Test-driving the Motorola Atrix's Lapdock

Move over, Chromebooks: This Android/Linux combo could be a better netbook -- or even tablet -- alternative

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The Lapdock's LCD screen is fairly bright, though too reflective of ambient light, and you can't tilt it back far enough to comfortably view the screen when setting the Lapdock on your lap, such as when taking notes at a conference. Also, the Lapdock has no video-out port, so you can't connect it to a monitor. If you use the Lapdock for many hours, beware the ergonomic injury that can result (as with any laptop). To avoid injury over sustained interaction, you should elevate the screen to eye level and use external input devices, or go with the $130 Multimedia Dock instead, reserving the Lapdock for when you are on the road.

The Lapdock itself feels substantive, and its case is much nicer and thinner than the preproduction Cr-48 Google Chromebook I tested late last year. The Lapdock can also print to Wi-Fi printers -- but only from Firefox, not from the Atrix's Android apps.

Why the Lapdock makes more sense than a Chromebook
The Lapdock and the Chromebook are aimed at the same audience: users who don't need more than browser-based apps (or Citrix Receiver to run Windows via remote desktop virtualization).

But whereas the Chrome OS-based Chromebook leaves you stuck in the cloud, the Lapdock lets you work offline with "real" apps. They're Android apps, of course, so you can't run programs like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Access on it, but you can nonetheless make use of richer apps than the cloud currently provides. Most of the time with either a Chromebook or Lapdock, you'll be connected via Wi-Fi or 3G, but for those times you are disconnected, the Chomebook becomes a brick, whereas the Lapdock can still run the Atrix's Android apps. (Actually, the Atrix accesses those apps, not the Lapdock; you just interact with them through the Lapdock.)

What you can't do with the Lapdock is access its Firefox browser unless the Atrix is connected, even though the browser isn't actually running from the Atrix. Even though that's how a "post-PC" device should work -- leaving the brains in the mobile device -- in a sense hat's too bad, because if the Lapdock could run Firefox in stand-alone mode, you'd have a Chromebook-like device you could use any time that then gets more powerful when you plug the Atrix into it.

You also can't dock the Atrix to the Lapdock via Bluetooth, which would let you pick up the phone and take advantage of gesture-based apps more easily while working with the Lapdock. (You can use the Atrix as a phone when docked through the Lapdock's microphone and speakers, or via a Bluetooth headset.) Such an improvement would make the Lapdock a better mobile/PC convergence device than it is today.

Still, despite its limitations, the Lapdock is a more reasonable approach to the "post-PC" idea of a mobile device being your central computer than the Chromebook, and its PC-style design and desktop-capable browser will be more appealing than a tablet. The one drawback: Verizon Wireless requires a data plan of at least $45 per month to use the Lapdock over 3G, whereas Verizon will offer pay-as-you-go plans for the Chromebooks when they ship later this year -- so there's high-cost commitment that will discourage the Lapdock's adoption by people who travel only occasionally.

This article, "Test-driving the Motorola Atrix's Lapdock," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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