Available in limited quantities until early 2014, Microsoft's Surface Docking Station is one of the more eagerly-awaited Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 accessories. It features a decent selection of expansion ports, impressive industrial design, and a heady price tag. Here are some first impressions and photos to tide you over until I can prepare a full review.
Before that, a quick word on availability: Many, myself included, have incorrectly reported that this accessory would not ship until early 2014. That is because that is what all of Microsoft's press material state. But at the Surface 2 launch, company officials actually did tell us that Surface Docking Station would ship in limited quantities immediately and then more broadly in early 2014. So it will occasionally pop-up as available at Microsoft Store retail locations as well as online. You basically just need to get lucky.
I'd previously had some hands-on time with the Surface Docking Station at the Surface 2 launch last month and then again a few weeks back during a private briefing with the Surface team in Boston. But nothing beats actually using a device like this, so I'll switch from my normal desktop set up this week to Surface Pro 2 plus the Surface Docking Station and see how things go.
Frankly, I'm expecting it to work flawlessly. You may recall my previous write-up, Going Pro: Replacing the Desktop, in which I described using a Plugable USB 3.0 docking station as a sort of jury-rigged Surface Pro dock. But this set up was elevated to the starting lineup this past summer when my normal desktop PC, a 2012-era Ivy Bridge-based HP tower, went belly-up. So I used Surface Pro and the Plugable docking station as my primary PC for several months this year.
By comparison, the Surface Docking Station—which works with both Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, but not Surface RT or Surface 2—is more expensive at $199.99, and offers fewer USB 3.0 ports (one vs. two for the Plugable) and USB 2.0 ports (three vs. two). But it uses Mini-DisplayPort for video out, which will ease up the demands on the processor compared to the Plugable's USB-based video.
(Many have asked about multiple display support. The Docking Station has only a single Mini-DisplayPort, so those with the original Surface Pro can add just a single external monitor, unless you go with some form of USB-based video-out as well. Surface Pro 2 features Mini-DisplayPort 2, which supports multiple displays via display chaining. But Microsoft tells me this feature will require a software update, which is on the way.)
The Surface Docking Station is also far more elegant, and designed specifically for Surface Pro and Pro 2. Its side panels slide out effortlessly thanks to some bank vault-like magic inside the unit, and it secures the tablet nicely. Best of all, you can continue using your Surface typing cover if you wish.
Interestingly, while the Docking Station does come with its own power supply as expected, it doesn't utilize the same magnet-based connector you see with Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 and is instead more of a standard connector. This means you can't use it with your Surface Pro/Pro 2 separately, which might have been a nice emergency use. But it's no big loss.
Anyway, here are some more photos to enjoy while I put the Docking Station through a few days of normal use.