I am composing this post on my phone, but not exactly. The phone is certainly the electronic “brain” of the system, such as it is. However, I am not using the phone’s screen or on-screen keyboard. Instead, a gadget that the makers Sentio have dubbed the Superbook is supplying a larger display and a physical keyboard. There is also a trackpad which can deal with four points of contact when I checked that. However, due to my preferences, I have a trackball plugged into the spare USB port on the device. I still, at times, wind up using the phone screen as trackpad since that’s the interface Android expects and Sentio desktop is not quite as polished as it perhaps ought to be.
It’s not bad, as such, but it’s more of “this is a hint of how things will become” rather than “the future is now” sort of thing. A couple years ago when the Superbook was designed, the 1080 screen was higher-end (the gadget is about the size of a ‘larger’ netbook or tablet) but in a world where phone resolution has rocketed, even the smallest phone text size setting seems a bit large.
The selling points, not all truly delivered, of the thing are:
- A larger screen than the phone screen.
- A real, if not full size, keyboard instead of a screen keyboard.
- A battery that can run things AND charge your phone while doing so.
- The phone is the “brain” so a new phone is a new ‘laptop’ sort of thing.
- Because it’s your phone, it’s always in synch with your phone’s stuff.
Some applications do well with the newer Android windowing setup, others (such the text editor I am using) are “not optimized” for that and a warning is generated, with an “open full screen” option. If things are not well behaved, a sudden close can leave me with a screen showing not the Sentio desktop, but the usual phone display – and sometimes it’s not an easy trip back.
The various software issues, however, are things that can be dealt with and are not as bad as the early days of home computing. For those who weren’t there, crashing was nearly a way of life at times. It’s not that bad, but there are some reminders of the bad old days which indicate this is still the early days of “drop the phone into a terminal-like thing.” The thing that really grates is that the charge system is messed up. I don’t know if this an issue with my Honor 8, the Superbook, or the particular combination. The Superbook is supposed to be charging my phone, supplying up to 8 hours of computing life between the Superbook’s and phone’s batteries. Instead, even at full charge, my phone shows it is in “reverse charge” mode. That is, the charge is flowing FROM the phone, TO the Superbook. This is not supposed to happen and defeats one of the selling points of using it.
I can see that this is where much of computing is likely headed, as ESR has said for some time. If it weren’t for a handful of “heavy computing” things (higher end gaming, virtual world [Second Life, etc.] equivalents to higher end gaming, compiling, and real number-crunching) the traditional desktop and laptop could be replaced by the phone now, if the interface was simple enough. “Drop in phone, surf web, email, do word processing, etc.” is not beyond smartphone abilities. It’s just the interface is lousy. A small display and virtual keyboard is great… for a phone.
As it is, this device is a neat experiment, but it seems to be just that. I might see about installing the Sentio desktop and apps on another phone and see if the charging issue is an Honor 8 thing (a web search indicates this is a common Honor 8 bug, that seems to be relegated to WON’TFIX… guess what my next phone will NOT be? Huawei might or might not be a USA/China security issue, but they’re screwing with my battery: NO SALE) or a Superbook thing. But, in the time waiting the Superbook to ship from its beginnings as an idea on Kickstarter, the computing world has changed. This thing now sells for $139 plus any options (Need any extra cables?, Side-mount for your phone?) but even backers still wonder when theirs will arrive. I sure was wondering – and was annoyed that I had NO notice of shipping and when to expect a parcel. It just showed up.
In the time since the Kickstarter, tablets have improved. You can get a nice Kindle cheap (and you can install Google’s Play Store on it and not have to deal with Amazon’s idiotically lobotomized app store stuff). A month or so ago I acquired an off-brand tablet that might not be the fastest thing, but it was well under $100, runs Android itself, has about the same size screen and (bluetooth) keyboard, and doesn’t drain my phone’s battery. Right now, I’d advise anyone considering this to just get the tablet – it has the advantages… right now.
Oh yeah, there’s that standards thing again, too. This gadget will work with Android devices (recent ones, anyway) and some non-Android devices. But not with iPhones, due to how Apple has things set up. It’s NOT Woz’s company anymore, damnit.
That might change in a few years. Phone CPU (and graphics) are getting ever better, Android or whatever OS comes next is apt to handle real windowing better. I’m having the Early Adopter experience – which is generally not recommended. Sure, I can brag I did it a bit earlier than some, but that’s not really worth much. If you want to move away from big desktop or tower systems as your computing needs aren’t huge, look at the ‘computing bricks’ like the NUC or Mac mini – and you get to keep using a full sized monitor and keyboard.
[And I wound up copying from the text editor, posting via the WordPress app, saving as draft, and doing the last bit from the desktop… which let me deal with spell check and settings that much more easily. That might say more about the WP Android app than anything else, however.]