Kensington BlackBelt Rugged Case with Integrated Mobile Dock for Surface Pro 8: Durable and convenient – ZDNet
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Hands-on with a case/dock combo that adds legacy ports to the Surface Pro 8, while making it more resilient for retail and industrial work.
Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist.
There are plenty of docks that can add extra ports to a tablet like a Surface Pro, or a slimline laptop. Most are universal dongles that connect to your device via USB-C, but the $199.99 Kensington BlackBelt Rugged Case with Integrated Mobile Dock for Surface Pro 8, puts the ports into a rugged case that makes it easier to hold a Surface Pro 8 in retail and industrial situations and gives it some extra protection if you drop it or something gets spilled. The case meets MIL-STD-810H standards for contamination by fluids (Method 504.3) and drop testing (Method 516.8).
Because it’s a case — or somewhere between a case and a bumper — the BlackBelt Rugged Case is much lighter than most desktop docks at just over 160g. It’s much more convenient than a dock that you need to either plug and unplug as you’re moving around, or try to tuck behind the screen when you’re using the Surface Pro as a tablet, or an adapter that might get knocked off: once the Kensington case/dock is fitted, it’s as if the Surface Pro just had a couple of extra ports.
The Surface Pro 8 has two USB-C ports (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4), plus its own keyboard and power connectors, but it drops the USB-A and MicroSD card slots of earlier models. The BlackBelt Rugged Case uses one of those USB-C ports (on the right-hand side) to connect, with a clever pull-out mechanism so you can snap your Surface Pro into the case and then press the USB-C port in to hold it in place. The case is also engineered to fit the tablet precisely, so it stays on securely even if you’re less than delicate when you wave it around or drop it on the table.
The BlackBelt Rugged Case, fitted to a Surface Pro 8: left side (top), right side (above).
You don’t lose that port entirely, but the pass-through USB-C port you get on the case next to it is only 10Gbps USB-C 3.2 with 60W power delivery (so you can still use it for charging if you prefer that to the standard Surface charging port). Next to that is the HDMI port, which delivers up to 4K resolution at 60Hz as long as you have Display Stream Compression (DSC) enabled. Without DSC the 4K refresh rate drops to 30Hz. The USB-C port can also deliver 4K at 60Hz and having them side by side makes it easier if you need to use both to drive a dual-screen setup delivering dual 1440p at 60Hz.
Also on the right side of the case is a mechanical button that presses the power button on the Surface Pro 8 (and both sides of the case have small vent holes to allow for cooling).
Left-side: MicroSD card reader, 10Gbps USB-A, volume buttons. Right side: Case-to-tablet connection (via USB-C), 10Gbps USB-C, HDMI, power button.
Case-to-tablet connection: snap the Surface Pro 8 into the case, then press in the USB-C port to secure it.
The left side of the case has mechanical buttons to control the volume, a 10Gbps USB 3.2 USB-A port and the MicroSD slot so you can add extra storage or transfer files without a USB stick (because having something that sticks out and can get knocked or broken off is a bad idea in the kind of retail and industrial locations the BlackBelt is designed for).
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There’s plenty of room for the extra ports because the top of the case is thicker and chunkier than the sides, which have cut-outs for the Surface Pro 8’s power connector and audio jack, and for the little divot that makes it easy to open the tablet’s kickstand. The kickstand opens normally at the back (and it’s so robust it doesn’t need any extra protection which would only add the thickness and weight).
The extra thickness does change the balance of the device if you’re holding it like a tablet, but also makes it easier to grab hold of the Surface Pro if you’re wearing gloves. And if you need to hold it for long periods of time while you’re filling out forms or dealing with customers, there’s a very robust silicon hand strap on the back (although that would cover up the rear camera, which is otherwise available through another cut-out).
If you use a Type Cover keyboard, you usually just hold it shut as a cover, which may not be enough protection in more challenging environments. There’s a little lip at the top right corner of the case with a silicon strap you can pull out and snap over the corner of the Type Cover to hold it securely, with a nice big textured tab that’s easy to grab if you’re wearing gloves or your hands are cold or wet.
The well on top of the Kensington case accepts a variety of Surface pens, but the lanyard only fits round ones.
There’s a well on the top of the case to fit a Surface pen (something sadly lacking from almost every modern tablet) and a lanyard to make double-sure you don’t drop the pen or leave it behind. The well is flexible enough to take most generations of Surface pen, both round and flat, although we found we would sometimes accidentally trigger an app when pushing the Surface Slim Pen 2 into place. The lanyard attaches securely to any round Surface pen (including the Classroom pen) — so securely that you must follow the diagram for sliding it into place over the end of the pen rather than trying to snap it onto the barrel from the side. But it won’t fit any of the flat pens at all.
The Surface Pro 8 gets its slim dimensions from dropping the older ports that this case replaces, and also moves the power button to the side. That means the BlackBelt Rugged Case only fits a Surface Pro 8, not older models, which are slightly too wide, even if they have a USB-C port in the right place. Kensington has cases for other Surface models such as the Go, the Pro X and older Surface Pro models — including some cases with smart card readers, but not extra ports. You might not need a second USB-A port or a MicroSD slot on a Surface Pro 7, but the HDMI port could be useful.
At $199.99 you are paying more for the convenience of having all the ports in the case: both rugged cases and small USB-C docks with a similar number of ports (which will work with multiple devices) cost around $50 each. But if you need to get those extra ports to connect key business equipment, the premium is a lot less than replacing the equipment or risking delays when workers can’t plug in.
Kensington BlackBelt Rugged Case with Integrated Mobile Dock for Surface Pro 8 specifications
114mm x 200mm x 47mm (4.48in. x 7.87in. x 1.85in.)
Operating system support
Windows 10 or later
Plug & play
Surface Pro 8 only
Connection to Surface Pro 8
10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2
UHS-II SD 4.0 MicroSD
HDMI 2.0, 4K @ 60Hz (with DSC enabled)
10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2, 60W pass-through power delivery, 4K @ 60Hz
If you’re just looking for a docking station for the Surface Pro 8, your best bet is still Microsoft’s Surface Dock 2, which connects via the proprietary Surface Connect port. However, it’s worth noting that this dock may soon get an upgrade as it lacks Thunderbolt 4 support.
If a rugged case for the Surface Pro 8 is your main priority, look no further than Kensington’s custom-designed offering.
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May 13, 2022 at 07:48AM