Many of us hope for the everlasting dream of convergence, that the day might come when a telephone can serve double obligation as a laptop computer by way of a bit of low cost, dumb hardware. Motorola had its mediocre Lapdock, and Canonical tried and did not crowdfund the Ubuntu Edge. Extra just lately, Samsung’s DeX dock has constructed a small fanbase for its desktop-like expertise. However in 2016, the Superbook hit Kickstarter, promising to show smartphones into laptops for less than $99. Over two years later, the Superbook technically delivers on the summary idea, nevertheless it’s an disagreeable and tough expertise.
Put merely, the Superbook feels prefer it’s nonetheless in pre-alpha. The setup course of is in depth and sophisticated, it is buggy, and the hardware has all the worst hallmarks of the netbook period. I can not in good religion advocate that anybody buy the Superbook, particularly in its present state. This product wasn’t prepared for market, and doubtless will not be for a whereas but.
Initially, we have been provided an advance Superbook unit for earlier evaluate, however the consultant from the firm we have been chatting with went silent earlier this yr. As a end result, I am not completely positive if the mannequin which I acquired was a evaluation unit or the upgraded model that I backed in 2016. Both means, our evaluate is for the barely costlier, premium 1080p/backlit keyboard mannequin, which runs $200. I am additionally advised that unique backers are being upgraded to this mannequin as a outcome of the challenge’s delays.
Design, hardware, what’s in the field
I attempted to bop round methods of saying this, however I’ve to be trustworthy. There’s nothing constructive to say about the Superbook’s construct high quality — aside from perhaps the nice texture of the keyboard’s keys or the excessive DPI display (and even it has a bit of backlight bleed).
The Superbook feels extremely flimsy and versatile, creaking (virtually grinding) loudly whenever you decide it up whereas it is open. Think about the very least expensive netbooks from the pre-tablet period, however worse. I’m legitimately involved once I contact the Superbook: You possibly can really feel the plastic base and deck sliding into totally different relative positions in your grip, and the entire system has a tendency to warp itself when you decide it up, throwing off the alignment of the lid whenever you shut it.
The Superbook is definitely closed, right here. This hole is from the alignment of the totally different panels adjusting after being picked up.
The Superbook seems virtually exactly like a ~5-year-old ASUS netbook. Based on my calipers, it is round zero.eight” at its thickest point (excluding the bumps for the feet), and 11.4″ x 7.Four” from above.
All the Superbook’s ports — barrel connector for energy, USB-A, and USB-C — are on the left edge close to the again. The entrance, proper, and again are naked.
The Superbook’s semi-gloss end is susceptible to select up fingerprints, as is the matte floor of the keyboard’s keys. The keyboard deck has a pretend brushed metallic texture that appears and feels fairly low cost, nevertheless it appears to be sturdy, fingerprint resistant, and straightforward to wash.
The touchpad is fairly horrible. Latency is excessive, and it is simply not very correct with a tendency to stutter. Keep in mind the actually mediocre touchpads most Home windows laptops had like 10 years in the past? That is worse than that typically efficiency. It lags out typically, typically mouse acceleration goes a bit haywire, and it will simply randomly click on as I am shifting the cursor round.
The touchpad has devoted areas for left/proper click on at the backside corners, with separate bodily switches beneath for every. The cursor has a tendency to leap round once you push in to click on, so tapping might be a higher concept. It additionally does not have a lot in the means of palm rejection whereas typing.
The keyboard is not fairly so dangerous, nevertheless it’s nonetheless not good. Key journey is respectable — if a bit mushy. The difficulty is that typically the keys simply do not work or cross enter once they’re pressed. Meaning you must slam down fairly arduous to ensure it picks up what you are typing. In exams, I might often get an abysmal error price resulting from lacking characters. Going again to right each omission dropped my typing price to ~60WPM (I can often hit 100-120).
Keys are the proper width (16mm) for snug use, although they don’t seem to be as tall as they need to be on a full-size laptop computer keyboard (~13.5mm vs. 15mm). As a end result, I often overshot the backspace key and hit delete or the energy key. In contrast to a Chromebook, all it takes is a single faucet of the energy key to show the Superbook off, in order that’s fairly obnoxious. Turning it again on is a entire factor: After you hit the energy key, you need to unplug the telephone and plug it again in for the Superbook to acknowledge it — or, at the least, I needed to. Altogether, what’s a minor keyboard drawback turns into a fairly main interruption in workflow in case you make that mistake.
For those who do not pop for extras, the Superbook simply comes with the laptop computer/hardware itself, a cable of your selection, and a beefy barrel charger — that is proper, there isn’t any charging over USB Sort-C. For additional money, you will get extra cords and a mount in your telephone on the aspect of the display. Early backers on Kickstarter additionally obtained a felt sleeve, however you will not be lacking a lot with out it.
The USB Sort-C cable that is included is fairly flaky. I do not know why, however it has a tendency to work its method out of the ports on the Superbook or your telephone fairly simply. Contemplating it’s a must to flash firmware updates over USB-C, meaning you must be very cautious once you’re doing that, or use a higher cable.
