I had high hopes when I spotted this and tried it out at CES 2012. It combined a number of items that you might have to cobble together if you were going to make your laptop act more like a desktop setup, particularly in the area of the monitor positioning. What have I learned during the week that I have had this review unit?
- The keys type predictably. They were similar is size to the keys on my MacBook and most of the layout was similar as well. For blogging and mostly text-editing, this is more than usable.
- The touchpad is serviceable, despite being 1/4 of the size of the Trackpad on my MacBook. Because the touchpad was more like the standard touchpads on non-Macs, I had to adjust my movements to a more “mouse-like” setup.
- The three fans were quiet. I had to turn the unit around after connecting the USB plug that provides power to them to make sure they were indeed working. They were.
- Two flash drives were plugged into the passthrough USB hub without complaint from the system
- The setup appeared to be stable enough that I didn’t worry about the computer flipping back or collapsing under the weight of the laptop. While not made of the heavier metal of other products, the ABS plastic seemed to be suitably sturdy.
- One of the end caps and the pole that serves as the spine for the RTA-SISK31’s hinge where separated from the unit when I unpackaged the unit. Hmmm.
- The touchpad, due to its limited real estate (compared to the TrackPad or to the motion area of a separate mouse), wasn’t as easy to use for more fine-movement like photo editing and painting.
- The compartment that serves as the storage for the USB connector that provides power to the fans is difficult to prepare for “putting away”. It is a tight fit and I spent no less than 10 minutes trying to figure out how to curl the cord carefully in the recessed compartment so that the trapdoor/cover would rest “flush” with the rest of the backing.
- The micro-USB connector that connects the built-in keyboard/touchpad is not at all secure. A cord does not fully enter the port and easily popped out. When I was adjusting the position of the MacBook on the stand, the provided cable easily slipped out of the port, causing my MacBook to give this awful error about ejecting drives improperly. Luckily I didn’t really lose any data. This is not good.
- The leaning angle is just OK for someone of my stature (I am just over 5 foot 7 inches). With the MacBook open all the way and the stand in its “furthest” position for leaning, the screen was just OK for reading. In the accompanying use video, note the angle of the MacBook screen. When my partner, who is 6 foot 4 inches, sat with the same set up, he had to physically pickup and tip back the entire assembly to angle the view to his comfort level.
I visited my nearest Apple store and looked at the packages of MacBook- and MacBook Pro-compatible stands. These raise the entire laptop about six inches but slightly angle forward, so just a monitor stand wouldn’t be the same. This places the monitor at a similar height as with the RTA-SISK31 but the angle is more in a usable range between my height and my partner’s height.
When I use a separate powered USB hub and don’t rely on the micro-USB port to do more than connect to the keyboard/touchpad on the unit, I can use the stand without worrying about the inadvertent disconnection of my storage devices.
The RTA-SISK31, sold by Amazon.com and others for around $75.00 is useful but has some feature concerns that need to be addressed for it to be a real killer accessory. It did what was supposed to do: I was able to comfortably type and “mouse” through the creation of a blog posting with my USB drive available. While the angle wasn’t absolutely perfect, I didn’t have the same crick in my neck I normally get when I am hunched over the book when it rests directly on the table or desk at the usually height. Other computers may have more tilt range for the angle of the LCD display but the MacBook was just at an angle that taller users may find this to be a difficulty, particularly if they use correct lenses which already limit the angle of reading. The fans did keep the computer cool and did so quietly. The battery didn’t experience a precipitous drop in power because of the use of power. Even though it is not made of premium elements, the pieces that are present should be well-constructed.
As I experienced it, I would give The Sharper Image Cooling Stand with built-in keyboard, the RTA-SISK31, a B.