Lots of schools continue to use early Macbook 11- and 13-inch Air models because despite being small and light, they have been durable. One problem is that there aren’t a lot of accessories for them still on the market. That is, except for a very nice docking station from Henge Docks that is not only inexpensive but charges the system while connecting to a monitor, speakers and USB accessories.
The white plastic Vertical Docking Station measures 8.8- by 5.5- by 4.3-inches and is solidly built. Because the system sits vertically, it takes up less desk space than the notebook on its own. It matches the Apple industrial design with a smooth finish and heavily rounded corners, but its white plastic shell looks odd next to the Air’s aluminum skin.
There are docks that work with just about any 11- or 13-inch Macbook Air systems, made from mid-2010 to today as well as ones for MacBook Pro models. The devices come fully assembled, have a rubberized interior and there’s no software to load. On the downside, there are no cables included in the box, but more on that later.
The dock’s top opening matches the profile of the Air system so you can’t put the notebook in backwards. While you’ll need to remove any protective plastic cover, the Air system slides right into the dock and only requires slight pressure for the ports to make contact, seat and connect. You need to be careful that the system is inserted straight down or the ports won’t line up. The system can be released with a slight tug.
The dock’s base has nonslip feet so it stays put on a desk and the notebook is securely held in place on the desk, but there are no tie-down screws for permanent installations in computer labs. Plus, unlike traditional horizontal docks, you can’t open the lid and use the system’s keyboard while its docked.
At the base, the dock has pass-through connections for the system's USB and mini-Displayport connectors. The vertical dock, however, doesn’t work with newer Thunderbolt-based displays, although other vertical Henge products work with Macbook Pro and Macbook Pro Retina models.
On the top is where you plug in your power cord and there’s a handy power-cable guide on the side. Next over are audio and the system’s other USB port, which is out in the open and perfect for use with a wireless keyboard receiver or a thumb drive.
It’s the fault of the Macbook design, but there’s no way to easily connect the Vertical Docking Station to an Ethernet wired network for use in a computer lab. My solution is to use an inexpensive generic USB-to-LAN adapter, which worked fine.
Because the dock and Macbook Air rely on mini-Displayport for video, there’s a good chance you’ll need to get a video adapter cable for the display or projector The good news is that Henge sells ones for HDMI and DVI devices for $25 each, but if you shop around, you can get ones for half that.
There’s a trick you’ll need to use to get the Vertical Docking Station to work with a display or projector. Because Macs go to sleep when the lid is closed you’ll need to get the InsomniaX, NoSleep or Caffeine app which keeps the system from nodding off. Or, if you’re fast enough, plug the Macbook into the monitor you’ll be using and make sure it is sending the image to the screen. The, quickly unplug the mini-Displayport cable from the Macbook and plug it into the dock while inserting the system into the dock. It’s awkward but effective.
The dock connects in a matter of seconds, turning a 2011 vintage Air into a desktop system that’s connected to a 27-inch in full 1080P HD resolution. That’s a step up from the system’s native 1,366 by 768 resolution display.
At $65, the Henge Docks Vertical Docking Station is a true bargain, but only includes a 90-day warranty. This is not nearly enough to stand up to the rigors of school use.
The bottom line is that Henge Docks’s Vertical Docking Station can inexpensively turn any Macbook Air into a desktop computer with all the expected accoutrements. Just as fast, it can be released and resume its life as a notebook computer.
+ Doesn’t take up much space
+ USB and video connections
+ Rubberized interior
- Need cable adapter for video
- 90-day warranty