I’ve been slowly devolving from a laptop with a huge screen to a laptop with a medium-sized screen to, most recently, a laptop with a small screen. But the smaller my laptop gets, the more I’d like some kind of docking solution when I bring it home. Apple hasn’t been very receptive to we would-be-dockers and the Frankenstein contraptions from other companies are too ugly to contemplate.
But I’ve just solved my dock-at-home woes with an Apple product that came out over a year ago. It’s Apple’s 24″ LED Cinema Display. How can a display be a dock? When it connects all your miniaturized laptop gear to your full-sized desktop gear. And through a little bit of creative engineering, the cinema display can do just that. In addition to its own power cable, the display has three more bright white cables emerging from the rear. Hook them up to your Macbook or Macbook Pro (see picture below) and that makes all the difference.
What is a dock supposed to do? When your laptop is at home base, you want to connect it to a bigger screen. Well, right — that’s the product itself. The display has a cable that connects directly to the “Mini Displayport” which is standard on all current Mac laptops and the Mac mini. It’s a gorgeous and bright screen measuring 1920 by 1200 pixels, just like some almost-recent iMacs.
There’s also a power cable with Apple’s annoyingly-patented MagSafe connector on the end so you can charge your laptop while it’s hooked up to the monitor.
The third connection is a USB cable. That is critical to creating a docking solution because USB can handle audio and video. The Cinema Display has its own built-in speakers and an iSight webcam with a microphone, so when you connect the USB cable to your laptop, you’re connected to the camera, mic and speakers, too. The back of the display also has three of its own USB ports. So when you connect its USB cable to your laptop, the display functions as a hub and and any peripherals you leave connected there will connect to your laptop.
So in essence, by slipping your Macbook or Macbook Pro under the display and hooking up three simple cables, you can instantly have a much bigger display, external speakers, a webcam, AC power and any other USB connections you want on a regular basis (like a keyboard and mouse). Your laptop’s own wifi can still connect to your network or, as I had to do in my office, you might need to plug in a fourth connection with an ethernet cable (it’s that bright yellow cable in the picture above).
A final great feature comes from Apple’s control over both the hardware and software in its laptops. When I want to connect to the display, I just shut the lid of my Macbook Pro, put it under the display and hook up the cables. Hit any key on my big, comfy desktop keyboard and — violá — everything appears on the big screen. When I want to leave, I put the laptop to sleep, disconnect everything and take off. Re-open the lid and everything appears. In the picture below, I’ve disconnected and what you see is the same programs that were running in the picture at the top of this post but they’ve squeezed into the smaller display space.
The software is seamlessly switching between the much smaller laptop screen (1280 by 800) and the huge cinema display screen (1920 by 1200) without requiring me to change any settings and without leaving any of my programs off-screen in an invisible limbo land (as happens constantly with a docked Dell laptop I use for work). Great feature!
There are a few downsides. The first, which is a deal breaker for some people, is that the monitor is only available with a super shiny and reflective “glossy” display. There is no option for the more subdued “matte” type of display. The upside of glossy displays is more vivid colors and a sharper picture. But you have to set them up carefully to minimize background reflections. Since this is a huge (and heavy!) desktop monitor, I think that’s less of a problem than it is on a laptop. The other issue is price. The display retails for $899, considerably more than basic 24″ monitors from other companies. Given the included peripherals and the convenience factor, if you can fit that in your budget, however, it’s well worth the price.