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Casetop "laptop" uses your smartphone as its brains


May 7, 2013

The Casetop from Livi Design

The Casetop from Livi Design

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Packing powerful processors supported by a healthy amount of system memory and storage, modern smartphones are just like mini computers that can be carried around in your pocket. As a mobile office, however, such devices do have some practical limitations. Even with the relatively large display offered by Samsung's new Galaxy S4, for example, having to use a finger to input text can be a real productivity killer. What's needed is a comfortable physical keyboard and more spacious display real estate. That's precisely what's on offer with the Casetop from Livi Design, a netbook-like LCD panel, keyboard and battery pack combination that uses a smartphone for its computing power.

Livi Design was founded in 2010 by John Andrus, and the Casetop is its first product. Currently at the pre-production development stage, it's compatible with any smartphone that sports Bluetooth and a video out option, including the iPhone, Blackberry 10 and many Android smartphones (at the moment, there's no support for Windows phones due to the lack of video out).

There's an 11.1-inch glass-covered LED LCD display that supports 720p video playback (though Full HD and IPS are on the wish list), below which is a full-size (78 key) island-style keyboard similar to an Apple Bluetooth keyboard that's set in one piece of injection-molded polycarbonate. The smartphone, which connects to the keyboard via Bluetooth, is held in place out front by a sliding support called the frontbar.

Usefully, if someone wants to use your Casetop, all they need do is slide in their smartphone and away they go – no risk of deleting your files or downloading questionable content. The frontbars in the current design are passive (they simply hold the smartphone in place) but Livi has plans to extend frontbar functionality in the future with active versions. There's one with a built-in touchpad, another that includes more battery cells, and another still that will cater for wireless video and audio.

Casetop benefits from a built-in 56 Wh battery that not only provides power to the device itself, but will also top up your phone's battery – so, when you've finished being productive, you can look forward to walking away with a juiced up smartphone. Because there's no power-hungry processor, GPU, spinning disks, or fans, the multi-cell custom prismatic battery is said to be good for over 30 hours per charge.

Also inside the housing is a dual-LVDS controller board manufactured in Shenzhen, China (a smaller version of those you might find in a desktop monitor), but the Casetop only utilizes the interface ports. By supporting HDMI, MHL and micro-USB port standards, Livi sees this product supporting new smartphones for at least the next 10 years. Moving forward, the developers are looking at including a much smaller board that should extend battery life, while also freeing up some room inside.

A built-in amplifier throws out audio via 1-watt stereo speakers, and there's one full-size USB charging port to take advantage of the onboard battery pack to top up other devices.

Livi has committed to supplying the unit with micro-HDMI, MHL and short HDMI (for iPhone) cables, and is hoping to make Casetop's plastic components from environmentally-friendly plastics in the future. After-sales service includes repair of a broken unit for the cost of a damaged part plus US$10 for installation, or you can order the replacement part direct from the company and install it yourself. The open source files needed to 3D-print a replacement frontbar at home have also been released on Thingiverse.

Livi Design has launched on Kickstarter to take the latest 3D-printed working prototype into production and beyond. All early bird levels have been snapped up, so backers will now have to pledge at least $250 for a white Casetop and two passive frontbars. If you want a special iPhone edition, you'll need to add another $50. Other pledge levels are available for rewards including a black version, and one that's been custom engraved.

Should the campaign pass its funding target to the tune of $3 million, Livi plans to include a touchscreen display option. Andrus told us that if the Kickstarter campaign fails to reach its funding goal, Livi will look for partners to help bring Casetop to market. The campaign closes on June 2, and is almost 20 percent funded at the time of writing.

Have a look at the pitch video below.

Sources: Livi Design, Kickstarter

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

I'm waiting for eyeglass display and a keyboard that folds up into a case the size of a deck of cards.


What a great idea

Jacob Groenveld

This concept is already in use by ASUS in their Padfone models.


Motorola's Lapdock has been around for a couple of years. And imo the phone looks better plugged into the back.


This is the second website this week that I've seen an article on this.

As to AB's post, the padfone is a tablet-only dock-no keyboard. MBadgero - Moto's lapdock is pretty good, I've got one - but it was hideously expensive until they closed them out and only works with specific models. The Bionic in my case. The unit in the article is designed to be almost universal.

Aesthetically it has the problem of the open-top phone bay. Although it's my opinion that is unattractive and creates an unfinished look-functionally it is also a problem because that area is usually where you rest your palm/wrist on traditional laptop keyboards. I have a couple suggestions: 1.) Make an inexpensive panel that fits across the top of the phone bay with an opening that exposes the phone screen. Users could then rest their palms on either side of the phone. 2.) Get rid of the bay idea altogether and allow the connection cables to exit the front right - or left corners with just enough cable that the user could then just position their phone on either side (Righties or Lefties) like a touch-pad style 'mouse'. This should save some money as right now that slide-out front adds complexity as well as potential for breakage. This way makes it easier as well for users who have phones with buttons that might otherwise require lifting the phone out the bay to actuate.

The reason I mention this is that my LapDock works great with my Bionic but i wish I could just set the phone down next to it in order get to the Bionic's buttons without reaching behind the screen when the LapDock is in use, or to use another phone if I can work out the cabling mod.

Sorry this got so long-winded...


Hey Everyone, this is John from Livi Design.

AB & MBadgero & Bleeding Edge - We have all that you're talking about! Check out the Kickstarter page, we have a Frontbar where your phone is on the side and a lot of options! (new questions at the top, and update #13 for the Frontbars) Also, the Motorola one was terrible because and only because it only worked with 2 Motorola phones. I'm not buying something that locks me in to buying their phones forever or eating the cost when I throw it out!

So, I just wanted to say that. Thanks :)


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