At a glance
- Detailed, informative LCD display
- Excellent information and controls
- Top-notch performance
- Odd but competitive pricing scheme
- No manual?!
- Some instability
- More charging power needed
- Demands an up-to-date laptop for best results
The Dockcase USB-C hubs are absolutely unique in terms of the wealth of data they give access to. But the lack of a manual and some other quirks don’t make this the most customer-friendly product.
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The Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 Explorer Edition is a fantastic USB-C hub for those whose idea of a fun Saturday night is digging around in the Windows registry files. Unfortunately, many of its benefits are lost by the inexplicable omission of a manual that explains it all.
Essentially, this is a USB-C hub for nerds. Not only is the hub larger than most, with multiple external connectors that designate a premium hub, but there’s an actual display: a small LCD screen that provides a detailed look at what devices are connected to each port and what their capabilities are. Put another way, the Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 feels more like a an OBD2 diagnostic device for your car, or a USB multimeter.
It’s also a decent USB-C hub by itself, powering two 4K displays at 60Hz without the need for Thunderbolt. More on that in a minute.
As a USB-C hub, the Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 connects to your PC via a braided USB-C cable that’s about a foot long. There are two display ports: an undisclosed HDMI port capable of powering an 8K display at 30Hz or a 4K display at 60Hz, and an undisclosed DisplayPort capable of driving a 4K/120Hz display. There’s also two 480Mbps USB-A ports, a 10Gbps USB-C port, a 10Gbps USB-A port, gigabit Ethernet, and a UHS-II SD/microSD card slot rated at 312Mbps. A dedicated USB-C power-in port accepts up to 100W.
The square central multicolor display measures about 1.2 inches on a side, and the top is made out of clear plastic, allowing you to see the internal electronics powering the hub.
Mark Hachman / IDG
On the right PC, this dock can accomplish the same capabilities as a more expensive Thunderbolt dock, powering two 4K displays at 60Hz. It uses a technology called USB 3.2 Gen 2+DP Alt Mode with HBR3, which uses compression technology to approximate a Thunderbolt stream. Dockcase says that this dock will accommodate most Windows laptops but not all Microsoft Surface devices, without explaining which ones. But it certainly worked on our test PCs, which included a Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio.
Why buy a Dockcase hub? The display
The display, though, is the selling point. For someone who already struggles to (briefly) explain the differences between the best USB-C hubs, the best Thunderbolt docks, and what a DisplayLink dock is, I find a hub that tries to explain what your system is doing via the diagnostic screen a real winner.
Plug in an HDMI cable, and the dock’s display reports what device is plugged in, its resolution, and display rate. Plug in your laptop’s charger, and the Dockcase device reports how many watts are being supplied, how many watts being consumed by the dock, and how much is available to power your laptop — and allows you to make adjustments. If you’d like to push more power to the dock to supply more output power to an SSD, you can do that. You can adjust USB speeds. A small indicator will even display the dock’s internal temperature. (Previous Dockcase docks included cooling fans; this does not.)
Mark Hachman / IDG
This sounds fantastic, and it is. But there are two major hangups: The interface, and the lack of a manual explaining the ins and outs of the Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 Explorer Edition. Navigating through the complex menu system is all done by a single button and a complex combination of short key presses, long key presses, and holding down the key for even longer.
It’s not clear what does what, and I found myself fruitlessly looking for a support site, a manual, anything, either in the box or on the Dockcase site. Earlier Dockcase products on Amazon suggested how to navigate around, but what I learned about my PC via the Dockcase 10-in-1 USB-C hub was largely through trial and error, and that simply shouldn’t happen. There were settings I simply didn’t have the patience to test, if only because a) I didn’t know what they would do, and b) at least once I ended up in a menu I couldn’t back out of.
Before this review published, Dockcase did send over a manual as a Google Docs document, which we won’t link to here. That’s not helpful for a consumer, however, and Dockcase really needs to publish a direct link or printed manual. It doesn’t solve the navigation issue, but it does show there’s a lot of value inside this hub, waiting to be unlocked.
How does the Dockcase hub perform?
The Dockcase USB-C Smart Hub 10-in-1 dock was generally stable once in use. But plugging things in and configuring them was another story. One display went black after switching a tab. My test displays also took a few seconds to connect, longer than most. Both external displays also went black for a few seconds when I plugged in an Ethernet cable to speed up a local file transfer. While the hub showed the Ethernet cable as connected, Windows didn’t. (Resetting the Ethernet adapter via Windows solved the problem, but transferring the file via Wi-Fi proved more effective.)
I saw some instability when testing performance, too. The Dockcase dock easily outperformed rival docks in terms of storage transfers over the shared bus, about 10MB/s, or faster than its rivals, or 138.9Mbps. While doing so, however, one 4K display essentially de-rezzed into what appeared to be a sort of semi-random representation of the screen. Unplugging and reinserting the cable solved the problem. I also experienced a glitch where plugging the hub into my PC didn’t work. In this case, give Dockcase credit: I’ve experienced this same glitch before with other hubs, and the Dockcase dock identified it and asked me to unplug and reinsert the USB-C cable. That’s good.
Mark Hachman / IDG
I next played back a 4K YouTube video over Wi-Fi and it went flawlessly, even when I was transferring files over the bus at the same time. That’s atypical, and a credit to the Dockcase hub.
The USB-C port generated about 6.5W of power, not really enough to fast-charge a smartphone. The USB-A ports produced about 2.5W of power. Thoough the Dockcase dock appears to be made of aluminum and plastic, heat was never an issue.
The Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 Explorer Edition is a fun, geeky dock that tells you what’s going on under the hood of your PC and its peripherals, but it’s up to you to figure it all out.
Should you buy the Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 Explorer Edition?
Dockcase has a slightly unusual way of launching new products: first via Kickstarter, then later on its own website and through third-party retailers. (Its 9-in-1 Visual Smart USB-C Hub with a single HDMI port, launched in 2022, is currently available on Amazon for $99.99.) For now, the only available purchasing links to buy this 10-in-1 hub are via Kickstarter, where the product’s price has been cut by about a third to $109, versus an expected retail price of $159.99.
If you look at the Dockcase 10-in-1 hub as offering the capabilities of a Thunderbolt dock while adding information/diagnostic capabilities on top of it, this Dockcase dock is a relative bargain at its Kickstarter price. From experience, you’ll have better luck with all USB-C hardware — and not just this dock — if you connect it to a modern laptop (with, say, a 12th-gen Core or above) that’s been tested against Intel’s Evo program.
The bottom line: The Dockcase Smart USB-C Hub 10-in-1 Explorer Edition is a fun, geeky USB-C hub that tells you some of what’s going on with your USB peripherals in real time. But you won’t be able to take full advantage until Dockcase brings its documentation up to speed.