If you own an iPad you already have at your fingertips an impressive piece of display technology, so why not put that to work with your Mac as a second display?
What Is Luna Display?
Luna Display is a combination hardware/software solution that allows you to use your iPad as a second screen alongside your Mac. But it can do more than that, as it can also turn your Mac into a touchable device, because touch gestures and the Apple Pencil both work with the Luna Display app on iOS.
But before I get into all the details about Luna Display, I think understanding the company behind Luna Display is paramount if you want to know what drives the product and its existence.
The company behind Luna Display is called Astro HQ, which was founded by ex-Apple engineers Matt Ronge and Giovanni Donelli. Luna Display was not the first product from Astro HQ. That distinction goes to Astropad.
Astropad is a completely customizable graphics tool for your iPad built specifically for graphic artists who want the ability to customize everything about their digital drawing environment. One of the key technologies developed by Astro HQ in order for Astropad to work is Liquid, a low-latency color-correction and retina display graphics engine that analyzes network conditions dozens of times per second to balance image quality and latency (a core technology needed when using the iPad as a real-time drawing surface/mirrored display for your Mac).
So it’s no surprise that Liquid is also used to drive the functionality of Luna Display, which, instead of just mirroring your Mac’s display, extends the display so that your iPad is, in fact, a second monitor connected wirelessly to the Mac (a touch-enabled Apple Pencil enabled monitor at that).
In fact, Luna Display is referred to as “Astropad’s best friend” because it allows you to use Astropad as an extension within the Mac environment rather than just mirroring the iPad display to the Mac.
So getting back to Luna Display, what exactly does it do?
Luna Display is a hardware dongle (it comes in both USB-C and Mini DisplayPort configurations) that you plug into your Mac, and when used in conjunction with the Luna Display applications running on both your Mac and your iPad, turns your iPad’s screen into an extension of your Mac’s display. Here are just a few of the features:
- Connects over WiFi but can also connect via USB if your work environment doesn’t support WiFi
- Runs on the proprietary LIQUID Technology—which guarantees crystal clear image quality, reliable performance, and wireless flexibility
- Full-featured compatibility: Luna acts as a complete extension to your Mac, with full support for external keyboards, Apple Pencil, and touch interactions. It literally turns your Mac into a touchable device.
- Office Mode: With “office mode” enabled Luna Display will no longer automatically connect to the first computer it sees on the network (key if you work in an office with multiple Luna Display users)
How Have I Been Using Luna Display?
I have primarily been using my Luna Display to turn my 27” iMac into a dual monitor situation by using my 12.9” iPad Pro as the second monitor. I have the latest version of the 27” iMac, so I am using the USB-C edition. While I do the majority of my computing tasks on my iPad Pro, there are still a handful of things that are just easier to do on the Mac. I have a dual screen setup on my Mac at work, so being able to run a similar setup at home has been really nice.
But I also have been using Luna Display to remotely do tasks on my Mac, and I was not expecting that to be as significant of a use case for me as it ended up being.
We just recently moved into a new home, and this house has a 2nd floor (not typical for Florida). In our previous house, we had our iMac setup just outside the family room, but in our new house, the iMac lives in our master bedroom upstairs. So if I’m downstairs and I “just need to grab a file that is only on my iMac and email it,” I can now grab my iPad and do that “Mac only” task from the comfort of my iPad.
This may seem like a silly thing to be excited about, but this feature really opens up a lot of options for me that I just didn’t have before. One example is writing for GeekDad. Our site is run by WordPress, and logging into WordPress in a web browser from my iPad Pro, while possible, does not work well for all things I need to do when creating a new post for the site (like adding hyperlinks and uploading images). But now I can do all the tasks that do work well on the iPad and then use Luna Display to do the remaining tasks on my Mac virtually from the iPad Screen.
You may be asking yourself, why am I holding an Apple Pencil in the photo above?
Well, when running a full iMac display in “mirrored mode” on my much smaller 12.9” iPad Pro, the buttons are a much smaller target to hit with your fingers. So closing a dialog window or opening up a web browser favorite can be challenging with stubby little fingers on a touch display. But when you use the Apple Pencil as your “mouse” when operating in mirror mode, it feels much more natural and is a much more precise way to navigate around the screen.
The Apple Pencil is also essential in being able to accurately select text (like when editing this post in WordPress) so that you can add hyperlinks or bold typeface. To select text while running in mirror mode you just drag the Apple Pencil along the text you want to select or highlight.
Installation of the Luna Display was extremely easy. You just plug the Luna Display hardware into your computer, install the free iOS software on your iPad, and follow the on-screen instructions.
Performance of the Luna Display was also quite impressive. The image quality was every bit as good as if I were sitting in front of my iMac screen, and moving things from the iMac screen to the iPad screen was fluid and really just felt like you had an external monitor connected. When used in a “mirroring” mode with my iMac Luna Display is very responsive with almost no perceivable lag between my action on the iPad screen and the action actually taken on the iMac. (You can see here that the technology taken from Astropad and infused into Luna Display really pays off.)
I’ve used other software solutions to turn my iPad into a second monitor, but there always seems to be a compromise involved when just using a software-based solution. With Luna Display you get to take advantage of your main computer’s graphics capability since you are adding the Luna Display hardware and at the same time, you take advantage of the simplicity of a software solution on iOS… all without any real compromises.
Overall my verdict on Luna Display is that this is worth buying if you want to work in a dual monitor mode without having to actually buy another monitor. In my opinion, the value proposition goes up even more when you take into account the ability to control your main computer from your iPad in a mirroring mode (or even a headless mode). I was totally not expecting to be as impressed with that feature as I was as it really solved a lot of pain points I had with using an iPad Pro almost entirely as my main computer.
You can buy Luna Display in either the USB-C or Mini DisplayPort configurations directly from their website for $79.99.
Disclaimer: The folks at Luna Display provided me with a USB-C unit for the purpose of this review.