An important decision a Surface Pro or Surface Book owner can face is whether or not to purchase the accompanying docking station. The idea is simple: in addition to being a formidable productivity device on the go, the Surface Pro or Book can be transformed into something of a desktop by attaching it to the docking station, giving it a larger assortment of ports to plug in useful peripherals. The issue behind the dock isn’t its concept, but its price tag. At $200 USD, it’s a difficult ask for a lot of buyers for something that isn’t terribly essential.
However, I think the latest Surface Dock makes the hefty price tag much easier to stomach.
The first two generations of the Surface Pro docking station, while arguably beautiful aesthetically, were somewhat clumsy functionally. They essentially plugged into every hole in the device while removing use of the Surface Pro’s kickstand, and took up a lot of space on the desk doing so. They also only had one mini-DisplayPort, making it cumbersome to connect more than one monitor.
This improved in the third generation with the advent of the SurfaceConnect port, a magnetic connection which provides not only power, but everything else all in one exceedingly thin port. The other flaws remained.
With this latest generation Microsoft completely rethought the functional design of the dock, turning it into less of a “dock” and more of a “hub”. Simply plug the new Docking Station’s SurfaceConnect wire into the Surface device, and everything is plugged in: 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 mini-DisplayPorts, Gigabit Ethernet port, 3.5mm audio jack, all on top of fresh electricity.
Completely eradicated are all the previous docks’ flaws. Users can now use the kickstand normally while docked, a huge benefit to artists like myself, who rely on the kickstand to find the optimal drawing posture. They no longer have to remove their protective cases to attach the dock. The dock itself is much more compact, to the point where I stuff it in the negative space between my external monitor’s body and the stand that hoists it up, effectively taking no space on my desk whatsoever. There are more display connectivity options, allowing users to easily do dual monitor without daisy-chaining nonsense.
And most importantly: the dock no longer exclusively works with only one particular Surface device.
The new dock works with the previous generation Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and the Surface Book. Three docks for the price of one, if we compare it to historical standards. In addition to the above, part of why I believe the Surface Docking Station is now a substantially better value than before is rooted more in strategic speculation than confirmed fact, but I believe this new dock will be compatible with future generations of flagship Surface devices.
The SurfaceConnect, being the immensely versatile connector technology that it is, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s so thin that it should never be the bottleneck in any attempts to make the future devices thinner. The new dock’s power supply output is 90W, far higher than what even the Surface Book’s plug does. I suspect this is more to facilitate charging devices through USB (another very handy feature that can be used independently of a connecting flagship Surface device) but it does give future Surface devices more power draw headroom should it ever become needed.
If I were a betting man, I think this is what will happen: Surface Docking Station stays forward compatible with Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2. Meanwhile, Microsoft eventually releases a Surface Docking Station 2, which features USB Type-C reversible ports in addition to traditional USB 3.0 ports. For a $200 USD price tag, of course.
Simply put, the new docking station is the most perfect and versatile rendition of the Surface’s docking concept thus far, addressing virtually every major flaw of its predecessors and being compatible with multiple Surface devices. Any flagship Surface device owner looking to be even more productive like a boss with his or her device and might be worried about compatibility or upgradeability should give this new dock a long, hard look.