For the past several months, I have been using Samsung DeX as my primary work computer. Here is a detailed review of how things are working and not working.
What Is Samsung DeX?
I’ve been interested in using DeX since Samsung first announced it. It was launched in beta with the Galaxy S8. DeX allows you to use a Samsung Smartphone/Tablet as a desktop computer. Plug in a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and you have a full desktop experience while still running Android. It is not just a mirrored version of your phone, but a completely different user interface. You can find more about it here.
This isn’t a radical new idea. Many companies have tried to do this before. Most recently Microsoft Continuum. The idea is having one device that does everything. It’s a great idea, and one that’s really hard to pull off. But Samsung is making a good run at it.
Coming from iOS
My biggest barrier of entry for trying Samsung DeX is my heavy use of iOS. I wasn’t in the position to spend the money and transfer over to Android just to test out DeX. Before this experiment, I used an iPhone and iPad as my primary work devices.
Along with finally using Samsung DeX, I am also giving Android another try after several years. I thought it was going to be a much harder switch than it was. Some of the issues I bring up may be more Android related than just a Samsung DeX problems.
I am not using Samsung DeX on the latest and greatest. I have a Samsung S9, a hockey puck style DeX Dock, a 24” Dell monitor, and a wireless keyboard/mouse. The basic essentials to run DeX.
I first tried to run DeX without a docking station and use a generic USB-C dock. This caused problems with the display resolution. It was still usable but showed a smaller screen with black bars around it. The actual DeX dock was definitely needed.
One device to do everything is very convenient. At the start of my day I would drop my phone into the dock and be ready to go. If I had to run anywhere or go to a meet, I just grabbed the device and everything I needed/working on came with me. I didn’t have to worry about syncing or not having access to my files. It was all on the device.
I rely heavily on the G-Suite platform for work, so this fit perfectly with DeX. I would compare using the DeX as using a Chromebook.
I rarely found a task that I just couldn’t do on DeX. The few times I had to boot up a laptop or desktop was when I needed to access a piece of software that required Windows. For example, the accounting software (not my choice) we use only runs on a Windows machine at this point.
Switching between DeX and using just the phone was seamless. DeX took only a few seconds to boot up and turned off instantly when I removed the phone from the dock.
I could also continue to use all of the phone functionality while in DeX mode. Answer calls, send text messages, and listed to voicemails. I could also use the 4G data connection on the phone when WiFi went out. I never experience an internet outage or slowness.
The first week of using DeX was figuring out what Apps would work best. It took some playing around. Most Apps will work in DeX to some degree, but it takes trial and error to find Apps that really work like a desktop software would.
Android updates caused some problems. I didn’t notice this in the first months of using DeX as I was on Android 9. Once Android 10 became available for my phone, I lost some functionality in DeX and found some bugs.
Since DeX is a Samsung product and not a native Android System, Samsung has to go through some updates once a new version of Android is released. It took a couple weeks (and updates) to get Android 10 working as smoothly as Androids 9 did. It was enough of an issue to have me switch to a Chromebook until DeX was fixed. The phone still worked fine.
There was only one App that I used heavily with my iPhone and iPad set up that I can’t find an equivalent to with Android/DeX, WorkingCopy. This is an App I used daily.
In DeX mode I could interact with GitHub directly through the website, so that wasn’t a big deal, but on the phone it was difficult.
I think DeX is great, and plan to continue to use it. I liked the experiment enough to buy another DeX dock to use at home as well. I now have a dock at my office and at home to work. It’s nice not having to carry a laptop bag around and just drop by phone into the dock and continue working.
It also has worked great for travel. I had a conference to go to and had to do some work while there. Instead of bringing a laptop, I just packed by DeX dock and was able to connect it to the TV in the hotel and work from that.
You could argue that bringing the dock, keyboard, mouse, and HMDI cord is the same as carrying a laptop. I can’t argue much with that. But it was nice to use the call data in DeX mode instead of relying on WiFi.
I’ve recommend DeX to several people since trying it myself. They have had similar results and are happy with it. I don’t think any of them are willing to give up their desktops yet though.
Overall I’m happy with DeX and will continue to use it. I would really like it (or something similar) to be part of Android natively. I imagine this is something that Google has thought about and worked on.
If you have any experience with DeX, I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Fine me on Twitter and let me know.