Smartphones have long been taking over the key duties of laptop and desktop computers, like checking email, browsing the web, and posting to social media. As such, some tech firms believe that when paired with a full-size screen and a keyboard, our phones could be powerful enough to function as our primary computer.
Razer, a tech company best known for gaming laptops and accessories, is the latest to show off a concept in this realm.
Called Project Linda, Razer’s design consists of a 13.3-inch laptop shell that offers a keyboard, an internal battery, a headphone jack (among other ports), and 200GB of storage. But it’s missing one important element: a touchpad. That’s because Razer imagines that, with Project Linda, your Android phone will serve as a hybrid smart touchpad and secondary display. Razer announced Project Linda as part of CES 2018, formerly called the Consumer Electronics Show.
Project Linda users would simply slide their phone into a slot in the laptop’s chassis where the touchpad would normally reside, turning the notebook frame into an Android-powered computer. Since the laptop contains its own battery, it charges the phone while in use. Pressing a button on Project Linda’s keyboard prompts a USB-C connector to pop out of the touchpad-shaped cutout in the laptop’s base, which connects the phone to the system. Razer’s current prototype is designed to fit the company’s own smartphone, but since it connects via USB-C, Project Linda could eventually work with any phone that uses such a port, theoretically speaking.
Razer envisions the phone playing a role similar to that of the Touch Bar on Apple’s MacBook Pro, meaning the phone’s screen could be used to display supplementary information based on the app or service being used at a given time. When editing a photo or video, for example, the phone could display editing tools or your photo gallery while the laptop’s screen shows the project you’re currently working on. Or when playing a game, it could show the scoreboard in the smartphone’s smaller screen instead of on the main display so that it doesn’t distract from the gameplay.
The viability of Razer’s concept relies on how well Android apps work on a laptop-sized screen. By the time Razer’s Project comes to fruition (if it ever does), that may not be a problem, given the fact that most Android apps are optimized to run on Chromebooks and tablets with similarly-sized screens. Developers will also have to optimize their apps to support an interface that works on two separate screens. Razer is still figuring out how to make this concept work with a touchscreen laptop; it’s facing difficulties running Android simultaneously on two touchscreens.
Users will also have to be comfortable with having a smartphone screen as a laptop’s touchpad. That could be a problem, given how particular people can be about their touchpads. When I tried Project Linda, the screen generally worked fine for scrolling and panning around, but trying to click felt a bit strange, since the phone’s glass screen doesn’t offer any tactile feedback. Even some of the familiar gestures, like pinching in and out on the screen to zoom, didn’t always work reliably in my demo. (To be fair, Project Linda is still in development and isn’t yet ready for public use). The laptop also includes a USB-A port for those who wish to connect a mouse instead of using the phone as a touchpad.
Razer isn’t the first to come up with the concept of powering a laptop with a phone. Microsoft’s Continuum feature and Samsung’s DeX dock, respectively, allow Windows and Samsung-made mobile devices to function as the brains of a PC when connected to a monitor and keyboard. Razer, however, is touting Project Linda as a better solution for mobile users. There’s no word yet on when, if ever, Linda might come to light, or how much it might cost. But it’s at least something a little different in the laptop market’s sea of sameness.