In the first part of this review I looked at connecting the NexDock shell to a Windows 10 tablet and had, to be fair, not the greatest of experiences. In this second part I will try out a Raspberry Pi 3.
The Raspberry Pi is notable for being a very inexpensive computer, aimed initially at education but snapped up by hobbyists due to the low price and huge flexibility. However, since the user is expected to provide keyboard, monitor and mouse for the Pi, the NexDock is able to provide all three at a low cost, with the convenience of a laptop thrown in for good measure.
I took a brand new Pi 3 with an off-the-shelf distribution of Raspbian (a variant of Debian supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation) and, using the cables provided with the NexDock, was able to connect the Pi to the HDMI input and also use the NexDock’s USB port for power. Getting the keyboard and trackpad working was a little more problematic and required an update to Raspbian to add in Bluetooth support.
To be fair, I should really have downloaded and built a fresh image of Raspbian, which would have had the Bluetooth update preconfigured, but I was keen to see what the off-the-shelf-experience would be like. Every day is a school day. Luckily I had a USB mouse and keyboard to hand in order to apply the update.
Once Bluetooth support was added, pairing the laptop keyboard and trackpad was as straightforward as it had been on Windows.
Not having to fiddle with a multi-monitor configuration made this a far simpler experience. To coin a phrase: ‘it just works’. Other than a slight bit of lag on the trackpad, which I will put down to the NexDock since the same behaviour was seen when connected to Windows 10, the promised laptop-like functionality is indeed present. This really does provide a way of creating a portable Pi, and the battery of the NexDock gives hours of usage.
Unfortunately, not all of the NexDock’s ports are supported by the Pi 3 in the standard distribution yet. The webcam and SD slot are 2 casualties, although this being Linux I would be surprised if the community does not add these if the NexDock is embraced. My earlier comments regarding general quality of the plastics still applies of course, as does the point that this can be forgiven in light of the price of the device.
Having come away disappointed after my earlier attempt at using the NexDock with a Windows tablet, I am a good deal happier with the Raspberry Pi 3 as a brain for this laptop. Cabling is simple and even someone with as little knowledge of Raspbian as me was able to connect and get running quickly and easily (although my point about not using an off-the-shelf SD card preloaded still remains.)
If portability is a factor, then for a hobbyist, student or teacher creating projects on the Pi 3, the NexDock is a definite contender.