The MacBook Air might be a skinny slice of engineering brilliance, but its thin frame means there's not a whole lot of room for extra ports. When you find yourself needing more than the meagre two USB ports and single Thunderbolt port, Elgato's Thunderbolt Dock might be just the accessory for you.
The dock plugs into the Mac's Thunderbolt port and gives you another Thunderbolt port, three USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, a microphone jack and HDMI and Ethernet ports. It's on sale now in the UK at the Apple Store for £180 or on Amazon in the US for $230. That's a hefty chunk of money for an accessory for an already expensive laptop, but its array of ports will almost certainly make your office life a little easier.
For starters, neither the MacBook Airs or the recent slimmed-down Retina display MacBook Pros come with Ethernet ports -- essential for media pros moving huge files to local servers, for example. The razor-thin Airs also don't have HDMI ports, meaning you may well have had to shell out on an adaptor to use the HDMI cable from your existing monitor.
The Airs also have a combined headphone and microphone jack, meaning that while you can plug a microphone in, you can't also plug in your headphones to monitor the sound -- not a problem with Elgato's dock. The three USB ports bring your overall total to five, and as the ones on the dock are powered, they're able to give more charge for battery-hungry devices like iPads.
It all gets fed through the dock, which connects to your laptop over Thunderbolt. Although not portable (it needs a power source), you can rock up at your desk in the morning, hook it into your computer and have all of your external devices, backup drives, Internet connection and monitor connected in one go. It might just help you tidy up all those stray cables, although I can't say it worked miracles on my filthy desktop.
It's a neat little unit, measuring 175mm wide and 80mm deep, and its matte aluminium casing makes it feel like sturdy and secure on your desk -- quite apart from matching the design of your MacBook. Setting it up is a laughably simple case of unpacking it and plugging it in.
While the dock isn't exactly cheap, it could be a worthwhile purchase if you need Ethernet, HDMI and separate microphone and headphone jacks, but don't want the clutter of having numerous dongles and adaptors attached to your machine.