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Review: The Kensington StudioDock *almost* turns your iPad into a desktop computer: Digital Photography Review


Kensington StudioDock™
From $379 | Kensington.com

One of the best ways to set yourself apart in a crowded market is to find a niche in need of attention and develop a product specifically to fill that gap. Kensington, a computer accessories manufacturer, has done just that with the introduction of its StudioDock, an all-in-one hub and stand for Apple’s latest line of iPad devices.

While the iPad is still limited compared to a more traditional laptop computer due to its reliance on Apple’s iPadOS operating system, it’s still a capable device, especially since Apple switched over to using a USB-C port instead of its proprietary Lightning port. This move, when paired with Apple’s improved support for external storage in iPadOS, has made it much easier to use various USB-C hubs and adapters to plug multiple devices in at once.

Kensington StudioDock specs and pricing:

  • Three USB 3.0 ports, two USB-C ports, 3.5mm audio input/output, HDMI 2.0 output, Gigabit Ethernet port, 20V power port.
  • Two Qi wireless charging pads (one 5W, one 7.5W)
  • $379.99 for the iPad Pro 11″ (2018 or newer USB-C) or iPad Air (2020+)
  • $399.99 for iPad Pro 12.9″ (2018-2020, newer M1 iPad Pros won’t fit)

While there are some iPad-specific USB-C hubs on the market, there hasn’t really been an all-in-one workstation solution for docking an iPad so it can be used in a more desktop-style fashion. That is, until now, thanks to Kensington’s StudioDock.

As I described in our original news coverage of the device, the StudioDock effectively turns your iPad into an iMac-like workstation, complete with built-in chargers for your phone, wireless headphones and other Qi-enabled devices. It’s not cheap and it’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re an iPad power user looking for a desktop-style experience, you won’t find a much better setup than this.

A 27″ LG monitor hooked up to the Kensington StudioDock via the HDMI 2.0 output.

Even for those who haven’t gone all-in on the iPad-only workflow, the StudioDock is a great option for anyone looking to dabble with the idea using a newer iPad as your main computing device.

Design

Without the iPad mounted, the Kensington StudioDock looks similar to the $999 stand Apple released alongside its Pro Display XDR. While Apple’s stand is effectively just a hunk of metal with some springs inside, the StudioDock is a dedicated hub packed with various ports, Qi wireless chargers and a mounting point for an iPad Pro or iPad Air.

One of the first things I noticed upon taking the StudioDock out of the box is how heavy it is. It’s constructed almost entirely out of aluminum, which gives the StudioDock a premium feel and also serves to better keep the stand in place when attaching, rotating and tilting the iPad. Whereas other tablet stands I’ve used in the past can get wobbly (even ones half as tall), the StudioDock doesn’t budge when I’m adjusting my iPad or using an Apple Pencil to write notes on my iPad while it’s still attached.

The StudioDock hugs onto an attached iPad using the mounting plate, which works alongside the magnets inside the iPad, as well as the physical USB-C port on the iPad, to keep the device in place. The mounting point can tilt roughly 270-degrees and rotate 90-degrees, so you can use an iPad in either portrait or landscape mode.

The base of the StudioDock features a pair of Qi wireless chargers on the front — one 5W charger and one 7.5W charger. This duo works perfectly for charging a phone and a set of wireless headphones as you do your work and proved to save space on my desk compared to using separate, dedicated chargers for my iPhone and AirPods.

The left side of the device, which houses the power button and a USB-C port.

On the left-hand side of the stand, Kensington includes a USB-C port and a power button. On the right-hand side is a UHS-II SD card reader and a standard 3.5mm audio jack for both inputting and outputting audio.

The rear of the base features one Gigabit Ethernet connection, three USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI 2.0 port capable of 4K 60Hz output and a power input port.

In use

The StudioDock is a niche product for a very specific subset of people. Not only is the device specifically for iPad users, it’s for iPad users who want to effectively turn their iPad into a desktop-style workstation with all the I/O ports you’re used to seeing on desktop computers.

To that end, it not only lives up to its specifications but surpasses my expectations, even as someone who came into this review with fairly high standards. For this review, I told myself I would truly put the StudioDock to the test by only using my 11″ iPad Pro (2020) for all of my DPReview work for two weeks. Well, here we are two-and-a-half weeks later. And, despite having a newly purchased M1 Mac Mini sitting next to me on my desk, I haven’t had to touch it since the StudioDock arrived.

To that end, it not only lives up to its specifications but surpasses my expectations

Clearly, this wouldn’t work for everyone, as not everyone can get away with using only iPadOS applications to get their work done. But that’s almost entirely due to the limitations of iPadOS, not hardware. As such, I’ve written this review without taking into account the software limitations imposed by the iPad-only workflow, since that’s well out of Kensington’s hands.

The StudioDock can hold an iPad in landscape or portrait mode.

