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Hardware Dockcase Studio Smart USB C Hub Review

The Dockcase Studio is not a hub for everybody, and that's fine. We have here a very well-built USB hub tailor made for creative professionals wanting one device to rule them all.
 
 

General Information

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Dockcase are a company we've looked at in the past, offering a range of USB hubs and enclosures with the notable inclusion of a display. Funded via Kickstarter before later moving onto Amazon, their accessories have gained a fairly decent following; looking now to a dock designed for the creative professional, does the Studio do enough to set itself apart from the rest?

It's a Dock

At its core Dockcase's new Studio hub is just a dock. You can power it with up to 100W, with the output to your laptop being limited to 80W out of the box. You can configure this for up to a 95W/5W split between your laptop and the dock, but I personally didn't have much of a need to move beyond the default configuration. If working with a lower input power I can see such adjustments being handy though, especially as there's no 100W plug provided with the Studio itself.

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In terms of ports we see SD and micro SD, both supporting UHS-II cards, USB A and C both supporting up to 10Gbps assuming you have a device and cable capable of it, a HDMI port that goes as high as 4K/120Hz, and what is probably the star of the show in both CFexpress type A and B compatibility. From the start I'm going to make it clear, this hub is not going to be worth it if you're something of a general user like me, and if you're somebody who isn't interested in CFexpress in particular. The ports on offer seem tailor-made for an eager photographer wanting to stick to a low profile on the go, and in this regard I do feel Dockcase have hit it out of the park. You have a remarkably light slab that you can just throw into a bag with a genuinely unique assortment of ports that you're unlikely to find on other docks.

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The metal body feels pretty sturdy, and the display holds up better than I was expecting it to without additional protection, being able to ride loose in the front pocket of my bag with a myriad of tech junk. I was a little surprised to see no kind of lightweight rubber case being included despite the overall sturdiness though. This is something I've come to expect from these kinds of all-metal devices (a UGREEN SSD enclosure being the most recent purchase of mine to include one) and I do feel it an important inclusion. Even if the dock is built well enough to survive in a bag without protection, it is odd that the team at Dockcase didn't think about desks and other surfaces that actually come into contact with the bottom of the case. Outside of my roundabout sturdiness test I tend to keep the Studio wrapped in a microfiber cloth just to make sure I have some kind of material on hand to sit between it and the wooden desktop I've recently been using. It is something of a minor oversight, but not even having some kind of rubber feet really does make me nervous about having it alone on a desk.

Putting it to Use

Actually putting the Studio to use it does a good job in delivering on what it promises to do. For my testing I used the following devices:
  • SD: Lexar Silver Pro 64GB UHS-II U3 (280MB Read / 130MB Write)
  • µSD: Sandisk Extreme 1TB USH-I U3 (190MB Read / 130MB Write)
  • USB A/C: WD_BLACK SN770 2TB NVMe in a UGREEN USB 4 Enclosure
As a few notes before continuing, the Studio does support UHS-II micro SD cards as well as SD cards, I just didn't have one to hand. As mentioned previously, I also didn't have either a CFexpress type A or B to hand to put those ports to the test. I am usually happy to buy cards and other things to properly test things I have for review, but with CFexpress being as expensive a medium as it is, it just wasn't viable.

For my test case I decided to find a large file from my Steam library and test copying it to and from the aforementioned devices. The file I settled on was "Gustav.pak" from Baldur's Gate 3, coming in at 11.8GB according to Windows. You can find the read and write tests below, with the time values being in seconds:

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I also tested moving the same file from both the SD and micro SD to an SSD connected via USB C, and saw the transfer speed being on par with copying directly to my laptop's internal SSD. It's a decent showing, even if it is just verifying that ports will work well at the same time. The one exception to that is the CFexpress type A and B ports, where you can only use one of the two at the same time. Everything else plays nicely together.

Something of an elephant in the room is the Studio's included touch screen, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. At a surface level it'll show you what's connected to each port, with the USB ports giving you the maximum speeds you can expect from the connected device, and the HDMI port showing you some interesting information on the connected display. Going onto the PD Info you can configure the previously mentioned power split between the dock and the connected device, as well as picking between PD 3.0 and PD 2.0 for the best compatibility. CFexpress cards have the most information on offer, giving you a pretty detailed breakdown of the card's capacity, usage data, and interesting stats like power on time. You can also see the temperature for a given port, with the display scrolling between them when on the main menu.