Your telephone’s guts in a laptop computer
Configuring the Sentio Superbook to work is a critical enterprise. In Sentio’s personal three-part walkthrough documentation the firm itself calls half of the configuration “tedious,” and that is an understatement.
Together with firmware updates, you want a complete of three apps to make use of the Superbook (4 for those who rely the non-compulsory file explorer), and for those who aren’t utilizing an previous model of Android, you will additionally should muck about in ADB and developer settings. In all, getting every thing arrange on my first-generation Pixel XL on Android 9 Pie took round an hour.
The most important situation I ran into was multi-window/resizable actions. It doesn’t matter what I did, the Superbook’s companion app could not detect that I might made the change to allow multi-window mode in Developer Choices.
Individually from the Developer Choices setting, Oreo customers need to comply with a further set of directions solely, requiring that you simply change settings in your telephone by way of ADB. Telling the common buyer to undergo the course of of enabling USB Debugging, putting in ADB drivers or the ADB chrome extension, after which mucking about in a terminal/CMD window in all probability is not a good concept.
I spoke to Sentio CEO Andrew Jiang about this and different issues, and was informed that Android P has a bug in the way it implements windowing, and the firm is presently working by means of that. Sadly for the informal shopper, Sentio hasn’t up to date its website or guides to make that clear, despite the fact that P has been in developer testing now for half a yr and formally launched for 2 months. Neither the directions for setup hosted at Medium nor the web page detailing multi-window help for Oreo mentions P help or lack thereof.
I additionally tried testing it with the solely Oreo gadget I had entry to at the time (a OnePlus three), and nonetheless could not get windowed apps to work, so YMMV. Others have reported success on Oreo, however the setup course of for the Superbook is so difficult I actually haven’t any method of figuring out or telling if or once I’ve executed issues appropriately brief of it not working. To be trustworthy, rooting and ROMing a telephone is a neater course of than establishing the Superbook.
Fairly chunky textual content with out DPI scaling (above), higher with it cranked (under).
You need to undergo a comparable ADB course of to allow Sentio-specific DPI configurations for apps — and you will have to. Default telephone scaling is means too huge for the laptop computer’s display until you are making an attempt to learn from throughout the room.
Sentio’s numbers for DPI scaling are additionally opposite to what you’d anticipate, leading to unintuitive conduct throughout configuration. On most units, like a PC or Mac, a decrease quantity means smaller scaling. For some cause, a greater quantity corresponds to smaller scaling for the Superbook. In the event you dial issues right down to 100%/1x, you will even have the most blown-up proportions of all.
Annoyingly, a bit of my Pixel XL’s show was all the time reduce off whereas being mirrored to the Superbook, even with the setting for “change screen ratio to match” enabled. Given each shows shared a facet ratio, that is fairly uncommon conduct. Both the show in the Superbook is not the decision/facet ratio it claims, or one thing’s flawed with the way it’s chosen to show the feed from my telephone.
I could not inform you why, however these are the apps it positioned on the residence display by default.
Truly utilizing the Superbook, given the lack of multi-window apps for me, was principally like utilizing a sluggish Android pill with a specialised however buggy launcher and no touchscreen, plus a poor touchpad and keyboard. It was useful, however with the beforehand famous points in hardware, it wasn’t very nice. I used to be capable of hearth up Google Docs and sort a bit or browse round in Chrome, however the horrible touchpad and keyboard stored me from ever wanting to truly proceed utilizing it.
I used to be frankly stunned at how poor the efficiency was. Because it’s simply mirroring my show, I assumed the Superbook would have about the similar snappiness the 2016 Pixel XL has — the Snapdragon 821 is not any slouch, even in 2018. Nonetheless, dropped frames abound. It truthfully felt like I used to be utilizing some low cost MediaTek-powered Android system.
The Taskbar has two pure states: blocking stuff that you must see or manually hidden and onerous to get to. There is no auto-hide, and it could’t modify content material to suit above it.
There have been additionally lots of points and bugs that impaired common usability:
- Typically the cursor was large, typically it was tiny, however not often did it really feel prefer it was truly the right measurement.
- Incessantly once I plugged the telephone in, the Superbook could not acknowledge it with out restarting the telephone.
- Should you set it to dim the telephone’s show whereas plugged in, it should sometimes simply depart the show dimmed after it has been unplugged.
- Apps that used DRM, like Netflix, would not show video content material for me.
- Haptic suggestions continued whereas related to the Superbook.
- The touchpad would typically randomly click on when you have been shifting the cursor.
- The taskbar overlay was all the time in the method, or (if manually hidden) was arduous to entry once you wanted it.
- The taskbar would randomly resize after some apps or actions.
- The battery state in the taskbar is in your telephone, not the Superbook. There isn’t any means that I’ve discovered to verify the Superbook’s battery degree, brief of the low-battery flashing LED.
- The taskbar randomly disappears in some apps.
- Until your telephone’s show is native 1080p or 728p, you are gonna have some subpixel weirdness/aliasing artifacts because it downscales to the goal decision.
