Today’s mobile devices allow us to carry our digital multimedia files everywhere we go. Although they allow us to do this, one area is still to be covered by mobile devices (or rather, properly covered) – loud and quality music and video playback. Of course, almost any mobile device has a screen and a speaker, but sometimes, no matter how good they are (even the mighty full HD display of the HTC Droid DNA) these fall short of our expectations.
Luckily, where the mobile devices fall short, there are other gadgets that can take on the task of providing a boost in the multimedia capabilities that we want: mobile docking stations. These are perfectly adjusted for music or video playback, at high quality and far louder than the smartphone, tablet or mp3 player could be. But docking stations are also suited for other devices, and in this guide, we will be looking at all of them.
Buying a docking station
Although some might think that this device is pretty simple to buy, there are a few aspects to consider. Many docking stations offer support for particular devices, and such, are of no use when trying to connect something else to them. Also, there are other features that they provide.
Docking stations are usually for mp3 players, smartphones or tablets. These provide external speakers and sometimes screens that allow you to playback your music or watch a movie and not have to use a small screen. The vast majority of docking stations are of this type.
The other type of docking stations are for laptops and other devices, that allow you to quickly mount or dismount your device. They usually provide power connectors, video connectors, audio and other ports like USB, FireWire, eSATA and so on. Most users know these docking stations from their offices, where they use them to quickly connect their laptops to the workstation, but some home users have found use for them, particularly for their convenience and features.
Portable or Home Use (stationary)
The first thing you have to consider when buying a docking station is its type: portable or for home use. Many docking stations are pretty big and they weigh quite a lot and also, they do not have battery packs or they just plug in to a wall socket. These are meant for home use, where they are not moved too often. Also, these are the ones that usually offer the best performance, because the manufacturers do not have to take into consideration weight and dimensions too much, allowing them to use bigger and better speakers and materials.
Portable docking stations on the other hand have rechargeable battery packs (or simple AA batteries in some cases), smaller dimensions, they also weigh less, but they do not have the same build quality or sound quality of their bigger counterparts. Even so, do not haste your decision, as we will see that there are some great quality portable docking stations available.
For laptop docking stations the choice is pretty much single, as most of them have about the same size and offer the same features. However, there are different styles of docking stations, as we will see later on.
For mp3 and tablet docking stations, some features that should be included are multiple device support (because some manufacturers like Apple have their own port, it would be best if you find a docking station that also has a standard jack port), wireless capabilities (for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) so you can stream music without having to physically connect the device to the docking station.
A remote control would also be a nice addition that will improve its ease of use. In some portable models, you can even have integrated solar panels, so you can travel and still have battery life in your docking station, to use it anywhere.
On the other hand, for docking stations that are designed for laptops, you might want to see if the device supports multiple brands of laptops (although the ports might not differ, the way they are arranged on the laptop will most likely be different), an integrated battery pack for prolonging the life of the laptop battery is something to look forward to, also, a cooling pad is something that some docking stations offer, and I think this should be included in every last one.
Apart from these, there are other features that a docking stations could have, but the thing to consider is this: think of the possible connectors and features you will definitely use, and after making your selection, look for the ones that have some nice extras over the necessary features. These might include:
- wireless connections
- LAN ports
- better speakers
- longer battery life
- digital clock or integrated screens, depending on the type of the docking station.
Accessories can make or break a good product. When looking for docking stations, be sure to read the list of integrated accessories. For instance, included batteries, or a remote control (some manufacturers add remote control to their docking stations, but the remotes are sold separately), extra connection cables, extension cords and so on. If you are buying a docking station, might as well as get more gadgets for your money, instead of a single item.
Price is probably the deciding factor in your choice and as with all devices, it will determine its quality and its features. Docking stations vary from as little as $50 and ca go upwards of $600, again all depending on the manufacturer, quality and features. Now, I can’t tell you how much to spend on a docking station, but I will say this: it’s better to make a slightly bigger investment now and not have to worry later than to go with an inferior quality product and replace it time and time again.
