While industry pundits and tech reviewers endlessly tout the benefits of Thunderbolt 3, its less capable sibling, USB-C, is more than powerful enough for most users. Think about it. Most users don’t need the faster data transfer speeds and multiple display support, let alone the additional costs, that come with Thunderbolt 3.
But lowly USB-C—formally named USB Type-C—is the connector type that meets most needs. Based on USB 3.1, USB-C can support USB power delivery for powering connected devices, USB SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed+ data modes at up to 20 Gbps, external display support, and the ability to connect any number of USB-based peripherals.
If you package all that into a small USB-C docking station, you get a one-cable solution for turning your portable PC into a desktop PC. When it’s time to take the PC with you, you simply unplug the one cable And when you return, you simply plug-in that one cable and your desktop setup is restored.
With all that in mind, may I present Plugable’s adorable USB-C Cube Docking Station, a tiny and cute USB docking station that, at first, seems to do it all?
The USB-C Cube provides a single USB-C port on its front. This is where you connect the docking station to your PC. And, yes, the USB-C Cube includes the USB-C cable needed for that connection.
On the rear, you see the meat of the operation: Two USB 2.0 ports for peripherals (mouse, keyboard, printer, etc.), one USB 3.0 port for more powerful peripherals (4K webcam, perhaps, or USB 3 storage devices), HDMI for video-out, and Gigabit Ethernet for wired connectivity. There’s also a power-in port for the included power adapter.
It works mostly as expected. There’s nothing in the way of pop-up windows or driver installation nonsense when you connect the USB-C Cube to your PC. It just works, immediately.
When you connect peripherals—like the Xbox Wireless Controller I tested—to the rear of the USB-C Cube, they install normally on the PC just as if you had connected them directly.
When you connect an external display via HDMI, it immediately works as a duplicate of the laptop’s internal display, and a quick WINKEY + P lets you switch to an extended desktop or whatever display mode you prefer.
This is all good.
So good, in fact, that I started thinking about getting one for my wife: She uses a second-generation HP Spectre, both on-the-go and at home while connected to an older USB hub/docking station. That PC only supports USB-C—it has no legacy ports at all—but the hub/docking station she’s using doesn’t support power. So she has to deal with two cables, one for the hub/docking station and one for power, each time she connects or disconnects from the hub.
And … Ah well.
As it turns out, the USB-C Cube doesn’t support USB power delivery either. The power adapter is a 20-watt unit, but as the device’s listing on Amazon notes, “The Cube will not be able to charge your connected host laptop. You will need to keep the original power adapter connected to your computer.” I assume the USB-C Cube’s tiny size (and low price) was only made possible by removing the circuitry required for power delivery.
And that’s too bad if you need/want such a thing. Plugable, of course, sells other USB-C-based docking stations that support power delivery, as well as other advanced features like support for two or even three displays. These docking stations range from $130 to $200 and aren’t nearly as cute as the USB-C Cube.
If the lack of power delivery doesn’t throw you off, the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station is available now for $80 at Amazon.com and other retailers. And you can learn more from the Plugable website.