We’ve reviewed a fair bit of Thunderbolt docks for Mac here and one thing remains constant: The starting prices range well over $200 (Belkin’s a deal at $150) and that’s before you buy an expensive $30 Thunderbolt cable. The question is: Do you really need Thunderbolt to have a quality/usable dock for your MacBook? Can you get almost all of what you need just from USB 3?
Kanex sent me their $90 USB 3 SimpleDock a few months ago and I’ve put it through its paces ever since. The first thing you’ll notice out of the box is that it is made extremely well, looks very ‘Apple’ and is substantial in weight. It doesn’t move when you plug in devices because of that weight and a rubberized bottom. On top, all you’ll see is a space that coincidentally fits an iPhone perfectly with a charger cable hole through the bottom. Around back, you’ll find 3 USB 3 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port as well as a 10W high powered ‘Charge-only’ port.
So you are getting 3 products in one here: An iOS device quick charger, a USB3->Gigabit Ethernet adapter and 3 port USB 3 hub. The question is: Is the SimpleDock worth the $90?
Taking the 3 things the $90 SimpleDock does by itself, probably not. You can get a pretty amazing 5 port USB charger for $25. Add an excellent 4 port USB 3 hub for $30. Then add Apple’s premium Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter for $28 and you have some beer money left over.
But we’re talking about the whole package here. Kanex went out of the way to make a premium product that looks and feels pretty amazing next to a MacBook. It also moves the wires around the back and keeps things organized. Can you put a price on keeping your desk organized and uncluttered? Probably. But for me it comes in way over the $90 Kanex is charging.
In my use, the SimpleDock works as advertized. The Gigabit Ethernet adapter requires a driver install and the USB 3 dock cable could have been a little longer in my estimation. Other than that, what you see is what you get. The 10W port was able to charge both iPhone and iPad air as quick as native chargers and GigEthernet speeds were on par with other adapters.
As far as featureset, I would have appreciated AUX audio input and output port. Slightly more expensive USB docks often contain this feature while others offer Displaylink monitor adapters. My experience with Displaylink has been poor but an audio port would allow me not to have to plug in my speakers or headphones every time I connect.
On the high end, Belkin has been super-aggressive in pricing its competing Thunderbolt Express Dock which has a bigger featureset. For $150 or $60 more than the SimpleDock, you get a Thunderbolt pass-through port, Firewire 800 legacy support and the much appreciated AUX in and out. You also get the same Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3 hub but no charging port and you must also have a $30 Thunderbolt cable. And it doesn’t look as good on your desk.
The $90 Kanex SimpleDock is a premium product that looks great next to your MacBook and iOS devices and work just as well. I can recommend it if you want an elegant ‘simple’ solution to plugging in your MacBook.