HP has a new twist on the desktop docking station. The HP Thunderbolt Dock is modular. You can extend it with an optional Bang and Olufsen speaker. This is ideal for handling conference calls.
I tested the HP Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 with Audio model. It has an optional speaker attached. You can buy a Dock without the speaker for NZ$400.
At the time of writing there wasn’t a local price for the Audio version. In the US HP adds US$50 to the non-Audio Dock price. So it’s likely the New Zealand version will sell for around NZ$500.
Docks, often called docking stations, seem old school in 2018. They are enjoying a revival at the moment. In part this is because computer makers like HP now standardise on USB-C connectors. They also put fewer ports on modern laptops.
Today’s laptops are often ultra-thin. This leaves less room for ports. Some ports are deeper than the edge of many modern laptops. Think of an Ethernet port to get the picture.
This means offloading the connectivity options to a separate device makes sense.
Most people who work from home or in a small business will use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connections.
Big company IT departments sometimes prefer Ethernet. It means better connection speeds in busy workplaces. It also can be mean trouble for tech support.
Docks are often the best way to connect a USB-C laptop to Ethernet. Although you could choose a dongle instead. Docks also allow users to add large screen displays, keyboards and mice. Most docks also act as rechargers.
HP’s Thunderbolt Dock comes with a hard-wired USB-C cable that connects to a laptop. The cable is about 700 mm long, which is enough if you keep the Dock on your desktop. On the right-hand side is a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack and a Kensington lock connector.
There are a total of eight more sockets on the rear. One connects the Dock to a power brick. Another is an Ethernet port. There are two more USB-C ports, a Thunderbolt port, a power out port, there are also two Display Ports and a VGA port.
HP has chosen a big, heavy power brick. That’s necessary to supply enough power, but it adds a lot of heft to the Dock set-up. If you need to, with say two large screens, it can draw down 100W of power.
I thought I’d prefer to have the power unit built into the Dock. That would add weight and bulk. Another advantage of separate units is the desktop Dock doesn’t get hot.
You wouldn’t want to lug this from place to place, but then you don’t have to. That’s the point of a Dock.
The HP Notebook recognised the Dock immediately. When connected, it installed the right drivers and rebooted.
When you connect the HP Thunderbolt Dock to a laptop, I used the HP Elitebook x360, the top lights up to show a row of buttons.
These let you use the speaker for conference calls. It would work fine if you had one of these in a meeting room for a group of people to share.
There’s haptic feedback to let your fingers know when you use the buttons.
I managed to test the speaker with a Skype call. When it connected I had to crank the volume down, it was too loud for my quiet, small home office.
You will need the extra volume in a busy open plan office. The people at the other end could tell I was on a speakerphone. From my point of view, the call sounded clearer than usual and much better than listening on a handset.
HP Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 verdict
HP’s marketing material implies the company optimised the Thunderbolt Dock’s Bang and Olufsen speakers for phone calls. Despite this they do a fine job playing music and handling other audio. There’s plenty of top and bottom to the sound. It helps that the Dock is solid, so no vibrations.
It’s been a while since I last used a docking station. The fact that it was for my IBM ThinkPad and connected it to a CRT screen tells you how long ago. The newer HP design is far easier to use. It is more versatile and offers a lot more functionality for half the price of my earlier dock.
If you make a lot of conference calls and work hands free, it’s a must have. If you want to use a big screen, Ethernet or a full size keyboard it is well worth considering.