The simple touch-based OS is relatively easy to navigate, if a little clunky. You have a combination of touch and swipe actions to get through the various menus, with everything being just a little slower and more unresponsive than I would personally like. I feel this kind of design could likely have been better served with buttons, but it is at least usable.

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Though as I've mentioned I can't recommend this as a dock for a general user, I did want to put it to the test with the gaming tech I had all the same; the listed Switch compatibility in particular stood out to me. I would like to say it's as smooth an experience as I'd had with PC, where PC had really been plug and play with no issues. The Switch was awkward. The Studio would frequently get itself into a boot looping situation when connecting a HDMI cable, or the Switch itself. Sometimes it would power the Switch, others it would just do nothing and not recognise it was plugged in. After some tinkering I did figure out that it would work fine if the HDMI is plugged in first, then the power to the Studio, and finally the Switch last. With that setup the Switch would connect to the monitor fine, as well as receive charge from the dock. I was able to plug and unplug USB devices freely (with keyboards being the tested devices), but if I unplugged either the Switch or the HDMI cable, I would need to follow the mentioned steps to get it working again. I do understand the Switch is an awkward device to work with, and I do accept it's not exactly the Studio's primary use case, but when it is specifically listed as a compatible device, I would have expected something a bit more flexible and less finicky. By stark contrast my ROG Ally worked perfectly well. Dockcase do also list Steam Deck compatibility on their site, making it really excel as a one dock solution, but you can obviously find cheaper if you're not needing everything it does.

For those of you on iOS I can also say I've had no issues plugging it into my iPad Mini 6, with all connected accessories being recognised alongside charging the device. Opening up the Files app I could see each of the storage devices I had connected and freely move files both to and from them and between them.

The only major use case I find notably absent here is the ability to use the Studio without any host device connected at all. Having a few keen photographers as friends, I've heard how much they'd appreciate a device like this if it just had a button to move all files from a CFexpress or SD card onto an attached SSD, and I can certainly see why. It'd go a long way in making this a true all in one solution for photographers in particular, even if it still needed something like a portable power bank to function. As it is now, this kind of functionality is almost possible if you happen to carry around a USB C phone and are happy navigating the file systems, but it's one step away from the seamlessness I can see so many wanting.

Thermal Concerns

Beyond the somewhat awkward Switch compatibility, I think my only major concern with the Dockcase Studio is how hot it gets. When sitting idle delivering 65W of power to my laptop with just a micro SD card inserted, the dock averages between 50 and 60C. Between the metal body and touch-based interface, this is really noticeable. When under load, this further increases, with the highest temperature I noted being 74C on the micro SD port. I will mention that micro SD cards have an operating temperature between -25 and +85C, and that it didn't appear to be throttling at all during use, but I am left a little uneasy leaving it inserted.

Dockcase do address this to some degree with CFexpress cards in particular, noting that they do get hot due to the speed they run at, and that they should be disconnected when not in use. They don't mention anything about the other ports, which is a little annoying as somebody who is planning to leave the micro SD card inserted in the dock most of the time as some portable storage between devices. I've had no kind of device failure in the few weeks I've been using the Studio which is obviously a good thing, but I will report back if something does end up going wrong in the future.

A Steep Price to Pay

At $200 the Dockcase Studio is not a hub for the vast majority of people reading this. For a similar price you can find more generally-suited USB 4 docks and for much cheaper, there are a plethora of game-centric docking solutions out there for your Switch, Ally, Deck, or whatever else you have on hand. With that said, I do think the Studio does what it sets out to well, and for the market it's targeting and the features they're offering that market, it does do a reasonable job of justifying that price; a decent CFexpress card reader can go for up to $80 alone.

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If you are in the minority where you're looking for everything the Studio has to offer, the project is currently running on Kickstarter with early bird pricing available to pick up the hub for $140, $160, or $180 depending on what's still available. As with all crowdfunded products, it's worth noting there are risks involved, but Dockcase do have a good track record here, and clearly a product to show for it:

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