Samsung DeX review: This isn't a replacement for your laptop

Galaxy Note 8 DeX
(Image: © Android Central)

Admittedly, I'm in a bit of disbelief that I'm writing a review for a desktop operating system that's running off of the Galaxy S8+. Who knew this would be our future? I certainly didn't. I knew computers were getting smaller, particularly when netbooks and tiny little Chromebits were introduced to the market, but I never imagined it would be the smartphone doing the heavy lifting.

Alas, here we are, and I'm typing this to you via a keyboard connected to the Galaxy S8+. There's no doubt that if any other company had put out a product akin to this, it would have been considered nothing more than a gimmick. (Microsoft actually did and we saw how that went.) Granted, I initially thought the same about the DeX when I was first introduced to the concept, but now that I've been using it for some time, I appreciate the alternative way to use the Galaxy S8+.

Meet the Samsung DeX

I already gave a quick rundown of my first few hours with the Samsung DeX, but it's after a few weeks with it that I've finally landed on the idea that it's more of a additional gadget rather than a replacement for a full desktop workstation. But let's talk about the hardware first.

The $150 DeX is merely a dock that props up the Galaxy S8 or S8+ and hooks it up to a variety of peripherals. It offers no additional internal components unless you count the pop-up fan that's meant to keep the GS8 cradled by cool air while it's in its desktop mode. The DeX offers an HDMI-out port, an ethernet jack, and two full-size USB ports. USB-connected mice and keyboards work almost instantly once you plug them in, though I preferred Bluetooth peripherals since it requires fewer wires. Note that it's best to pair everything to the Galaxy S8 before it's plugged into DeX.

Meet the Samsung DeX, posed here for your imagination.

Meet the Samsung DeX, posed here for your imagination.

To that end, DeX doesn't always play nice with all USB-connected things. For instance, I tried plugging in a separate Logitech webcam to use inside a group Hangouts meeting, but it didn't register. I even tried employing my fancy microphone for recording some real deep thoughts, but the DeX didn't work with that either. It's fine with USB-connected card readers and flash drives, however, so if picking off files from antiquated hardware is in your realm, you'll be covered by that here.

It's important to note that the DeX is not a traditional standalone computer. If you're planning to use this thing on the road, for example, you'll have to remember to pack the necessary add-ons and enhancements. You won't have to worry about the monitor, however, as DeX works just fine with hotel room TVs. While on the road for Google I/O, I also discovered that leaving the included charger at home meant I couldn't use the DeX dock at all. DeX requires a lot of power, and you can't get away with packing light if you plan on packing it, too.

All set up to work with Samsung DeX.

All set up to work with Samsung DeX.

Perhaps the biggest inconvenience of the DeX is that there is no additional headphone jack. The Galaxy S8+'s headphone jack is on the bottom, so it's obstructed when the phone is docked. You could use a set of Bluetooth-enabled speakers, or perhaps the headphone jack through an external monitor, but otherwise, you're relegated to listen to music and conduct interviews through the Galaxy S8's built-in microphone and speakers.

A different kind of desktop

DeX's desktop interface looks like something you'd use on a full-size Mac and PC.

DeX's desktop interface looks like something you'd use on a full-size Mac and PC, save for the instances when it's not. Like Windows, it has a start menu of sorts — the app drawer, essentially — in addition to a taskbar (or the status bar on Android). Individual windows are maneuverable in every which way unless the apps were specifically coded for use on a smartphone. In some instances, you'll even get a marker to let you know that an app can be used in landscape mode if you require.

I was pleased with how compatible the DeX operating system was. I'm new to the Chromebook world, and I've had my fair share of issues since adopting Chrome OS a mere four months ago. But I've hardly had as many headaches with DeX, and even managed to fulfill an entire news shift with it. Our CMS worked just fine — as it does on the Chrome browser — and I was able to easily edit RAW photos taken with my DSLR with the Samsung Gallery's built-in photo app. If anything, the DeX's app capabilities seem to be more of a statement of what's capable with the Galaxy S8. After all, the apps and services that are running here are all installed on the phone.

Of course, not everything is perfect. Eventually, I ran into reminders of DeX's limitations as a desktop experience fueled by a smartphone. For example, any games that rely heavily on touch input won't work at all, while web apps like Spotify won't even launch. And if you've too many tabs or apps open at any given time, DeX will give you a memory warning — don't even think about having more than two instances of Chrome running at any given time. There's also no drag-and-drop between folders like there is on a regular desktop operating system, either, and some apps won't even know how to register a mouse pointer. Overall, it will require a bit of a learning before you're truly in a meditative state of use with Samsung DeX's interface.

