Last October I reviewed the Kensington Laptop Desktop USB 2.0 notebook docking station and found it to be quite spiffy with its smart design and USB 2.0 hub. Kensington has been in the business of creating innovative products that connect you and your computer for 20 years, and recently sent me the successor to the Laptop Desktop: the Kensington Notebook Expansion Dock with Stand. How much is improved over the original, and did Kensington actually take any of our suggestions to heart?
What’s in the Box?
The Notebook Expansion Stand, the software CD, the instruction manual, the SmartFit Guide, the Notebook Expansion Dock, the AC adaptor, and a long USB cable. (Silica gel, where are you?!?)
What’s Good About It?
The first thing I noticed was the Expansion Dock and all the lovely ports on the back of it! Starting from the left, there is an Ethernet port, a USB port, a parallel port, a serial port, three audio ports (including a 5.1 surround sound port that supports rear, front, and center speaker outputs), two more USB ports, and the USB port that connects the dock to your laptop! This expansion dock offers far more connectivity and productivity options over the original model. The other major design change that strikes you is the stand – rather than hinging in the front, like the original, the hinge for the new version at the base. This makes the unit feel more stable; having the weight of the laptop focused on the base means no movement or creaking. The previous laptop desktop stand had the hinge at the front corner of the unit. In my previous review, I mentioned that it would be nice if the Laptop Desktop had more than two USB ports. Kensington obviously decided that adding extra USB ports wasn’t enough, and added just about everything including the kitchen sink! The Expansion Dock slides into the back of the stand, and clicks nicely into place.
Next, the SmartFit Guide.
No, that’s not a human hand as viewed by a Predator, that’s the innovative, patent-pending SmartFit guide. So how does the SmartFit Guide work?
Easy – place your hand on the guide to determine what “color” you are. Once you know your color, adjust the stand to match – take a look at the photo above. See the orange box on the base, to the left? If your hand fits in the orange hand on the guide, then set the base to match. The SmartFit guide gives you an ergonomically correct setting for your stand so your laptop screen will be at eye level. Surprisingly enough, it actually works!
Installation was a snap – following the instructions, I ran the installation CD, then connected the USB cable from the Notebook Expansion Dock to my laptop. You may remember that I ran into installation issues with the first laptop desktop. Kensington remedied this by improving their instructions. I am running Windows XP SP2 and ran into no problems whatsoever. The Notebook Expansion with Dock is intended to enhance your productivity at home, and it’s the best solution I’ve seen. Typically I have multiple USB devices, power cables, speakers, and a network cable plugged directly into my laptop. This means that I have to unplug everything when I lug my laptop to work, then plug the whole mess back in again when I get home. The Kensington Notebook Expansion system eliminates this problem – I only need to connect two cables once I slide my laptop into the stand (power and USB.) I truly expected to run into issues with the virtual hardware drivers for the Ethernet, parallel, serial, sound, and USB ports, but to date have not encountered any. That Kensington was able to accomplish seamlessly enabling so many ports over a single USB connection is quite amazing.
Obligatory Comparison Shot
Older Laptop Desk USB 2.0 on the left, more futuristic Notebook Expansion Dock with Stand on the right.
What Could Be Improved?
I only ran into a few minor snags with this new and improved laptop accessory. First off, unlike the first model, there is no hole or handle to carry it by. My natural inclination was to carry it by the little metal bar that runs across the back of the expansion dock, which is a mistake. The dock came lose from the stand, however I was able to catch it prior to any damage occurring. This little metal bar is obviously intended for cable management, however I am not sure I would be the only one to make this same mistake. Secondly, I was not able to find a way to easily disable the built-in sound feature, and there were times when I did not have speakers attached to the dock. I wanted to be able to use the internal speakers on my laptop, and there was no easy way to accomplish this. Granted, the point of the Notebook Expansion system is to let you to use your laptop as a desktop and leave everything plugged in (speakers included). I would have liked to have seen a software management option, say a system tray icon that would grant me management of the virtual hardware ports if I wanted to enable, disable, or adjust the settings on the port.
GadgetMadness Verdict: The Best Docking Solution Just Got Even Better, and You Can’t Have It (Yet)
The Kensington Notebook Expansion Dock isn’t available for purchase yet, however once it is you’re going to want one, and we’ll hook you up with a link. We really appreciate and thank Kensington for giving GadgetMadness the opportunity to review this great accessory early.