Years ago there was a program called LapLink, that used a proprietary cable to transfer and sync data between computers. As the name implies, it was originally intended to sync files between desktop and laptop computers, but it actually worked on any PC and was very useful for making backups as well. The software was deservedly popular and very good at what it did (The LapLink company is still active, but their focus is a bit different these days). The Inateck HB4009 USB 3.0 3-Port Hub & Magic Port is designed to do what those LapLink cables did, once upon a time, and it has a lot of extra features that make it look very appealing. Does it live up to its promises? Our review will find out.
Unboxing The Inateck HB4009 USB 3.0 3-Port Hub & Magic Port
The Inateck HB4009 USB 3.0 3-Port Hub & Magic Port arrives in a plain brown cardboard box with a drawing of the device and a limited description on a white label.
Inside the box you'll find the hub itself, with its attached cable, a second USB cable, and a MicroUSB OTG adapter, along with a brief instruction manual. The manual that came with the unit we received for testing was written in both English and German. What's not apparent is that the hub contains built-in transfer and sync software for PCs, Macs, and Android, and Inateck says that the hub can also be used as a KVM switch for all three platforms as well.
The hub itself (without its cable) measures 100 x 30 x 20 mm (3.9 x 1.18 x.8 inches) and weighs 50 grams (.05 ounce). This makes it very easy to slip into your computer bag, although you'll have to be careful not to lose that adapter if you want to connect to a microUSB device. There are three USB ports on the top of the device, and one "magic port" (labeled M-Port) on the end without the attached cable. More on this "magic port" in a moment. The hub and cables are matte gray and all the ports are gold plated.
Inateck's page with complete specs, photos and descriptions is here. Note that although it says "PC to PC" it really does include Macs and Android. :)
Using The Inateck HB4009 USB 3.0 3-Port Hub & Magic Port
We know that our uncommonly well-informed readers already know what a USB hub does (although we can point to a reminder here if you like) so we didn't test the Inateck HB4009 strictly as a 3-port hub. We wanted to concentrate on finding the "magic" that the manufacturer promised. For the purposes of testing, we first connected a Lenovo B590 laptop running Windows 8.1 with a Macbook Air running OS X Yosemite, and then connected a desktop PC running Windows 7 and a Mac Mini running OS X Yosemite. The built-in software does not load on either platform unless you have more than one device connected, but as you can see, it shows up in File Explorer and in the Finder. This is what you'll get in File Explorer:
And in Finder:
We found it interesting that the hub showed up as both a CD drive and a removable drive. This means that you should eject the hub when you're done with it, especially on the Mac, which will complain at you if you don't. When you connect two computers, the software will take a short time to load on both of them. We got an odd error message on the Mac, telling us about a configuration change that had already been made. It was written by someone who is not a native English speaker.
You'll get a message that the computers are connected.
You will see the Mac KM Link icon in the taskbar on the Windows computer and in the Dock on the Mac. Right-click on Preferences (on the PC) or Options (on the Mac) to see a configuration screen.
NOTE: The GoBridge! software is what you use to connect to Android devices.
Oddly, there are a lot more options for PCs than for Macs. Here is what you can do with the PC version of the software (image from Windows 7):
And here is all you get with the Mac:
The most important setting you will need is to specify which side of the current computer the other computer is on (you'll see why in a moment).
Testing Different Combinations
You've seen the results of connections between a Lenovo laptop and a Macbook Air, and between a desktop PC and a Mac Mini. Since the Inateck HB4009 Hub promised to allow connections between other devices, we tried that out. When we connected the Lenovo laptop running Windows 8.1 with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1 tablet running Android Lollipop we ran into some serious problems. First, we had to use the QR code in the manual to download the WinDroid Linker software, or search for "Windroid Linker" in the Google Play app store to get the app (or click here). The manual says that when you transfer data to and from an Android device (which must be OTG enabled) you must use the computer as the controlling device. Unfortunately, the WinDroid Linker software proved impossible to use on the tablet (something that other reviewers found to be the case as well) so we could not test this combination of devices at all.
The Inateck HB4009 3-port USB 3.0 Hub and Magic Port is well made and appears sturdy, and the gold plated contacts are a plus. The removable cable is plenty long enough to connect devices that aren't, for whatever reason, sitting right next to each other. The built-in software loads without problems and should be easy enough for most people to use. It makes dragging and dropping files spectacularly easy and its KVM capabilities are great. It should be very useful for anyone who wants to connect two computers or to transfer files from flash drives to more than one computer at the same time.
Quirks And Inconveniences
- There is no way to provide power to the hub. You have to be sure that the devices you connect don't draw too much current. If you are just connecting two computers with their own power sources or transferring files off flash drives, this will not likely be a problem - but it is something you should be aware of if you want to connect relatively power hungry devices to the hub (like external drives, tablets, and smartphones). Any device that charges via USB will quite logically try to charge itself when you connect it, and that will draw a lot of energy and may well prevent the hub from working properly. In fact, when we looked at comments on this device around the web, the #1 complaint people had was the lack of sufficient power. Inateck does not make another version of this hub that can use external power.
- When we hooked the computers up for a second day of testing, we inadvertently reversed the hub's position relative to the computers. And the software would not work. The configuration screen on the PC would appear for a second and vanish. The drag and drop didn't work, and we couldn't even open the software on the Mac. So make a note of which end of the HB4009 is connected to which computer the first time around or you won't get anywhere when you try to use it again.
- When we connected the hub between a desktop PC running Windows 7 and a Mac Mini running OS X Yosemite, we discovered that if you use a tablet and stylus as your input device (as we do on the PC) you won't be able to drag files off the screen due to the way the tablet works. You may be able to see the cursor just inside the screen on the second computer but you can't move it any farther than that because you run into the border of the tablet.
- The software used to connect Android devices is apparently from a third party and did not work on our device. We never did manage to get the tablet to connect. The instructions for the Android software are minimal, and the Inateck manual doesn't make things any easier. This is a shame because this kind of transfer could be extremely useful.
Where To Buy
The Inateck HB4009 3-port USB 3.0 Hub and Magic Port is a well made and well-designed device. The built-in software works quite well, although deciphering the manual is not quite as easy as using the software. If you are only going to be using the hub to connect devices that have their own power supplies and to copy files from flash drives, you should have no problems at all. We liked the straightforward interface, the transfer speed and, quite honestly, the whole idea of the device. It should work very well for many people. However, the fact that there's no way to supply power may make it somewhat less useful with devices that charge themselves via USB, and the fact that it has to be hooked up the same way every time might make it appear not to work if you get it wrong, as we inadvertently did. We recommend that you buy it from a retailer that has a good return policy and give it a try.