Hands-On with Samsung DeX for Windows

Posted on August 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 43 Comments

Announced in March 2017 alongside the Galaxy S8 and S8+, Samsung DeX provides an Android-based desktop experience. The initial release was accompanied by a DeX Station, which could be used to connect handsets to a display, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals. (And other USB-C hubs worked similarly.) But with the release of the Note 10 and 10+ this week, Samsung is expanding its DeX ecosystem with a DeX app for Windows and Mac.

I’ve always been intrigued by this kind of thing, and by the desire to reduce complexity by carrying around fewer devices. (And, yes, I remember Microsoft’s earlier and similar Continuum efforts on Windows phone, which worked similarly.) It’s never really worked out in my case, for whatever reason, and I still prefer traveling with a laptop and mini tablet in addition to my phone. But it’s pretty clear that DeX or something like it could simplify life for many.

But bringing DeX to PCs and Macs may seem like a bit of a paradox since you’re not eliminating a device: You must have a PC or Mac to use it. Maybe that’s not the right way to view this solution. Instead, the DeX app simply provides another way for Galaxy handset users to access their favorite apps and documents. In this case, you’re not so much replacing a device as you are better taking advantage of a device you already have. It’s not hard to imagine someone doing most work on the phone and then needing to switch to a bigger display a PC keyboard to finish it off.

That’s the theory anyway. In practice, the DeX app is a bit more of a curiosity than it is useful. The primary issue is speed: Everything happens after a slight pause, whether you’re launching an app, watching it draw itself on the screen, switching between apps, or whatever. I’ve not used DeX Station, so I’m not sure how this compares to a hardware solution, but the speed issue makes the DeX app less compelling for productivity work than it should be.

The interface is straightforward. DeX provides a desktop similar to that in Windows, with My Files, Internet (Samsung’s web browser), Gallery, and Settings icons. And there is a taskbar at the bottom, like that in Windows and Chrome OS, with visually separate areas at the bottom.

On the left, there is a navigation bar with DeX, Apps, Recents, Home, and Back buttons; the Apps button launches a full screen All Apps view. On the right, there is a Notifications bar that duplicates the notifications you see in the Note 10’s notification shade, a Quick Settings bar with connectivity, battery life, and other quick settings, and a System bar with volume, search, and the date and time. In between is an area that contains icons for pinned and running apps.

Apps run in 4:3 floating windows by default, which is kind of interesting: When you run phone apps on Chrome OS, the app windows take on the same aspect ratio as a phone by default. This mostly seems to work fine, but some apps don’t work properly in DeX. For example, when I tried to test media playback in Google Play Movies & TV, I was told that it “can’t show protected content on your computer.”

The DeX All Apps view also provides a link, “Check out apps for Samsung DeX,” that opens a web browser and displays the Samsung website rather than highlighting the apps on my phone, or in Samsung’s Galaxy Store, that explicitly support DeX, which is a missed opportunity. Figuring the Galaxy Store must highlight these apps, I ran into another issue: The app doesn’t support the scroll wheel on my mouse, so I had to fake a scroll flick gesture with the mouse instead. This worked poorly.

Other apps do support the mouse’s scroll wheel, fortunately. Web browsers all worked normally at least, and Microsoft’s Office applications did as well.

Not that it matters: Until and unless Samsung can overcome the performance issues I’ve seen, the merits of this unique desktop environment will remain elusive, at least on a PC. Perhaps the hardware solutions are superior in this regard.

 

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Comments (43)

43 responses to “Hands-On with Samsung DeX for Windows”

  1. Avatar

    skane2600

    One can typically share data from any smartphone simply by connecting it to your PC or Mac via USB. I'm not sure how much additional value is added here.

    • Avatar

      SvenJ

      In reply to skane2600: This isn't about sharing data. This is about using the power and apps of your cell phone, with a more desktop-like UI. That sort of makes sense, if you have desk setups, monitor/mouse/keyboard in several places and just carry your phone around. It doesn't, to me, make as much sense if presented in a window of a perfectly capable PC. That sort of enhanced screen mirroring made sense before the cloud. There was always a desire to be able to use a keyboard and mouse to be able to manipulate data on phones, calendars, contacts, etc, from a keyboard, rather than from the numeric keyboard on feature phones, or the tiny touch screens of the day. We had BT keyboards we could use, and a bigger screen was a plus. These days, most of what I need on my phone, I can enter/edit on a PC and the it just syncs via cloud accounts.
      I think there may be some utility of Dex/Continuum like systems if you consider carrying a small folding BT keyboard and mouse, and using a hotel TV as the monitor. That reduces the hardware bundle required. Using it on a PC you bring, doesn't solve anything.
      I wonder if internet cafes couldn't offer setups for this sort of thing, where the processing power is in the user's phone, and just the physical UI elements are provided.