One of the benefits of the StudioDock is how it elevates your iPad, bringing the screen closer to eye-level with its floating design. While the height Kensington chose is a nice balance, it’s still shorter than most desktop monitors. This might not be a problem for those under 6ft tall, but I stand at 6’2″ and if I’m sitting, using the StudioDock on the same surface that my keyboard is on, I’m still looking down at my iPad’s screen.

Now that iPad OS has proper mouse and trackpad support, I didn’t find myself using the touchscreen much

For this reason, I would’ve liked to see Kensington include at least a few levels of adjustment. But I have a feeling if Kensington went any higher the center of gravity would be affected to the point of making the StudioDock too top-heavy when an iPad is attached and you’re attempting to tap/swipe/draw on the screen.

Now that iPadOS has proper mouse/trackpad support as well as the ability to use external keyboards, I didn’t find myself using the touchscreen much, but it is still an option while attached to the stand.

Before getting to the rest of the I/O options present on the StudioDock, I want to focus on the UHS-II SD card reader on the right-hand side of the device. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to look for a USB-C hub for the iPad that offers UHS-II speeds, but they’re simply non-existent in hub-powered devices and not necessarily easy to find on wall-powered hubs either.

Now, not everyone’s camera uses SD cards, but for anyone who relies mostly on SD cards for their photography work will appreciate the speeds this reader is able to perform at. In my testing, I was able to import 600 25MB Canon CR3 files into Lightroom for iPad in just two minutes. That works out to about 125MB per second, which is the best average speed I’ve seen from any UHS-II card reader I’ve used with my iPad, and that doesn’t take into account any overhead caused by Lightroom.

For comparison, my dedicated Sony UHS-II card reader plugged directly into the USB-C port averaged only 80-100MB per second with the same set of images.

The right side of the device, which houses the UHS-II SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio port.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the I/O options present on the StudioDock. Starting off with the left-hand side of the device, Kensington includes the sole USB-C input and a single power button1. I would’ve liked to see one more USB-C port available on the StudioDock, but considering the entire device is connected to the iPad through a single USB-C port, the reality is you’d only ever be able to get half the maximum bandwidth of a USB-C connection, even if no other ports were being used.

So, while it would be more convenient since more and more devices are starting to use USB-C connections, it wouldn’t be able to offer any additional bandwidth.

Speaking of bandwidth, let’s move on to the rear of the device, which offers a Gigabit Ethernet connection, three USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port. It’s a solid array that should be more than enough for almost any workflow, especially considering you may not need to use any USB-A ports for adding chargers since the StudioDock has the two wireless chargers built into the base.

On to the ethernet port. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of my internet plan, I wasn’t able to test out the maximum speeds to see if the Ethernet port was indeed faster than Wi-Fi, but I can say both options topped out my 500Mbps download speeds in various speed tests. One bonus though is that the Ethernet port makes for a slightly more stable connection.

Aspect ratio aside, outputting the iPad’s screen to a dedicated monitor worked well

The HDMI port was also great for those times when I wanted to edit images on a larger screen. At this time, though, iPadOS doesn’t have full external display support. So, even though the HDMI 2.0 port on the StudioDock supports ‘4K’ output, it’s limited to the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad’s screen, which leaves black letterboxing on the edges of 16:9 monitors. Aspect ratio aside though, outputting the iPad’s screen to a dedicated monitor via the HDMI port proved to work well. Hopefully Apple can improve external monitor support in a future version of iPadOS, but for the time being, the StudioDock makes the most of the support Apple offers.

Last up is the right-hand side of the StudioDock, which features the aforementioned UHS-II SD card reader and a single 3.5mm audio port. The 3.5mm port worked great for both outputting audio to speakers and headphones, as well as inputting audio from a microphone setup. I didn’t notice any latency, which helped while working on some video files in LumaFusion on my iPad.

Bottom line

The StudioDock is unlike anything on the market. Yes, it’s expensive, but it offers a user experience no other stand/hub combination offers. Not only does it add more I/O options than most other USB-C hubs on the market, but it also adds the ergonomic benefits of raising the iPad closer to eye level and throws in a pair of Qi chargers to further save space on your desk and keep any unnecessary cables at bay.

It’s not for everyone. In fact, unless you plan on using your iPad as a laptop – or even desktop – replacement, it’s probably not for you. But for anyone who is seriously considering going all-in on using an iPad as their main device, the StudioDock stands alone. No, it won’t fix the inherent limitations of Apple’s iPadOS, but the StudioDock will ensure you can make the most of everything iPadOS and the hardware has to offer.

What we like

  • Improves ergonomics
  • Articulating mounting plate
  • Lots of I/O
  • UHS-II SD card reader
  • Built-in Qi chargers

What we don’t like

  • Expensive
  • Too few USB-C ports

1 It bothers me more than it should that the power button isn’t perfectly centered with the frame.



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