Let’s face it — Apple created a cottage industry for USB hubs when it first introduced the interface beginning with the 1998 rollout of the iMac. Plug in a keyboard and you might get a couple of extra ports on top of the two already on your Mac, but once a scanner, PDA, USB-based speakers and other items have been added to the mix, it’s really easy to run out of ports. Even on my laptop, when I go to a trade show I need at least three ports — one for my external mouse, one for my PDA and one for my digital camera. With only two ports built into my PowerBook, it’s not out of the question to hot-swap two devices when I need to, but why should I? That’s what they make hubs for and lately USB hubs have been getting smaller and smaller.
Bearing that in mind, Keyspan’s pint-sized USB Mini 4-Port Hub was really easy to add to my collection of portable Mac paraphernalia. The hub itself is about the same width and length as a credit card, albeit a bit higher — about 1 centimeter tall and very light.
It sports four USB 1.1-standard 12Mbps ports and an integrated USB cable on a short cord only about three inches long. The USB ports are paired on either side, and the underside has them marked by number in case you get confused.
Capable of running either off bus power or A/C, the unit includes a wall adapter that’s in some ways bulkier than the hub itself, but still slimmed down and easy to carry. Keyspan said that the hub uses about 19mA of power when it’s active, and about 550uA of power when it’s in suspend mode. Keyspan claims that the USB Mini 4-Port Hub’s energy consumption is up to 95 percent less than other manufacturers’ hubs. I wouldn’t doubt it — with the hub, my Mac’s battery performance wasn’t significantly diminished.
The lower one-third of the Mini 4-Port Hub flips open like a clamshell, serving as a home for the integrated USB cable when it’s not in use. The clamshell even has a small cut out for the USB cord, enabling you to close it when the USB cable is extended. Because the USB cable is so short, this hub is really ideal for laptops — and it’s really not that ideal for desktop systems, although it certainly works.
The hub features a scalloped top design with some cross-hatching embellishments, and a small green LED that tells you when the hub is connected to your Mac. Although the casing itself is plastic, Keyspan makes them in silver or black. The silver is quite complementary to Apple’s latest line of systems. The stock photo we got from Keyspan, shown here, displays the unit in a two-tone chassis — an early offering that was later replaced with a continuous silver-tone case like the test unit I reviewed.
In my tests, the Keyspan USB Mini 4-Port Hub worked as advertised. It was portable, convenient, produced very little heat and worked like a champ with the various devices I threw at it. While the price is a bit high for a four-port hub, the tradeoff is, of course, the size and portability. To that end, I’d infinitely prefer to have the Keyspan USB Mini 4-Port Hub occupying a pocket in my laptop bag than a larger, bulkier offering. The flexibility of being able to work either bus-powered or off an A/C adapter is an added bonus, too.
The Keyspan USB Mini 4-Port Hub carries a suggested retail price of US$49 — the street price can be considerably lower, however. The hub is available through Keyspan resellers, including many catalog companies, online stores and Apple resellers. You can get a list of them from the company’s Web site.