Nexdock First Impressions

Mobile linux convergence on the go

my profile picture, me snowshoeing with my parents standing in front of a mountain

 A few months ago, I was talking with my dad about a really neat hardware project idea I had. I'd just finished my convergence setup using the dock provided by Pine64 with my Pinephone, and wondered how I could make a laptop-like display that would work as a portable and practical convergence device. That's when Purism lapdock kit announcement[0] brought Nex Computer's Nexdock 360[1] to my attention. It was almost exactly what I'd envisioned, and I knew then I had to try it. After receiving the device and playing with it for a couple of days, I'm really pleased with the feel of the lapdock and am excited for future projects involving the device.

nexdock open, phone mounted on side. playing music, tetris, checking mastodon and rss feeds with my todo list on the side

Hardware thoughts

 I never cared much for "unboxing" content, so I'll skip straight to the good stuff. The Nexdock feels great to use. From the outside, it's indistinguishable from a mid to high end laptop. It's thinner and lighter then any "laptop" I've owned before, a result of the lack of a processor. The backlit keyboard is similar to other laptops, a positive in my book. I've managed to rearrange the keycaps to my preferred dvorak keyboard layout without breaking any of the butterfly mechanisms beneath the keys. The trackpad is very snappy and makes a satisfying "click" sound when pressed. The I/O is just great. The Nexdock has a USB-C PD charging port, microSD card slot for data transfer to the connected device, USB-C 3.1 and mini HDMI ports for screen input from a phone and computer respectively, and a USB-C port for data transfer. This last port allows for peripherals like external mice, USB flash drives, ethernet, and more. The charging speed of the 5800 mAh battery is enough to keep my Pinephone's battery percentage stable even during moderate to heavy use. It's important to note that while it doesn't charge the Pinephone, the battery level also doesn't drop significantly while using it connected to the Nexdock, so while not totally ideal the charging speed from the Nexdock's internal battery is adequate for my use case.

 Buying three additional items has made my experience with the Nexdock much better in terms of daily drivability these past few days. First, a magnetic phone mount.[2] This hinge securely places the phone next to the Nexdock display and makes using both screens for maximum productivity possible. Second, for the sake of portability, a 12 inch case for the Nexdock.[3] I picked one with a few pockets so I could keep cables and adapters handy. Lastly, a shorter 1 foot USB-C 3.1 cable.[4] The Nexdock shipped with a 1.5 foot cable, and getting a shorter one was definitely worth the investment.

 The touch display is 1080p by 1920p and has a wide range of brightness settings. The bezels around the screen are reasonably sized for a laptop in 2023. The Nexdock has the ability to fold back into "tablet" mode, which seems counter intuitive at first. After all, why would you do that when it's all running off of a phone in the first place? I've found that this option is great for reading PDFs which I need to do on a regular basis. The large screen is much easier to read on. I'm unable to comment on the Nexdock's speakers since I haven't gotten ALSA to detect them yet, but that's a work in progress. There are three lights above the keyboard that indicate power status, caps lock, and whether the trackpad is enabled. There is also a blue light to the left of the keyboard that indicates whether a device is plugged into the USB 3.1 port for display. These lights are unobtrusive and are a nice touch that have made my experience with the Nexdock all the more seamless.

nexdock with music and sourcehut compiling, wireless mouse attached

Software support

 For context, I run Arch Linux ARM with sxmo on my Pinephone.[5] I've added a few lines to my sway configuration to work better with the nexdock. After reading some documentation,[6] this process took less then 30 minutes. I first modified my sway config so that upon closing and opening the Nexdock's lid it would transfer all applications to the Pinephone's screen. The Nexdock screen does automatically turn off when the lid is closed out of the box. Then, I increased the scale to 150% for readability. Unfortunately, 100% was too small and 200% too big, so for now I have to live with the minor resolution degradation that fractional scaling causes. By default, the trackpad settings weren't what I was used to, so I decreased it's sensitivity and reversed the scroll direction. Finally, I enabled the touchscreen of the NexDock by correctly mapping any touch events on the display. That's it for my sway config changes! Below are the lines I added.

input $trackpad {
natural_scroll enabled
pointer_accel -0.5
scroll_factor 0.5
bindswitch --reload --locked lid:on output $laptop disable
bindswitch --reload --locked lid:off output $laptop enable
exec_always /home/alarm/.config/sxmo/
output $laptop scale 1.5
input 10176:2073:WingCoolTouch_WingCoolTouch map_to_output $laptop

 I obtained the device names with the command swaymsg -t get_inputs and swaymsg -t get_outputs Plugging in the lapdock on the fly is no problem, and sway handles it gracefully. When auto rotate is enabled in sxmo, the lapdock screen reacts to the orientation of the phone. If the pinephone is mounted on the side of the nexdock, it'll rotate to portrait mode when the screen is folded back and held upright into tablet mode. These little touches make the Nexdock all the more natural to use.

Wrapping Up

 My first experiences with the Nexdock have been fantastic, and will change the way I use my Pinephone. The fact that it's basically an external touch monitor, keyboard, speakers, and I/O packaged into a modern laptop form factor allows it to continue to work with newer phones. The hardware just feels premium , and took minimal configuration to work with sxmo and sway. I look forward to using the Nexdock daily alongside the Pinephone keyboard case.