A few weeks ago I mentioned a crowdfunding campaign for a new gadget called LEEF that looks like a laptop, but which is actually a smartphone accessory that lets you interact with your smartphone apps with a keyboard, touchpad, and bigger screen.
And in that article, I noted that this was hardly a new idea, but that most other devices of this type had been discontinued. Then the makers of one of those laptop docks reached out to let me know they’re very much still manufacturing and selling their hardware.
So I did a little digging, and discovered that laptop docks are still a thing that you can buy. The idea is certainly intriguing – rather than carry around two devices with completely different operating systems and trying to keep your data synchronized between them, why not just use your phone’s software for everything and just use a dumb laptop dock as an accessory when you need the bigger screen and keyboard?
It’s still a niche product category and I have no idea if there’s a future in it. But here are five current or upcoming models I found. Note that while they’re designed for use with smartphones, most should also work as external displays for laptops or other devices (like a Raspberry Pi or other single-board computers).
Available from AliExpress for $280, this laptop dock features a 13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS touchscreen display, a 360-degree hinge that lets you fold the screen back for use in tablet mode.
Measuring 12.1″ x 8.2″ x 0.6″ and weighing 2.65 pounds, the Uperfect X is about the size of a thin and light notebook, and with an aluminum alloy body, it should have a somewhat premium look and feel.
Other features include a backlit keyboard with 84 keys, a touchpad, stereo speakers, mini HDMI, 3.5mm audio, and two USB-C ports, plus a microSD card reader and a 10,000 mAh battery.
While this model appears to be nearly identical to the Uperfect X, it’s sold under a different brand name and it does appear to have a few differences – it measures less than 0.5 inches thick, has a smaller 5,000 mAh battery, and has four speakers rather than two.
Available from AliExpress for $326, it also has a different set of product images, so it gives you a chance to look at this style of laptop dock from a few different angles even if you’re just window shopping.
It also bears a striking resemblance to the models listed above.
The NexDock 360 is a convertible tablet-style device with a 13.3 inch, 1080p IPS touchscreen display and a 360-degree hinge.
The device measures 12.1″ x 8.2″ x 0.6″ and weighs about 2.6 pounds, and it a backlit keyboard, quad speakers, two USB-C ports (one for charging and one fore data, a mini HDMI input, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microSDXC card reader. It has a 5,8000 mAh, 44 Wh battery.
NexDock has been selling laptop docks since 2016, but this is the company’s first model to feature a 360-degree hinge.
The newest entry on this list is also the most compact, featuring a 12.5 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS LCD display and a body that measures 11.4″ x 7.8″ x 0.5″ and which weighs just 2.2 pounds.
It’s also not expected to ship until May – the LEEF laptop dock is up for pre-order through a Kickstarter campaign for about $229.
Ports includes two USB Type-C (one for charging, one for data), one USB 2.0 Type-A, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The LEEF has an 8,000 mAh battery, four speakers, a full-sized keyboard with a US English layout, and a trackpad with support for multi-touch gestures.
There are also special function keys for turning smartphone charging on or off, enabling or disabling the trackpad, displaying your app library on the screen, and displaying the charge level on the screen.
This model features a 13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display a battery that provides up to 10 hours of run time, and in addition to a full-sized keyboard and touchpad, it has USB-C, USB 3.0 Type-A, HDMI, and audio jacks and a microSD card reader.
It’s also the only model on this list with a built-in USB cable that tucks into the laptop dock when you don’t need it, and extends to connect to your phone when in use. The 2.8 pound laptop dock has a black aluminum body.
The company first introduced the Mirabook with a crowdfunding campaign in 2017, the Mirabook laptop dock made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2018, where I got a chance to go hands-on with a prototype.
While the models listed above are current, smartphone laptop docks have been around for a long time — Motorola was probably the first company to introduce one, but the company discontinued the Motorola Lapdock years ago. The Superbook is no more. And while you can still find the HP Elite X3 lap dock available from retailers that have a few in stock, it’s no longer sold by HP.
So I do still wonder if there’s really enough demand to sustain companies making these products. But the fact that NexBook and Miraxess are still at it after several years suggests that the answer might be yes… as long as you don’t need to sell millions of devices to consider your product a success.