Samsung hasn’t invented the concept of smartphone to PC convergence, but they may have finally made it practical for daily use. Their new docking station, called Samsung DeX, together with a customized version of the Android operating system, allow all Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners to turn any place into a workplace.
Samsung DeX Station - Turn Galaxy S8 Into PC
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The DeX station retails for $149.99 on Amazon, and an unlocked S8+ sells for around $800. That means that you can have both a flagship smartphone and a capable computer for school and light office work, casual image editing, or writing for less than $1,000. If you don’t need to work in CAD or have access to your favorite accounting software, DeX may be the right solution for your needs.
The Cradle of Productivity
In its closed state, the DeX station is a compact puck-like device that weighs just 230 grams. It’s all black and looks inconspicuous on a desk. Just make sure to place it right at the edge, so you can hide all the wires that lead from the back side.
Speaking of wires, the DeX station features one USB-C port for charging, two USB 2.0 ports for peripherals and external drives, an Ethernet port for wired internet connection, and an HDMI output. If you’re missing a microphone and a headphone jack, you should start to reconcile yourself to the fact that smartphone and laptop manufacturers have decided that the world only needs USB-C.
To use the DeX station, you will, of course, also need an external monitor with HDMI support and some peripherals, preferably Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. The Logitech MK270 wireless keyboard and mouse combo is a popular, inexpensive option that should satisfy all your typing and mousing needs.
Just make sure to pair your Bluetooth peripherals before you dock your Galaxy phone in the cradle. For some reason, Samsung has forgotten to make Bluetooth pairing possible from their Android-based desktop operating system that is an essential part of the DeX experience. The only way how you can pair Bluetooth devices is through the familiar Android Bluetooth settings menu.
Also, don’t be surprised if your monitor doesn’t work properly with the DeX station, especially if you have an ultra-wide or 4K screen. Samsung DeX runs in the Full HD resolution when an external display is connected, but sometimes it fails to scale correctly. You might see horrible letterboxing, with black bars surrounding the image in the center of the screen, and you might also experience noticeable lag due to a misconfigured refresh rate.
DeX’s Desktop Experience
When you plug your S8 into the DeX dock, you are presented with two options. You can either mirror your phone’s display onto your external monitor or turn it into a desktop by activating the DeX mode. The former display method is supported by many flagship devices, and most users never need it or even know that it’s there. The latter is what Samsung DeX is all about.
The DeX mode takes a few seconds to load, after which it presents you with a user interface that looks and feels instantly familiar. When you open an app, its icon will appear on the bottom, allowing you to minimize and restore it. On the left side are shortcuts to your favorite apps, and the rest of the desktop can be populated with app windows. Just like when using Windows or Mac OS X, you can right-click to invoke a context menu, arrange app windows, see previews when you hover the cursor over the app icons in the dock, and more. Perhaps the only aspect of the DeX desktop experience that stands out as unique when compared to other popular desktop operating systems is the row of virtual navigation buttons in the lower left corner, which helps when using apps that aren’t optimized for DeX—and there’s no shortage of those.
There Might Not Be an App for That
According to Statista, there are currently almost 3 million apps in the Play Store. Out of those, only around 30 come with DeX support. By “DeX support,” we mean things like the ability to manipulate the app’s window size and keyboard and mouse support.
When it comes to image editing, Adobe Lightroom works great, and it even supports raw image file formats. The entire Microsoft Office suite of apps works great, and Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype should cover most office-related tasks. Google Docs is another option, but we’ve encountered some minor problems with the commenting function. This will no doubt be fixed very soon, though.
Apps like Lightroom and Word show the tremendous potential of Samsung DeX, but the day-to-day reality of using it is currently hindered by the thousands and thousands of apps that behave like Slack. The mobile version of the messaging app assumes that you’re using a smartphone—which you actually do to be fair—and automatically shows your status as offline whenever the app window isn’t in focus.
You could avoid this problem by remotely accessing a virtual Windows machine via VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions such as Citrix Receiver, VMware Horizon Client, and Amazon WorkSpaces, but that defeats the purpose of DeX since you could easily do that with any smartphone that supports Full HD video output.
As it stands, DeX is a fantastic execution of a concept that no company before managed to get right. Samsung now needs to keep supporting DeX with all their might to provide potential customer with even more reasons why it may be a worthy alternative to laptops.
- True desktop user experience
- Impressive performance
- Microsoft Office
- Half-baked Bluetooth pairing
- Issues with monitor compatibility
- Limited number of supported apps
Samsung did the impossible, creating a smartphone to PC convergence solution that someone may actually want to use. DeX still needs some love from Samsung, as well as a lot of support from third-party developers, but it’s already successfully demonstrated its value and potential.