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

What a difference a year makes. A year ago, I was intrigued by Motorola Mobility's Lapdock, a laptop without a brain into which you plugged a Motorola Android smartphone to run it on a full-size screen, with full-size keyboard, trackpad, SD card slot, and USB and HDMI ports for access to USB peripherals and mirrored screen display to a TV or monitor. A year ago, I saw the Lapdock as a wonderful innovation that presaged an era in which a smartphone is your main -- and perhaps only -- computing device, plugging into resources when needed to scale up to a desktop PC.

A year later, after working with the latest version -- the $350 Lapdock 500 Pro -- I'm no longer impressed. In fact, I'm sorely disappointed in what Motorola has done. A year ago, the original Lapdock was rough around the edges, but those shortcomings could be overlooked, given it was the first of its kind. But the new version is inferior in many aspects, and the mobile world has shifted in ways that make the Lapdock concept less relevant, though I believe the smartphone-as-main-brain post-PC vision remains right.

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Clunky hardware in an era of sleek laptops
The Lapdock 500 Pro boasts a 14-inch monitor, bigger than the original model's 12.4-inch LCD. The screen itself tilts further back in the 500 Pro than in the original, thanks to a different design for holding the Droid smartphone that powers the Lapdock. That's the only good news. The keyboard uses a nonstandard layout, which complicates touch-typing. Worse, the keys are hard to press and unpleasantly difficult to use -- to a masochistic degree.

The trackpad is also not very responsive, and it's hard to touch its button areas to get a regular click. Most of the surface brings up the contextual menu, which is supposed to be activated only when you click the right-hand side. There's a VGA port, but no longer an HDMI one.

Adding insult to injury, the Lapdock is bulky and heavy. Shockingly, it weighs 3.4 pounds -- a full half-pound more than a no-compromise MacBook Air, where the screen is just 1 inch smaller. Given that the Lapdock has no hard disk, optical drive, wireless or cellular radios, or CPU, as well as minimal flash storage, there's no excuse for its heft. At this stage of the game, the Lapdock should be as thin and light as a MacBook Air or similarly thin Windows laptop. More galling, the original Lapdock was not only thinner but a full pound lighter. I can't imagine why anyone at Motorola thought it was a bright idea to beef up the Lapdock.

The Lapdock 500 Pro's poor hardware simply ruins the experience, and there's no excuse for such a subpar build. Even bargain PCs have better keyboards and trackpads, and if you're accustomed to a MacBook or a pro-level Windows laptop, using the Lapdock feels like driving a big car without power steering. The unacceptably inadequate hardware in the Lapdock is also a startling contrast to the high quality of Motorola's recent Droids, such as the Droid 4 and Droid Razr Maxx.

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