Our verdict of the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station:
If you need a compact docking station for your laptop or want to take advantage of the DeX desktop on Samsung mobiles, the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station is a compact option with good connectivity.
Looking for a way to easily hook up your laptop or Android tablet to a TV or external hard disk drive? Perhaps you need to use an Ethernet connection? The one solution to all these problems, and more, is a docking station.
But does the Plugable USB-C for laptops and mobile devices measure up?
A Compact Docking Station for Laptops
Laptops are great, but often they don’t come with enough ports. The same goes for hybrids, Windows tablets, and even Android tablets. When you want additional devices connected, or even Ethernet and an HDMI display, with all those cables to consider, things can get messy.
The answer is a docking station, but for years these have been proprietary devices, designed for just a handful of products. Plugable’s USB-C Cube is one of several docking stations that seek to change this.
Equipped with everything connector you need, the USB-C Cube is the ideal way to give your laptop that desktop feel. A large display, additional storage, even fast Ethernet networking can be hooked up to your laptop via the USB-C cable.
Use Your Samsung Galaxy Like a PC
It isn’t just laptop computers that get a boost from the Plugable USB-C Cube. A feature in recent models of Samsung Galaxy smartphones and laptops converts the mobile experience into a desktop.
Hook up a Plugable USB-C Cube and this experience is massively enhanced. DeX is one of several desktop environments available for Android devices, and certainly the most accomplished.
Samsung DeX is available on all flagship devices released since 2017:
- Galaxy S8/S8+
- S10e, S10 and S10+
- Galaxy Tab S4
- Galaxy Tab S5e
While Samsung offers its own docking stations, they’re aimed strictly at Samsung hardware. It’s fair to say that Plugable’s USB-C Cube lets you use the same display, external drives, and Ethernet connection with a Samsung DeX device as with your laptop.
Hardware Spec and Box Contents
In the box, you’ll find the USB-C Cube, which measures 65 x 55 x 35mm and weighs 125 grams. This weight is important; a lighter device would likely be pushed across your work area by cabling. Either way, the cube (strictly speaking a cuboid) is small enough to fit in your pocket in a pinch.
Alongside this is a mains adapter, and USB-C to USB-C cable.
The front of the USB-C Cube features a single USB-C port. This is where your laptop or compatible mobile device is connected. It’s placed centrally above a laptop symbol. Once plugged in, a blue LED strip lights the USB-C Cube; it all looks nice. Note that laptops must be equipped with a USB 3.1 Type-C port and support DisplayPort Alternate Mode.
One the back of the USB-C Cube, you’ll find the ports. Two USB 2.0 ports are present, as is a single USB 3.0 port. An Ethernet RJ45 port is provided to deliver superior network speeds to your device.
There’s also a HDMI port and a 5V DC power-in connection. That’s enough to charge a connected phone or tablet (but not a laptop) requiring up to 15W.
4K Support Included
It’s worth highlighting that the USB-C Cube can deliver video of up to 4K, at a rate of 30Hz, to the attached display. While most users won’t need this, if you’re regularly working in 4K video or you’re looking for a device to hook up a high-end gaming laptop to a TV, the Plugable device has the specs you need.
Video and other data is streamed from a compatible device to the USB-C Cube via the USB-C cable. This version of USB has far greater device support than earlier editions. It has the bandwidth to send video data to other devices, as well as act as a host for connected hardware. This means that Android phones and tablets can be hooked up to external disk drives and input devices.
Although this was possible before the arrival of USB-C, it’s far faster and more reliable now.
Using the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station With a Laptop
As noted, the USB-C Cube can be used with a laptop computer, equipped with a USB-C port. As such, you’ll need to confirm that your device has the correct port. If you use a 2018 MacBook Pro, 12″ Retina MacBook, Microsoft Surface Book 2, HP Spectre x360 13″, or Dell XPS, the chances are that your laptop is suitably equipped.
Simply connect the laptop to the docking station with the provided USB cable. If the desktop doesn’t automatically appear on the attached TV, use the operating system’s usual display menu.
All in all, it’s a straightforward procedure. Having used several docking stations for laptops and tablets over the years, this is a more pleasing experience. While there is nothing to snap the device into (for example, my old Microsoft Surface would sit in its dock with a satisfying click) the unobtrusive nature of the USB-C Cube makes up for this.
It’s literally plug-and-play.
Maximise Samsung DeX Functionality with Plugable’s USB-C Cube
To get the real benefit of the Plugable USB-C Cube, however, you need a Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet. We’ve listed the compatible devices above and more are likely to appear in future.
Setting up the USB-C Cube to work with DeX-enabled Samsung devices is straightforward. With the required USB devices and Ethernet cable connected to the dock, and the HDMI cable hooked up to the nearest display, connect the dock to your phone or tablet via the included USB-C cable.
Initially, all you will see is the Android desktop. However, DeX can be enabled by swiping down the Quick Settings menu and tapping Samsung DeX.
Moments later, the Android device will appear as a standard desktop environment on the TV. You’re using a mobile that acts like a desktop!
Most Android apps will run, but the change in screen dimension will result in many apps opening in a window. Swiping within these can be tricky, but DeX displays some tips for navigating your new PC.
While you can use a connected keyboard or mouse, it isn’t necessary. If you prefer to travel light, your phone or tablet display can act as a substitute keyboard and touchpad. This works better on a tablet than on a phone, but it doesn’t take long to adjust. Within just a few minutes the DeX system feels like a desktop PC, with a touchpad mouse and keyboard.
Need extra storage? Hook up a USB hard disk drive, or connect a USB flash stick. DeX is a productivity-focused environment, and basically gives you everything you need to get the job done. It feels enough like a combination of Windows and Android to be comfortable. There’s nothing here to distract you, basically.
What’s Missing From the USB-C Cube?
Although useful, the USB-C Cube could do with some additional features.
On-board Bluetooth would be a useful addition. While the connected computer or phone obviously has Bluetooth, adding it to the USB-C would be superb for audio. As things stand, you’ll need speakers with USB support to enjoy audio when hooked up to the dock.
More consistent support for non-DeX devices would also be useful. While some Android phones are mirrored to the connected TV using the USB-C cube, others are not. There’s a possibility that this might be useful for Android gaming and media, especially with a HDD connected. However, it is an expensive solution for that specific purpose.
On the other hand, if 4K video is supported by your Android device and the connected TV… Well, it’s worth spending those dollars to enjoy the best quality video.
Lastly, the Cube won’t charge your device: it just isn’t powerful enough.
USB-C Cube: A Pandora’s Box for Productivity!
It’s compact, easily portable, and works with a range of devices. If you use a laptop, hybrid, or DeX-enabled mobile, the USB-C Cube basically lets you level-up to desktop-standard computing.
With a Plugable USB-C hooked up on your desk, you can easily switch between Samsung device and laptop if necessary. Or simply drop the compact USB-C Cube in your case and use it just about anywhere.
While it doesn’t include Bluetooth connectivity or the ability to charge your device, if you need to regularly hook up non-portable hardware to your laptop or mobile, USB-C Cube is a flexible solution that isn’t locked to a particular brand.
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