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Thinkpad Stack review: Lenovo's unique stackable peripherals are made for travel

Jon L. Jacobi | Feb. 1, 2016
The Stack is a great idea marred by a meh implementation.

I was also not particularly fond of the 10/100 Ethernet port's position on the back side of router, when there's room 90 degrees away on the end—where every other port on all four modules is located. If you’re making design a reason to buy, little things like cable clutter matter.

thinkpad stack sh04 
Why Lenovo decided to put the Ethernet port on one side when all the other ports are 90 degrees away is anyone's guess. Credit: Lenovo

All those were mere annoyances, but there was one particularly vexing operational issue with the Stack—unless you completely isolate the battery, it drains very quickly. I'm not sure what kind of maintenance is required by the other modules, or if this is a bug, but I soon learned to keep the battery separate from the stack when it wasn't in use, in which case there was no significant drain over the span of a week. A bit of a pain that.

Speaking of power, all four of the units may be powered and/or recharged individually via USB. The hard drive has a Standard-A USB 3.0 connector, while the other modules use micro-USB types.

Putting it to use

The big disappointment of the Stack is the Bluetooth speaker. There’s nothing wrong with it operationally, it just doesn’t sound good. Muddy with a dirty midrange sums it up. For phone calls, it’ll do—barely. For music? Forget it.

Note: The upper portion of the speaker enclosure acts like a coupled planar transducer that needs to be exposed at the top of the stack (forget the photos showing it in the middle). Otherwise it sounds even worse.

The speaker has its own battery so it can be used on its own. There’s also a headset jack, which you’ll probably want to employ given the lack of sonority. Lenovo claims eight hours of runtime for the unit, which is 2x2 watts (power of the amplifier). I’ll take its word for it. There’s no way I could listen to it for that long.

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The side of the Stack with all of the ports, except for some reason, the Ethernet port, which is located on the side. Credit: Lenovo

The performance of the Stack hard drive was a welcome return to quality. It managed about 125MBps reading and writing over USB 3.0, which is about what you’ll get from a good external drive from Seagate or WD.

You can use the drive as direct attached storage, but it’s also available as a network resource (and mapped automatically as a Windows drive) when you’re connected to the Stack router via Wi-Fi. The router runs on Linux, and you have to drill down a couple of layers to get to your files (DISKS/SDA1/…) but it’s actually formatted in NTFS.

 

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