Laptops have overtaken desktop PCs as the preferred workhorse machines for most companies, regardless of the size, and it is easy to see why. The performance, feature, and price gap between the two have shrunk considerably, so much so that other than for niche use cases that require a fixed workstation, a laptop is generally preferable to a desktop computer.
But while laptops are mobile computers, they do rely, sometimes, on accessories to boost their capabilities. We’ve rounded up five of these clever extras, from a projector that can save a presentation, through a tiny docking station, to one of the weirdest gadgets ever to land on Techradar Pro, courtesy of a Kickstarter campaign.
- Now, you can make the best laptops even better
There are plenty of storage solutions on the market that promise to secure your content using good old physical PIN numbers and the Datashur Pro (£68.42 from Amazon, which is about $89, AU$116) is one of them. The difference here is that the numeric keypad is on the drive which eradicates the threat of traditional keyloggers.
This USB 3.0 drive is IP57-rated which means that it is dust protected and can be immersed in up to 1m of water. That is as long as it’s housed in its rugged extruded aluminium sleeve. You can laser etch text or a logo on the device for an additional fee, with capacities ranging from 8GB to 64GB.
The drive has a rechargeable battery that allows the user to enter a PIN (between 7 and 15 digits long, and you have 10 seconds to do that) before connecting the drive to a USB port; the battery obviously gets charged when you plug it into said port.
The data transferred to the USB drive is encrypted in real-time thanks to the built-in XTS-AES 256-bit hardware encryption – which doesn’t slow down your system – and adheres to MIL-STD-810F, FIPS 140-2 Level3, CESG CPA/NLNCSA and FIPS PUB 197 standards.
You don’t require any additional drivers, and the drive itself is compatible with almost all operating systems under the sun – that includes Linux, Chrome and exotic affairs running on thin clients and embedded systems (e.g. Citrix).
The list goes on, though: smartphones, tablets, printers, scanners, CCTV cameras, basically any device with a USB or USB OTG port. Bear in mind that if the host device is compromised, then your data and your drive won’t be secure.
Just remember that while this is a secure device, you should still have backups because if you forget your PIN, the stick will delete the encryption key after 10 failed attempts.
All the drives come with a three-year warranty although the very nature of the product means that aftersales service might be tricky. If your drive failed with data on it, do you take the risk and send it back or just dump it?
Perhaps the only reservation we have, other than the price, has to do with the design: the length of this device – about 78mm – means that it’s more likely that you could damage your laptop USB port if there’s an unfortunate knock on the stick.
As for performance, it reached 126Mbps in read and 43Mbps in write speeds respectively on CrystalDiskMark benchmark, roughly in line with what iStorage suggested.
The trend for thinner, lighter and more aesthetically pleasing laptop designs gave us the Apple Macbook, a stunningly beautiful device with only one connector, a lonely USB Type-C port.
There’s a plethora of accessories – adapters and docking stations – on the market to solve that problem though, especially as more and more laptops are following Apple’s lead and cutting the number of connectors to a minimum.
The Satechi Slim Aluminum Type-C Multi-Port Adapter is one of them. Available in four Apple-friendly colours, this device quadruples the amount of ports of the aforementioned MacBook.
There’s a pass-through USB Type-C as well as two USB Type-A ports and an HDMI connector capable of supporting 4K video content, albeit at 30Hz – we’d certainly have preferred a DisplayPort.
Physically, the device is about 105mm long and comes with a 150mm USB Type-C cable. The enclosure is made entirely of aluminium which has a propensity to get scratched and marked when flung around too often.
Compared to other products on the market, having a cable is preferable to avoid accidental damage to your laptop’s port.
Note that each USB port on the Slim Type-C hub can provide 5V/1A (or 5W) and that Satechi advises that the maximum power load on the hub shouldn’t exceed 10W, which excludes using it for heavy duty activities (e.g. charging two tablets).
The product comes with a one-year warranty and costs $59.99 (about £46, AU$78) in the US on Amazon, but no dates for UK availability have yet been announced.
A few vendors (Acer, Lenovo) have tried to deliver laptops with dual displays but these proved to be niche products with high prices and they were commercial failures.
Enter PackedPixels (£149 each, about $194, AU$252), a deceptively straightforward product from Dovetail Technology that brings multiple displays to laptops with one big caveat.
