NexDock Portends Dawn Of 'Dumb' Laptops

Back at Mobile World Congress 2015, MHL showed us a concept that was about one year ahead of its time: a “dumb” laptop clamshell that served as the display and input for a connected smartphone. This year, HP picked up on the idea with its Elite X3 smartphone and unimaginatively named “HP Mobile Extender,” and at least one upstart--Nex--wants in, too.

The company has created the NexDock, which looks like a laptop but is in fact a display, Bluetooth keyboard with a touchpad, and a battery.

Nex has big plans. “We hope to start a paradigm shift in consumer electronics,” the promo video boldly claimed. But for now, those plans start with an Indiegogo campaign, which is live for a couple more days but has already surpassed its $300,000 goal so it can begin manufacturing. You can plop down $119 to reserve one for yourself, with a promised delivery date of June.

Baby Steps

When the NexDock hits retail, it will cost $149. That’s about the cost of a cheap Chromebook or Windows notebook (and it resembles one), and of course you still have to provide the computing device to go along with it. However, the idea is that you probably already have such a device--your smartphone, Raspberry Pi, or mini PC like an Intel Compute Stick.

There are some limitations to the NexDock, though. First, the 14.1-inch display has a mere 1366x768 resolution. Second, there is no USB Type-C port. (The company said that it will swap out one of the existing ports for a Type-C port should the campaign hit the $500,000 stretch goal. It’s currently about $150,000 shy of the mark with two days to go.)

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Header Cell - Column 0 NexDock
Display14.1-inch, 1366x768 TN panel, 16:9 ratio
Keyboard/TouchpadBluetooth 4.0
Ports-mini HDMI-2x USB-TF card slot
Audio-3.5mm headphone jack-Built-in dual speakers
Battery/Power-10,000 mAh Li-ion 3.8V battery-DC 3.5mm 5V/2.5A
Dimensions351 x 233 x 20mm
Weight1.49 Kg
Price/Availability$149, June 2016 (preorders open now)

Looking Beyond

As with any crowdfunded project, one must temper one’s expectations. Simply getting funded is no guarantee of success; for every Oculus Rift, there’s a hundred funded-but-failed projects. However, assuming Nex delivers on the promise of the NexDock, the company has its sights set high.

Nex has at least three concept products. There’s the NexDock, but also a 10-inch tablet-like device and a 24-inch AIO-type machine that resembles an iMac and has an external keyboard and mouse. The Big Idea here is that you can swap your computing device around to any of these form factors.

The two computing device types that come readily to mind are smartphones and mini PCs like the Intel Compute Stick. Although Nex’s videos suggest a method of connecting a phone or mini PC to one of these “dumb” devices via an embedded USB-C port (we can think of a few inherent design issue there), you can simply connect a device with a cable. It’s not as sexy, but it will work, and in real life that should suit most users in most situations.

Another potential use case Nex is pushing is using one of its devices as a second display. For example, you could connect a regular laptop to any of them. The practicality is somewhat limited--the NexDock as a second display means you have two clamshells cluttering your desk, for example--but we could see using the 10-inch tablet as a handy second display when at a trade show where we’re writing and editing photos and video and could use a little more screen real estate.  

One of the more compelling uses for the second screen is for those who love mobile gaming. You can use your phone as a controller and view the gameplay on the NexDock’s screen.

Whether or not the NexDock turns out to be a shipping product and also performs as expected, expect to see more products like these cropping up around the market.

Seth Colaner is the News Director for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter @SethColaner. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.