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Cheap and simple way to mount a smartphone directly above a laptop display (michaelnaimark.medium.com)
159 points by tosh 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

The 'DIY Perks' channel on YouTube has a nice solution to maintain eye contact: https://youtu.be/2AecAXinars

You can't mount a webcam in the middle of your laptop display, as even a small camera and thin cable would get in the way of looking at the screen.

But using a two-way mirror, you can be looking at both the screen and the webcam at the same time, without the webcam being visible to you.

I would use a simple velcro to stick my iPhone behind my laptop screen, search for "velcro iphone laptop" to get ideas.

"cheap and simple" - It's 3D printed.

If you're going for cheap and simple then the tools and materials should be available to almost anyone. This mean nothing beyond a trip to the hardware or variety store. I'm sure if someone were determined enough this could be made with things like cardboard, junk plastic strips, scrap metal, duck tape, wire ties and a little ingenuity. Sure it might not be as nice but it WILL be cheap and simple.

Free and even simpler way to mount a smartphone directly above a laptop display

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

  - no 3D printer
  - no resin
  - no velcro
  - no cable ties
  - no suction cups
  - no adhesive film

  - 2 or 3 paperback books
  - 2 large-ish rubber bands

  - stick your phone an inch down into a not-too-thick/not- 
  too-thin paperback book
  - squeeze it tight-ish with a rubber band
  - prop it up behind your monitor on a couple other paperback books
  - hold it in place with a rubber band

You might want to check around, 3D printers might be more available than you think. Before COVID, our library was doing 3D prints priced by the weight of the object. You'd send them a model and a week or three later you could go pick up the part.

You might also have friends who have a 3D printer and are happy to print something out for you. A good 3D printer can be had for $200 now, so they're pretty accessible.

I got my son one for his birthday last year, and now I don't know how we "lived without one". :-)

What do you do with it? I have a hard time coming up with common usages for one. Even for my theater hobby, where I dreamed of being able to print props, I haven't had a time where printing one would be easier than buying one or using conventional means to make it.

So glad you're enjoying yours. What do you do with it?

A lot of it is printing things I've found on Thingiverse that other people have created. More recently I've gotten more abilities to use TinkerCAD to build more complex models.

Things I've downloaded and printed: Headphones holder for my new desk, cable hangers for running cat5, Microphone "shock mount", a centrifuge for the kids science project, drywall passthrough grommets, painters pyramids because I forgot to pick some up when I was at the store, Christmas ornaments for us an our family, heart drink coaster for my anniversary.

Things I've designed: Hold-downs for my shop vac, hose adapters for my dust collector, hose adapters for a variety of my tools (many of these hard to just go out and buy), repair parts for my christmas lights to replace broken holders, a tool for more quickly raising/lowering the feet on my workbenches, a customized lathe tool holder for a friend.

The first time I shopped for something on Amazon (the headphone holders), and realized I could print on for a fraction of the cost in 4 hours, I was hooked!

I am very impressed. The centrifuge in particular is a nice touch. I looked it up on Thingiverse, and that led me down some interesting rabbit holes. Thank you.

And happy anniversary!

After reading the title I was expecting a phone duct taped to the lid.

Seems like a good way to get a decent quality webcam as well. On Android at least you can use DroidCam to turn your connected device into a webcam. Surprisingly it even works on Linux:


I've been using droidcam as my webcam on linux during the pandemic.

For mounting, i went even simpler than the article. Since I had a kid, I've got a tonne of these things: https://www.kmart.com.au/product/outlet-plug-covers---pack-o...

I simply stuck two of them together: back to back. So there's three prongs facing down and three prongs facing up.

The downward prongs hook over the top of the monitor, and the upward prongs hold the phone. A bit of blu tack to absolutely make sure everything stays in place and remains level, and for the cost of the license (which is diddly squat) I've got a higher-quality streaming device than most of my colleagues that comes off my monitor whenever I need it to and has seen me through the pandemic.

Actually if you turn the cellphone and use the back photo camera, will beat most any webcam in quality.

Simple hack that should be good for quality.

It does work excellently, but the latency isn't great (about 100 ms, IIRC).

I also recommend EpocCam (https://www.elgato.com/en/epoccam) as it has almost no latency and high quality, compared to Droidcam. You can see it on EposVox's review on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJOTvGmmDUE&list=WL&index=2)

Unfortunately, doesn't work for Macs. Not that Mac camera is bad, but this would have been usable as a better way to position the camera on to the external monitor using an old Android phone

Since apple is so proud of their ecosystem, I still can not understand, why I can not use an iPhone as a web cam for a Mac without third party software. Especially after one year of work from home.

