In many ways, today’s MacBook Pro models rival—and even exceed—the capabilities of their desktop alternatives, while of course offering the compelling advantage of portability. But the old desktop computer still has a few advantages of its own. For example, despite being tethered to a fixed location, a desktop computer’s footprint is often smaller—recent iMacs are little more than “fat” monitors, and the Mac mini takes up half the desk area of a MacBook Pro—and Apple has gone out of its way to minimize the number of cables required to operate them.
Users of some Windows laptops have long had the option of laptop “docking stations,” which offer some of those space-saving and cable-reducing advantages when at your desk. But it’s been nearly 14 years since Apple has sold any sort of dock accessory. Until recently, the only option for a MacBook user has been BookEndz, but we’ve now got another choice, thanks to Henge Docks, a company offering stylish and sturdy solutions for storing your MacBook or MacBook Pro upright when connected to an external display.
Each Henge Docks Docking Station sports a full complement of MacBook connections, tailored specifically to a particular MacBook model and revision—you must choose the precise dock that fits your laptop’s size and port arrangement. Once set up, your laptop sits vertically in the dock’s custom-fit opening, which provides male connectors that plug into the corresponding ports on your MacBook.
Picking the right dock can be a challenge, given the wide variety of Henge Docks models (priced from $60 to $75), but the company’s Website makes the process easier by categorizing docks by MacBook model and screen size, and by providing a schematic representation of the ports on each model. You simply find the dock with a port layout that matches the one on your laptop. I tested the Docking Station model for the 17-inch MacBook Pro (Mid 2009).
The initial setup of the Docking Station requires a bit of patience and manual dexterity, as the aforementioned male connectors—really just the plugs at the end of cables—don’t come preinstalled; you must manually insert them into the Docking Station’s openings before the first use. First you thread the various cables through the bottom of the Docking Station and insert their plugs in the appropriate openings. Once properly aligned, you secure each plug using the included hex wrench and screws. All the cabling fits snuggly underneath the Henge and emerges in a single bundle for connecting to your display and peripherals.
For the dock for the 17-inch MacBook Pro, Henge Docks includes cables for Ethernet, Firewire 800, audio (2), and USB (3). Missing are cables for the MagSafe power adapter and for video. The lack of the former is due to Apple’s refusal to license the connector; you must use your laptop’s own power cable, threading its connector into the appropriate opening in the Docking Station. Henge Docks doesn’t include a video cable because of the variety of cables and adapters necessary to connect to every display out there.
It took me about twenty minutes to set up the connectors for my power adapter, three USB ports, a Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI dongle and an audio-out cable. This may seem like a hassle, but other than the MagSafe connector, it’s a one-time process, and it gives you the option of installing only those connectors you plan to use, reducing the number of connections to be made, and the amount of force required, when docking your laptop.
One minor issue was that the cable on the Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adaptor that shipped with my Macbook Pro was a little short for its DVI-connector end to exit the dock easily. I eventually managed to make it work (thanks in no small part to advice found on the company’s Website), but it might be worth ordering Henge Docks’ own longer-cord version of the adapter to save yourself some grief.
Fits like a glove
Once set up, the Docking Station is a pleasure to use. When you want to dock, you simply slide your laptop into it—the computer fits perfectly, and its weight is more than enough to engage all the various connectors. Removal is just as simple: you just hold the dock down with one hand and lift your laptop out with the other—again, with minimal effort. (As with most things Mac, the connection/disconnection of peripherals and displays just works—you don’t need to make any adjustments or change any settings.) Though the dock is made entirely of plastic, it looks stylish and is both sturdy and stable, even with two small children continuously hovering over your desk, as is often the case in my office. I also found that the dock did not interfere with Wi-Fi and BlueTooth connectivity, letting me use wireless keyboards and mice. Most importantly, even after several weeks of use, there’s no sign of scratches, scuffs, or other wear on the exterior of my MacBook Pro.
The dock’s design also ensure that the MacBook’s remote receiver remains clearly visible, which makes the Docking Station a great accessory for the living room—plug it into a TV that supports HDMI or DisplayPort connections, and you can see use your MacBook as a first-class gaming or home-theater device. In fact, the dock is inexpensive enough that you could conceivably buy two: one for office use, and the other for when you want to kick back and relax on the couch.
One drawback of the HengeDock is that, if you haven’t guessed by now, you’ll want to purchase second power adapter to keep securely connected to the dock—it’s too much of a hassle to remove the MagSafe connector every time you need to bring a power adapter with you, and then reinstall it wen you return.
The other significant downside is that some of your laptop’s accessories are inaccessible when it’s docked. For example, the MacBook’s camera, positioned above its screen, is obviously unusable, as is the MacBook’s power button—if you shut down your laptop, you must remove it from the Docking Station to start up again.
Macworld’s buying advice
As long as you can live with the limitations that come with a fully-docked MacBook or MacBook Pro, the Henge Dock is as good as it gets. The product is sturdy, well-designed, and stylish, and it fits a MacBook like a glove without ever making docking or undocking difficult. Once plugged in, the laptop-dock combination is rock-solid stable, despite standing on its edge—it won’t easily topple over, even when pushed. Though the setup process is a little involved, the company provides excellent instructions and you have to set-up the dock only once to enjoy plenty of grief-free docking.