The “Lapdock” (really?) is the same size and heft as the thinnest and lightest notebooks. It has an 11.6-inch screen, a trackpad, some speakers, some USB ports and an internal battery. It’s just a harmless black shell until you drop the Atrix into the docking station on the back.
As a piece of hardware, it’s clunky. The keyboard is cramped, even though there’s room on the dock to make it more spacious, and typing is a pain. The trackpad and its mouse buttons lack the responsiveness and sensitivity I’ve come to expect from such devices. I dealt with missed clicks, stuttering while dragging and some frustrating latency.
Also — in what has become a trend for the engineers at Motorola, seeing how the Xoom had the same problem — the speakers are located at the back, behind the screen. It destroys the sound, which is just as well because the speakers are tinny and thin to begin with. Bring your headphones.
As a concept, though, it’s pretty cool. You get full access to all the apps on the phone, which stay open in individual tabs at the top of the screen using what Motorola calls Webtop. Apps which require a lot of scrolling or tapping aren’t that easy to use with the keyboard and touchpad. There are a few apps you can only use when the phone is docked into the laptop, like the Firefox browser that launches when you click a link. And it’s a full version of Firefox, which the phone handles just fine. Better is the minimalist Facebook browser which is a re-skinned Firefox minus the menus, tabs, and toolbars. Using that, I felt like I was looking at a blueprint for the future web apps on tiny laptop screens. (You can make these stripped-down apps for other sites, too).
One caveat: You can’t access the full version of Firefox over the 4G network unless you choose the $45-per-month plan. Otherwise, you have to stick to Wi-Fi.
Typing e-mails and working on docs — either in Google Docs or in the included QuickOffice app — is also easier using the laptop dock. The laptop’s keyboard is less than ideal, but it’s still better than touch-typing.
All in all, the design is a marvelous idea that doesn’t quite pan out. The pain points largely stem from the design of the hardware. The phone is capable enough to approximate the performance of a mid-priced netbook, but the laptop experience feels crowded and cramped. And of course, if you need any more software than what’s available on the web or in the Android Marketplace, you can’t run it here. So it’s basically just a more comfortable environment for interacting with that tiny thing in your pocket.
It’s not often manufacturers take risks when it comes to smartphones and computers. So I’ll give credit to Motorola for trying something different. The plan just didn’t work out as well as it could have. But hey, at least we got a downright great 4G phone out of it.
Phone photos by Jim Merithew/get-gadget. Lapdock photo courtesy Motorola.
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