By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
On of the most daring and innovative accessories we've seen this year is Motorola's Lapdock ($329) for their ATRIX super smartphone. It works as a dock, a charger and turns the dual-core smartphone into a netbook that works through a browser and gives users full access to all smartphone calling, texting and app functions.
We were at the launch of the Motorola ATRIX back in CES 2011 and when we saw where Motorola was going with the whole "it's a smartphone that's also a computer," we were skeptical. When they showed off the Lapdock, however, we were seriously intrigued at the possibilities.
We're constantly on our smartphones for email, surfing the web, working on apps and the idea that a smartphone can transform into a netbook sounded awesome. Isn't an ultra-portable notebook every writer's dream machine? This Lapdock plus smartphone combo is ultra-ultra portable, an idea that could just work.
The idea behind the lapdock isn't new. The concept of a screen and keyboard adjunct powered by the brains of a smartphone was originated by Palm with its failed Foleo accessory which connected wirelessly to the the Palm Treo and users could use the screen and keyboard of the Foleo to work with files and documents.
Sadly, the Foleo went fail-eo before it even hit the market but it seems that the idea stuck.
BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet, in a way, is another adjunct device because for now it requires connection to a compatible BlackBerry smartphone in order to access the vital Mail, SMS, Calendar and BBM applications.
Back to the Lapdock. Costing $329 (down from an intial $500!) what are users really getting? It is about the size of an 11" inch notebook in the thin and light range.
Motorola's high build standard is evident all around. A mix of high grade magnesium alloy, glass and rubber. The overall look and feel is slick, solid and secure.
This peripheral impresses with an 11.6-inch screen, a QWERTY keyboard, stereo speakers, 36Wh three-cell battery that delivers up to eight hours of battery life and weighs just 2.4 pounds. Sounds like a frequent flyer's dream machine.
Docking the Motorola ATRIX into the back of the Lapdock shifts the smartphones' screen and control to the dock, which also serves to charge the ATRIX while it rests.
Once connected to the Lapdock, all of the ATRIX's phone functions can be accessed and controlled; so you can make calls, send SMS messages and run any of the apps, all of which are blown up to fit the larger, 1,336 x 768 resolution screen. Everything becomes larger, including icons, images, GUI, and text.
While the Lapdock has a trackpad, it doesn't recognize any advanced swiping gestures to navigate between screens. We also found it challenging to scroll through Web pages with two finger gestures. Last, we found we wanted to touch and drag the icons and apps on the screen instead of interacting with the keyboard and trackpad.
The Webtop interface attempts to simulate a desktop, but it's really more like a Linux netbook with the main application being the Mozilla Firefox browser. Motorola's choice of Firefox (an Ubuntu version at that) is a head scratcher since Google's Chrome browser is better geared towards copying an operating system, especially since it has its own Chrome Web Store with a growing selection of apps, widgets, and themes.
There's a lot to like about the Lapdock accessory for the ATRIX. It has reasonably loud speakers, two USB ports, a decent Chiclet-style keyboard, generous eight hours of battery life but it's conveniences can't outweigh its shortcomings.
If a netbook is what you want, you can get a good one for around the same price and it will likely run Windows as well as full versions of Office, Exchange and any other application that you really need and use to, you know, get stuff done. With most recent smartphones today offering wireless hotspot tethering options you can pretty much get the same experience (or better) that the Atrix plus Lapdock offers.
Now, if you live on the web and really, really like Firefox plus are happy with the word processing and app options on Android then maybe the Lapdock is something to consider. Frequent travelers who live in transit and need a scaled down netbook and a phone will enjoy the convenience that the Lapdock offers.
Motorola has said that it will continue to offer Lapdock accessories for its upcoming smartphones and we think that they should. Once they fix some of the functional and OS limitations (and maybe offer Chrome OS as an option over Mozilla) then not only does the Lapdock become a transformative technology, it competes with Google's newly announced Chromebooks.
Rating: 4 out of 5