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Bionic’s Laptop Dock: Cool Tool or Lame Netbook Wannabe?

When the Motorola Atrix came out earlier this year on AT&T, it turned a lot of heads. The thought of turning a smartphone into a laptop seemed smart and innovative, but the $500 price point for the phone/laptop dock package put it out of reach for a lot of people. Why get this combo, they asked, when that amount could buy a full-fledged laptop or netbook?

If you were/are an interested party, you’ll be happy to note that the carrier is offering a lower price for this bundle now — $99 for the phone and $199 for the laptop dock (after rebate). But is price alone a reason to jump on board this bandwagon? This might be an even more salient point now, since it appears Motorola will be making its super thin, lightweight laptop dock available for the much-anticipated Bionic when it debuts next month on Verizon.

Frankly, I could see this being useful for a few reasons. Having data, contacts, and email housed in one place without having to sync them between devices would be terrific. Also intriguing is the fact that the browser — Firefox — reads as the full desktop version, not the mobile variety (unlike smartphones or tablets, at least out of the box. Yeah, yeah, user agent spoofing, whatever. But that always seems to tank when I’m desperate to access a critical page. Grrr). Another nifty thing: It would seem the 802.11 n Wi-Fi connectivity here would be the real deal, tasty “n” at 5 GHz (just like the Atrix). So it wouldn’t be the limp little 2.4 GHz that many other so-called “n” mobile devices offer.

Ultimately, I just like the laptop form factor. While it’s not absolutely necessary — you could add a monitor and keyboard to this without the laptop dock — portability is key these days. Now, I love my tablet, don’t get me wrong, but I could think of a few things I enjoy more than trying to do any serious data input with it… like root canal or hearing the drunken brawlers outside my window on a Saturday night. And having a laptop/netbook-lite type of experience, but with cellular calling and mobile apps along for the ride, is very, very appealing. Add the no-boot-time OS, and I could be in heaven…

… except…

… that it’s not perfect. Version 1.0 of this keyboard was cramped, which is something I hope Moto fixes this time around. And the “Atrix Webtop” didn’t perform up to snuff for things like streaming vids or even mobile apps. Performance got a little boost with Gingerbread, but otherwise, there’s little reason to believe the Bionic bundle will be a vast improvement, at least so far.

The fact that this will be going on Verizon is another interesting factor. While the carrier’s CDMA network can’t handle simultaneous voice and data — which would be a huge problem for anyone using their phone as a laptop — this hurdle goes away in light of LTE. Verizon’s 4G can do both beautifully… that is, if you’re in one of its LTE markets. If not, or you travel out of the area often, bear in mind that you’ll be riding along on 3G, putting the voice/data conundrum into play again.

And is it me, or is it kind of weird to put the docking component behind the screen? Don’t know about you, but I’d be a little unnerved about using this in public like that. Someone could just walk by and pull this thing right out.

The laptop form factor is an intriguing concept, and it’s one that I’ll keep my eye on. There’s definitely promise here — especially for people who can’t afford a laptop or netbook in addition to a high-end smartphone. So it comes back to price point. I could see trying this out for the price of the handset, plus $100—$150 for the laptop dock. But if this carrier sticks to an Atrix-like debut cost of $200 for the Bionic, plus $300 for the dock, then I’m just not sure it’s worth it.

We’ll know more once the actual launch (finally) arrives, but for now, I’m pretty much on the fence with this.

Where do you stand with the Bionic, its expected laptop dock or even the general concept of smartphones-as-laptops? Could you see yourself using one? If not, how would they have to improve it to sway you?

[images via AndroidAndMe, MobileGearz]

 


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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