Thursday, November 21, 2013

Adventures with Pi and Lapdocks

I'm just starting to use my Raspberry Pi (I have a cool project that I'll discuss later), and the easiest, most portable, coolest looking solution for programming on and using a Raspberry Pi has got to be the Motorola Atrix Lapdock.

The Atrix Lapdock is an accessory for the atrix mobile phone that essentially turns your phone into a laptop.  It looks cool, but was very expensive ($500!), so no one bought them.  It's basically a slick looking high definition display, chiclet keyboard, trackpad, and a battery - a laptop with no brains, it has HDMI and USB inputs and two USB ports for other peripherals.

When AT&T and others started dumping Atrix lapdocks for under $50, someone turned an Atrix lapdock and a Raspberry Pi into this.

When I recently looked into doing the same thing, I found that the prices of Atrix lapdocks had risen due to the limited supply (they're discontinued) and fresh demand from Raspi owners.

But, I found and purchased a Lapdock 100 for $40. Cheap price, not cool looking, but it has similar specs so it should work, right?


Wrong.

Not only does the Lapdock 100 look like it was hit by many ugly sticks, it appears to have been hit by the DRM stick too. The Lapdock 100 (and 500 too, according to user reports) will check to see if a compatible phone is plugged in and then completely shut down if they don't like what they see.  So you plug in a Raspi, and you get 5 seconds of glorious HD image and USB before the device shuts down and refuses to budge until you've unplugged everything and given the Lapdock a hard reset.  So. Very. Frustrating.

Luckily I was able to return the Lapdock 100 and found a decently priced Droid Bionic Lapdock. Not only does it have the same look and feel as the Atrix lapdock, but it works perfectly!

I obviously don't know anything about the inner workings of Motorola's design teams, but from the outside, the Lapdock 100 and 500 appear to be petty, user-hating designs that force you to use their device for only exactly what the manufacturer has in mind.  The Bionic and Atrix Lapdocks seem to be made by a completely different company. They not only look nicer, but are better behaved - they simply look for HDMI and USB inputs and react as one would expect a battery powered display and keyboard to react.

I think Motorola is great, and I generally love their products, but what happened here?

Next up, I'm going to tame the wires a bit, Velcro mount the RasPi to the Lapdock, add a RasPi camera and a breadboard to the mix, and I might add a capacitor to help keep the RasPi powered up when you close the lid of the lapdock (there's a momentary power interruption which can cause one to lose all of one's work).