I've seen a handful of streamers use phones (admittedly premium Android phones, not iPhones) and they tend to overhead after an hour or two indoors.

Agreed -- but I also have to say, setting up OBS to use your iPhone as a virtual camera is pretty trivial.

While I'm not sure I'd call it "bad", the webcams on even the 2019 MBPs (last I've personally tried) were kind of overwhelmingly mediocre. The front and rear cameras on basically all the android phones I've used in 6 years are all much, much clearer than the mac's built in webcam.

I was kinda shocked to see how poor the MacBook camera was considering how good the front facing camera is on the iPhone. Then I realised that on the MacBook it only ever gets used for video calls which will get compressed to 200x150px while the iPhone front facing camera is mostly for selfies

The M1 macs apparently use the same or similar camera used since 2011, albeit with better image processing, which is kind of disappointing.

MacBook lids are really thin.

I can’t recall the name of the software off hand, but you can use your iPhone as an external camera for your Mac.

EDIT Looks like there’s a couple of options, for example EpocCam.

For paid software with which I have no affiliation beyond being a happy customer, there’s Reincubate Camo: https://reincubate.com/camo/

I've been using this method with pretty good result: https://github.com/apancik/iphone-as-a-webcam

Thank you very much, this is exactly the satisfactory solution I haven't found when I was looking for it before! I expected that the iPhones screen recording was only available in Quicktime and not for third-party apps like OBS. Going to try it out soon with an old iPhone 5, I hope it supports streaming video from the camera in the browser.

Doesn’t work with FaceTime, unfortunately.

For anyone looking for something similar but who doesn't have access to a 3D printer... I've been using a magnetic laptop mount like this[0] to mount my phone to the side of my lapdock. I haven't tried putting one of these on the top edge of a laptop yet, but I'd imagine it would work; the magnets and the hinge mechanism feel strong enough.

Fair warning, depending on how strong the laptop's hinge is, it might not be able to support the additional weight of a smartphone while staying in place; with my lapdock unfortunately the screen starts falling backwards if it's tilted backwards at an angle at all.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Laptop-Cell-Phone-Mount-Magnetic-Expa...

And if you are willing to buy something online, you could also order this 3d print from fictiv.com, shapeways.com, protolabs.com, ...

People are finding this article odd, and some questions of "That's it?"

I think the issue steems from the fact that the title is editorialized. TFA article speaks about a way to improve online video calls, not a "cheap and simple way to mount a smartphone".

The gist of it is actually using your phone to display the speaker in the meeting in the phone, and everybody else in the laptop / computer.

I think the weirder part, was the article self hijack.

”here’s is the cheap meant we made, but really, let’s talk about telewindow!” Which is fine and I found both interesting, but unusual imo.

Yeah, that was also weird... "On a totally unrelated note, we also made this!"

I'm confused, so the whole article is literally just the smartphone holder?

Or did they manage to use multiple cameras to create that "Telewindow" effect?

If it's just the holder, you can make the same thing with a small sheet of metal (something decently pliable, like aluminum), a small rubber hammer, two pliers and maybe a screwdriver (for shaping). Oh, and two hands with a thumb and at least two other fingers each.

Use some sandpaper to smooth it out and maybe paint it. It actually looks nicer than that 3D printed part heh. The only "special" thing about it is the shape.

I use two flat double wire plastic ties that come with sliced bread bags[0]. I shape them as an S and rest the phone on top of them.


Oh, wow that's much simpler. Very ingenious, I like this kind of DIY :D

Now that I think about it, I can't believe I didn't consider simple copper wire... Guess I wanted something that will look great and last long, but I never used the thing anyway.

I use 2 pieces of electrical wire, bent around the phone, bent into a hook, then two legs down the back.

> Or did they manage to use multiple cameras to create that "Telewindow" effect?

You are right to be confused. The 'how we got there' section seems to be tangential at best to the rest of the content and can safely be ignored. It may have been added in as an acknowledgment to their sponsors on the past project perhaps.

I think is establishes them as a group that has actually been thinking about this problem for a while. It’s a bit funny to compare what they thought they needed (the Telewindow) to what worked in practice. Necessity, etc...

I see, they started with a very complicated idea, and ended up with something simple that works well enough.

Kind of like my own "make it out of a sheet of metal" idea, and then someone replied they did it with wire... It honestly did not cross my mind at the time, or any time, until I read that today. Weird how brains work :D

While I can see the benefits of this, I fear that the weight of the average smartphone at the top of a thin laptop display may cause problems with the hinge or display panel over time.

