NexDock Review (part 1) – Using the NextDock with a Windows tablet

NexDock Review (part 1) – Using the NextDock with a Windows tablet

It is always amusing how things can change over a few short months. When I signed up for the Indiegogo.com
project back in April, my plans for the device were quite different to how things turned out when the finished product arrived in September.

To recap, the NexDock is a laptop with all the computing guts removed, leaving just a battery, video adaptor, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and a few ports. The vision is that you connect a Windows Phone to it and get a desktop-like experience through Continuum. You can also connect other devices to it, such as a tablet or smartphone and make use of the keyboard and screen where supported.

I’d planned to connect this to my shiny new Windows Phone that I was going to buy when the new generation arrived. Things have turned out a bit differently in the Windows Phone world, so instead I will look at how this lobotomised laptop works with a Windows 10 tablet in this review, and a Raspberry Pi in the next.

Hardware

The NexDock consists of a 1366 x 768 glossy screen, which is bright and readable along with a keyboard and trackpad contained in a white plastic shell that resembles a 2015 MacBook Air (which is no bad thing). There are 2 USB ports, a mini HDMI connector, a headphone jack, internal mics, a SD card reader, power-in and a VGA webcam. The shell itself feels surprisingly sturdy and the keys have good travel (if perhaps a little plasticky.)

In terms of quality of the plastics… imagine if a toy manufacturer had a crack at building a MacBook Air, and you get the idea. However, this is very much a device built down to a price point, so the drop in quality is forgivable.

 In the box

The non-descript brown box contains the NexDock itself, an adaptor cable for the HDMI port along with a thoughtfully provided male-to-male HDMI adaptor, a tiny USB cable and a power supply. Battery life on this device is short – I managed 2 hours of word processing – so you’ll need to keep this adaptor handy. The box also contains a US – UK power adaptor, which is another thoughtful touch.

Setting up

Since I do not have a compatible Windows Phone, I set this up with my Linx 7 tablet. This is a very inexpensive Windows tablet and a good candidate to try the 2 screen approach since it runs full Windows 10 (upgraded from Windows 8.1). The Linx has only a micro HDMI port, so required another cable. Once plugged in and turned on, the process is pretty painless (with caveats – see below). Turning on the NexDock brought up the screen as a second display and the mouse and keyboard were added in the same way as any other Bluetooth device. Putting a SD card into the NexDock brought up a drive in Explorer. The webcam took a while to come up, but eventually did and I tested it in the camera app. Image quality is pretty poor.

In use

The screen is bright and the mouse and keyboard are perfectly acceptable – again, keep in mind this is a very cheap laptop. Effectively, the Linx 7 became a second screen plugged into a laptop – it was easy to forget that the Linx was the device providing all the grunt.

However, there are problems. Unless you have a compatible Bluetooth device, there is no way of knowing how much power the 10000mAh battery has left before the power light starts flashing. The SD slot is not spring loaded, so extracting a SD card is problematic and finally, and most seriously, there appears to be reliability issues with the USB. This may be because my Linx is drawing charge from the connector, but occasionally plugging the Linx into the USB connector resulted in the NexDock’s screen going blank. Everything else (keyboard etc) would continue to work, but the screen would not come up again until the Linx was unplugged from USB.

Conclusions

The NexDock is a device big on vision but let down a little by implementation and let down a lot by Microsoft’s decision to scale back Windows Phone. As a screen for keyboardless Windows tablets (like the Linx) it really is very useful and if the USB issue was resolved would represent a very inexpensive way of getting an Ultrabook experience with a detachable screen. However, with new Surface-like devices appearing in the market that do a similar thing at a keen price point with better stability, it may be that a window of opportunity has been missed.

Next time I will be trying the NexDock with a Raspberry Pi.

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