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

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The post-PC environment has evolved in the meantime
Let's say that Motorola came up with a thin, light, high-quality Lapdock tomorrow. Would it still feel so innovative? I'm less sure.

For example, we now have the iPad 2 and Android tablets, which significantly moved the bar when it comes to portable computing capability. They're quite capable as light desktop replacements, and they're much easier to carry around than a Lapdock. If you have an iPhone and an iPad, or an Android smartphone and an Android tablet, you have a lighter combination with big-screen-optimized native apps and in many cases good-enough browser experience for many Web apps. (The Lapdock's desktop Firefox browser does work better on many sites, such as Google Docs, and remains the best argument for a Lapdock.)

If you prefer a real keyboard to typing on-screen, you can use a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad or Android tablet, such as Logitech's very nice Tablet Keyboard, which costs about $50 -- a lot less than a Lapdock. And many Android devices support Bluetooth mice. Oh, and the iPad 2 can mirror to an HDMI or VGA monitor or TV, as can some Android devices. These combinations aren't as capable as a well-designed Lapdock would be, but they're maybe three-quarters of the way there. They didn't exist when the original Lapdock was launched, but they exist now, and they're not only very capable in their own right, but they slip much more easily into a briefcase or backpack.

If you need a full laptop on the go, a MacBook Air gives you a lot more than the Lapdock, weighs less, and takes less space. The Apple iCloud service released last fall keeps a MacBook Air (and your desktop Mac) synced with your iPad or iPhone, and cloud storage does much of the same with other device mixes. Companies such as Lenovo continue to show concept designs of convertibles -- laptops with screens that detach to become an Android tablet or, in more recent prototypes, a Windows 8 tablet -- that one day may show up as real products and perhaps gain traction. As much as I believe in the post-PC vision, I recognize that -- at least for now -- if you need a computer, you need a computer.

In this context, the Lapdock's unique benefits are small, centering on the bigger screen and the desktop-grade browsing experience. Those pluses aren't enough to counter its limitations. Given the weight and size of the Lapdock 500 Pro, it should be more than a brainless laptop dock -- it should run that Firefox browser whether the Droid is docked to it or not. A traditional laptop -- or even a Chromebook-style browser-only laptop -- that a smartphone can dock with makes more sense than a laptop dock like the Lapdock, which is a useless brick unless a smartphone is attached.

Still, the notion behind the Lapdock remains appealing as a piece of the post-PC continuum possible today. It's too bad the Lapdock 500 Pro has none of the appeal of the concept it tries to serve.

This article, "Lapdock: From avant-garde to awful," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile computing, read Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog at InfoWorld.com, follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter, and follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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