We’ve tested as many ultra-thin laptops and monster smartphones we could find, and we designed as best we could to minimize stress. If the laptop is on a table not a lap - remember our use-case are students in classes - it’s fine for an overwhelming majority. And remember, there are millions of students online this spring.

Is it possible to have a socket for additional support using chopsticks/pencils?

I agree. A much nicer solution, in my opinion, is to use a portable tripod.

Glad I got a battleship laptop from my work right before COVID hit. Essentially my desktop now, teleworking from my semi-finished garage.

Definitely. My iPhone 12 pro is 200g, with the screen titled slightly this is putting quite a lot of extra load.

This is a neat hack—not just because it’s clever, but also because it removes barriers to accessing tech.

Sure, I can do something similar today with my secondary monitor, but it’s exciting to level the playing field without requiring costly additional hardware.

Access to 3D printing isn't all that evenly distributed.

There exist far simpler solutions. A stainless steel strip can be literally found on the street, and epoxied to the laptop case on one side and to a hard drive magnet on the other. Then any metal attached to the back of the phone - commonly sold for holding the phone in cars - can hold the phone to the magnet.

That’s a good point. Tho, community access is increasing faster than personal access, especially at schools!

However it is very easy to get something 3D printed and sent to you. Though perhaps less cost efficient.

Could be hacked together with some popsicle sticks and glue.

For all of the discussion about maintaining eye contact, when using non-phone devices, such as in TFA:

>Also, a face displayed on a smartphone directly above the laptop camera is closer to the camera than a face displayed on the laptop

my approach doesn't work with multi-way video where you likely need the entire window and cannot priviledge just some section of it. but it does work with 1:1 video calls - just move the entire window with the video call so that the other person's eyes are very close to the camera (i.e. near the top edge of the screen, typically)

Whether you look either at the other person's face, or at the camera, to them you're maintaining eye contact.

For XFWM and related window-manager users: Alt-F7 to just drag the entire window, possibly leaving some of it off-screen.

>Ideally, face representations should be 3D stereoscopic

I read this and thought of how under used classic side-by-side stereoscopic imagery is. Then I imagined a Zoom meeting where everyone is slightly cross eyed. Just wanted to share this picture with you.

If it's stupid, but it works, it's not stupid. Nice job!

I don't spend a lot of time on Zoom, but the experience is all around miserable. Even a small improvement adds up to a lot over time. I think the point about the higher pixel density for the speaker is just one (important) part of why this is effective. For a class, it also mimics the teacher up front facing the students aspect. I suspect those two factors work together: you don't perceive the backs of your fellow students' head as sharply as you do the teacher's face because you're focused on the teacher in an in-person class.

I bought a gooseneck stand to do something similar at my desk. It's very convenient because I can swivel it out of the way when I don't need it, and pull it in when I do.

I bought this one, which I've been happy with: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0753GCMH5/. I'm sure there are dozens of good options, though.

Challenge: anyone want to dive in to refine and and distribute? There are millions of students with laptops and smartphones online hopefully only for this semester. You have 1-2 weeks. :)

How do those of us without a 3D printer obtain one?

You can,

* build one out of balsa wood or thermoplastics (available at hobby stores) * ask a friend with a 3d printer * visit a makerspace that might have one * have a commercial 3d-printer shop print one for you

Probably more options available if you spend some time rubbing your temples.

Maybe a suction cup phone holder, if the back of your laptop is smooth enough...


Contact a local hacker space or there are subreddits where you can pay someone to make a print for you.

heh, I have been using 2 pieces of electrical wire for a few years now. The idea is the same, just find a medium you can work with.

The story was will written and I do like the telewindow. Reminds me of the hacks with the Nintendo wiimotes (1). Definitely trivial but really cool!

(1) http://johnnylee.net/projects/wii/

I've designed one for my self to use a year ago, it prints really fast and uses few material.


I’ve been learning about that Japanese trend of streamers/youtubers who are anime characters made from live capture, and many of the tutorials recommend mounting your phone on near face. This seems like a good alternative.

19" TFT monitors can often be had for free on sites like ebay or craigslist - I'd say they make for a more practical "cheap & simple" second (or third, forth…) display.

I was hoping it was a lego build, but having seen the layout I'm fairly certain that it could be.

...soooo a bracket?

duct tape

/r/DiWHY material. If it's about camera - laptops have webcams. If it's about video - you are sitting right in front of a display, no need for an extra display.

If only there were an article discussing the why, so you didn't have to make up your own strawmen...

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