It’s practically become a CES tradition at this point for Razer to show up with some sort of cool new prototype piece of hardware. And this year at CES 2018, the company is showing off Project Linda, a companion piece of hardware for the recently released Razer Phone that extends the smartphone into a full laptop.
And while we’ve seen this trick before — going back as far as products like the Motorola Atrix and its companion Lapdock, or more recently with Samsung’s DeX dock — Razer has an interesting spin on the lapdock with Project Linda. Instead of just using the phone as the brains of the hybrid laptop, it also repurposes it as the trackpad.
From a hardware perspective, Project Linda is more or less a modified Razer Blade Stealth (albeit one that is 0.05-inches thicker, so the Razer Phone lies flush). There are a couple other changes to accommodate the peculiarities of how the Razer Phone works. There’s no power button, since the side-mounted power button / fingerprint sensor on the Razer Phone serves in that role instead. Similarly, there are no speakers on the Project Linda hardware, since Razer is using the Razer Phone’s stereo speakers. And a few keyboard buttons have been swapped out for Android home, back, and multitasking buttons, along with dedicated app launcher and Google Assistant buttons.
Hooking up the Razer Phone to Project Linda is simple: place the phone into the slot, and press a hardware button that causes a USB-C port to extend directly into the Razer Phone, simultaneously locking it in place. The entire hardware is powered off the phone; all the Project Linda base contributes is some extra storage space (around 200GB on the current prototype) and extra batteries, so the Razer Phone charges the entire time it’s docked.
From a performance perspective, most of the apps run like they would on an Android tablet. Some apps — like Chrome — take to a mouse and keyboard better than others, given that Razer hasn’t actually had a chance to get developers to optimize apps for Project Linda since it’s still a prototype. Additionally, the display is only able to mirror the phone in its current state, instead of displaying two different screens (although the company is hoping to get to that point).
Razer hopes that Project Linda will make it possible to extend the capabilities of the Razer Phone, both for productivity and gaming. I was able to try a demo of an image editor, along with Vainglory, a MOBA-style game designed for mobile devices, and they did work as promised in a way that felt more substantial than their phone-based versions, although the lack of a physically clicking touchpad did take some getting used to.
It’s all very interesting and neat, but it’s also hard to get too excited when looking back at Razer’s past CES showings. While it’s fun to see cool projects like the wild three-screen Project Valerie prototype from last year or the completely modular Project Christine prototype from 2012, neither turned into real hardware. They just ended up as PR moments to help the company shine during the chaos of CES.
Razer says that it likes to view these announcements as a way to get consumer feedback — some do eventually make it to market, like the company’s Project Fiona tablet — and that even when they don’t end up shipping in their original forms, the R&D that goes into them can inform other products that do reach consumers. For example, the company says that technology from Project Christine informed the Razer Core external GPU hub, which is all well and good, but it’s not nearly as ambitious as the original prototype.
With all that in mind, it’s hard to say whether or not Project Linda will ever make it to market, and if it does, whether its final incarnation will look anything like what we’re seeing today. But even if it doesn’t, it’s still an interesting vision of how device manufacturers might be able to extend the power of smartphones even further. And who knows? Maybe Razer will be the one to finally get the laptop dock concept to work.
Photography by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge