Sales of USB docking stations have soared in recent months, as more and more people find themselves working from home with a laptop that might only have limited connectivity features for external displays and other accessories. We’ve looked at a number of docking stations recently, but the USB-C interface that’s increasingly common on laptop and desktop PCs is so versatile that it allows newer monitors with USB-C to include their own USB docking features as well.
If your laptop or desktop PC does include USB-C, then you could ditch the dock altogether and simply opt for a display such as HP’s E27d G4 Advanced Docking Monitor, which combines an attractive 27-inch display with a built-in hub that provides all the connectivity features you’re likely to need.
Design & features
The E27d G4 is relatively expensive for a Quad-HD (QHD) display with 2,560 by 1,440 resolution (108.8dpi), costing £478.80 (inc. VAT; £399 ex. VAT) or $479.
It’s well designed, though, starting with the slim bezel that helps to keep the width of the display down to just 24 inches. It’s noticeably more compact than my 27-inch iMac, and will sit on a small desk or table when you’re working at home without any trouble. Even the stand proves to be versatile, allowing you to adjust the height of the screen, tilt, swivel and even rotate the screen through 90 degrees into portrait mode. There’s also a slot in the stand that allows you to feed through all your cables and keep them tidy.
If you’re really tight for space, there’s also a 24-inch model called the E24d G4 that offers similar docking features. However, this only offers FHD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution, and seems quite expensive at £346.80 (inc. VAT; £289 ex. VAT) or $349.
Creative users might prefer a 4K display for graphics work or video editing, and HP’s documentation studiously avoids any mention of support for sRGB or other colour space technologies, so this is clearly not a display that’s intended for precisely calibrated graphics work. It is, however, a great choice for office duties, providing a clear, sharp image for running apps such as Microsoft Office and web browsing. The screen’s matte finish reduces glare and reflection, and the bright display provides wide viewing angles that come close to HP’s claimed 178 degrees. And while the E27d G4 might not be precise enough for professional graphics or video work, the colour balance looks excellent to my uncalibrated naked eye. It’s bright and bold, but the colours aren’t over-saturated, and the display will be well suited to web browsing, streaming video, or some simple photo editing for presentations, for example.
The on-screen menu system, controlled by a row of four buttons under the front right-hand edge of the screen, provides a variety of viewing modes, including Low Blue Light to ease eye-strain, and additional modes for reading and night-time viewing. There’s also a KVM option (keyboard/video/mouse) that allows you to connect two computers to the display so that they can share a single keyboard and mouse.
There are plenty of other features to help justify the display’s high price. The top edge of the screen houses a 1080p webcam and twin microphones, which can be used for video conferencing or for signing in with the Windows Hello face-recognition technology in Windows 10. The display doesn’t have any built-in speakers of its own, although it does provide a 3.5mm ‘combo’ audio connector that can double up for input from an external microphone, or output to headphones or speakers. There’s also an optional speaker bar available from HP for £42 (inc. VAT; £35 ex. VAT) or $31, and a mounting kit that seems specifically designed for HP’s ultra-small-form-factor EliteDesk system.
But, of course, it’s the built-in dock and connectivity features that really justify the price of the E27d G4 — but only if your laptop or desktop PC has at least one USB-C port available. The display does include both HDMI and DisplayPort interfaces, so you can connect any PC that has its own HDMI or DisplayPort connectors. I was also pleased to find that the display was able to detect which video input was being used, and automatically selected the correct input as I switched from cable to cable. There’s also a second DisplayPort interface that provides output to a second external display.
However, using DisplayPort or HDMI for video input only allows the E26d G4 to operate in basic ‘monitor mode’, without the ability to use the built-in dock and other features, so you really do need USB-C on your PC to justify the price of the display.
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The rear panel on the E27d G4 houses two USB-C connectors. The first of these is used to connect your PC, and provides video input for the display and 100W power output for charging a laptop. Using this USB-C port allows the display to function in ‘dock mode’, providing power and data for all the ports and interfaces included in the built-in dock. These include four conventional USB 3.1 ports, and a second USB-C port that can be used to charge a smartphone or connect devices such as an external hard drive. There’s also an RJ-45 Ethernet port for a wired network.
HP’s manual does specifically refer to “docking an HP notebook or HP desktop mini” with the display, but the various docking ports and connectors will work perfectly well with PCs from any manufacturer as long as they have the required USB-C connection. However, we did find one feature that only seemed to work with an HP laptop that I borrowed from a colleague: when the display is used in ‘dock mode’ its main power button can also be used to turn on an HP laptop, put it to sleep or wake it up again — these power options didn’t work when I connected a Microsoft Surface laptop or my own MacBook.
The E27d G4 might not “inspire joy on your desk” as HP fancifully suggests, but it is an excellent option for anyone needing a high-quality 27-inch display for working at home or in an office. It is more expensive than many comparable QHD displays, but the built-in docking features will be useful for laptops that have limited connectivity, as well as helping to save valuable desk space when working from home or in a small office.
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