Lapdock: From avant-garde to awful

Motorola's laptop dock for Android smartphones has terrible hardware -- and faces a new generation of post-PC competition

Page 2 of 3

I have mixed feelings about the new docking mechanism for the smartphone. Gone is the fixed riser in which you dock the Droid, and in its stead is a rubber cable you pull off the back, which covers a holding tray you extend to cradle the Droid. That new arrangement allows you to tilt the screen back further, which is a plus, but the cable is ungainly. I know I'll catch it on something and damage it some day.

Then there's network connectivity. Even when the Droid 4 I used for testing is connected to a Wi-Fi network, it runs on the 3G or 4G cellular network instead. In central San Francisco where I live, Verizon Wireless's 4G LTE network is often as slow as molasses, so working on files via the Lapdock is a painful chore. My various iOS and other Android devices run faster on Verizon's 3G network in the same area, and they automatically switch to Wi-Fi when available for even faster throughput. This seems to be an issue with the Droid 4 in my testing. There's an Ethernet jack for those times you're near a wired port.

All in all, it's simply bad hardware.

The software is a mixed bag
The Webtop application on the Droid that powers the Lapdock is better than the Lapdock hardware, but still rough. I had hoped for some significant refinement in the year since the original version.

A nice change: By default, the Droid window is next to the Linux-based Firefox 8 browser you run on the Lapdock to access Web services in a PC-like environment. It used to overlap Firefox, causing awkward pauses as you moved objects out of the way. (If you switch to horizontal view, the Droid window obscures the Firefox browser, but a quick press of the Change Orientation key fixes that.) You can also run Firefox in full-screen mode, hiding the Droid window. The row of icon buttons at the bottom of the screen offers easy accessibility to more capabilities.

But the Droid window is less useful than it should be. Yes, you can run Android smartphone apps in it, but they're awkward to use on the Lapdock 500 Pro's larger screen. If you enlarge the Droid window, you get even more clumsy magnified versions. A year ago, when there was no tablet version of Android and the Lapdock screen was smaller, I could accept the Droid apps' magnification. But with Android 3 out and the combined smartphone/tablet version of Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" promised this year for the Lapdock-compatible Droids, Motorola needs to make the smartphone apps run like tablet programs when plugged into the Lapdock. The experience needs to adapt, not just get magnified -- adaptation is endemic to the post-PC vision.

Then there's the Webtop Online front end to Google Docs; it lets you see your Droid's files and open them in either the Droid window or in the Lapdock's Firefox browser. But every time I double-clicked an Office file in the Webtop Online window and chose to open it via Webtop Online rather than in the Droid's included Quickoffice suite, I got an error message saying the file could not be opened. Yet if I opened the exact same files through the File menu in the very same Webtop Online, they worked just fine in Google Docs. That's clearly a bug -- and an inexcusable one.

| 1 2 3 Page 2