Your laptop will need to be equipped with a DisplayPort or Thunderbolt 1 or 2 ports. Newer Thunderbolt 3 ports won’t work even with an adaptor, and obviously older ones like HDMI, DVI or VGA are out of the picture.
Note that you can use a USB 3.0 to DisplayPort converter according to the manufacturer. That is what you will have to do on non-Apple laptops.
If you have a DP or a TB1/2 port (Dell XPS 13 first generation, MacBook Pro etc) then using the bundled universal adaptor, you will be able to connect either one or two displays, each of them 9.7-inch in size and with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels.
That’s a 4:3 aspect ratio, something that works well in cramped spaces and is actually the same screen as the iPad Retina Display.
The designers made the right decision to hide the connecting ports (DisplayPort and USB) where the stand is supposed to slot.
Bear in mind that using two extra screens will eat up your battery faster, although, as Dovetail technologies suggests, you might also use a mobile phone adapter or an emergency power bank (like the Aukey 30Ah) to help out.
Given the connector, you won’t need any additional driver installation for any operating system. The screens are automatically adjustable and can be used in portrait or landscape mode.
Sandberg’s Powerbank (£85.04 at Morecomputers, about $110, AU$144) is neither the cheapest or the most powerful around. However, it does come with a couple of features that make it a rather enticing option.
It outputs to a number of voltages (12V, 16V, 19V and 20V), automatically choosing the right one depending on the device connected to it.
There are also two USB ports and these are obviously hardwired to output 5V on both. There are also 12 different charge tips but none would fit my Dell XPS 13, and they won’t be useful for USB Type-C models like the Dell XPS 13 2016 edition.
There are a couple of things that differentiate this from most of its rivals on the market: it uses a brushed, premium, aluminium finish, with bright blue LED status lights that clearly indicate the amount of juice left or how close the battery is to being charged.
Speaking of charging, Sandberg decided to equip the Powerbank with a dedicated input port which allows the device to be charged in record time thanks to a 36W (18V/2A) power supply unit.
In comparison, the Aukey 30Ah we reviewed recently could only be charged using a 12W USB port which makes charging a lengthy process, often an overnight affair. It also means that you don’t rely on your laptop or mobile charger to get the battery replenished.
Sandberg has equipped the Powerbank with an automatic ‘switch on and switch off’ mechanism to save power. It can deliver up to a total of 85W meaning that it can accommodate a massive 70W on its laptop/DC Out port. Note that the device comes with an industry-leading five-year warranty.
This printer is not for everyone. It is slow, expensive to buy and to maintain, and it is not even wireless! But then not all printers can list on their spec sheet that they’re the world’s lightest all-in-one printer, one that can not only print (obviously) but also scan and copy.
The Primera Trio uses only a normal microUSB cable to charge and to connect to the host computer, and unlike most of the competition, it is truly portable (as in it has a battery inside) and boasts a smaller footprint than most laptops.
Outside of this nifty gadget, you’ll be hard pressed to find a compact device that you can take with you to print important documents that need immediate signatures (or at least draft copy). The scanning capability is not a big deal – you can always take pictures instead – although with the Trio, you will be able to do copies fairly easily.
- Check out the full review of the Primera Trio mobile all-in-one colour printer here
Startech mDP to HDMI adaptor
Quite a lot of Ultrabooks (and even a fair few graphics cards) now come with Mini DisplayPort connection as standard in lieu of the traditional D-Sub or HDMI ports; which can prove to be a pain if you’re planning to deliver a presentation at a client’s office and they only have a HDMI projector.
In theory, Mini DisplayPort – which is popular with Apple – has enough bandwidth to drive 4K monitors at 60Hz (HDMI can only do it at 30Hz) which results in a smoother end-user experience. However, today’s product doesn’t achieve this (it does reach 4K at 30Hz though).
What it does is merely converting the Mini DisplayPort to a HDMI port, all for just over £23 (about $35, AU$45), more specifically from DP m1.2 to HDMI 1.4 without the need for drivers or external power source.
Unlike other passive video adaptors, this one offers active signal conversion which means that it doesn’t require a multi-mode DisplayPort source signal (like AMD’s Eyefinity) which greatly expands its compatibility option. In addition, mDP supports 5.1 Surround Sound out of the box and is compatible with most Intel Thunderbolt devices. You will still need to have a HDMI cable at the other end though.