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Hubble iPad case bakes in the USB, SD, headphone and HDMI ports

If you constantly find yourself swapping dongles, Fledging's Hubble for iPad case can be an essential accessory.

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Lori Grunin/CNET

This is one of those ideas that makes you go "D'oh! Why hasn't anyone done it before?" Apple accessory maker Fledging's Hubble for iPad pairs a full USB-C dock -- two USB-C connectors, one USB-A, a 3.5mm analog headphone jack, HDMI connector and a micro and full-size SD card slots -- and a sturdy metal case with a magnetic cover very much like Apple's own Smart Folio. It's a generally well-designed and convenient solution for dongle-burdened users of iPads with USB-C connectors: 10.9-inch iPad Air 2020 or iPad Pro from 2018 onward. It's begun shipping recently and costs $100 for most iPad models, and $110 for the 12.9-inch iPad. 

The case consists of three pieces: a metal shell, the metal hub and the fabric-bound articulated cover which attaches magnetically to the back. Because of the modular design, you can use the hub as a standalone without the case, or leave off the hub if you want to travel with the lightest weight possible. As you'd expect from a metal case it feels quite sturdy and protective, and there's a tiny toggle switch to disable the dock so attached accessories can't trickle down the battery.

The hub connections work as well as any hub's do -- they're generally fine with the occasional baffling not-recognized device error, but that's probably as attributable to iOS as much as anything else. When snapped into the case, the hub connection is snug and secure, which is a good thing since that's usually where I grab it.   

You can charge the iPad through one of the USB-C slots while using the other connections, and it functioned as expected when connected to USB thumb drives, a wired mouse, with an SD card, or hooked up to a 4K 60Hz display.

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If you don't want to use the entire case, you can detach the dock and use it by itself. (This is a shot of the preproduction unit, so it looks a little different than the final model.)

Lori Grunin/CNET

I really like the idea of the case, but it could stand some refinement. My biggest problem is that there's no way to secure the Apple Pencil like I can with my Speck case. My Pencil has vanished somewhere in my room, destined to become the world's most expensive dust bunny, at least until I spot one of the cats batting it around as a toy. Nor does the Hubble have a cover for the camera, again like the Speck case does. 

Less broad an issue, but important to me, I need a case that can be flipped open and closed and propped up one handed. In my case, it's because Iris the Destroyer is demanding the spot on my lap already occupied by the iPad, and I'm simultaneously trying to prevent her from rubbing all over the iPad with one hand while trying to prop it up off to the side with the other. The magnet holding the cover on isn't always secure enough, and it can slide around or drop off.

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Lori Grunin/CNET

Another drawback for photographers and videographers is that the SD card slot only supports UHS-1 (the cards with a single row of contacts), which means if you want to use UHS-II or III you've got to connect another reader via USB. It's an ugly workaround, but it works. According to the company, supporting the dual-row contacts would add another 4mm to the depth of the hub. But it's also the first model in Fledging's line.

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Despite these drawbacks, I haven't yet tossed it aside for my lower tech (but more practical) alternative; the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages. But I can't guarantee that will remain true on the day I see the Apple Pencil fly out from beneath my bed.