THE WORLDS MOST AFFORDABLE LAPTOP …… NOT EXACTLY
JUST SOME BACKGROUND
The NexDock launched on Indiegogo as “The World’s Most Affordable Laptop”, the thing is though it is not really a laptop on its own, it’s more of a flexible docking station. This device aims to turn any SBC (RPI, compute stick, pine 64, ect…) or continuum capable piece of hardware into a full blown laptop computer. It can also function as a secondary monitor and the dock can act as a larger display for IOS or Android devices with the proper adapters. In this article I will test the Nexdock with the Raspberry PI 3 and use it as a secondary monitor with my ASUS G75 laptop.
After publishing my “first look” video I was informed by several of my subscribers that there are a couple similar products to the Nexdock already out on the market, the most notable of which being the ATRIX dock by Motorola. Despite the fact that this concept is not exactly 100% original I still found it to be an interesting product that brings some new ideas to the traditional docking station.
Even though Nex was able to eventually deliver a product, the campaign was riddled with major setbacks and delays. At one point it appeared that the campaign would fall short of its funding goal but after a generous 30 day extension from Indiegogo the Nex team raised a total of $362,000. This exceeded their $300,000 target but unfortunately it fell short of both stretch goals which promised to add a USB-C port and a full HD 1080p display. Several failures followed the success of their crowd-funding campaign. The original shipping date of June 2016 kept getting pushed back, a factory fire wiped out a majority of their stock which further delayed the campaign, and when they actually did start to ship the devices problems were immediately reported that many of the units failed to power on. Three months after the intended arrival date, in September of 2016, my Nexdock finally made it to my doorstep.
THE UNBOXING AND INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
The Nexdock arrived in a plain brown box with “nexdock” stamped on the front. Inside the package I found the Nexdock wedged between two foam inserts along with a handful of accessories. These accessories included a power supply, mini HDMI to HDMI cable, micro USB to USB-A cable, female HDMI to Female HDMI adapter, and the user manual.
Overall, the Nexdock had a nice feel to it, especially considering that I paid just shy of $120 for the device. It felt surprisingly hefty yet it was still light enough to be portable. Even though for the most part I was happy with the structural build quality, I was not a big fan of the plastics they used to manufacturer the chassis. Rubbing my hands along the inner section of the casing left me with the impression that this was more of a toy than anything else. It reminded me of the plastics that my 8 year old sister’s Barbie laptop was composed of. Regardless, the unit still felt like it would be able to take a fall without shattering into pieces and that’s what really matters. Something else to note cosmetics wise is that dirt and other undesirable particles tend to show up easily on the Nexdocks’s white paint. Right off the bat I noticed several gray streaks on the top part of the casing as a result of graphite shavings on my desk rubbing against the paint. In the future I would like to see the introduction of a black version.
The dock’s I/O ports include 2x USB 2.0 ports, mini HDMI out, a headphone jack, and a micro SD card slot. Opening the unit up I was greeted by a single piece trackpad, a keyboard, the 14.1” 1366×768 TN display, a webcam capable of recording 480p video, indication lights, and two small holes for the unit’s stereo microphones.
Notable nice touches to the design include 4 rubber feet on the bottom to keep the dock from sliding around and a cutout on the front which allows the user to easily open up the laptop. The screen bezel is held closed by a few magnets which do a great job of prohibiting the unit from opening during travel.
USING THE NEXDOCK
The directions that are included with the Nexdock are incredibly vague and I had to do a little bit of research to get the Raspberry PI3 fully up and running. I eventually found a page on the Nex website which walks you through the entire setup process and tells the user about a couple neat tricks that make using the PI with the dock a much more pleasant experience. Basically to get everything working I just plugged my RPI into the Nexdock’s USB and HDMI ports using the provided cables, connected the integrated keyboard and trackpad via Bluetooth, and made a couple system configuration tweaks.
Using the RPI in conjunction with the Nexdock felt just like using a day to day laptop. I was browsing the web, typing up documents, and even playing minecraft for the most part without running into any problems. The keyboard feels great in my opinion, there is an adequate distance of vertical movement in the keys and the response is nearly instantaneous. However there was some noticeable delay with the trackpad and I ran into an issue while playing minecraft where I could not use keyboard and the trackpad simultaneously.
The 1366×768 display looks great, color production is good, it features wide viewing angles, and the picture is crisp, clear, and bright. I know some might prefer a higher resolution display but personally I think 1366×768 is perfectly fine for a 14” screen.
Sound quality from the two tiny bottom mounted speakers is mediocre at best. If you are watching a YouTube video you can clearly make out words from the audio but levels are low and for the most part you can clearly tell that audio quality was not a high priority.
Using the Nexdock as a secondary monitor is straightforward. Just plug it into your laptop’s HDMI port, select to use the Nexdock’s display as a secondary monitor and you should be good to go. Hooking up your system to the dock via USB allows it to act as expansion for your laptop giving it access to the dock’s USB ports, microphones, webcam, and Micro SD card reader.
Quality from the Nexdock’s built in webcam was okay, its definitely nothing to aw at. However, the quality from the built in stereo microphones was the best I have ever heard from integrated laptop mics. Sound quality was comparable to that of a mid range dynamic external microphone. You can watch a sample from the integrated microphone and webcam in the video below.
A LOOK INSIDE
The bottom of the nexdock was just held together by some screws and plastic clips. I was able to easily remove the bottom panel to give you guys a look inside.
For a first production run I was impressed with what the team at Nex was able to produce. Clearly the Nexdock is not perfect, quality is good but could be improved, I would like to see additional color options, and the execution of the trackpad could use some work. Basic 3D models of similar docking devices are displayed on the Nexdock website indicating that this company does indeed have a vision for the future and I look forward to seeing what this team creates in the coming years.
WHAT I HAVE BEEN USING IT FOR
I have had the Nexdock in my possession for about a month now and I have been putting it to good use. I have played around with several SBC’s using the dock including the RPI 3, RPI model A, RPI zero, and Odroid C2. I have used it on campus as a secondary display for my laptop several times and I have also used it in a in a cubesat meeting once when we were contemplating whether or not we should include the RPI zero in our satellite to perform image processing. I was a little hesitant when I was thinking about purchasing the Nexdock because I was not sure how much I would actually use it. Even only after a month I feel that putting $119 towards this project was worth it in every way!
WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW FOR MORE