At present, there are 16 different applications optimized for use with Samsung DeX sprinkled throughout the Play Store and Galaxy Apps store. If you use Microsoft and Adobe's products, take heed knowing you're covered for the most part, even with Skype. There are even a number of remote desktop apps and VPN clients available from the like of Amazon and Cisco to use for more productive functionality. But any apps that aren't optimized for this sort of experience will have some relative dreadfulness in using them, in the sense that they clearly weren't made to run on a smartphone disguising itself as a desktop operating system.

Just buy a laptop, people

Don't forget to bring a mouse!

Don't forget to bring a mouse!

I'm not saying you shouldn't purchase the Samsung DeX dock if you're interested in the experience. Quite the contrary: I'm suggesting you weigh the pros of cons of this sort of desktop interface and whether it will suit your needs. For instance, if I were still in college and traversing the world with my best friend in tow, both of us with reckless abandon, it would have been more convenient to carry this little puck than the oddly-shaped netbook I carried around, wedged in between piles of dirty clothes. Not every computer situation requires a desktop computer; it simply requires a desktop interface, and with how powerful smartphones are in this day and age, it makes sense to run it off of one.

Conversely, if you're looking for a desktop experience but don't want to spend that kind of money, the DeX won't do it for you. It's still too nascent to be considered as such, and you'll find yourself missing out on some things with the DeX operating system in its current implementation. You simply need more power and app compatibility than the Galaxy S8 or S8+ can offer, especially at its current stages.

For the most part, I see the Samsung DeX as an extension of what Samsung's flagship can already do. It's not the most efficient way to travel with the Galaxy S8 in tow, but it is an impressive feat managed by one smartphone alone. If you're dying to try life with this souped-up little hockey puck, the $150 price tag isn't too bad as long as you've already got all the cords and peripherals lying around.

