Is it time for an Android netbook/smartphone modular system?


air_automobiles_184349The article noting how the ever more powerful smartphone and the netbook/ notebook are sharing a lot of DNA these days leads me to question if it’s time to think about a modular netbook.  We’re hearing a lot of talk about Android-powered netbooks coming down the pike and the thought of a modular phone/netbook combo gets my juices going.

The concept of a smartphone-powered little notebook is not new, Palm (s palm) almost jumped into the Foleo a while back, and we’ve noted the Celio Redfly is pretty useful.  Where I think both of those devices missed the mark was in keeping the netbook part of the equation totally separate from the smartphone.  You had to have the smartphone (which was not included) to get any benefit from the netbook side, and that ended up being very expensive.

Android phones are poised for takeoff. The T-Mobile G1 has been a decent seller from all indications and other OEMs are supposedly hard at work on other phones.  This is taking place at a time when ARM-powered netbooks running the Android OS are also being discussed as it is deemed a good platform for such devices.

Since Android is a good platform for smartphones and we believe could be equally good on netbooks, why not create a modular netbook that uses the smartphone for processing power?  Many smartphones are ARM-powered and big advances in this mobile platform could make this a feasible concept.  The netbook could have an integrated dock in the unit where you pop the phone in and have an “instant netbook.”

The Android OS could be expanded to handle the phone when it’s just a phone and yet offer a netbook experience when it’s docked in the bigger device.  What would have to happen to make this work is the modular system should be sold together, phone and netbook, and the pricing be in the netbook range.  It might be a bit more expensive than these cheap netbooks but not too much more.

The beauty of this modular concept is it in effect gives you an upgradable netbook.  As the phone part of the equation evolves, you can pick a more advanced one up for a decent price, which immediately also upgrades the netbook.  Faster processors could be added on the fly.  This extends the life of the netbook in the easiest way possible and also keeps you using the latest and greatest phone.  Win-win.

I’m no hardware engineer so I can’t say if the netbook side should have its own memory and storage but probably so.  The phone could then have a large enough memory store that lets the user carry all their documents and files with them in the phone yet have them instantly on the netbook when the phone is popped in the dock.

I am interested to hear your thoughts about this concept.  Would you be interested in such an Android-based modular netbook?  What do you think the pricing would have to look like to capture your attention?  If you are savvy about the hardware side of this type of thing what would be the issues in your opinion?



I feel like I’ve had a modified version of this for 10 years, between various Pocket PC (and before that Palm) devices and my Stowaway keyboards. With the small screen size and less-than-full software versions, it’s not optimal by any means, but it gets the job done for about 90% of my work.

I’d welcome a modular device, though, if I could have full Office programs on my phone and/or an Internet tablet.


I like this idea a lot (which is why I posted the concept online a month ago on a Motorola/Android post)
I was thinking of a Kindle size (but with horizontal form factor) with a top clip-in phone.
These would auto sync and utilize both screens. Phone features would work with tablet and data services to allow video/webcam/meeting/ capabilities.
So many possibilities.
I thought it would also sync with your desktop too.
The Russian nick name for nesting dolls is Matryona… at the time I thought Motorola Matryona had a nice marketing ring.

Carlos Guillaume

I only need an Android NetBook. Actually, a Netbook with 15′ screen and Android would be perfect. When i am out of office my smart phone will serve just fine. No need for docking or sync. The cloud will take care of that.


I’d like this kind of thing. I think I’d personally favor a ‘dumb’ docking solution (for the lower cost), though one that ‘powers up’ the phone would be nice. Or, the netbook shell could literally power up the phone by charging it from a larger battery.

Personally, I’d ideally rather not dock a phone into a netbook, because that means you have to carry around the shell. I’d rather just use the phone itself as the single mobile device.

Then, i’d like to dock the phone at home and have the advantage of some giant screen, keyboard, speakers, storage, etc.

I’d also like the interface to be something simple, like USB. Just imagine the horror if each phone required a unique dock/plug shape/ etc. The damn phone charger hell is already bad enough to drive anyone crazy.


I don’t see the benefit of a modular phone/netbook combo. I want Android on my Netbook to access Android apps and the Internet. Because of the simplicity of the Android development environment, enterprises might even write Android apps that take advantage of the Netbook “bigger” screen.

The modular phone/netbook combo can be achieved by turning my Android phone into a WiFi hotspot (ala Joiku Spot). With this approach, I can continue to receive and make phone calls from my Android phone. I surf and run other apps (with native or via browser) on my netbook. The market is ready for an Android-based netbook today. The challenge is packaging the netbook with a suite of apps that brings in the user experience, which I can elaborate if contacted.


A interesting (but most likely unrealistic) feature would be the inclusion of a hybrid active/e-ink screen and a slave processor/flash memory integrated into the shell. this would allow the user to keep viewing a active document, even when the phone is undocked.


I agree with Sumocat, I see it more as a shell, but do really like the idea. I could see having a Tegra-based smartphone and “plugging it in” to a netbook-sized shell for better typing/reading/viewing, where the shell would just be combining external keyboard, screen and USB dock, not adding any RAM, storage or processing power.


Just to be clear, I’m not saying the shell would necessarily be “dumb.” In fact, it’s possible a shell might need its own GPU to make proper use of the larger screen. But otherwise, yes, I think the focus should be the form factor, not the power level.


Past time. Been expecting this since the head of Symbian argued that smartphones could replace laptops, and again when Apple debuted the iPhone, which can use a system like those of portable video players designed for iPod docking. If Apple takes the locks off video output and keyboard input, someone will make a notebook-style shell for the iPhone.

iirc, celio is working on both symbian and android support…

there are 3 entries here:

about android.

and this brings up potential support for other phone os’s:

thing is, i cant see what a dock will do that a usb cable or bluetooth connection cant do.

as for turning the phone into a touchpad, nah. maybe a fun hack with the iphone, but not as a generic setup.

the only way you will get that is by having the netbook shell and the phone made by the same company. and thats a place i dont want to go, thank you very much…

James Kendrick

What I am envisioning is similar in concept to the Redfly but expanded with Android. The phone dock in the netbook would be totally self-contained, perhaps the phone while nestled in the netbook could become the touchpad for the netbook.

The netbook would require the phone to be used, it would supply the processor and root storage. There is no sync as the phone has everything. The advantage is that a dual-mode Android environment could be employed, adding capabilities to take advantage of the netbook when docked.

The primary advantage as I stated is how you can in effect upgrade the capability of the netbook when the phone is replaced with the latest and greatest.

so a redfly with a dock?

i guess the problem with that is the want of the brands to have their own designs, so as to stand out from the crowd (current efforts to duplicate the iphone excluded).

also, it seems this whole article is a paradox, unless your trying to say that netbooks and smartphones should be sold as a package.

if not then it makes no sense how your saying the redfly missed the mark but then basically describe the same setup later on.

as for having each device work on its own, one have duplication of abilities, and one is right back at status quo with its sync and other issues of keeping duplicate sets of data.

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