The latest attempt from Nex Computer, a Californian-based Crowdfunder, to unlock the power of our smartphones is here. The NexDock Touch updates some of its key features from the NexDock 2, with thinner bezels, a larger 60Wh battery, better speakers and a larger trackpad.
- Good battery life
- Touch screen changes UI
- Good keyboard
- Relatively cheap
- Fragmented experience
- Build quality could be better
- Display performance differs by device
- Niche use case
Many of you might have read the introduction and still aren’t sure what the NexDock Touch is. The concept is explored a little more deeply in the editorial challenge I set myself. Go take a look at that first.
In short, Nex Computer has created a dumb piece of hardware that is used as a dock for a smartphone. Currently, the only confirmed supported smartphones are Samsung and Huawei devices with DeX and EMUI Desktop Mode in tow. This includes many of the more recent generations of devices. It’s also true that other devices, such as the Raspberry Pi, are also easily connected.
Once the NexDock Touch is connected via a Type-C cable to/from the phone in question, the display will spring to life and give you a mode desktop-orientated Android look and feel. That’s the plan, and despite the fact that each manufacturer of smartphones implements a slightly different UI, the general principle remains the same – provide more utility to the user without the requirement for a more powerful laptop to be carried in addition. The concept is one I’ve been heralding since before Microsoft launched their Lumia 950 with Continuum and their Dock which delivered a similar desktop experience. Smartphones are more powerful than ever with more utility than ever, but most users still only experience that power within the Smartphone form factor.
Unboxing & Overview
The NexDock Touch comes in a similar package to the NexDock 2, in that it’s as slim as it can be, and with as little packaging. Alongside the NexDock Touch itself sits a few other cables and peripherals:
- 45W USB-C PD Charger with 1.8m cable
- US/UK/EU and AU charger heads for the power adapter
- USB Type-C tp Type-C Gen 2 3.1 cable
- USB Type-C to Type-A and micro USB splitter cable
- HDMI to HDMI cable
- micro USB to Type-C adapter
- Quick Start Guide
In short, everything you need to get going with the NexDock Touch is included in the box.
As you can tell from its name, the second generation NexDock delivers a touch screen. That display is a 14-inch IPS affair with 1080p resolution in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Moving around the rest of the device, there’s an included 8000 mAh battery powering the Touch, along with a plethora of ports strafing both the left and right edges. There are three USB Type-C ports with one being a USB 3.1 with DisplayPort functionality to carry the video out signal and another delivering Power Delivery charging. There’s also a full-size HDMI input and a single USB 3.0 Type-A port. Of specific note is the 3.5mm audio jack and the microSDXC card reader that is also in attendance. Finally, there are four individual 1W speakers so don’t expect too much from the NexDock Touch audibly, but they should get you through light use.
The chassis is a very clean affair with four rubber anti-vibration stabilisers on the base, with only a Nex logo on the lid. Opening that lid exposes the chiclet-style keyboard which has backlighting in tow, and the trackpad, which is thankfully larger than its predecessor. There is also a small NexDock logo at the base of the IPS display which is where a webcam would have sat perfectly. Alas, there’s only a logo there to stare at.
The heft of the device should lead to a sturdy and polished overall industrial design. For me, it almost misses the mark. It’s functional, but there are corners cut. The design is non-descript, the track pad’s right button can be depressed by pressing on the wrist rest, and there is a little plastic bump on the left bezel which is presumably only there to stop the keys pressing into the screen when the Touch is shut. Could do better, especially coming from the NexDock 2, which had similar foibles.
Performance & Use
I have the added advantage of knowing just what to expect from the NexDock line of devices and not raising those expectations to unattainable heights. Let’s get this straight right now; the NexDock Touch is not a Laptop in anything but form-factor. It is a peripheral for your smartphone, Raspberry Pi, or PC Stick. That is to take nothing away from the design, concept, or performance – we have to ensure we judge it on its functionality and not its looks.
NexDock has made some small, but important improvements for the Touch. First up is the display. At 14-inches, it’s larger than the 13.3-inch offering on the NexDock 2, and of course, it has touch capabilities. There’s a larger 8000 mAh battery, rising from 6800 mAh, and there’s a larger trackpad too. These improvements have largely seen little change to the dimensions with only small size increases. That said, the overall weight remains a hefty 1420 grams, the same as the NexDock 2. it’s impressive to me that the size of the display, trackpad and battery has increased, along with the chassis size, yet the weight has not. It’s just a shame that it’s so heavy to start with.
My first test with any laptop over the last few years has been the one-finger lid lift – the NexDock Touch is not an ultrabook though and as such, it needs to be handled correctly. Needless to say, it failed the one-finger test, although that’s not a deal-breaker.
Connecting the NexDock Touch is as easy as connecting a supported smartphone (recent Samsung and Huawei devices) or another device with the included USB Type-C to Type-C cable.