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Florence Ion

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

  • I think most people miss where this sort of thing actually makes sense, and that doesn't mean take it on a road trip.
    Think about your traveling sales person. In most situations they do 85% of their work through emails and phone calls. The other 15% is going to be editing some spreadsheets word documents and PowerPoint presentations. In this scenario they likely don't need a full computer in the office. I have 15 windows phones with docks for my companies salesmen and they live it and they are fully capable of doing all their work on the device. That isn't to say that they don't have a laptop for when they are on the road, but it saves us from having to purchase a desktop as well.
    Another situation would be folks who have cetrix or Horizon VDI desktops, they don't need anything more than something like this to access everything that they would with a normal computer.
  • If they already have laptops, wouldn't it be easier to provided docking stations for the laptops?
  • I was thinking the same
  • You are messing with his fake story. Stop being logical!
  • Awesome. But correct....Why bother with gimped up desktop experiences with either DeX or Continuum? Just give them a laptop and be done with it!
  • Costs, this dock is 150 where a Laptop/Desktop in our organization costs between 700-800 on average.
  • But you don't need both a laptop and desktop. Just get a laptop and docking station.
  • Why would the story be fake? Is it just because it doesn't fit in with your perspective?
  • As long as the laptop that they use actually work with a dock and aren't forced to go with port replicators
  • Yeah but UWP apps on the windows platform are all designed to scale between phone and monitor,, and work with both touch and mouse. As opposed to the mess we see above in the screen shots where a lot of apps don't scale, or don't work. Windows phones also work with a wide variety of peripherals due to the driver support of the platform. Not than continuum is perfect either. honestly they both need a lot of work, and for android devices, that would be a lot easier if google was doing some of the heavy lifting.. I think that's the purpose of fuschia myself.
  • I wont debate you there, but its a start
  • Start of the article is kind of funny, companies have been trying to do this since 2011 or 2012 and failing at it. They tried doing this with Ubuntu but never made it to market, Samsung had a dock for the Note 2 but wasn't nearly advanced, but it had the HDMI and USB ports. I think Motorola had a dock too. Asus made a phone that slid into a laptop. Andromium is about 2 years old now too I believe, and have changed their name to Sentio. Than we finally got continuum and now DEX. The idea of the smartphone docking and becoming your PC has been around since Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich and we still have a long way to go.
  • If it had the same capabilities as continuum, it would be awesome. Continuum doesn't require a dock, I can just connect to my phone wirelessly through the connect app on any computer like my surface for example almost like remote desktop to the phone.
  • MVD (Mobile Virtual Desktop) either through citrix or another competitor is where these will come into play. Especially at an office that is built with the new "collaborative space" floor plan. You could just get each employee a phone then they could sit at any desk in the office that has a dock and access there desktop. Also if you wanted to provide work from home opportunities you could buy an additional $150 DEX dock for their home office. Phone plus 2 docks per employee is still cheaper than most laptops purchased for companies. Also it takes care of the employees need to have a work phone as well as a computer with one device. I still think this version of it might not be quite powerful enough, but in the next few years something like this with a phone with a better processor and integrated graphics with 6 to 8 GB of RAM would totally be able to replace a desktop or home work station for most employees, especially if they have an MVD setup.
  • I'll be the devils attorney here. A 1000$ phone plus 150$ dock plus the cost of the license for Citrix plus the implentation is not cheaper than a laptop for each. Although, I think the HP Elite x3 phone has all of that built in so it would definitely be saved office space.
  • I think the basis would be that you already are supplying them with a mobile device, already run citrix or something similar, and this is just a way for them to access it. We use Horizon View and that's all that is actually required for our employees to work, so in most cases an actual hardware device is way overkill and costs much more than buying a dock for a device already supplied.
  • this was my thought on the price. I can buy a really nice laptop for that cost. Heck, I have an Asus flip that I can connect a BT keyboard and mouse and an HMDI cord and do everything on a TV and im only out about $400, $550 if I buy a 32" tv.
  • Wouldn't MVD imply it's running basically a citrix session? no need for that amount of processing power or ram. In a pinch, I literally loaded up my Xen App desktop on my phone to do something while on call, my phone only needs to run the citrix client.
    We have all we need now for this. The problem comes from the diversity in the hardware in general. In this case, with DEX, it's completely doable, if done in the manor I described.
  • Loving mine. I use it every morning to browse the web. I do have a gaming laptop but using my S8 as a phone is better since all my data is on my phone. I can also combine my wifi with my LTE with download booster and get an even better browsing experience.
  • "For instance, I tried plugging in a separate Logitech webcam to use inside a group Hangouts meeting, but it didn't register" I can't get any Logitech webcams to register on a MacOS system so that doesn't surprise me.
  • Just use good Ole windows 10 desktop. Everything just works in there! MacOS, etc are not as user friendly anymore.
  • The closest thing we have so far and it is only first gen. Can't wait to see the actual product on the patents of laptop shells where you attach your phone.
  • Like the hp elite x3? yeah it will probably happen. Although I still struggle to see the point of carrying the bulk of a laptop, without it actualy being a real laptop.
  • That is cool I wasn't aware something came out. Size weight and cost are still too high for a shell (screen/battery). I would hope one day you could get a very nice light shell for around $200.
