If you have a new MacBook or MacBook Pro, you only have USB-C ports which are wonderful in every single way except one: hardly anyone uses them. Ouch. I mean, they’re faster, daisy-chainable, multi-functional … you know what I mean.
So, to get anywhere with these marvellous machines, you need dongles … dongles that basically step down all these marvellous new capabilities to the boring old tech everything else uses: USB, Ethernet, HDMI … but hey, you can go one better.
A Dock – one device, that only uses one of those precious be-all/end-all USB-C (AKA Thunderbolt 3) and parlays it into a veritable party of those old technology connectors so you can run everything you already have while, best of all, leaving three more of those USB-C ports (in the case of the 15-inch MacBook Pro) for newer technology. Once it shows up.
And these marvellous Docks will set you back a few hundred, but they do a lot of work for the money. I hope to look at Belkin’s and Kensington’s Thunderbolt 3 Docks soon (popularity seems to be affecting supply), but in the meantime, let’s assess this little Moshi contender, the symbus.
Small — This is a very compact (by Dock standards) and thence portable (although it needs its own power supply) USB-C hub. It’s only about the size of a packet of cigarettes – remember those?
The symbus is silver and sits on a fairly substantial, non-slip pedestal and has a fixed USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 cable coming out of the back, about 25cm long, which goes into your Mac, and a power-brick with NZ/AU power supply that plugs in. As for ports, it can’t fit as many as a full-size Dock but its array is well considered and, for many, indispensable: 1000mbps Ethernet, HDM for an external monitor or projector, and 2x USB-A 5Gbps ports.
In turn, plugging in the symbus, since it has a power supply of its own, can push up to 65 watts – enough to charge a MacBook or MacBook Pro 13-inch (the MacBook Pro 15-inch with Touch Bar needs 87 watts, so it’s not up to that). But on compatible Macs, that means another port is released for you.
Symbus will provide power delivery up to 65W for laptop charging. This is enough for MacBooks and MacBook Pros up through the 13-inch model from late 2016, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro (late 2016) with Touch Bar requires 87W of power to charge it.
The USB ports carry different power too. The left-hand USB port is high-speed for charging smartphone and tablets (2.1A). This meant it also ran my Zoom UAC-2 Audio Interface; the other port did not, so the right one’s more for mice, keyboards and other low-power requirements.
App for that — Although this is a plug-and-play device, moshi has an an app in the Mac App store (free) called the USB-C Dock Utility which adds the features of letting you eject any USB devices plugged into the Dock at once, it indicates Ethernet status and lets you update firmware on the symbus should it be available.
This installs into your more amenable (to customisation) right-side menus at the top of your monitor.
Alternatives — Moshi also makes a USB-C Multiport Adapter, a 3-in-1 hub that supports 1080p and 4K video output to HDMI plus one USB port, with a pass-through USB-C port so it can also be used to charge a MacBook, for NZ$140. https://www.moshi.com/usb-c-multiport-adapter )
Conclusion — A handy compact Dock, in effect, that limits itself to the most useful features in a small form factor (Ethernet, HDMI and two USB ports). However, some devices need the high power port (some audio interfaces) and you’ll need to remember that’s the left-hand-one, not the right-hand-one.
What’s great — Attractive, small, portable, slick and very useful
What’s not — Good luck finding one. Moshi is still setting up retail sales in New Zealand. It’s also expensive for only four ports, it’s getting near the prices of much bigger Docks with 10 ports like the Kensington (NZ$380, but only charges to 60w) or Belkin ($640 but charges to 85w)
Needs — Anyone wanting to free up one or more ports, and those who prefer faster (than wifi) internet access, as I do, with Ethernet.
Moshi symbus Compact docking station NZ$269.99 (US$124.95)
System — Any USB-C or Thunderbolt 3-equipped laptop – Thunderbolt-3 compatible and 100% plug-n-play, no drivers needed, although firmware updates are available through the free moshi app. HDMI port for adding an external display (4K@30Hz, 1080p@60Hz); Gigabit Ethernet port for wired data transfer up to 1000 Mbps; 2xUSB-A ports for connecting a keyboard, mouse, or hard drive; USB PD function for fast-charging USB-C laptops (up to 50W, which does not include the new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar) with integrated Smart LED charging indicator (for Macs that are supported)
More information — Moshi