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Kensington StudioDock review: Unleash the iPad Pro with tons of ports

This iPad Pro super dock comes so close to turning the iPad into a computer.

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Monitor, keyboard, trackpad, and charging Apple devices aplenty: the Kensington StudioDock pushes the iPad Pro to desktop-zone.

Scott Stein/CNET

It's 2021, and the iPad still isn't entirely a Mac replacement for me. But it's so, so close. The totally wild Kensington StudioDock pushes the iPad Pro far outside its normal tablet window, and that just makes me want Apple to close the gap and turn this thing into the Swiss Army computer it nearly already is.

I've already nearly turned the iPad into a laptop with trackpad-equipped keyboard cases, but the StudioDock pushes toward the iPad-as-desktop-computer design. Kensington's expensive dock is like a monitor stand for your iPad, with (almost) all the charge ports and expansion pieces you could wish for. It's also the closest thing to a real-life version of Apple's never-released AirPower charge mat. Plus, it swivels.

First of all, you'll need a USB-C equipped iPad: the iPad Pro (2018 or later) or 2020 iPad Air to enjoy it. It comes in two different sizes, one for the 11-inch models, and one for the 12.9-inch Pro, at two slightly different prices, $379 and $400. (UK and Australian prices are yet to be announced, but $400 converts to around £290 or AU$515.) I tested it for the 12.9-inch version. Apple may have a new iPad Pro coming in just a couple of weeks, though, and if you're thinking about this type of accessory for a new iPad, I'd hold off until we hear more about whether the next iPad Pro will be compatible with it.

The heavy aluminum stand on the Kensington StudioDock is big, but with a relatively compact footprint on a desk. The iPad slots into a magnetic-backed cradle and plugs into a USB-C port (it's not an instant snap-in), From there, the iPad just hangs out on its stand like a monitor. It's designed to use along with a keyboard and trackpad or mouse, so that you'll basically be using the iPad like a desktop computer. If you have a wireless keyboard and mouse (or, just plug in wired ones to the extra ports on the StudioDock), you're good to go.

I'm already used to using the iPad Pro with the keyboard and trackpad built into the Magic Keyboard case, and in this dock the computer-like experience becomes even more compelling -- and sometimes uncanny. The iPad Pro is extremely versatile in keyboard/trackpad mode, but it sometimes makes me wish I could just open up more windows, like a Mac. As good as it is, the StudioDock can't help me with that. 

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There aren't that many apps that use a monitor as a second workspace. I wish there were.

Scott Stein/CNET

One thing you can do is connect an extra monitor. Crazy Thing No. 1: The StudioDock comes with a huge number of ports: three USB 3.2, gigabit Ethernet and HDMI 2.0 on the back, USB-C on one side (3.2 Gen1, it doesn't output video for a monitor), a 3.5mm headphone jack (missing from the iPad Air and Pro) and an SD card reader on the other side. I plugged my Dell monitor in over HDMI, and it works, but iPads only mirror in 4:3 aspect ratio to external monitors unless running apps that specifically are optimized for multiscreen use. There aren't that many that are. That one USB-C port can't help with video connections, only charging and external storage.

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All the ports on the back (and there's SD card, headphone jack, and USB-C on the sides).

Scott Stein/CNET

Crazy Thing No. 2 on the StudioDock is that its base is a wireless Qi charging mat for an iPhone and AirPods, but at a max of 5 watts for AirPods and 7.5 watts for iPhones. Optionally, you can also attach an extra Apple Watch charger (which I tried) to the dock's swiveling iPad cradle. And you can charge all Apple devices at the same time, on the same dock. It feels like an Apple Store on your desk.

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Too much!

Scott Stein/CNET

The dock's iPad cradle tilts up and down from straight vertical to a horizontal orientation above the stand, in case you want to use it as a drawing surface while standing. The cradle also rotates 90 degrees from landscape to portrait mode on the fly. For Zooms and other video chats, that's extremely helpful for getting the iPad camera angle just right. An Apple Pencil can snap on the top of the iPad and stay in place in any orientation.

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The dock can tilt upwards so if you wanted to use it as a sketch surface while standing, you could.

Scott Stein/CNET

Kensington's dock comes with its own beefy AC charger, which plugs in the back and powers the whole thing. (It comes with international plug adapters, too, although I'm not traveling with this anytime soon.) My review unit had a little bit of a subtle electrical hum when plugged in and powered up, but otherwise was fine. A side button the dock turns it off and on in case you don't want it powered all the time and you could also just use the dock as an iPad stand with no power at all.

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The keyboard and trackpad aren't included (BYO).

Scott Stein/CNET

One thing this dock doesn't come with, though, is a keyboard or mouse or trackpad. You need to bring those yourself. I tested with a Logitech K380 Bluetooth keyboard and an Apple Magic Trackpad. I also used the bottom half of the Brydge iPad Pro keyboard case, which is Bluetooth and worked in a pinch.

The price of this dock is high, but $400 isn't quite as insane if you consider this does triple duty as a multidevice charger, a USB-C multiport dongle, and a swiveling stand, all in one. It's still a serious investment in the concept of Your iPad As Your Computer. I'd be a lot more OK with that if Apple was even more serious about it, too. The iPad's OS is still limited in the way it handles plug-in USB-C accessories and monitors. If the next iPadOS goes even further and unleashes the iPad to where it clearly needs to be -- in other words, Apple's version of the Microsoft Surface Pro -- then Kensington's StudioDock is already here and ready for the transition to happen. Incidentally, so am I.