The dream of having a phone that does double duty and turns into a PC has been an elusive grail that manufacturers have been chasing for over the years with mixed results. The Samsung DeX dock is their take on the concept that turns the Galaxy S8 or S8+ smartphone into a PC with a full desktop-like environment that you can interact with via a mouse and keyboard.
Externally, the DeX dock looks like a chunky, giant-sized hockey puck done up in matte black. Press one corner and the top of the puck slides down and up to reveal a USB Type C jack for you to dock the Galaxy S8. It doesn’t work with any other phone bar the Galaxy S8 or S8+ which limits its versatility somewhat. Our test unit came with a Galaxy S8 though the DeX performs in an identical fashion regardless of whichever of the two phones you put in that it is compatible with.
The rear of the dock comes with a pair of USB ports for hooking up a mouse, keyboard or other peripherals, a Ethernet Port, a HDMI port to hook up an external monitor and a USB Type C input for powering the device. The dock is light enough to cram into a backpack without undue trouble though you’ll need more than just the dock and the phone to get it working.
Getting the DeX up and running is simply a matter of docking your S8 to the DeX. There is however the caveat that you need to have a monitor, keyboard and mouse hooked up to the DeX or you won’t have a way of controlling, or for the matter, seeing what you’re doing.
While it’s docked, the S8 is charged and kept cooled by a fan built into the casing of the DeX. Unfortunately, the nature of the design means that you will have to remove any casings from your S8 when you dock it to the DeX which is a bit of a chore if you have to do it every time you need to use it.
The DeX itself is in turn charged via a conventional USB Type C port which hooks up to the USB charge bundled with the S8. It’s particularly finicky with other chargers as we’ve discovered after testing with chargers and cables from several brands and you’ll need to carry the official one that came with S8 to ensure that it works properly.
Hooking up a mouse and keyboard and monitor to the DeX dock was a doddle and the system recognised them immediately when plugged in. If you want to go the tangle-free, you can opt to connect a wireless mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth which the S8 handled without undue complication.
Once everything is hooked up properly, the S8 boots into a desktop environment akin to Windows with a taskbar at the bottom, a desktop replete with app icons and a host of shortcuts on the lower right corner of the screen to tweak Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, data, and notifications. Amazingly, all this is powered solely on the S8’s beefy Exynos processor and it’s still running Android Nougat under the hood.
From there, all the familiar mouse controls on a Windows desktop including left clicking, contextual right clicking and most keyboard shortcuts are available for use. Some niceties are limited to Samsung’s stock apps such as the ability to drag and drop files which is currently restricted to Samsung’s e-mail and message app.
Installed apps on the S8 appears on the desktop itself as neat shortcuts on the desktop and opened apps appear in windows that are resizable for the most part. A good number of apps work on the desktop in a delightfully familiar fashion like Google Docs, Microsoft Office, YouTube, Chrome and most browser apps. When handling web browsing duties, the DeX managed to serve up the desktop versions of websites in a smooth fashion on their own proprietary browser and Chrome.
In terms of multitasking, the DeX was easily able to tackle a host of open windows and apps. You’re even able to keep YouTube open while you pore through a browser window and even get some writing done which was what we did when testing the DeX. Android video editing apps ran smoothly as well like Quik even when stitching together and editing fairly large video clips.
Not all apps were handled in as pleasant a fashion though as only a select number of apps are currently optimised to run in Dex. Many apps that are specifically designed for a touchscreen will not run at all on DeX interface. Some apps won’t run in fullscreen mode and you can’t resize the window either so you’re stuck with what they give you while other apps remain in mobile mode only like Facebook Messenger. Unlike using it on a PC, using the Facebook Messenger app on Android via the DeX means you’ll have to manually use a mouse to click send every time you send a message versus simply pressing Enter on the desktop.
If you’re thinking of exploring the DeX as an alternative for gaming, you’ll get mixed results as not all games will run on the Dex, especially those dependent on a touch interface like many first person shooters. Several games do run though like Clash Royale and Star Trek: Timelines.
Other subtle niceties on a full desktop are missing as well though it is more on account of Android’s limitations as browsers like Chrome and Firefox on DeX are still unable to use plug-ins. Still, the fact that you get a mostly complete desktop interface without having to perform any complicated fiddling about is an impressive feat on Samsung’s part.
Price and Conclusion
Unfortunately, the DeX isn’t able to work by its lonesome. It needs a lot of additional hardware to achieve full functionality. Odds are you’ll have a spare monitor, keyboard and mouse lying around but those that don’t may need to fork out for it which may lead to quite a hefty investment on top of the S8 and dock.
You’re still going to have to carry all of this around which makes for a large logistics footprint to worry about unless you have a similar setup at home and in the office which makes sense for a corporate setup. The fact that the phone itself is biometrically secure with Samsung’s Knox tech as well as packing iris and fingerprint recognition makes it a viable option for business users too.
Samsung’s DeX isn’t a perfect phone-to-desktop experience and a few kinks need to be worked out in terms of app support but as it stands the experience it offers is a good deal more seamless than other current examples in the market.
If you have fairly modest computing needs and already have all the necessary tackle, the DeX is a novel, powerful means to get more out of your Galaxy S8.
Input 2x USB, 1 x HDMI, 1x Ethernet port, 1x USB Type C (charging), 1x 3.5mm audio
Size/Weight 101.6 x 101.6 x 50mm / 231g
*Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia
WHAT WE LIKED Great implementation of a desktop experience, turns your S8 or S8+ into a desktop PC, lots of ports
WHAT WE DIDN’T Only works with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, needs significant assets (keyboard, mouse and monitor) to make it work, not all apps work in desktop mode
WE SAY A novel additional accessory that adds enhanced functionality to the Galaxy S8 or S8+ though it still falls short of offering a full desktop PC experience