The last time we saw Samsung's Central Station in person it wasn't so much of a hands-on moment as a drive-by peep show
. Nearly four months later, it's about to go on sale, and Samsung finally let us play with a final unit. For those of you who missed it in Vegas, the Central Station is a 1080p monitor that doubles as a docking station, replete with HDMI and VGA output, a speaker port, four USB ports (two of 'em USB 3.0), plus an additional USB port just for wired connections (more on that in a bit). The best part, of course, is that all of this docking happens wirelessly with the help of a small dongle that plugs into your laptop's USB port -- even if it's of the 2.0 variety. The promise is that all you need to do is walk within range of the monitor to be able to mirror (or extend) your desktop, stream 1080p video, and access USB peripherals, such as external hard drives. So is this display as simple to use as advertised? Mosey on past the break and check out our hands-on video to see for yourself.
The Central Station's foolproof setup reminds us of Intel Wireless Display
-- incidentally, another technology that lets you send 1080p video from a laptop to a big screen. To get started, just plug the discreet dongle into your notebook's USB port. A small window appears onscreen and, unless you happen to invest in more than one of these things, it'll be crystal clear which Central Station you need to highlight and select.
The dongle, which uses Samsung's proprietary wireless technology, has a range of five feet -- a fraction of the 30-foot leeway you'll get with a typical Bluetooth device. So if you imagined using this to stream movies from another room in the house, well, we hate to be the bearer of bad news. To its credit, though, the display automatically disconnects when you walk away, and reconnects when you resurface. In a demo with Samsung, we noticed the display took an extra second or two to light up after we came back, but we'd hardly call its reaction time sluggish.
One last niggle: you can only
access USB 2.0 devices
get USB 2.0 speeds when connected wirelessly -- if you happen to have USB 3.0 ports on your spankin' new computer and want to take advantage of a USB 3.0 device plugged into the station, you'll have to plug a cable into that spare USB port in the back and loop it around to your laptop. Hopefully, the next generation of the technology will fully support the standard. In the meantime, the Central Station works reliably, though it's up to you to manage the inevitable mess of charging cables. Look for it at the end of this month in 23-inch ($449) and 27-inch ($599) versions with individual dongles sold separately -- you know, in case you want to share the wireless docking love with the rest of the family.
A Samsung rep told us that the Central Station is PC-compatible only, with Mac drivers coming "later this year."