Top 16 Docking Stations
Now that we’ve covered the basics in buying a good docking stations, we’ll take a look at some different models and see what they can and can’t do. As you might have guessed, we will split the list into two parts: one for laptop docking station and a bigger list of mp3/smartphones and tablet docking stations, for which the market has a much richer variety. Also, before moving on, do check our top of some cool-looking iPod/iPhone docking stations that was made awhile back.
Best Laptop Docking Stations
Usually, when you buy a laptop, it’s thanks to its portability and ease of use. For those who don’t like wires and plugs to run all over the place, these devices are perfect. But sometimes, they don’t quite cut it. If you want to add a second monitor, a keyboard, mouse and other peripherals, you end up with a pile of cables and not to mention the time that you waste with plugging in every device. Docking stations will allow you to quickly connect your laptop to all your peripherals and start working immediately.
8. Henge Docks Docking Station
This slick docking station was created to allow Apple Macbook Pro users to quickly connect their laptops to a home theatre system, as well as adding ethernet LAN, USB peripherals, Mini DisplayPort and FireWire. As you can see, this docking station will tend to almost any need you might have, but its gorgeous design might be a compromise for portability.
7. Fujitsu Port Replicator
Although designed for Fujitsu E780 and S710 series laptop, the Port Replicator will be of great use for you. It provides you with a full range of video connectors (VGA, DVI and HDMI), 4 USB ports and ethernet LAN. Also, due to its small size and light weight, it can be a great portable docking station. Also, it’s design allows more airflow underneath your laptop, so it will run cooler.
6. Lenovo ThinkPad Mini Dock Series 3
If you own a Lenovo ThinkPad T400s laptop, then this docking station will benefit you greatly. It gives you a rock solid surface where you can mount your laptop, and quickly connect your USB peripherals, ethernet LAN, audio and video equipment. This docking station also provides a security feature that lets you lock it with a key. A great addition to any desk, but its major disadvantage is its lack of support for other devices.
5. Kensington Universal Docking Station
If you are willing to let go of portability and make use of some great features and a easy to setup, Kensington Universal Docking Station will make a great addition to your desk. Although the device does not have video ports, it makes up for this with a ethernet port, additional always-on USB ports and audio ports. Its unique design makes it stand out from the others, and because it features a wire manager, it helps you keep your desk organized.
Although manufactured by Toshiba, this docking station is universal, which means it can be used with any laptop model, regardless of its manufacturer. The device comes as a upgraded Kensington docking station, but with a slightly different design and with video connector that can show images on full HD 1920×1080 displays. Apart from this, it features all the bells and whistles that you would expect: extra USB ports, audio ports and always-on technology for charging USB devices when the laptop is shut down.
3. Targus Universal Laptop Docking Station
Some docking stations restrict you from using them with any laptop, regardless of its manufacturer, but this is not the case of the Targus Universal Laptop Docking Station, which allows you to connect it to almost any laptop. The main connector to your laptop will be a USB 2.0 connector, but it also features VGA video connector, USB ports, audio and ethernet. All of these within a very small and portable docking station with a slick design that also facilitates air intake for the laptop.
If adding extra peripherals to your laptop is your main concern, then Apricorn Aegis is a great device. Although it does not have video outputs, and you cannot connect a monitor through it, it does contain a 500GB hard drive, optical drive, additional USB ports and audio ports for adding external speakers. Also, thanks to its low weight and slim body, the device is easily portable.
1. Vantec Laptop Docking Station
If you want a simple way to connect your laptop to other devices, such as a second monitor, keyboard, mouse or external speakers, then the Vantec docking station is the device you are looking for. It uses a USB 2.0 port as its main connector, and it can show images on a second monitor up to 1080×1050 resolution through a DVI port. It also has a power connector, ethernet connector and additional USB connectors for adding other peripherals.