  • It's existed for a while now....and it's a beautiful and solid piece of kit:
  • I could see me picking one up for my home. I already use my phone for most web browsing. I have a desktop computer that doesn't have any peripherals hooked up to it, and I can RDP to it if I need to do anything heavier than what my phone can do. Sometimes I have to fire up my slow, old laptop when I want to type something and I don't want to be limited by my phone keyboard, and this is where the DeX would shine. I've already thought about picking up a Chromebook for the same reason, but I have to think my S8 will run a browser and Android apps better than a $150 Chromebook.
  • Nice concept but not practical
  • Same with my Lumia 950XL. Hooking it up is neat but to travel with the dock, HDMI cable, mouse, and a keyboard...all while hoping the hotel TV has a non locked HDMI port is insanity. At that point just bring a laptop. Around the house it's neat and fun but yeah. Novelty.
  • The writer is COMPLETELY WRONG on DeX! It is NOT an operating system. It is a custom launcher that is triggered by the dock. It uses STOCK Nougat window manager APIs. 95% of all the desktop 'tricks' you are seeing are standard in-built Android Nougat capabilities. If an app is not using those APIs then you will not get enhanced window capabilities with it. Samsung has basically managed to integrate the launcher with triggers from the dock and designed the dock with full USB C data, audio and video capabilities. Get your facts right and put this in perspective.
  • You're right. But I am speaking more conceptually when I call it a desktop OS, considering most average users don't know or care what an API is. Thanks for the feedback!
  • You need to make it damn clear in your article. Everyone here knows what is a launcher and you're propagating misconception about DeX. There are enough clueless financial analysts dancing around this :-) Also, Samsung is leveraging first mover advantage here. All USB C compliant phones in a year will be able to do the same thing with a custom launcher because USB C supports data, audio, video concurrently through the port.
  • Did someone poop in your Wheaties this morning? I hate to see what happens if someone uses their, there and they're incorrectly.
  • I misjudged this website to be one for Android enthusiasts as the standards of accuracy are much lower than Android Police when a deep-dive review of DeX still maintains obfuscation. Good day to you with your ignorance!
  • RemixOS
  • Yes. I have a remix PC box and I can hook it up to the TV and it will probably do as much as DeX, although the processor is not as powerful. To be honest though, I think you might as well get a Chromebit if you need to create documents , it is cheaper and smaller than the DeX and probably a better experience.
  • I have to applaud Samsung for trying this. Mobile devices aren't quite powerful enough to become a desktop replaced.
  • What's holding them back, processor?
    My Note 9 has 8GB RAM. That's twice what my windows work laptop has.
  • HAd it for half hour , returned to the shop, most of the apps open in the mobile versio, in big screen is crap.
    Even the adapted as ebay look crap!
    don't bother/
    And samsung please release from freaking bixby and bixby button that is easily pushable all the time!!!
    please!!! this is a torture!!! die bixby die!!!!
  • I have a better setup on my dell 2 in 1. w10 and bluestacks.
  • How is this less of a gimmick than Microsoft's solution, which is running an actual Windows interface with actual modern Windows applications, all designed to function properly? Granted, nobody owns or wants a Windows Phones, but that isn't what determines if the feature is gimmicky. At least Microsoft's works consistently and universally in what it does, with seemingly less fuss. At BEST, I'd say DeX is just as gimmicky. But I'd argue it's more so.
  • I own Windows phones even though I'm now using an GS8, but I **want** to run a Windows Phone again. I guess I'm no one! :) I don't find early attempts "gimmicky". In fact, I hate the overuse of that word as if there was no practical use for something like this. On Windows, I could travel with just my Lumia 950 and connect it to ANY Windows 10 computer and have my stuff show up. No dock needed. I haven't shelled out $150 for the Dex dock yet, but I might. Although, it seems like it would benefit from being an OS feature and not an OEM add-on.
  • Dex can be triggered with a sole USB-C to HDMI hub. $12 on the Amazon.
  • I was wondering the same thing. DeX is more of a gimmick than continuum but the difference is that people actual own the S8.
  • This is the starting point for phones and PCs blending into a single device. You use your phone while on the go. Get home, and you can plug this into a dock, and you are ready to use your phone as your PC. The phone hardware will need a serious performance boost to run as a desktop, but it's not unreasonable to think we could have decent performance within the next 5 years. This will never appease hardcore gamers, but for the avg PC user, this would be more than enough.
  • The starting point would be when Motorola did this years ago. 2 of my old Motorola phones had this function built in, no dock needed. They had a USB port and HDMI port, so you just connect it to your TV/monitor, then connect a USB hub for the kb/m or you could just connect a keyboard and the phone screen becomes a mouse pointer / buttons.
  • I'd be interested in using this in place of my cheap underpowered Android TV box.
  • Okay, first let me say that when I get a new phone this September it's going to be between the new iPhone, the new Pixel.....and this one, the GS8 (+). And the only, and I mean ----ONLY---- reason that it's iPhone vs Pixel vs Galaxy, rather than iPhone vs Pixel (and screw Galaxy) because of DeX. It's the only thing that keeps the Sammy on my radar. Though I'm intrigued by DeX, and a little excited for its long-term possibilities, I am only so excited as it's really very very little more than Continuum meets RemixOS. Having used a fair amount of RemixOS, I know quite well the pains and problems of non-optimized touch Android apps in a desktop environment. They turn what could potentially be an amazing experience into an exercise in frustration, futility, and dashed hopes. And it seems that not only does DeX suffer from the same fate, but that the only advantage that it has over Remix (besides [what I'm calling] "droidtinuum") is a big name behind it (Samsung) rather than a small name (JiDe) which increases from almost complete zero chance to only slightly unlikely the possibilities of developers being incentivized to put the time and money into optimizing their apps for desktop. And