you from being able to see your screen. It's an expensive way of stopping people from being nosy or to protect your screen from the idle glances of others who may see something you'd rather they didn't. At the company where I work where most of the offices are open plan, they are typically fitted on the monitors of everyone who works in HR (you wouldn't want someone who's passing by to see information that might be sensitive), a few of the secretaries who know all the secret squirrel stuff and on the laptops of many of us who travel a lot and don't particularly want to share their screens with total strangers sitting next to them in hotel lobbies, on trains or in planes. I don't know too many people who have these on their private computers or in their homes, probably because they are expensive for what they are.

      I had a 3M privacy filter on my old laptop which I stupidly took off and then couldn't find again. Since it had cost nearly £50, I was reluctant to replace it at my or the company's expense. In the end I didn't have to because my laptop developed a weird fault and was changed for a different model, the HP Elitebook 2560p. Having a new laptop meant I could justify buying a new screen since - like so many PC accessories - each computer always seems to need a new thingamajig and the old one becomes obsolete. I suspect this is part of the secret to how the manufacturers can keep the prices so high - you can't just reuse and old privacy filter when you change computers unless you are very lucky and the screens are exactly the same size and shape.

      ~Where to buy~

      I bought my first filter though the ridiculous stationery catalogue we use at work. It took ages to come and cost silly money. This time I went to Amazon and found it myself. I searched on the model number of my laptop plus the words 'privacy filter' and the only option I found was the 3M Vikuiti filter which cost a little over £40. I ordered it and it arrived a few days later, posted from Germany with the efficiency for which that country is so well loved. The precise model I'm reviewing is the one which carries the code 3M BSF31.8W9 on the top right of the filter screen

      ~A bit about the technology~

      I'm quoting here from the description on Amazon because even in my wildest imagination I would struggle to make this up:

      "A Vikuiti privacy filter is a complex piece of plastic based on microlouver technology from 3M. The finest black, non-reflecting louvers are positioned to 1-degree precision, with over a dozen louvers per millimetre, and then evenly distributed over the dimensions of a screen."

      So now you know as much as I do. Basically if I'm interpreting them correctly, your filter is full of iddy-biddy Venetian blinds all lined up so that you can see straight through them and everyone around you can't. Or something like that.

      ~Fitting your filter~

      The filter arrived in a flat cardboard envelope and all I found inside were the filter itself and a strip of sticky tabs. Fortunately, these were almost identical to the tabs on my last filter so it didn't take a rocket scientist to work out how to fit them. Lest I'm making it sound too easy, we did need three or four people scratching their heads last time to work out how to do it. Different filters fit in slightly different ways but the Vikuity is cut to exactly the same dimensions as your laptop screen and slides into place by slipping it behind the transparent plastic holders which you fit to the frame around the screen. In this case there are two long tabs which run about half the height of the screen, one on each side and I used two small tabs on the bottom to stop it sliding out. These tabs are peeled off their backing and simply pressed into place. It's a good idea to give the plastic screen frame a quick wipe with a screen wipe before you do this to avoid getting dust and fluff caught up in the tabs. Once the tabs are in place, you just slide the filter in behind them. The filter has a curved notch at the top to help you get it out again and to remind you that it's there since once you've got it on, it's easy to forget and you can easily find yourself inviting people to have a look at something they can't possibly see. This is the downside to this type of screen. If you have to keep taking it off and putting it back on again, it can end up looking a bit like it slept with the dog so I recommend keeping a good stock of screen wipes around.

      ~Does it work?~

      Mostly, I'd have to say it does work but it's not perfect. In a world where everyone sat neatly side by side in a line, it would block the casual viewer from glancing at your screen. In a world where we don't sit so neatly - which applies to most of our all day meetings where everyone's collapsed about the room by lunch time - it's not quite so good. If you are tempted to sneak a look at how your latest review is performing when you're in a meeting, then you'll probably get away with it but I wouldn't recommend doing anything you couldn't explain away if you were caught.

      The brightness of my screen is much reduced which isn't too much of a problem when I'm on mains electricity but if I'm working off the battery it can become almost too dim for me to view comfortably. Since the HP Elitebook 2560p has a brightness adjustment which has only two settings - dim or bright - there's little opportunity to make the screen more readable when you're running off the battery. This means sometimes I have to remove the screen just to see what I'm doing.

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