Although my laptop has two USB ports I?m finding it?s just not enough. (It?s likely that my next laptop may have just one USB port – but that?s another story). My wireless mouse, Palm Tungsten and Pocket PC all require a USB port. Then there?s my ?Flash Drive? (just what is the right term to describe those things?), my MP3 player, my digital camera ? the list goes on.
It doesn?t help either that the USB ports on my Toshiba Tecra 8200 laptop are actually upside down. You wouldn?t think it makes a difference but it really does. The dongle connector on my wireless mouse has a slightly curved body. If I put it in the bottom port the laptop ends up resting its weight partly on the dongle itself. If it goes in the top port it?s difficult to get anything in the bottom port. I?ve put up with this inconvenience for a while mainly because USB hubs are generally a bit bulky and not really designed for carrying around in your laptop bag. Recently I discovered that you can now get mini USB hubs especially designed for use with a laptop.
Going through duty free at Heathrow the other day I spotted a 4 port Belkin USB2 Mini Hub for just over ?20. I?m a big fan of Belkin kit. The stuff is always reasonably priced and my experience with their after sales support has been nothing short of excellent. So after 1 minute thinking about it I snapped one up.
The unit is very compact, about the size of a business card (although obviously a little deaper), with a set of coloured led?s on the top so you can see if the hub is correctly connected to the PC and if a device is correctly connected to the hub.
It comes with a fairly standard looking external power adapter if you need a powered hub but I can?t see me carrying it around. The coolest thing about the hub is its USB cable that folds away into the body making it very quick and tidy to pack away. The hub is described as USB2 which means it can support a much faster through put than the original USB devices. My laptop is not USB2, but the good news is that USB2 is backwards compatible with USB1 and so it just drops back to the slower speed. My next laptop will almost certainly have USB2 so buying a USB2 hub now (even though USB1 hubs can be found cheaper) makes perfect sense.
I have since looked on eBay to see if I could have bought the same thing for less. I did find a couple of Belkin mini USB hubs for sale, one with a buy-it-now price of ?8.99, but looking at the photos they seem to be an older and bulkier model. So I?m very happy with my purchase.
Features & Function : 8
USB2, nice foldaway cable storage, LED’s to let you know what’s going on.
Ease of use : 8
Just plug it in and go ! No drivers, nothing. The foldaway cable storage means it’s easier to carry around in your laptop bag.
Looks and style : 7
Fairly standard little black box, but the foldaway cable storage means no ugly spaghetti cables.
Build quality : 8
Quite a solid feeling little box. Once the cable is all tucked away in the case it’s well protected too.
Value for money : 6
As USB hubs go I suppose there are cheaper around, but if you want portability you generally have to pay a premium. At least I got mine in “Duty Free”.
Day-to-day impact : 6
Well I suppose plugging USB cables in and out wasn’t that hard a task. I’ll probably mostly use it when I visit the office.
Overall Rating : 72%