As laptops continue to get thinner and lighter, that means sacrifices have to be made, meaning that you'll need to snag a laptop docking station. Whether it's for one of the best Chromebooks or your new MacBook Pro, a docking station can come in the clutch, and that brings us to this CalDigit TS3 Plus review.
This Thunderbolt 3 hub gives you almost every port you can think of, with a total of 15 ports to choose from. Ranging from multiple USB-A ports to a few USB-C options and quick access to an SD card reader, the TS3 Plus really is the mac-daddy when it comes to an external USB hub. But one of the best parts is that you can throw your laptop's charging brick in the drawer and just use the TS3 Plus instead. Plus, the Caldigit TS3 Plus has a few extra tricks up its sleeve.
Bottom line: If you want an all-in-one dock for adding ports and charging your laptop, then the CalDigit TS3 Plus is the way to go. Forget your laptop's charging brick, and add a few extra screens with this Thunderbolt 3 dock.
- 15 ports available
- Provides up to 85W of power
- Small and compact design
- Capable of using dual 4K monitors or a single 5K monitor
- No HDMI ports
CalDigit TS3 Plus: What I like
For a few years, my everything-computer was a 2015 MacBook Pro, which was arguably the last great model of the MacBook Pro that was available. This laptop featured just about all of the ports you could want, along with an absolutely-wonderful keyboard that was a dream to type on. It was recently starting to get a bit long in the tooth, and I needed a bit more power than what old reliable could offer anymore.
Upgrading to a new MacBook Pro unlocks a slew of peripheral issues that I never had to deal with in the past, namely, dongles. There are four USB-C ports on the 2019 15" MacBook Pro that replaced my 2015 model, but other than the oddly-placed headphone jack, that was it. Connecting to an external monitor (or two) was impossible out of the box, along with trying to transfer pictures from my camera via an SD card.
There's an interesting design, but the TS3 Plus is small enough to fit on any desk
Since I use the MacBook Pro in a laptop stand on my desk, that meant it was time for me to do some research and find the best Thunderbolt 3 docking station. There were some solid options out there, but the CalDigit TS3 Plus continued to show up in my research and seemed to be the best option. After a trip to the Apple Store, I picked one up and couldn't wait to get home to set it up.
Thankfully there's not actually much to "setup" outside of routing the chonky power brick/cable and installing the rubber feet on the side. The larger sides of the TS3 Plus feature an interesting design, with ridges that add a bit to the aesthetic and act as the home for the two included rubber pads. This allows you to set your TS3 Plus dock horizontally, instead of needing to do so vertically and risk the dock accidentally falling over. The bottom of the TS3 Plus also sports a rubber material on the bottom, found along with all of the regulatory information.
At first glance, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of ports found on the back and front of the TS3 Plus. Starting with the front, there's a full-sized SD card reader, audio in and out ports, USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port, and a USB-A Gen 1 port. The real fun comes on the other side, where you'll find dual USB-C ports, one of which can be used for charging your computer and is properly labeled as such to avoid confusion. Additionally, there are four USB-A ports, along with an additional USB-C Gen 2 port. Rounding everything out, you'll find a Gigabit Ethernet Jack, Digital Optical input, DisplayPort 1.2 port, and the TS3 Plus' power jack.
Being able to plug in a single cable to get power and access to an additional 15 ports is something that cannot be understated.
All of these ports mean that you can transform that four-port MacBook Pro into a fully-functional computer, all with a single cable, thanks to the magic of Thunderbolt 3. Caldigit includes an (albeit small) Thunderbolt 3 cable in the box, removing any need to go and purchase something else after-the-fact.
Being able to plug in a single cable to get power and access to an additional 15 ports cannot be understated. For this reason, I instantly fell in love with the TS3 Plus, because in addition to all of those extra ports, it maintains a sleek and low profile without taking up much space on my desk. Plus, with so many USB-A ports, it makes life easy for those who enjoy using the best ergonomic mouse but don't want to deal with the spotty Bluetooth connection issues that plague the MacBook Pro. Just plug in the dongles you need, and enjoy using your favorite peripherals.