The keys on the Touch immediately feel more robust and premium and the keyboard has less deck flex than the NexDock 2 did. Below the keyboard, the larger trackpad still suffers from some of the issues of its predecessor. As u/silverskull addresses on Reddit, the trackpad is recognised as a mouse and not a trackpad which limits its utility. Some gestures work fine (scrolling for example) however there is a large number of ghost presses when clicking and dragging, or swiping the cursor quickly from one side of the screen to another. There seems little that can be done to address this in this generation. It isn’t unusable, but users will get used to using FN+ESC to turn off the trackpad when typing. Thankfully the Touch screen comes to the rescue in this instance.
It’s so great to have a touch screen. The OS you’ll probably be using on the NexDock Touch with a smartphone in tow is a derivative of Android, and as such Touch input interaction is second nature. If you are connecting to an Android device you might find yourself reaching for the brightness controls to tone down the washed-out nature of the display. During testing, it has become clear that the visible quality of the display is dependant on the device connected to. Connecting the NexDock Touch to a Windows machine as an external monitor, or PC Stick shows that it really is quite a nice display with decent contrast. Android, it seems, limits the output somewhat.
It’s very usable though with a few tweaks to brightness (you might even want to download an app to change the colour temperature), but I found myself wishing that there were more display calibration controls on the device itself rather than relying on software.
The user interface will be familiar to anybody who has used a desktop-based Operating system this decade. Whilst connected to my Huawei P30 Pro, a very ChromeOS-esque interface is displayed as soon as you turn on the device. The experience here is powered by the EMUI Desktop application. There are some hoops you learn to jump through though; changing browsers to request Desktop Site rather than a mobile version along with dealing with the lack of responsiveness of some smartphone-only apps (Instagram infamous in this regard). ChromeOS this is not, just yet.
During testing the only application I found that refused to work in Desktop mode was Amazon Prime Video. Switching to mirroring mode on the smartphone however at least allowed me to playback, and make it full screen. The experience isn’t immersive when you need to cater to the nuances of the device though.
Where the experience excels is in general performance. Remember, you’re using your smartphone to power a multi-window, multi-task, desktop experience. The only additional overhead burdening the smartphone is the video output. n at it, albeit on a larger display with different input peripherals. Browsing the web, emails, games (with controllers no less) and media consumption are all very good on this larger display. The latter can be something of a pain depending on how the application recognised the NexDock Touch. Plex constantly asked me to choose whether to use TV or Mobile mode, whilst the YouTube application won’t allow me to play videos in HD (switching to a browser works fine).
Notifications on the Desktop mode are also a slight issue. There is a notification tray, but no longer do they launch or display on the screen, as they would do on the phone from the notification shade. Clicking on the notification area can take a few seconds to show, and then there is no way to swipe away those notifications. Clicking on them does launch the relevant application, but the software experience is there to enhance not detract from usability.
Nex Computer has greatly improved the battery life of the NexDoock Touch. The increase to 8000 mAh will see you through a business day of use. There are other power improvements also. After listening to the community, Nex Computers changed how connected devices manage power. Previously, the NexDock would drain the battery quicker due constantly charging the connected device. Now users can turn off the device charging by default, by a key combination of FN+F11. Sadly, on Huawei-based devices, this has the side-effect of turning off the NexDock Touch display. It’s these nuances that will make or break your experience.
Once you’re done for the day and want to listen to some music or consume some video, I found that whilst the 1W speakers were not terrible, they didn’t get loud enough for my Wife and I to watch an episode of a show from 3-4 feet away. Instead (and thankfully this is an option) I often find myself switching to output audio to the connected device instead (my P30 Pro in this instance). Whilst again, not a great audio experience, it can get plenty loud and at least allow us to make out hushed conversations.
There are clearly some aspects to work out here which make it difficult to recommend the NexDock Touch to anybody but an enthusiast. Productivity wise the NexDock Touch ticks the boxes; access to an app store with Microsoft Office applications, email applications, social media and web browsing. The fragmentation of the experience remains an issue though, and it’s something I believe Google is aware of and is attempting to resolve with their own forthcoming Desktop mode. Recent Android builds have hinted at this in their developer options.
The device connected the NexDock Touch will directly impact your user experience, and it will and does differ significantly. I haven’t used Samsung DeX with the NexDock Touch, but from discussions with others, it seems to be a little more rounded than the EMUI Desktop. In addition, load Ubuntu onto a PC Stick and you can expect to get an even better experience. At that point though, is it anything more or less than a Chromebook, or basic laptop with Ubuntu installed?
In a nutshell, that’s the question consumers need to ask themselves. Are they likely to want utility over and above what their smartphone can currently provide, from the NexDock Touch? If the answer is yes, then they should probably look elsewhere; a cheap laptop, or even ChromeOS at a push. If you’re after nothing more or less than a larger working environment, with better battery life, and are willing to put up with some of the idiosyncrasies in two, then Nex Computers has you covered.
I enjoyed playing with the NexDock Touch, as I did with the NexDock 2 in my weekly challenge, but I have to be honest – it slightly disappointed me. I am the target market for the NexDock line of devices. I want to use my powerful smartphone more, and I’m all for a device that can incorporate multiple use cases. I want to love it, but it’s just a too unwieldy currently.
The NexDock Touch is still in pre-order for $269 (~£205) plus shipping. Buyers should factor in the inevitable Customs Tax too.