I haven't used my Late 2009 white MacBook much since I bagged a Thinkpad T430 back in April.  If I'm doing something Mac-specific, I've often used my newer Mini that I keep in a living room.

But I don't have a Mac at my KVM-equipped office desk, and started wondering about bagging a HengeDock.  The model I wanted was a HD01VBMB, Model B, and I finally managed to pick one up on eBay for $42.50 shipped, which is just north of what's currently a bargain price.


The quick lesson is this: Given that Apple doesn't give you a dock connector, the HengeDock is a well-designed, innovative solution.  You can complain that it doesn't live up to a conventional laptop dock because it doesn't provide additional ports and eliminates access the MacBook's built-in screen as an additional monitor, but these sorts of complaints miss the point.  Apple's unquestionably good at minimizing wires, and the company apparently expects desk users to slap a Thunderbolt cable with power onto your Mac laptop, use the laptop's keyboard (in the setup Apple has in their picture, below) or Bluetooth peripherals, and be done.

That's actually an excellent solution if you're primarily a mobile laptop user.  One wire, have your peripherals on the display's hub (or iMac's, via Target Display Mode), and you're rolling.  Best case, have the Apple Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad/mouse.

But if already you have a dock-friendly setup like mine, use more than one computer, and one of those isn't a Mac, Apple's solution is hardly ideal.  You'd have to un- and re-plug the Thunderbolt for each of the computers you have sharing the display, or lay out what's currently around $300 for a Thunderbolt hub.  But even if you only have a Mac, Apple's implicitly suggested Thunderbolt display solution is insanely expensive.

HengeDock takes advantage of the fact that, for many older MacBooks, Apple put every port on one side of your laptop (though note the compromises on the newer AirDock in the pictures, below -- having power and monitor output on opposite sides really kills the simple setup for the MacBook Air and Pro Retina), and treats that side as a very low-tech dock port.

Turning the "port" side of the laptops into a dock port is brilliant.  I can quickly get every port hooked up by sliding the laptop onto the dock and start desktopping, which is really the point of docks. For this use, the HengeDock is quick and useful.

AirDock Compromises
So let's ignore the necessary weaknesses of a MacBook HengeDock and see what's what...

My first impression was that the HengeDock's 2-d footprint is extremely small, relatively speaking.  I have two docks on the desk already -- one for the Lenovo, and another for my work Dell Latitude e5530.  Both of those have the laptop laying flat.  That's okay when you want to use your laptop's own monitor, as I do in the Lenovo's case.  It can drive three monitors, and I have two externals available, so three total.  But the Dell can only run two externals, and a closed laptop with its flat footprint is a pain.  I'm not using its display or keyboard, and it's taking up a ton of desk real estate.  And though my desk is pretty large, three areas cleared for laptops is insane.  Makes me wish I could use a HengeDock for the Dell, though I do miss using a second monitor with the MacBook.

The second thing I noticed is that I'm using my MacBook quite a bit more, just out of convenience.  It's the Mac on my office desk, so it gets more use.  I also tend to pull it out of the dock and continue using it when I started on the desk.  Using the Mac with a better screen (the MacBook's low display resolution is much more noticeable since I grabbed the Lenovo) is wonderful.  So more MacBook use all around.

All that said, this setup really highlights the MacBook's lack of ports in general.  Today I wanted to move some stuff from one external drive to another, and both require a dedicated USB port.  Since I use a USB KVM switch, I'm already down half my USB ports.  If I took the MacBook flat, out of a dock, I could have used the MacBook's keyboard and trackpad.  But folded, I'm reduced to setting up screen sharing or, as Apple seems to prefer, using a Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad/mouse.  If I want a second display, I need to use my USB-to-HDMI video out box, which requires a dedicated USB slot.  Etc, etc.  Even with a USB hub, the MacBook simply isn't made for desk replacement duty.

And yes, as you've probably read if you've done HengeDock research, you do need two hands to pull the MacBook back out of the dock.  And occasionally I've wiggled wires out of the socket briefly when moving the laptop/dock on my desk.

The only improvement, and this is probably pushing the term "improvement," I can think of offhand is to have an additional "Open HengeDock" version that has a slot to allow you to dock the laptop stuck open in portrait mode.  This would eliminate the neat, clean, low real estate advantage of the HengeDock, as you'd have a useless keyboard and trackpad dangling off of the side of your "monitor", but it would allow you to use your laptop's screen as part of a dual-monitor setup.  I use a dual or triple monitor setup to develop, and one side monitor (usually an "extra wide" ThinkVision L220XWC) is always in landscape, which I do find useful -- a monitor on its side is almost certainly better than none.  And I can't help but think it'd help the Macs run more coolly to be open.

But all in all, these complaints are minor.  I like the HengeDock.  If you use your Mac (old or new) a good deal, and consistently use a number of peripherals (external monitor(s), usb keyboard and/or mouse, external drives), the HengeDock is a nice, useful, handy option.  If you have a multi-computer setup, use peripherals, and any of the boxes are or could eventually be non-Mac machines, it's a no-brainer.  I think even once I finally bite the bullet and grab a MacBook Air, I'd buy another HengeDock, simply slapping it in without charging half the time.

But for a computer without a dock, my MacBook now works exceptionally well inside of a dock-driven workspace.  And that's probably worth $45.

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