CalDigit TS3 Plus: What I don't like
Admittedly, there really isn't much to complain about with the CalDigit TS3 Plus. However, the biggest issue that I have come across is the lack of an HDMI port. I have since moved to an ultrawide monitor with the Alienware AW3420DW, but my previous monitors relied on HDMI, and it was frustrating to have to rely on more adapters. It's not that the CalDigit can't handle the multiple monitors, but as someone trying to avoid the need for additional dongles, the lack of an HDMI port is annoying.
Another annoyance is the included Thunderbolt 3 cable. For $250, you may expect to get something longer than 2.5-feet, but that's just not the case. Thunderbolt 3 cables can be pretty expensive, to be fair, and it is convenient for CalDigit to include one in the box. But, there is something to be said about not being able to mount your laptop underneath the desk because the cable is just too short. That means you have to pay additional money out of pocket for a longer TB3 cable, and that can be an expensive venture by itself.
Thunderbolt 3 is not really "new" anymore, but it is still expensive. While the CalDigit TS3 Plus is phenomenal, there are some other pretty solid options out there, starting with the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. Throughout the research phase before purchasing the TS3 Plus, OWC's option was one that repeatedly appeared as a great alternative. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a bit more expensive than the TS3 Plus, but you get the same 85W of power for charging your laptop. The biggest difference is that OWC's dock relies on a Mini DisplayPort and still doesn't feature an HDMI input.
Another surprising "contestant" for the best docking station has come from Anker. Anker is primarily known for offering the best wireless charger and other charging accessories. It would make sense for the company to get into the desktop charging game, but with the Anker PowerExpand Elite Docking Station, this is a full-on docking station with Thunderbolt 3 in-tow. For some, the PowerExpand Elite may actually be a better option, as it comes in at a lower price than the TS3 Plus while sporting an HDMI port with 4K resolution support.
CalDigit TS3 Plus: Should you buy
You should buy this if ...
You need a Thunderbolt 3 dock with a lot of ports
Regardless of whether you have a MacBook Pro or another laptop with Thunderbolt 3 and want to use them as your primary work station, the CalDigit TS3 Plus adds almost all of the ports you'll need. With 15 ports built-in and a Thunderbolt 3 cable included, get your laptop hooked up in no time.
You need to power a compatible laptop
There is a difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, despite the ports looking the same. USB-C is limited in how much power can be distributed, while Thunderbolt 3 can not only power your laptop (up to 87W) but can also be used to connect your monitors or other peripherals.
You need to add multiple monitors to a laptop
With DisplayPort and USB-C onboard, the CalDigit TS3 Plus can handle two 4K monitors at a 60Hz refresh rate each. Or you can power a 5K monitor with a single USB-C cable, allowing you to close the lid on your laptop and get some work done on the big screens.
You should not buy this if ...
You want to use HDMI
Those who have a monitor with HDMI will either want to start hunting for a USB-C dongle or look elsewhere. With only USB-C and DisplayPort, the lack of HDMI is a disappointment, especially for those wanting to cut down on the extra dongles.
You don't need to charge a laptop
Admittedly, the CalDigit TS3 Plus may be a bit overkill for those who don't need this dock's charging abilities. If you are just looking for a low-cost solution to get some additional ports, there are some other great options that won't break the bank.
For what you get, the CalDigit TS3 Plus is a fantastic docking station to expand your laptop or computer's versatility. Being able to add an additional 15 ports is amazing, and being able to do so with just a single cable is even more incredible. Forget having to find the right dongles for whatever use case you're dealing with or having all of your ports occupied just to get some work done.
There are cheaper options out there, some that look better, some that feature HDMI, but I wouldn't trade in the TS3 Plus for them personally. This gives me the versatility I need to turn my MacBook Pro into a desktop workstation, all with a single cable.
Bottom line: A single cable transforms your laptop into a powerhouse desktop with the CalDigit TS3 Plus. With 15 ports built-in and the ability to power up to two 4K displays is extremely convenient, albeit a little expensive.
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