Best Smartphone/MP3/Tablet Docking Stations
It’s no surprise that most of the docking stations you will see here are by default manufactured to accommodate Apple products, those being the most used multimedia mobile devices, but most of them also offer alternatives, such jack ports and other connection types, on which you can connect non-Apple devices. Also, different manufacturers, such as HTC and Motorola for example, offer their own docking stations for their devices, similar to Apple’s docking stations, and you should check them out before making the compromise of buying one that was originally intended for another device.
8. Logitech S715I Portable Speaker
A docking station for iPod and iPhone that lets you take your tunes everywhere is great, but one that offers exceptional quality audio is even better. Logitech has made a name for itself in the audio business, providing top notch quality speakers, and this portable docking stations is no exception. The device also comes with a travel case that facilitates transport.
7. Insignia CD Boombox with HD Radio
Insignia CD Boombox is a perfect example of an iPod or iPhone docking station with great looks and features that include CD player, HD radio, powerful speakers, but also portable. Although the device is portable, it does not have a battery pack, so you will have to stockpile a lot of batteries if you plan on taking it with you on your trip. Insignia is designed for iOS devices, but it also has an AUX jack port where you can connect any other MP3 player.
6. Cyber Acoustics-492
One of the most portable MP3 audio docks that we’ve seen so far, this little guy is about as tall as your iPhone and it weighs far less than the other docking stations featured here. But despite its small size, it packs quite a punch, giving you excellent audio quality from its two speakers. Maybe you won’t be able to hold a party with it, but what it lacks in power, it makes up in sound quality. Also, you can use it wither on 4 AA batteries or you can plug it in a standard wall socket and thanks to its low profile, it’s perfect for a bedroom.
Probably the best looking docking station for iOS devices yet, the Philips DS3881W/37 (and with a “gorgeous” name) gives its users stunning sound quality from its 360 degree speaker. The device can also be used to charge your iPod or iPhone and it can also connect wirelessly to AirPlay. This docking station is pretty heavy, but it also has an option to run on 4 AA batteries, however, I don’t see anyone taking it on vacation with them.
4. Portable iPod® PA System
How loud can a portable docking station be? If your answer was “not too loud”, then you should check out this baby. It looks like a guitar amplifier, which I find extremely sexy, and it can be heard from as far as 200 feet away! This is the perfect tool to take with you anywhere and make a party like no other. Also, it offers support for microphone, so you can even have karaoke. Other features that the docking station has include full sized 1/4 inch guitar or keyboard jack, and RCA audio ports for adding other MP3 players. Also, other models have different features, and might be worth checking out.
This suite has not one, but three awesome docking stations designed for Android devices that connect via Micro-USB ports. As with all other Philips gadgets, they look outstanding and they implement movable port so they can accommodate pretty much any device. As for the sound quality, the only words that can describe it are “top notch”. These three docking stations have very interesting designs, perfect for any room you might want to place them in, and thanks to their low profile, they can integrate just about in any decor.
If you thought the other docking stations in this top had interesting features, you haven’t seen anything yet. This device offers support for all generation iPod Nano and iPod touch (latest generation will require 30 pin to Lightning converter), it can stream video and can act as a both a TV or as a digital convertor for a analog TV. The device features alarm clock and radio as well, and all these features are packed in a portable body that can be taken anywhere!
1. Pioneer AirPlay Music Station (X-SMC3-K)
Just take a look at this thing! Its design is screaming “buy me!” and its features are the echo. Designed for iPod and iPhone, this docking station also supports any other device via its integrated USB port and AUX jack. It features a full color LCD display, wireless connectivity for streaming media via AirPlay and other DLNA compatible devices as well as ethernet LAN for connecting to your home network or to the Internet which allows you to listen to Internet radio, or if you choose, you can switch to the FM radio instead. The sound quality is exactly what you would expect from something bearing the name Pioneer.
As you can see, some of these docking stations are very lightweight and small, so they can be considered perfect travel gadgets. Also, they offer lots of features and can add a plus of functionality to your home, but they can also be a great design feature, making your smart house look better and more organized.