HP makes a nice docking station for the tc1100 Tablet PC but I did not order one when I bought the Tablet. They sell it for $299 which is too much dough for me so I have been happily using the tc1100 sans dock since I got it months ago. I use a 7 port USB hub to let me hook up all the peripherals I use so I only had to unplug one USB cable to go from desktop mode to mobile. Well, that’s not entirely true, since I use an external monitor I had to unplug the VGA cable too. And therein lies a big problem. One of the most common problems that users of external monitors and laptops run into is the damaging of the VGA connector on either the monitor or the notebook/ Tablet. These connectors are not really designed to be plugged/ unplugged many times and I hear from a lot of people who damage the plug and rendering something useless. This has always been in the back of my mind so recently I checked out refurbished docking stations on eBay. I already have an external DVD burner so even though most docking stations found on eBay also include a multi-bay drive of some sort that fits into the docking station base I opted for one that had no drive. The dock only cost me $80 which is a far cry from the $300 that HP wanted so I happily plunked down my cash and I received the dock a few days ago. Has it increased my enjoyment of using my Tablet? All I can say is Oh my God, yes!
The dock came with no extras of course which I expected- just the dock and no power adapter, manual or anything else the “real” docking stations would have included but I didn’t need any of that. Taking it out of the box for the first time I was surprised how heavy the base of the docking station is. That really shouldn’t surprise me as the base needs to be heavily weighted to hold up the tc1100 in the myriad positions it can be positioned in the dock. I quickly hooked up all my peripherals to the 4 USB ports on the dock, and then the external monitor to the VGA port. The dock is designed to hold the tc1100 either with or without the keyboard attached but I opted to attach it sans keyboard at first. The design and build quality of the dock is very good and allows complete flexibility so you can position the Tablet in almost any position you want to get completely comfortable.
The tc1100 docking station has guide grooves to match the ones on the tc1100 so inserting it is a no-brainer. It fits right in and then clicks and you are good to go. Removing the Tablet from the dock is as simple as pulling up on the handle which pops the tc1100 right out and you’re off to the races. I can position the Tablet in either portrait or landscape orientation while docked, push it up until I get the most comfortable viewing angle, and switch it to either of two modes for optimum convenience. The viewing mode has the Tablet extended in front of the dock base and duplicates the position of a traditional monitor. Changing from landscape to portrait is as simple as rotating the Tablet in the dock to the desired orientation. It is cool to use it in viewing mode in portrait orientation for things like web browsing or working with PDFs or other documents so you can view whole pages at once. The other mode is the writing mode, where you can pull the Tablet in the dock forward and lay it almost flat in front of you which facilitates writing on the screen with the pen. This is really useful when I get a phone call and want to take notes in OneNote without taking it out of the dock. Very well done design-wise and lets me work with the tc1100 in whatever position or mode fits the task at hand. I love this feature.
I used the dock for a couple of days before having time to experiment with the most powerful feature of all. When an external monitor is hooked up to the dock is when things get really interesting. The tc1100 uses an nVidia video chipset and HP included a profile manager for those using the dock. There are three profiles available to the dock user, Docked, Undocked and Write mode. The default Docked mode does some cool things with the video setup to maximize the two monitor configuration. The external monitor is set as Monitor 2 in Windows but gets the taskbar moved to this monitor, which frees up the whole Tablet screen for working. The Undocked mode is simply that, it switches back to the Tablet-only video configuration. If you don’t like these default configurations you can move everything around while docked and then hit the save button in the profile manager and your configuration will remain like that until you change it again. The beauty of this whole arrangement is it is automatic once configured. When you pop the Tablet into the dock it automatically configures the video setup for the dual monitor arrangement. Take it out of the dock and it switches back. It is very seamless and optimizes my work sessions without me thinking about it.
The HP docking station is as well designed as the tc1100 itself and I am very glad I finally broke down and got one. I am also kicking myself for working without one for all these months.
SIDENOTE: My comments on the potential of damaging the VGA connector on external monitors is grounded in experience. The day the docking station arrived I connected my external monitor to the Tablet for what I thought was the last time and it fried my monitor. I had to run out to Best buy and get a replacement before I could connect an external monitor to the just arrived docking station.