I hate carrying too many things in my backpack. It's already hard enough lugging a computer around, and my bag is like a black hole — things go in and they don’t come out. So will the Lenovo ThinkPad Stack, a compact tower combining four electronic accessories, change my mind? Let's find out.
I'd say most people these days own one or more of the following: an external hard drive, a Bluetooth speaker, a power bank or a portable wireless router. With the ThinkPad Stack, Lenovo has gone: "Fuck it. Let's put everything into one sweet little package". And so they did.
The ThinkPad Stack features all four of those products, each of them in a small rectangular form factor that interlock with each other magnetically.
Before I get into the review…
First, The Specs
|Lenovo ThinkPad Stack|
|Dimensions||76.8mm x 74mm x 136mm|
Design & Handling
There is no question that the Lenovo ThinkPad Stack is a well-designed product. Each individual part has the matte dark grey finish that ThinkPad fans would be familiar with. Lenovo has used the Pogo pin interface for all the components of the stack to provide power and so that they can communicate with each other.
One think I love about the design of the ThinkPad Stack is that it's discrete. Just look at the damn thing. It's sleek and wouldn't be out of place in any office or meeting room. It's understated and sensible.
The whole thing weighs just under a kilogram but considering you can tailor which components you take with you at any given time, it's not much of an issue unless you really do need to take the entire Stack with you.
Features & Performance
None of the four devices on the Lenovo Stack are particularly amazing on their own. The appeal of the ThinkPad Stack is the ability to mix and match each component to suit your needs.
The power bank is the heart of the ThinkPad Stack. Not only does provide you with the means of charging up to two USB-connected devices on the go, it also provides a surplus of power to the rest of the components. It's charged through a micro-USB port.
For the ultimate test of the ThinkPad Stack's capabilities, I took it camping. I left the hotspot and the hard drive at home, however, since I wasn't bringing a computer and there definitely wouldn't be any internet connection out in the bush.
The power bank became the central power hub for the camping group as we were all desperate to keep our devices juiced up. It worked and none of us had our phones die on us over the three days we were out. There was still power left even at the end of the trip, leaving me damn impressed at the power bank's endurance.
The speakers, on the other hand, were a bit of a letdown. The sound quality for music is subpar, though, to be fair, we were trying to pump music out in the wilderness. You can definitely hear the distortions in some songs, however. When used indoors for phone calls, the sound quality is fine, though nothing remarkable.
One of the features on the speaker worth mentioning is that it supports the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile standard, which means it can display the device's battery levels on your phone. The battery level appears next to the Bluetooth-connected icon at the top of your phone screen. It may seem insignificant to some people, but I appreciate this small detail.
The Stack's hard drive is a 1TB Seagate flash drive inside with a USB 3.0 mini-B connector. Read and write speed is fast enough and, when used with the router, it can be turned into a network drive for supporting multiple users.
The wireless router will be particularly useful for travellers and can connect to the internet via Ethernet or an existing wireless network. It carries a number of advanced features including manual tuning of WiFi settings for 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, firewall configuration and port forwarding. This is all done through the ThinkPad Stack Assistant software. I can see this becoming a useful tool for business travellers who value decent internet connectivity across a handful of devices. Based on first-hand experience, some hotels make you pay for internet on a per device basis, and the Stack wireless router would be extremely useful in those situations.
I am a fan of the ThinkPad Stack. I love the design and, at least for my line of work, it's a useful offering that is well-built to boot. Admittedly, each of the components on their own (maybe with the exception of the wireless router) isn't all that impressive. There are plenty of vendors out there that can make better versions of the individual parts on offer but the value of the Stack comes from its portability, simplicity and uniformity.
Having said that, it currently retails for $550 on the Lenovo website, which is a bit steep and may turn a lot of consumers off. Professional workers who are constantly on the go may find value in the ThinkPad Stack and would be willing to invest in it. For the average office worker, it'd be a nice device to have but it's not an essential tool.
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