in some ways, it even lags behind Remix it seems. I wanna say Remix supports drag and drop, and Remix also has a file explorer similar-ish to Windows and Mac, and I've heard no mention of such a thing in DeX. So no, I don't expect that this is all that useful at present, but especially with a big name like Samsung behind it, it does have potential to become something meaningful, which would also raise other boats on the water like Remix as an app optimized for KBM/desktop in the name of one Android desktop OS outfit should still work optimally on other Android desktop options as well, collectively increasing the opportunity Desktop Android has to become something that's more than a nifty novelty or parlor trick. So as I said, I may well spring for the Sammy Phone over the iPhone or Pixel that I'd otherwise favor over the Galaxy without the batting of an eye just in order to get in on the ground and be a part of this alongside a couple Remix devices I own or have on the way. And also because even though it admittedly has been given to us in a half-baked manner, and has yet to take off (if ever), at the end of the day, I'm still a big believer in at least the concept of Continuum, and its long term potential. I think if Windows mobile ever gets any traction and we finally get a fully baked Continuum, then it'll be an exceedingly better "Continuum" than DeX, Remix, or any other desktop-style experience that the Android ecosystem can [presently] offer. If it doesn't happen with Surface Phone, or if Surface Phone never happens, then I'll give up hope most likely. Until then, I'm still a believer, and as such, I would call Flo out on referring to Windows Continuum as something past tense ("we see how that went"), when even for as messed up as it is, even with as bleak as their chances are, and even with as deeply as the tide of popular sentiment has left them, Continuum and Windows mobile more generally are still an active endeavor, and any sort of non-overt, non-"bias-on-your-sleeve" "true journalism" would dictate that you refer to it as something present tense ("we see how that's going"). It's amazing how much load and how much "poisoning the well" can come attached to something as simple as the distinction in simple wording between past and present that I called her out on here. But when you have eyes for it, you see it everywhere. Public perception has already held the funeral for something that still has the faintest pulse and heartbeat. And those who we trust for our news have REEEEAALLYYY got to stop feeding into it. Shame on them! In any case, though they obviously think they can do it better (and time will tell), DeX in a way sorta affirms Continuum at least as a concept as it is an Android Phone trying its hand at doing what Continuum does, in the hopes that on the good credit of the Android platform, it'll succeed where Windows so far -has been failing- (read: NOT "has failed".......Flo!) And while my ultimate hope is for Surface Phone to be available by Fall 2019, when it's time for my next upgrade point after this one, and to hopefully be able to jump onboard at that point - which is where I REALLY want to be, I do realize that we can -even if not for good- at least count Windows Phone out for 2017, and for my imminent upgrade. And as such, the GS8+ and DeX may be the next closest thing to the glorious concept of a Continuum pocket all-in-one shapeshifter, and be the best way to tide me over until the real thing finally manifests itself. Cheers!
  • +1
  • Would have been useful if it ran Windows 10 S on ARM, or something. These makeshift wanna be OSes aren't useful, unless you do everything in browser tabs.
  • The problem is Windows 10S on ARM is also limited since applications can't install on ARM based OS's. At least not yet. Same limitation to Windows RT.
  • In my use case the DeX dock is amazing. I work from home once in a while and I can just dock my S8+ in the DeX station and launch my Windows 10 VDI through Citrix and I can do work and interact with notifications on my device at the same time. SUPER CONVENIENT!
  • I've seen a video on this and found it interesting, but at the end of the day, I'd probably just prefer to use a laptop.
  • I think everyone is taking "desktop replacement" way too literally. I have the S8+ with one Dex set up at home and one set up at the office. I do basic MS office work, read news, facebook, shop amazon, surfing...all this works just fine and I haven't had any issues so far. I think this thing should have been marketed in other ways though, like if you don't want to keep anything in the cloud but always want access to your files. I keep a 128GB card inside and keep all my important files with me, I'm starting to think with all the hacking going on lately I just want to move all of my stuff off the cloud completely. Samsung probably shouldn't of even used the word "replacement" in any way, the S8 is powerful, but not that powerful. But power isn't what I need, and this thing still amazes me everyday. That I can open an excel doc, my banking app, the chrome browser, the calculator app, and watch a youtube video all at the same time, with no lag. Samsung REALLY needs to find another way to advertise the Dex because people are just expecting way too much. I also keep hearing how Microsoft has already tried this and failed. I wouldn't say they failed cause it really is a great idea. With continuum you could only see one app at a time, you couldn't easily print, and the phone would definitely overheat. Samsung just took a great idea and improved on it, and definitely gave it some more momentum. I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple or Google come out with the next "phone dock" and most likely it'll be even better, can't wait to see. I'm sure everyone remembers when the Note 3 first appeared and everyone laughed at such a big phone.
  • I love my DEX! I use my phone none stop at work, at $150 for a Dex- for me it's worth it.
  • At work I now have a better experience . Using DEX I have an appreciation for getting full screen and keybaord and for most things I do it is really good... For example spreadsheets, gmail, maps, and other key features. Sound comes through HMDI to the monitor I have. So far very impressed. If I have heavy lifting I have a PC. Using a KVM I switch but now Ican keep work separate from personal so much easier and use my phone in new way that I have grown to depend on and appreciate.
  • I am using the dex frequently, and sure, it has limitations. However, for the real work, such as programming, I'm using a cloud computer (liquidsky) in combination with the DeX, which enables me to have a full windows experience. DeX works perfectly with these applications.