With smartphones now getting as powerful as our computers, a couple of companies have been flirting with the idea of converging the smartphone and laptop into one. If you still remember, the Motorola Atrix 4G hailing back to Android 2.3 was introduced with an optional accessory called the Motorola Atrix Lapdock. Atrix owners could dock their phone into the back of the Lapdock and use their Android apps on an 11-inch screen complete with keyboard and trackpad. The $500 price tag might’ve been why the Lapdock never took off, but startups like Superbook and NexDock are bringing back lapdocks (laptop shells) for Android and Windows phones priced as low as $99.
Smartphone penetration has come a long way since the Atrix’s time in 2011. Believe it or not, there are now two smartphones for every person in the world. It might be exactly the right moment for lapdocks to come back and change the way we do our computing. With a lapdock, you won’t need to sync files between a laptop and smartphone – all the files created stay right on your smartphone. If more people move to lapdocks, it will also be better for the environment. Every time you change your smartphone, your laptop’s capabilities will be upgraded as well, eliminating the e-waste of replacing both a smartphone and laptop every few years.
Both Superbook and NexDock are small companies that turned to crowdfunding to turn their product into a reality. You can view Superbook’s Kickstarter page here and NexDock’s Indiegogo page here. Superbook is a more recently project expected to start shipping Jan 2017, whereas NexDock is shipping to its initial backers beginning Aug 2016.
Superbook – $99 lapdock with Andromium OS
The retail price of the Superbook will be around $99. It runs the Andromium OS, developed by the Superbook’s makers, and connects to any Android smartphone running v5.0+ via a USB-OTG cable (included). Andromium is a clever play on the multi-screen feature introduced in Windows 10 called Continuum. Like Continuum, Andromium adapts Android into a full desktop so users can easily launch and multitask between apps installed on their phone.
As a laptop shell, the Superbook piggybacks on your Android phone’s CPU, RAM, storage as well as its data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. Notably, the Superbook will also not have its own speakers relying on your Android’s speakers or headphone jack for audio.
Basic Facts – The Superbook is encased by hard plastic with a soft touch finish, either gold or navy blue. It measures has a 11.6-inch display. The resolution of the $99 Superbook Basic model will be 1366×768, with a 1080p option available for a $30 upcharge. Once the Kickstarter campaign has reached $2.5M in funding, backers can add a backlit keyboard + 1080p option for $55.
There will be three USB ports on the device, a Micro-B, Type-C and Full Size A.
Connect to Your Smartphone – When you are not using the Superbook, its 8 – 10 hour internal battery will charge through the Micro-B port using the included wall charger. When you’re on the Superbook, the Micro-B or Type-C port (depending on your phone’s model) will also top up your smartphone’s battery.
Use as a Second Screen – Another use for the USB Type-C port is connecting the Superbook as a second screen for any laptop or tablet with Type-C support, including the latest MacBook Pro or Microsoft Surface. If you have the Intel Compute Stick released in 2016 with Type-C support, you can also turn the Superbook into a full-blown Windows 10 laptop.
Full Size USB Port – The A port is a helpful way to connect peripherals like a mouse or USB drive.
NexDock – $119 lapdock for Windows 10 Continuum
For those who missed the Indiegogo campaign in 2015, the retail price of the NexDock will be $149. The primary way to connect devices into the NexDock is via a mini-HDMI port. Windows 10 devices, including tablets or phones running Windows 10 Mobile can take advantage of Continuum mode. A reviewer used a USB-C to mini-HDMI cable to hook his Lumia 950 up to an early sample of the NexDock. Like with the Superbook, iOS, Android or PC stick devices can also use the NexDock as a second screen through a wireless display adapter or mini-HDMI.
The NexDock is encased with a matte white plastic and measures 13.8″ x 9.2″ x 0.8″. As an earlier device that was conceived more than a year before the Superbook started raising funds from backers, the NexDock’s specs are modest. The only resolution for the NexDock’s matte 14-inch display is 1366×768, a woefully low PPI compared to the 11-inch Superbook’s choice of 720p or 1080p configurations.
In fairness, the NexDock has a couple more components on-board, comprised of a screen, Bluetooth keyboard, trackpad, microSD card slot, stereo speakers and headphone jack.
There are 2 USB 2.0 ports which you can use to charge your phone or connect additional storage. Since mini-HDMI does not transmit power, you can quickly run down your phone’s battery while using the NexDock. Compared to the Superbook which always tops up your phone through USB Micro-B or USB-C, remembering another USB cable to power your phone from the NexDock’s 10,000 mAh internal battery is a rather inelegant solution.