Charge Fast, Live More with the Mini USB-C expansion Dock

When I purchased my MacBook Pro 15″ 2018, I was excited about the four thunderbolt ports. Like many newer devices, the flagship Apple laptop attempted to leave the older USB-A tech behind. Unfortunately, many people quickly discovered that companies still relied upon the USB-A format for power and data transfer. Additionally, monitors, printers, and other peripherals still utilize a variety of connection ports. Without any USB-A ports, display ports, HDMI ports, etc., users needed to purchase a variety of USB-C cable dongles to satisfy their needs. Luckily, companies like Anker realized the dongle option was not an ideal solution. Instead, they created docks/hubs to enhance the user experience.

The ANKER PowerExpand 5-in-1 Thunderbolt 4 Mini Dock arrived in standard ANKER fashion. The primarily white cover displayed the blue ANKER title along the top left, their “Charge Fast, Live More” Motto along the top right, a blue accent bar along the bottom, and a blue triangle with a white lightning bolt along the bottom right. If you look closely at the surface of the cover, you will find subtle drawings of car chargers, wall chargers, batteries, and cables. You may have to angle the light to better visualize the clever effect. The top blue panel contained the blue plastic hanging tab, while the side panels provided the ANKER name and the motto once again. Each of the side panels benefited from the same hidden product placement/drop. The rear panel provided the title along the top, “Americas Leading Charging Brand,” and then three detailed icons about the device: 1. 55M The Choice of 55Million+ Happy users, 2. Fast Charging Via Leading Technology, 3. 18-Month Hassle-Free Warranty. Along the middle of the rear panel, you will find the only location of the product name “PowerExpand 5-in-1 Thunderbolt 4 Mini Dock.” Beneath the name, you will find the AB398 model number, legal jargon, international phone numbers, the support email, product manufacturing labels, Thunderbolt Icon, and an SKU barcode.

I believe that the name would have paired perfectly along the lower left of the cover, or along the sides of the packaging. Regardless, the company did a great job with the presentation and enticed me to dig deeper into the packaging. I removed the outer thin plastic, lifted the blue/white lid from the inner white box, and set the lid aside. With the lid removed, I found a silver-colored rectangular device that measured 2 13/16 inches wide by 4 7/8 inches tall by 7/8 inches thick, and weighed 7.9-ounces. Upon first impression, the wavy fuller lines and the grey ANKER logo across the top reminded me of a portable battery. The bottom of the dock had two 4 1/2 inches long by 1/4 inches wide rubberized feet along the long axis of the device. Like the cover panel, you will find silver ripples on the bottom panel as well. Instead of an ANKER logo, the company added the product name, manufacturing labels, model number, and support email. The back panel provided a single USB-A 3.0 output at the center, a single Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) output port to the left side, and dual-LED lights to the far right. The main panel provided a 5/16 inches diameter DC-IN port, a 3/8 inches diameter power button, and three power-only Thunderbolt ports (USB-C). The single type C USB port on the reverse side had both a power indicator and a laptop indicator, which suggested that was supposed to be the link between your device and the dock.

Beneath the ANKER dock, but still within the thin white plastic tray, you will find a 2 7/16 inches wide by 3 9/16 inches tall comment card atop the similarly sized instruction manual. The comment card provided methods to share our opinion about the device via telephone, email, or website. The 1/8 inches thick multilingual instruction manual provided information in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and six other languages I did not fully recognize. The ten-page English section relayed safety tips, a nice introductory paragraph, the system requirements (MacBook Air 2018-2020, MacBook Pro 2016-present, XPS, Inspiron 7000, latitude 7000/5000, EliteBook, Yoga x1/c900/c700, ThinkPad X390/T490/T590, Swift 7/5/3, Spin 7/5/3, ZenBook Pro Duo, Notebook 9 Pro, Notebook 9 Pen, Notebook 9. Beneath the instructions, you will find a listing of box contents. The third and fourth panels showcased the port layout (Thunderbolt 4 Upstream Port 40Gbps, 85W, USB 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps, 5v/1.5A) LED indicator, and the three Thunderbolt 4 downstream 40Gbps, 8K@30Hz, 15W ports), and the method to power on the device. The fifth panel reviewed the steps to connect the dock, while the sixth pane reviewed the port overview once again. I was pleased with the informational layout and discovered that the dock could support a single monitor at 8K@30Hz or dual ports at 2x4K@60Hz. The seventh panel provided the product specifications/dimensions, while the eighth through tenth pages reviewed the FCC statements,

