Docking stations have become irreplaceable in the workflows of modern photographers. Just think of the last time you had to dump footage from several memory cards on several drives. Efficient hardware is critical when it comes to managing files. The Kingston Workflow station is great, with brilliant potential.
The problem with all docking stations is that they are very hard to customize. A limited number of ports, card slots, and other features may detract users from using docking stations altogether. Some just resort to having several card readers and USB hubs. This is one way to do things; however, it is usually a cable management nightmare.
The Kingston Workflow station solves all of these problems with a simple modular design. If you want to have a station with 8 SD card slots, fill your boots. If you need none, that works too. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the Kingston Workflow Station, Kingston Workflow MicroSD Reader, and Kingston Workflow SD Reader. I have been using them religiously for the past month, and here is what I have to say.
The docking station itself is made of plastic and measures 6.5 inches long and 2.7 inches wide. I was surprised to see how small it was and how natural it felt on the table. It really doesn't take too much space; moreover, it has two rubber pads on the bottom that prevent it from sliding. The workstation has some weight to it, which enables it to sit firmly on the table. Of course, plastic may feel cheap for some users, but I found it to be perfectly fine, especially at the price Kingston is selling the workflow station.
As for each of the modules, they are also plastic with a groove on each side for better security. The module has a metal female USB-C connector that snaps well into the docking station. So far, there are three modules produced for the docking station: USB-B USB-C (both Gen 3.2), dual SD (UHS I and II), dual MicroSD (UHS I and II).
Overall, I am satisfied with the build quality of the Kingston workflow station. I don’t see that being a problem in the long run.
Features are what you make of them since the workstation is highly modular.
There are four USB-C connectors in the docking station, each of them supports transfers at USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds. In the back, there is a single female USB-C connector that connects to your machine. There is also a power port, as the workstation requires an external DC to run. It is not possible to run the workstation without external power.
While some may see that as a potential problem, it is not. Since each module has a female USB-C connector, you can use it without the workstation altogether. I took them on-location and used them as separate card readers. Essentially when you’re buying into the Kingston workflow station system, you’re getting the chance to take each module and add it to your on-location off-power setup.
Another useful feature that isn’t advertised as part of the spec of the workflow station and what makes it so great for me is the ability to dock drives into it. If you have the Samsung T5 or T7, you can dock them in safely and use them as normal.
This reduces the number of cables needed and enables me to quickly plug in a working drive, or an editing drive. Since none of my data is stored on the computer, I always work off an SSD. Bear in mind that not every SSD fits, and I strongly recommend checking the dimensions before buying an SSD to use docked. Also be aware that especially with thin SSD’s such as Samsung T7, there is some play and you really don’ want to push on it as you might break the connector.
Since this is a modular design, you can add pretty much anything you want to it. If only there were more than three modules. Photographers use a plethora of different cards, and it would be great to see more modules come out for the Kingston workstation. Kingston needs to build on the brilliant foundation they created. A module with a CF card slot would be in high demand since a lot of DSLR cameras still use that slot. Another useful feature would be a module with a CFexpress card slot, as these cards have been gaining rapid popularity among professional mirrorless shooters. It could be interesting to see modules with more USB-C and USB-B ports come out. As someone who works off a laptop connected to a 4K monitor, I find myself in constant lack of ports. With the new 14" and 16" MacBook Pro, there are even less useful ports to connect peripherals. Another interesting idea would be to feature an Ethernet port in the back of the docking station itself. Provided that the single cable connection between the workstation and the computer won’t be a bottleneck, that would be a welcome addition.
The problem we all encounter with most hubs is the decrease in transfer speeds, a pretty dramatic one, if I may add.
Naturally, I wanted to test how much transfer speed I will lose by docking a few media storage devices through the Kingston Workflow Station instead of a direct connection to the computer. I tested it with the three most common devices used by photographers: a fast SSD, a shock-proof HDD, and an SD card. To keep consistent, I used the same cable for the direct and docked test, as well as kept it in the same port. As with every other data transfer test ever done: BlackMagic Disk Speed Test was the weapon of choice.
Samsung T7 SSD
The read/write speeds are where you’d expect them to be, with the docked ones being slightly lower. Given the mind-blowing speeds at which the Samsung T7 drive works (full review later), 7 Mb/s write and 22 Mb/s read speed drops made no practical difference. Of course, if speed is your highest priority, you are better off connecting it directly. I personally dock it in and notice no difference when working.
LaCie Rugged HDD
There is some drop in read/write speeds, but this time, it is noticeable because the read/write is much slower. Likewise, if you need speed, you’re definitely better off connecting it directly. I connect archive drive A directly and archive drive B through the docking station when backing up. Although there is a difference, it’s negligible when moving files from one drive to another, as that is done overnight in my case.
Kingston SD UHS-II
Weirdest of all, the Kingston SD card seems to be faster when docked and slower when connected directly. Perhaps this is unit-specific and I got a bad apple. Nonetheless, the drop isn’t that significant for most practical applications.
In summary, I loved using the Kingston Workflow station. It’s well built, takes no space on the table, and is easy to use. With transfer speeds being very similar to direct connection, it’s a no-brainer to purchase for photographers who are looking to add a docking station to their workflow. The workstation is priced at $129 (on sale for $106.89 at the moment of writing), and each module is approximately $30. Bear in mind that you can’t buy the USB mini-hub separately. Still, overall, it’s a great bang for the buck for a docking station that good.
Will I be buying one myself? Definitely, yes. Hopefully, new modules come out, which I’ll be keeping my eye on.
What I Liked
- Full customizability
- Docking SSDs
- USB 3.2 ports
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 host connection
- Fast transfer speeds
- Small size
- Ability to use the modules without the docking station
What Could Be Improved
- Adding more modules such as CF, CFexpress, USB-C, and USB-B ports
- An Ethernet port in the back
- Ability to purchase the USB mini-hub
You can purchase yours here.