The Surface Pro 3 Docking Station provides ample expansion and can turn Microsoft's latest tablet into a real desktop PC. But there are some important differences between this device and its Surface Pro 2-based predecessor. And from what I can tell up front, they're mostly positive.
Check out my Surface Pro 3 Docking Station: Unboxing Photos for some fan boy imagery. I don't usually do the unboxing thing, but I haven't been this excited about a hardware accessory in a while.
Here are some initial impressions.
Materials. The new Docking Station appears to be made out of the same plastic materials as its predecessor and its similarly formed, with hard edges and a quality feel. It looks and feels quite solid. But it is a different color (dark gray) than the Surface Pro 3 (light gray), whereas the Surface Pro 2 and its docking station were the same color.
Locking mechanism. The locking mechanism which kicks in when you enclose the Surface Pro 3 with the surrounding "wings" (as I think of them) is even smoother than its predecessors. Part of this is clearly some internal work, but part of it is that the Surface Pro 3 seems to fit better in the enclosure and only requires one connection (via the power port) rather than one on each side as before (USB + miniDisplayPort).
Type Cover accommodation. As you know, the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover can connect to Surface Pro 3 in two modes: Laying flat or at an angle with the back of the Type Cover magnetically connected to the bottom front of the tablet. The Docking Station accommodates both modes just fine. But you cannot remove the Type Cover without opening the Docking Station's locking mechanism.
Power charging. As with its predecessor, the new Docking Station utilizes a different power connector than the Surface. There's no USB port on the power brick.
Pen holder. Here's a fun surprise you can see in my shots above: The left "wing" has magnets inside so you can magnetically clip the pen to the side of the Docking Station. That is awesome, and it works well.
Drivers. On August 14, the day before the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station ships, Microsoft will release drivers for the accessory. These will be installed automatically when you connect your Surface Pro 3 to the Docking Station for the first time. (I had to install one driver manually, which I knew about up front.)
Surface Pro 3 ports are still accessible. We knew this, but it's notable that the USB 3.0 port and miniDisplayPort connector on the tablet are still accessible while it's in the Docking Station. That means you have a total of four USB 3.0 ports (three on the Docking Station plus one on the tablet, plus two USB 2.0 ports) and two miniDisplayPort connectors (one on the tablet, one on the Docking Station), all of which can be used simultaneously. The Surface Pro 3's power and volume up/down buttons are also still accessible.
I'm going to hook this thing up to my desktop accessories—external display, keyboard, mouse and so on—and use it tomorrow to see how it performs and whether the fan kicks in and, if so, how frequently/how loudly.