Marble DCS1

March 25, 2017

Backing hardware on crowdfunding sites is full of peril. Delays, incorrect estimates, hardware problems and of course an ever-increasing tide of backers yelling ever more loudly about how the world is unjust and the project a fraud.

Despite that, things do become real sometimes:

Marble box, right from the mail Marble box, right from the mail

This morning, I picked up the Marble DCS1 "docking and charging station" after backing it on Indiegogo sometime this summer and more recently spending a number of weeks with nothing to go on but angry backers asking where their gadgets or shipment tracking numbers were. I can not imagine what it feels like to be the creator of a project and have to try to manage a flood like that, but even as a level-headed (I tell myself) backer I found the comments eventually created a certain amount of doubt in me. Perhaps it would never show up? Perhaps it was all a bad idea? What is there, really, to say the hardware would be anything but a cheap job?

Getting to hold a nicely designed and tightly shrinkwrapped box like this on its own did a lot to dispel the fears. Not only is it real, the people at Mofily care about their design all the way out to the box.

The Marble DCS1 provides a micro-SD card reader, an HDMI port, two USB 3 ports and two USB-C ports, one of which is USB 3.1 and intended for the laptop connection. There is also a DCS2 which swaps the full-size HDMI port for one mini Displayport and one mini HDMI (type-D, they call it).

Let us get to the important image:

Marble connected to computer and screen Marble connected to computer and screen

First of all: no, I will not have that huge lump of cabling lying around. I just picked the cable I had available. Second: it works, it feels good to both use, hold and look at. My main comparison is the Satechi slim USB hub thing I use at work. The Satechi does win on slimness, but in everything else the Marble wins so far. Much of that is suiting my needs well, but the hardware also seems to be better designed. It is cooler (but still warm) to the touch when connected and charging a computer, and more importantly I have no issues with the HDMI connection becoming confused and ceasing to work after the computer sleeps.

On the "suiting my needs" side, I realized just how well the "and charging station" part will work for me. As the Marble has its own power, it happily charges everything I connect without hesitating. With two old-timey USB ports and one newfangled USB-C, I can stop digging out adapters and cables to plug into odd outlets around my apartment whenever I need to charge things. Now they can all sit here.

Technically, the Marble can even support fast-charging the Ipad pro, but Mofily had to disable that in firmware because the Pro could not pick the right power level on its own. The Marble supports an even higher one for Dell laptops, but that one can damage the Pro battery, so Mofily chose to disable fast charging for the Pro. Supposedly, there is or will be alternate firmware for those so inclined which can disable the Dell power level and enable fast-charging the Pro. I am tempted.

(As a fun bonus, this made me get around to buying a lightning to USB-C cable, so now I can charge my Ipad pro about twice as fast as before by connecting it to my Macbook's power brick.)

Marble, close up Marble, close up

Open questions

Many of us like to complain about Bluetooth being flaky, but even wired things still have their rough spots.

Every single USB hub - whether built into a computer or separate - seems to get confused about power sometimes. Every now and then a port seems to stop providing the power it used to, resulting in a slow charge, a device not being detected or what have you. Perhaps it is the fault of Macos, who knows. In any case, the Marble gets those hiccups too. I had one instance right when I plugged it in the very first time and one after charging my hungry phone where the ports decided to not provide power anymore and also not notify the computer of devices being connected. Unplugging from the computer and plugging back in solved it, as always. If anything, the problem felt a bit more benign than with other devices. Some amount of power was still being provided because reconnecting the phone indicated charge, and the computer itself seemed to get power as well. More importantly, the HDMI connection kept running flawlessly the whole time.

The other question I have is: can I find and use a longer cable between Macbook and Marble? Cables always become a bit of a rat's nest, so I would love to push the Marble far back on the desk and only bring it forward when needed. All my other cables are long enough to support this, but not the included USB-C cable. The manual carefully notes that you should only use that one cable. I tried the Macbook's included one instead and there clearly is some difference because that one clearly did not work. I will look into this, because not being able to put it away is really the only thing I do not like about the hardware right now.

To sum up

I really like the Marble so far. It does what I wanted the way I hoped it would, and it looks stylish while doing it. I now enjoy using my Macbook with my external screen and I look forward to really getting to know this new setup.

Marble connected Marble connected