Datacolor Spyder3Express review

19 Nov 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
(£60 ex VAT)

A fast, easy-to-use and inexpensive colour calibrating device.


Most designers know they should make sure their display shows colour accurately, but many still don't.

Common excuses are the complexity of the software and the cost of the hardware. Datacolor's Spyder3Express is supposed to change this, as it's designed to be simple to use, taking just a few clicks to run. It's affordable, too: we found it selling for as little as £69, a real breakthrough in high-quality profiling hardware.

The Spyder3Express hardware is the same newlook shape as the others in the Spyder3 line, just with a slightly different finish. A removable sucker helps it attach to CRT monitors but, of course, this should normally be left in the box when dealing with most LCD panels. The lengthy USB lead has a weight attached to balance the device itself when hung against a display.

The software installation had a few very small hiccups, but once in place using the Spyder3Express app, it proved to be as simple as billed. A short checklist must be completed first, covering monitor warm-up time, lighting conditions, display controls and, of course, plugging in the device, then the display type is selected, picking from 'LCD or laptop' or CRT. Finally, the Spyder3Express device is placed on the screen and the standard range of tones and hues is sampled. The resulting display profile is automatically saved and set for your screen. At over five minutes running time, the sampling process isn't exactly quick, but it's about as hassle-free as it's possible to get.

What's missing here is control. The software provides no ways to alter the colour temperature, preferring the common but somewhat cold 6500K, and there's no grey ramp for brightness checking or auto-reminder for regular recalibrating. However, the important thing is the profiling process (which the software refers to as calibration) itself. The software's simplicity is quite misleading: although there were differences due to colour temperature settings, the results proved to be just as good as the those created by the display hardware part of the Spyder3Elite SR suite we reviewed in the last issue of MacUser.

There are differences elsewhere, of course. If you have multiple monitors to calibrate, you really need to look at the Spyder3Pro or Spyder3Elite instead, and the same goes for ambient light detection and colour temperature adjustment. Dealing with projectors as well as regular monitors is another point of differentiation, but many of you will have no need for that level of obsession. Rather than leave your display unprofiled and trusting to luck, or squint-and-guess at best, use this and feel confident that your photos and layouts are shown as accurately as your screen can manage. Your image editing and colour selection work will be more accurate than before, without doubt.

One of Datacolor's claims for the Spyder3Express is that you 'don't have to be a colour expert to calibrate your display'. Other than pointing out that it's really profiling rather than calibrating that's the key, we agree. If you work with colour at all, whatever product you choose, it's important to make sure that you're seeing images properly. This product does that, easily and cheaply.



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