The Kensington StudioDock turns your iPad into a tiny iMac

There are a number of iPad keyboard cases that aim to turn Apple’s tablet into a laptop, but the Kensington StudioDock is something completely different. Turn your iPad Pro into the world’s smallest iMac.

This is a serious accessory for those who are serious about iPad productivity. (Yes, it exists.) It’s a dock that gives you a lot more connectivity while using your iPad Pro or Air with USB-C in portrait or landscape orientation. Basically, if you’re sitting at a desk and working with an iPad Pro, StudioDock might be for you.

Well, if I could spend $399 anyway.

The StudioDock is mostly made of aluminum and is sturdy enough to reposition your iPad without moving it on your desk, making it easy to switch between portrait and landscape mode or tilt the vertical viewing angle. (For example, in StudioDock’s portrait mode, the iPad Pro is a great zooming device.) The build quality of the stand itself is sturdy, but the plastic back panel is a bit lower for rent.

The dock has a USB-C port and a power button on one side, and an SD card slot and a headphone jack on the other. On the back there is a barrel connector for power, three USB-A ports, an HDMI port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. There are also two 7.5W Qi wireless chargers integrated into the bottom of the stand and (of course) two Kensington security locks. iPad Pro connects via USB-C and a slot to a magnetic plastic panel that supports jacks. The dock is available on 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPads, but the size of the magnetic panel is the only difference between the two versions.

When your iPad is connected to a keyboard and trackpad or mouse, it’s like having a small desktop computer with a touch screen. It has a lot more ports than most Mac laptops today. It’s really cute when you find something like an idea for a wired internet connection on your tablet.

Even if you don’t use a lot of accessories, the StudioDock raises the display at a better angle, making it more convenient to use on a desk than a laptop. I recently thought of New Yorker Cover showing a woman at home with her notebook perched on a pile of books. Laptop stands certainly exist, but not everyone wants to use them. StudioDock means you don’t need duplicate keyboards and trackpads.

An important aspect of this product is that you can easily move your iPad out of the dock. Still a bit stupid and in a perfect world, I’d like StudioDock to use the Smart Connector, but no one other than Apple and Logitech has ever released a product they actually use, so I’m assuming Kensington has a reason for that. No bandwidth doubts among them. One advantage of this design is that it charges the iPad very quickly to 37.5W, so I didn’t have to think about charging it any other way at home.

Kensington also sent an Apple Watch charger connected to a USB-C pass-through port. Sold separately after StudioDock is released. It looks a bit plastic like the back panel of the dock, but it worked fine. I’m already using my Apple Watch desktop charger every day, so I didn’t need much of this charger, but if I don’t have it yet, it would be a handy add-on.

Meanwhile, a wireless charger is also a good add-on. You won’t get the fastest speeds, but the ability to charge your phone and AirPods all day long is useful and saves desk space compared to separate pads. I noticed a slight coil whine when the device was fully charged. This is not very uncommon with wireless chargers, but not all devices will work, so it is worth noting that this one works.

StudioDock’s HDMI port supports 4K monitors at 60Hz and is ideal for an iPad dual display setup, but the software isn’t on Apple’s side yet. Only a few apps can display different content on each monitor. For the rest of the time, I’m dealing with a filler box mirror on the iPad 4: 3 screen. (One smart way to get around this is an app called Shiftscreen, which is basically a browser that allows you to run up to 4 web apps on two displays. It’s useful for things like multitasking in Slack and Asana.) Personally, iPadOS Is required. Get even better external monitor support before going all-in to your iPad desktop setup. But if you’re used to using your laptop alone, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro will be good enough to do most of the work.

This is how I use StudioDock most of the time and it was generally a great experience. I really like the trackpad support added to iPadOS last year, and it’s great that you can combine it with a wired mechanical keyboard and still have a lot of connectivity options. I would generally say that it is better to use the StudioDock than a laptop balanced on a stack of books.

StudioDock is clearly a niche product and has its downsides. But for the most part, Kensington’s attempt to transform the iPad into a desktop computer really works. For this to make sense for you, you really need to be immersed in the iPad-as-work-machine lifestyle, but the StudioDock and iPad Pro combination is a fast and fun computer that does most of what I want.

My biggest problem is the price. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro version costs $399.99, and the model that fits the 11-inch iPad Pro and 10.9-inch iPad Air costs $379.99. Investing in third-party peripherals is definitely a lot of money. That’s more than just buying some iPads. And, given that the current Pro hasn’t had any significant updates since its introduction in 2018, I’m worried about whether it will work with the iPad Pro design in the future.

These are pretty big warnings, but if you can overcome them, StudioDock is a great way to work on your iPad. It turned the tablet into a more comfortable, competent and flexible computer. And I want Apple’s software to evolve to further improve these kinds of use cases.

Photo from Sam Byford / The Verge

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