When the Surface Pro 2 first went up for pre-order at Microsoft's online store, I was disappointed to see that the new docking station was not scheduled to be available until 2014.
My love affair with docking stations goes back to my days as a corporate road warrior/international man of mystery. There was nothing worse than being thousands of miles away and realizing that the one file I needed was sitting on my desktop somewhere. But once I was back in the office, the thought of living with only my company assigned laptop seemed impossible. And such a nuisance: so many wires to plug in every morning only to unplug them again every evening.
So when the IT department showed up with my first Dell dockable laptop and a nifty docking station, I was a quick convert and for the next couple of years I was in corporate tech heaven. Then I switched jobs and dockable laptops seemed to fall out of fashion at the same time.
Ten years later, with cloud computing options like SkyDrive all the rage, there's no need to drag all your files along with you all the time, but i't still nice to be able to do a quick switch from a portable solution to one more suited to sitting in front of all day long.
When the Surface Docking Station surprisingly went on sale the evening of the Surface Pro 2's release, I quickly ordered one and the device turned up this morning.
During the Surface 2 announcement event, I was unsure of the C-clamp design of the dock. It seemed so large and awkward, but I'm pleased to report it's compact and couldn't be easier to use. You need two hands to pull the clamp apart and away from the Surface Pro's body, but it opens very smoothly. The clamps on either side of the dock are only about half an inch wide.
When the Surface Pro is seated in the dock, a USB connector on the left and a power connector on the right plug into place effortlessly. The dock itself is surprisingly solid and appears to be made of a material similar to the tablet.
Although the dock is pricey at $199, it eliminates the need for other costly attachments like the $40 USB to Ethernet adapter and the $40 mini DisplayPort adapters. The latter is particularly annoying because the Surface Pro's tapered edges require an angled connector. Fortunately, the mini DisplayPort connector on the dock is flat, so you can use generic connectors.
The dock provides a full complement of connections you're accustomed to finding on desktop systems: one USB 3 port, an Ethernet input, headphone jack and mic inputs, three USB 2 ports, mini DisplayPort and power.
In a desktop environment, you may wish to move to a full size keyboard and mouse, but in an art studio, a compact keyboard may be preferable. The dock is ingenious because it allows the Surface Pro to be docked with a keyboard cover in place. You can also easily attach or detach the keyboard cover while the tablet is docked. Very convenient.
As soon as I had my dock connected to power, my wired network, an external hard disk, and a DVD reader, I plugged in the Yiynova MVP22U(V2) and had a bit of a digital art nerdgasm. (More on that experience in another post)
Whether with the original Surface Pro or the latest model, the Surface Docking Station fulfills the vision I first had when the first generation tablet was released: a lightweight, powerful and portable creation station that also works as a no-compromises desktop replacement.
UPDATE October 30: It was too good to last? I've encountered a problem with the video output of the Surface Docking Station, after running perfectly for a while, the tablet monitor will flash a couple of times and eventually settle at about 10 or 20% of normal picture brightness. The problem has already occured three times since last night.
If I connect the monitor directly to the Surface Pro or a desktop, the issue doesn't occur, so it appears to be a problem with the dock's mini DisplayPort or voltage. I've only got one USB 2 peripheral connected in addition to the tablet monitor's pen.
Microsoft support here I come.
UPDATE 2 November 1: The video problem wasn't the dock. Seems I got a defective Yiynova. Their US distributor The Panda City will be sending me a replacement next week.
UPDATE 3 November 10: I received the replacement Yiynova MVP22U (V2) Friday and so far it doesn't exhibit the same issue that the first one had. Full review soon.