I removed the thin plastic tray, the 6 1/8 inches wide by 7 1/8 inches tall by 1 3/4 inches wide accessory box, and then removed the two halves of the AC to DC Dock adapter. Impressed with the small footprint of the dock, I was a little surprised by the size of the charger. The first half of the dock provided a Type B outlet plug and a 48 -inches long power cable with a three-prong end plug. The larger second piece had a 6 inches long by 2 3/8 inches wide by 1 1/2 inches thick switching power supply connected to a 72 inches long power cable and single-prong end. Lastly, you will find a 28 1/2 inches long Thunderbolt 4 to Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C to USB-C) cable. I plugged the three-prong end of the wall adapter cable into the switching power supply box, plugged the dock adapter cable into the back of the dock, and then plugged the type b wall outlet plug into a standard outlet. To test the power output, I plugged a Klein Tools USB-C multimeter into the rear upstream Thunderbolt 4 port, and then an Apple-brand USB-C cable between the multimeter and MacBook Pro 15″ 2018. The multimeter displayed 20.09V/4.06A. I plugged a USB-C cable into one of the thunderbolt 4 downstream ports and then into my iPad Pro 11″. The multimeter displayed 4.73V/2.94A. Lastly, I plugged the multimeter into the second downstream dock and the multimeter displayed 5.01V/1.85A. I plugged my USB-A 1TB Toshiba drive into the USB-A port and my MacBook was not able to identify it. I do not yet have a USB-C monitor nor a USB-C external drive to test the remaining features.

To test the power output of the downstream thunderbolt ports, I plugged my MacBook into the upstream port and two Apple devices into the downtown stream ports. At 7:31 am my iPad Pro was at 1%, my MacBook was at 43%, iPhone 12 was at 47%. At 7:48 my iPad was at 11%, the MacBook was at 58% and the iPhone was at 59%. At 8:22 my MacBook Pro was at 85% power, my iPad Pro 11″ was at 33% power and the iPhone 12 was at 85% power. By 8:39 am my MacBook Pro was at 95% power, iPhone 12 was at 95% power, and iPad WAS AT 43% power. By 0900 my MacBook and iPhone were fully charged and my iPad was at 60%. By 9:42 my iPad Was at 80%. By 10:10 my iPad Pro was at 92% charge and by 10:40 all of the devices were fully charged. For the last test, I plugged the multimeter into the USB-A port and then lightning to USB-A cable into the device. I charged my iPhone 12 Pro max using this technique and found the multimeter displayed 4.88V/1.45A.

I tried a total of three different USB-A External drives and found that none of them were recognizable by my MacBook Pro. However, I was able to plug the drives into my wife’s HP laptop without any issues. I was able to plug a USB keyboard into the USB-A port without issue and noted no lag/delay. When I plugged a USB-A thumb drive into the device, I was able to access the data through my MacBook Pro. I was able to connect to my iPad and iPhone through the Finder tab as well. Using BlackMagic Disc Speed Test, my USB jump drive only reached USB 2.0 speeds (older drive). Despite the added utility, I was a little disappointed that there was only a single USB-A port and with the lack of Display ports and HDMI ports. Even though the device added a net two additional USB-C (thunderbolt 4) ports and a single USB-A port, I could not justify the $200 price tag. I still needed to obtain a USB-C to HDMI dongle or USB-C to DisplayPort dongle to utilize the video out format. If interested in dual monitor output, this setup could allow you to expand space for other peripherals. However, I did not have the needed USB-C adapters to test the video output with my monitors.

Overall, the appeal for this dock was the compact size and upstream/downstream charging. I found the device to be well designed/built and never felt hot to the touch when charging my MacBook Pro, iPhone 12, or iPad Pro 11″. I have read numerous Amazon reviews and several found the device to be limited in scope. The dock size was quite impressive, but the mega charging brick detracted from the overall quality. As noted above, I did not have a USB-C to DisplayPort adaptor to test the monitor feature, nor did I have USB-C to HDMI output. To further test the device, I will need to spend more money to fully utilize this HUB. Instead, other docks chose to add HDMI output, DisplayPort output, etc. I was quite frustrated that I was not able to utilize the USB-A port to access my external drives. I redoubled this effort, re-formatted the drive through my MacBook, and still found that I could not access the device. I had no issues accessing the drive/contents using my Kensington dock.

I am a fan of ANKER products and have utilized dozens of products from their lineup. I truly wanted to love this dock, the 85W thunderbolt 4 upstream port for maximum charging, USB-A output port, long power cable, included Thunderbolt cable, and three added USB-C Thunderbolt 4 Ports. I would have liked some type of carry bag/case for the dock and with newer GAN technologies, a smaller charging box. I was impressed with the power output to the upstream/downstream ports and did not find any cutouts or the need to plug the cable back into power. If you have fully transitioned into a USB-C life, this device may be one of the must-haves of 2021. However, if you have older USB-A tech, this device may leave you a bit frustrated.

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