- After setting the Sentio Desktop as my default residence display/launcher The Sentio Desktop would typically not shut when disconnected, rotation wouldn’t reset to default settings when disconnected, and DPI wouldn’t reset when disconnected. In reality, my default launcher’s conduct was just about damaged totally, because it was pressured into panorama even when not related to the Superbook, which made the telephone exhausting to make use of.
- After setting the Sentio Desktop as my default residence display, each software program and keyboard house buttons on the Superbook would nonetheless take me to the Pixel Launcher.
- The lack to cover the navigation bar wastes area.
To be trustworthy, the Superbook felt extra like an exhibition corridor demo — the type of factor I might half-heartedly play with at an occasion for a free lunch — than a shopper product. In each regard, from hardware to software program, it lacked polish.
There’s additionally an general inconsistency throughout the software program expertise utilizing the Superbook. The small stuff is essential on the subject of design, and Sentio fails there. For instance, in a single place DPI is known as a proportion. In one other, it is a a number of for scaling (i.e., 250% vs. 2.5x) — once more, inverse to each different firm’s implementation. Padding for textual content and different parts in the Sentio Desktop app is inconsistent. Keyboard shortcuts are unintuitively assigned: the Sentio icon opens the Assistant, and the search key subsequent to it does nothing.
There is not even an choice to invert scrolling, you are caught with the default Apple-style “Australian” up-is-down configuration. The shortage of settings for customizing the Superbook’s software program expertise is laughable.
I am positive that many of the Superbook’s points might be solved with deeper Android platform integration or extra/new purpose-built APIs by Google, so the blame for software program troubles right here does not relaxation solely on Sentio’s shoulders. The supply of these issues does not change the reality that they are there, although.
The “8-hour” claims for battery life look like a bit of an exaggeration for me, however I did not use the gadget from full to empty sufficient occasions to be completely positive of the numbers. I might estimate my very own use introduced nearer to Four-6 hours of battery life, although YMMV. Any quantity of elements, together with display brightness, actions, and energy consumption of the telephone itself might have affected my expertise.
Do you have to purchase it?
Between the mediocre construct high quality, overly-complicated setup course of, poor general efficiency, and basic bugginess of the expertise, I can not advocate the Superbook.
No. I attempt to chorus from making blanket statements of negativity since there’s virtually all the time a area of interest that a product can fill for the proper viewers with a specific requirement, however I simply do not see that taking place right here. I even discovered the humor in an $85 GIF pin, and the Important Telephone has reputable worth for an Android-enthusiast, software-first viewers, however I can not rationalize shopping for the Superbook.
In its present state, it is objectively dangerous and I hope Sentio is ready to enhance the expertise over time, as a result of as issues stand this seems like an alpha or pre-alpha launch.
The Superbook’s sole potential redeeming high quality is its worth: $139 for the base mannequin could be very, very low cost. Even so, being low cost does not make up for its different shortcomings. A used, low-end Chromebook (and even an precise netbook) would doubtless present a higher expertise, and there are lots beneath $140 on eBay and different deal websites. It is potential that getting access to your telephone’s setting is a game-changing expertise on your workflow and productiveness, however the hardware and software program listed here are nonetheless fairly dangerous. I simply do not see anybody having a nice time with it. Moreover, there’s the small problem of truly buying one.
Screenshot taken October fifth, 2018.
Sentio/Superbook appear to have stopped sustaining or updating entire chunks of their website. Actually, the web page to order one nonetheless mentions April 2018 supply and bought out batches. That lack of consideration to updating website content material is regarding.
You possibly can truly purchase one, however some SKUs are bought out, and Sentio’s website is not so nicely designed as to inform you that till you attempt to take a look at. As a result of I did not really feel like clicking by way of all 48 attainable mixtures, I can not inform you what the logic behind present availability is, however at the least a few 1080p and 728p variations might be bought at the time of writing.
Between the mediocre construct high quality, overly-complicated setup course of, poor general efficiency, and basic bugginess of the expertise, I can not advocate the Superbook. It is low cost sufficient that choosing one up for an experiment or as a novelty could possibly be potential when you make sufficient money, however truly making an attempt to use the Superbook is a very disagreeable expertise.
We debated reviewing this product in any respect in its present state, however finally determined it was value commenting on, given the potential influence the Superbook might have had — in addition to my timeless love of tiny computer systems. In the course of of scripting this evaluate, we reached out to Sentio CEO Andrew Jiang, who offered this remark in response to the points we raised:
We undoubtedly struggled to get V1 out the door, with delays brought on by every little thing from our first producer growing their costs halfway to stock theft by our distributor to even the US-China tariffs. With out subjecting our backers to extra delays, we shipped what we had as V1.
No excuses. We aren’t glad by V1, our backers are undoubtedly not glad by V1 and need to see the product enhance. We’re delivering firmware fixes to enhance reliability of battery, the connection, in addition to working via Android P which has a new implementation of freeform windowing. We’ll proceed to ship software program and firmware fixes to get Superbook V1 into higher form and hope we get the alternative to make it proper to the individuals who have supported our tiny dream again in 2016.
events can buy the Superbook instantly from Sentio.