The latest iPad Air 4 boasts a ton of great features: A 10.9-inch screen, a sleek design, availability in five different colors, and a powerful new processor and GPU.
But there’s a catch. Apple has gone with a bold design choice: A single USB-C port. That’s great news if you’re a fan of minimalism. But not so great if you’re looking for an all-in-one device that can handle everything.
Lucky for you, there’s an ingenious solution: A USB-C Hub.
Related article: USB C vs A vs B: Which One Do You Need for Your Product?
Why a USB-C Hub is a Must-Have Accessory
USB-C Hub is a handy tool that seamlessly connects all of your devices and memory cards. They do the hard work of connecting your setup together. With more manufacturers restricting port compatibility in an effort to keep designs simple and costs down, a USB-C hub is the accessory you need to make the most out of your tech.
What Makes the Perfect USB-C Hub?
We get it. You’re looking for a solution to the problem of low port options, so the aesthetics of your new USB-C hub design aren’t really important. But wait a second. This device is going to be sitting on your desk all day long. It needs to look the part!
If you’ve searched around and seen the options available already, you’ll have noticed that the lower the price tag, the chunkier and more box-like the design tends to be. You’ll have to spend more than $30 for a USB-C hub that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Designs typically tend to be rectangular, but some companies offer square or circular options. However with a circular design, some of your cables could point in the opposite direction of where you want them to go, so the standard rectangle is probably your safest bet. See! Design is important!
- HUB MATERIALS
Don’t forget about the material, too. This will determine how your USB-C hub looks and feels. Most lower-end products will be made of cheaper plastic. More expensive metallic options come with an added bonus: your USB-C hub will be sturdy and sleek.
If you go for a cheaper USB-C hub, you might end up with a product that feels tacky and underwhelming. In the short term, this should have no effect on the actual performance. But with longer-term use, less expensive products are more likely to break down and will set you back even more when it comes to replacing it.
The material also plays an important role in heat dissipation. USB-C hubs need to go through extensive temperature testing to make sure they stay cool while connecting all of your devices. Certain cheaper materials have a tendency to overheat, putting your hub and anything that’s connected to it at risk.
For a tool that will be integral to your workspace, it’s better to invest in a product that can support you for the long term. After all, you’ve just splashed the cash on an expensive device to fulfil all your tech dreams. Why cut back on a hub that will be as essential as the things you plug it in to?
- CABLE LENGTH
Another thing to note is the cable length. Most people find out too late that their cable is too short. You don’t want to be that frustrated guy sitting with his USB-C hub dangling halfway between his device and the floor. So, make sure your chosen hub’s cable is long enough for what you want to do.
Generally, you’ll be wanting a longer cable if you’re using a tablet or mobile device. This will mean you won’t have to rest your USB-C hub on your already congested lap. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, a shorter cable could be a safe bet. For most users, the longer the better, as you never know what you might want to connect your hub to.
If the USB-C hub you buy is poorly designed, cables may push against each other or even run off in directions that bend them at awkward angles and cause damage over time. So it’s important to note that, sure, plenty of port options are great. But you need a good design to complement them.
As tablets become more of a commonly used device besides phones and computers, companies are making hubs designed specifically for tablets. They come in irregular shapes, different from your typical computer hub, but this USB-C Hub fit perfectly with the iPad and offer a softer, firmer grip.
Another important thing to consider is how practical the USB-C hub you buy will be. This is where we get into the important details. Not all USB-C hubs are created equal, and as you can imagine, price correlates with functionality. If you’re looking for long term value and maximum versatility, you’ll have to spend a little extra.
There’ll be times when you want to use your iPad Air for intensive tasks that require a stable internet connection. Whether you’re transferring files or having an important video meeting, the last thing you want is your connectivity dropping out.
Some USB-C hubs include an ethernet adapter, allowing you to connect your iPad Air to a wired network to maximise your internet speed and reliability.
If you’re using your iPad Air as your computing hub, there are all sorts of reasons you might want to plug into an external monitor. Maybe you’re editing media and want more clarity from a bigger screen, maybe you’re typing up a document or doing a presentation, maybe you’re relaxing at home in the mood for a movie.
Whatever the situation, the best way to project your iPad Air is to use a USB-C hub that has an HDMI adapter. There are plenty of options out there with 4K (30Hz) HDMI compatibility.
- USB PORTS & SD CARD COMPATIBILITY
The iPad Air is powerful enough to become your hub for media management and file transfers. But if you want to view and edit photos and videos from an external hard drive, digital camera or drone, you’re going to need a USB-C hub with spare USB ports and SD card compatibility.
The minimum that you want from a good USB-C hub is a couple of USB A or USB 3 ports to plug in your keyboard or mouse.
Cheaper hubs might come armed with a few USB-A ports. If you’re lucky, an SD card reader with micro SD compatibility – but that’s often it. For maximum compatibility and a hub that’s truly at the core of your workspace, be prepared to invest.
Related article: USB 3.1 vs 3.0 vs USB-C: What’s the Difference
Another function you might want from your USB-C hub is the ability to use it as a charger. With fast-charging ports, you can plug in other devices – such as smartphones and cameras – and charge them while you’re working.
Related article: Fast Charging Tech: Everything You Need to Know [Infographic]
Brand & Price
An average USB-C hub will set you back about $30. This will most likely come with all the basics. But if you’re willing to spend more, the USB-C hubs available can get pretty stylish and have more cool features – as well as being futureproof.
If you spend over $60, your hub will hold its own as an eye-catching bit of tech on your desk. It will also come equipped with various port options, from 4K HDMI connectivity and ultra-fast ethernet speeds to multiple USB-3 slots and SD card compatibility – Just what you need for your new iPad Air.
There are plenty of USB-C hub options out there, from AmazonBasics to VAVA to Anker.
It may not be glamorous or trendy, but the safety of your USB-C hub should be central to your decision on what to buy. Make sure your hub has overcurrent protection and is made from a suitable material. Connecting your devices is serious business; heat dissipation if key to keeping your devices and office environment safe.
Making The Right Choice On The USB-C Hub
So as you’ve probably gathered by now, there is more to buying a USB-C hub than you might have thought. Making sure you get good value for money can be difficult in such a saturated market.
It’s all about finding the right balance between quality, quantity and price. Ideally, you want a product that offers you as much versatility as possible when it comes to ports, as well as being a sleek and stylish addition to your workspace.
You can go for a low price USB-C hub that cuts corners when it comes to functionality and design. Or you can spend a bit more and choose something that looks like it belongs on your desk and serves a wide range of purposes.
Ultimately it’s down to you and how complicated a device you need for your work and play. Having said that, it’s always good to invest in tech products with one eye on the future. You never know what you might need to connect your devices up to in a year or two!
It’s not something we ever expected to happen…but with manufacturers launching devices that have fewer ports than we’re used to, it looks like USB-C hub family are going to become the next fashionable tech gadget. But does that mean they have to be as trendy as the devices they support? How do you feel about adding extra functionality to your new iPad with a USB-C hub? And which will you be going for? Let us know in the comments below!