The ThinkPad Stack. It’s a new product set from Lenovo which takes a little explaining to realise what it is, but also has plenty of potential use cases.
What Is A ThinkPad Stack?
Follow me on this explanation: It’s a series of devices that can be stacked together, for use by one or more computers. Each device can run standalone, or somewhat in tandem with each other.
Currently, there are 4 possible components to the ThinkPad Stack – each can be purchased separately, or you can buy the whole kit (currently for $389.97US).
ThinkPad Stack Box
The stack of devices can be placed in any order – they all have pins to connect device above and below. Connectivity through the pins (named ‘pogo’ pins) is primarily for power, but will also pass through data. On top of that, each device has magnets on top and below, so they won’t fall off and become quite stable when stacked – but also gives the option of quickly taking one device off if required.
What Are The Components That Make Up A ThinkPad Stack?
Battery Pack – a 10,000mAH battery pack is the main way of providing power to everything in the stack. It takes in power via Micro USB, and has two USB A (rectangle) ports so you can charge phones, tablets or anything else that can run off USB. It will also power the other devices in the stack.
Bluetooth Speaker – Running Bluetooth 4.0 and 2 x 2 watt speakers, along with a microphone, this speaker can be used wirelessly or wired via a standard 3.5mm audio jack. It has it’s own battery which will provide up to 8 hours of use. Paired with the dedicated Battery Back, it provides up to 48 hours of use. At a guess I’d say the Bluetooth Speaker has a 2500 mAh battery, but couldn’t find any technical details to confirm. This can also be charged seperately through Micro USB if not connected to the battery pack in stack mode.
Hard Drive – a 1 terrabyte hard disk drive (platter, not SSD) is encased within this component. This isn’t upgradable – there are no visible screws or ways to open any of the modules. It is accessable through either the USB 3 port (cable included), or via the router if you’re connected to that.
Router – A standard router that can be used in a few scenarios (bridged, gateway or Wireless ISP): Connect an ethernet cable into the back, and have a wireless access point for internet/network access or connect a 3G/4G dongle via the USB port to share internet to connected devices. The router supports both 2.4G and 5G WiFi running 802.11 a/b/g/n/a.
Managing and Configuring The ThinkPad Stack
Out of the box, most of the components just work. You can download the ThinkPad Stack Assistant software for Windows, iOS or Android. If you enable advanced mode on the router, it’s managable from the url http://lenovo-stack – otherwise check out the admin user guide. It has a bunch of details about the software, and FAQs which will help you get the devices working the way you want.
The ThinkPad Stack isn’t a dock replacement, nor is it a standalone PC – those are common misconceptions (which I had too!) on what the product actually is.
Here are several scenarios I can come up with, where the ThinkPad Stack would be useful:
- Sharing a single ethernet cable to provide network/internet access amongst one or more staff (even one who may not have an ethernet port on their laptop, and forgot the dongle).
- Centralised storage on small scale – two or three laptops can use the same 1TB storage.
- Presenting audio/video, and putting the Bluetooth speaker in the middle of the table so everyone can hear
- Making a call via Skype, and using the Bluetooth speaker (with built in mic) as a portable handsfree kit
- Emergency charging for phones/tablets
I believe this product is aimed at the mobile worker – if you’re in the same office all day, this probably isn’t for you (you could definitely still make use of it though).
A few extra comments and info around this unit – it comes with a nice fabric pouch to carry the stack, along with cables for the hard drive, power, speaker and a power adapter. It’s surprisingly small for what it is, but I hope they release more modules – I’d recommend a small computer as one, and a monitor extender – plug in USB 3, and you can output to two separate screens. More USB ports is always handy too. I’d like to see it as a full dock replacement, or a full standalone PC.
It’s worth mentioning that there is support for 5 units max currently, which means you can add a second power brick if you really want a lot of battery life.
Overall it’s an interesting looking piece of kit, which will suit certain people in certain situations. I feel it’s well designed and built, and using the pogo pins with magnets to make stacking incredibly easy is a nice addition.
You don’t need to use a Lenovo laptop to connect to these devices either, they’re rather generic.
Got any questions about it? Feel free to post in the comments below.
Lenovo supplied the Thinkpad Stack for this review.