As laptops get thinner and thinner, they fit neater and neater in small carrying solutions, take up less space, get much lighter to carry around and simply look amazing (also causes many to wonder “how do they fit so much tech in such a small amount of space?”). One big disadvantage to this however, is the fact that you get fewer and fewer ports included on the laptop itself. You should have noticed by now that most–and for some manufacturers, all–laptops have gotten rid of any kind of disc drive (dvd, Blu-ray, etc).
That was only the start. Now those useful USB ports, video-out ports (ie, HDMI) and even SD card slots, are making exit in some cases. One of the most widely discussed right now, is the new MacBooks. The new MacBooks leave you with just one USB-C connection and a headphone jack. Doesn’t really give you much flexibility at all. Unless of course, you are willing to dump a lot of cash into various adapters they are more than happy to gouge your wallet with–and, still not so practical when you have to drag them all around.
So how do you respond to this? You do so with a hub that brings all of these features back. OWC brings you one glorious solution with their Type-C Dock that works with multiple OS solutions. By connecting it to a USB-C port on your laptop, you in turn get another USB-C port open and waiting for charging or other devices (excluding video), as well as 4x USB 3.1 (Type-A) ports for devices (two of which can also provide fast charging for mobile devices), an HDMI out for a monitor, a gigabit ethernet port for wired internet, an SD card slot and a shared microphone/speaker jack. Kind of makes it feel like a genuine laptop again, right?
What’s even better, is that it works with both Mac and Windows, giving it a wide market to assist with. Given, there was some limitations involved, where we noticed some trouble with certain MacBooks. Specifically, the newer 2017 models seem to be having issues with the hub, where it may lose connection when plugging stuff in. A workaround is given by OWC of unplugging the power cable and inserting it back in to restart power to the hub. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal fix and I’m sure OWC is working hard at fixing this. Thankfully, we have seen a lot of trouble with the new MacBooks and non-Mac branded adapters, so they (OWC) aren’t alone. Plus, why would Apple make universal adaptability an easy thing on any of their devices? It just wouldn’t be them to do such a thing.
Taking a moment to breath again, and focus on the positive things, let’s look at design. Although the hub is compatible with more than just Mac, they are clearly trying to market it towards mac, given its design. That popular brushed metal approach that wraps around the hub. The top and bottom feature a glossy black plastic layer, with rubber feet on the bottom. They come in three different colors, including rose, gold and silver (the one we have is the silver, as seen in most of the images).
Although it seems to be targeted towards Macs, there seems to be a push all around to mimic the Mac design anyway, so in the end, this variable eventually becomes moot. Microsoft Surface laptops, HP, Toshiba, etc.
There is a good amount of weight to the hub, weighing in at just under 1lb. It’s not too heavy, but has enough weight where it seems best for a workstation scenario, either at home or work. No so much as a travel hub since it does have an AC adapter that needs to be plugged into the wall as well. It does feel durable and looks great on a desk.
It runs around $139.99, which seems to be reasonable. Especially, when you consider some of your alternative hub solutions typically run you between $85-$150 (including much smaller/limited hubs, like one we will bring into topic in a short bit).
The hub connects to your laptop via a 20-inch USB-C cable that they provide (you’ll have to buy another cable if that isn’t long enough for you). The length of the cable should be fine for just about all situations where the hub is going to be sitting near the laptop.
Connectivity and speed seem to be pretty much doable on all levels, although we’d like to see faster transfer speeds. We tried throwing a number of flash drives (USB 3.0) and SD cards at it to see what results we could get. We even used OWC’s new Envoy Pro Mini SSD flash drive. Regular flash drives wielded an average write speed of about 42-55MB/s across the board, and an read speed that was all over the place depending on the drive in use and it’s max transfer specs. The Envoy Pro Mini flash drive wielded an average write speed of 50-60MB/s, which was just a little better (we expected to see more towards 100MB/s or higher). The read speed however began with a nice boost that went as high as 350MB/s+, but quickly climbed down to a steady average of about 165-175MB/s.
The USB 3.1 ports labeled for high-powered charging obviously also function as a normal port, allowing you to plug in devices and drives all the same. The trade off is that you will also charge those devices (if they support charging) at a fast rate.
The HDMI out port (v1.4, up to 4K/30Hz) works great, as does the ethernet. Although if you are using it with a Mac, you may require a special driver which can be found here. The HDMI works even better with the next fact. It works with certain mobile devices as well.
We connected the hub to a Microsoft Lumia 950XL phone to see if it works, and it did. In a way, if you are using it in this way, you basically have a extra glorified Continuum dock. It can be used for connected controllers and flash drives to your phone. Although we weren’t able get the Envoy Pro Mini drive to work when using the hub with the phone, we were able to get any normal flash drive to connect just fine. The other USB-C port allows you to plug in your regular wall adapter into the mix, which allows your phone to charge at the same time while it’s plugged in (since the hub’s AC power supply doesn’t provide any charge to the phone). The HDMI out works, allowing you to make use of Microsoft Continuum and a full 1080p desktop. Since Microsoft’s own dock currently runs around $85, it’s like having a deluxe version connected to your phone.
This means the hub works with Mac, Windows and certain smartphones and maybe even tablets if they support USB-C. Not a bad sales point for OWC at all. Makes you wonder if their more expensive Thunderbolt dock offers all the same.
Inside the box is simple, as it comes with the before mentioned 20-inch USB-C to USB-C cable, as well as the AC adapter and brick. You also get a two-sided card that walks you through all of the ports as well as a few links to help you find drivers or a manual.
OWC’s USB-C Hub is a perfect solution for many scenarios. Despite the troubles they seem to be having with certain Macs, they do seem to be hard at work at making it better, providing firmware and driver updates to help concur any of these concerns. It shouldn’t be long before any mention of this is a moot point (hopefully). It provides most if not all the ports you may be looking for in your setup and even works with certain mobile devices. This is a win-win, allowing OWC to market it for all sorts of OS solutions and devices. The fact that you can use it as a Continuum hub is impressive alone. The price feels right, and we look forward to seeing what OWC develops in the future.
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*Average price is based on the time this article was published
- OS X 10.10 or later 1
- Windows 10 or later
- Ethernet driver required for OS X 10.10 and 10.11 only
- Driver not required for Windows
- Boot Camp is supported
- Mac or PC featuring USB Type-C interface 3, 4
- (1) USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
- (2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 Standard-A
- (2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 Standard-A high power
- (1) USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
- (1) HDMI 1.4b
- (1) SD Card Slot
- (1) Gigabit Ethernet
- (1) 3.5 mm Audio Input/Output Combo
Display Support 6
- HDMI 1.4b with support for up to 4K/30Hz
SD Card Support
- SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards up to 2TB
- Support for UHS-1 up to 40 MB/s
- Power Supply 7
- External UL-listed universal auto-switching power supply 8
- AC input: 100 ~ 240V, 50/60Hz
- DC output: 80W (20V, 4A)
- Adapter plugs for international use sold separately
- Environmental (Operating)
- Temperature (°F) 32° — 104°
- Temperature (°C) 0° — 40°
- Environmental (Non-Operating)
- Temperature (°F) ?4° — 158°
- Temperature (°C) ?20° — 70°
- Height: 1.1 in (2.8 cm)
- Width: 3.5 in (9.0 cm)
- Length: 7.9 in (20.0 cm)
- 0.9 lbs. (0.4 kg)
Are you a manufacturer or distributor that would like us to test something out for review? Contact us and we can let you know where to send the product and we will try it out.