    • Avatar

      obarthelemy

      In reply to skane2600:

      It's about apps. Your phone's apps appear in a window on your Windows desktop. That's useful, there are quite a few apps I prefer on Android than on Windows or Web.

      • Avatar

        skane2600

        In reply to obarthelemy:

        Yes, I understand how it works, It's the value that I question.

        • Avatar

          obarthelemy

          In reply to skane2600:

          I don't have a Samsung phone to try iDeX, but right now I'm running a BlueStack Android VM on my WIndows PC, and before that I had a remoting app into my phone. I have lots of use for that Android-in-Windows.


          I'd guess once DeX works well, using the actual phone instead of a separate VM might be better at times. That's mostly a testament to how far behind Windows (native and Web) apps have fallen behind what's available on Mobile (Android and iOS), and how pointless gthe effort and expense of finding, buying, learning, syncing, ... different apps because we use different ecosystems is.


          Edit: I'd say 80% (not us nerds on Thurrott.com though ^^) of desktop/laptop users need neither Windows-the-OS, nor Windows-the-ecosystem. DeX is one foot out the door.

          • Avatar

            skane2600

            In reply to obarthelemy:

            I don't agree that mobile is in any way "ahead" of Windows except for communications-specific apps. The functionality on Windows is a superset of what smartphones are capable of. Name a non-communications capability that isn't available in Windows but is available on Android or iOS? I'm obviously not talking about specific apps that exist only one platform or another.

            • Avatar

              obarthelemy

              In reply to skane2600:

              If you want a more theoretical answer, what Mobile provides that WIndows doesn't is:

              • a safe garden where the most clueless users can't FUBAR their device
              • a consistent experience across formats (phone, tablet, PC - there are Andoird desktops though not laptops unless you count ChromeOS), both for the OS and apps
              • a relatively simpler UI (still not simple enough, but Android's "share to" is simpler than cut-and-paste
              • lower price. Most people don't do anythign with their PC that a $100 ANdoird box can't do.
              • Avatar

                skane2600

                In reply to obarthelemy:

                So there are no apps on the Android store with malware because safe garden? A safe garden is really a techie issue anyway. Clueless users don't buy a device because it protects them from themselves, that would require them to be "cluefull".


                Since there is no longer a Windows phone there's no consistent experience there, but Windows tablets (i.e. 2 in ones), desktops, and laptops are consistent and more importantly appropriate. You may not want consistency to mean that an Android app fails to take advantage of a large screen when one is available.


                Simpler capabilities can allow a simpler interface sometimes, but not always. "Share to" is a good option if sharing is the function you wish to perform but cut-and-paste is a more general function. Not really the same thing.


                You can buy a Windows box for $100 too with the advantage of being to able to run standard productivity programs. But in both cases it's going to cost more than $100 by the time you add the peripherals necessary for a functioning system.


            • Avatar

              obarthelemy

              In reply to skane2600:

              I wanted to create a ringtone for my phone last week. Tried for 1 hour with Audacity on Windows. Ended up doing it in 2 minutes on my Android.

              My local transit authority has a much better apps than web site.

              I play a handful of games that not only are not on Windows, but have no equivalent on Windows. (reciprocally, I play Windows games that aren't on Android, but that's not the issue here).

              Spent some time looking for a Windows podcast app. Couldn't find something that's as good as on Android.

              Ditto a caching RSS client that syncs with Feedly.


              Generally speaking, Web apps are also never as pleasant as native apps on Android (twitter, maps, google calendar, Keep.


              I'll reflect the question back at you: what can Windows do that a Regular Joe needs, and that Android can't do ? The cost of using Windows is high (expensive x86 hardware, new *and higher* skillset, new apps, sync headaches... What justifies it for basic users ? I personnaly need and like Windows. Around me, 80% of users don't.

              • Avatar

                skane2600

                In reply to obarthelemy:

                Audacity isn't a ringtone maker application, it's a sophisticated audio application. Why didn't you try Audacity on your phone first? That's right, it's one of those programs that aren't available on Android and for which there's no equivalent. In any case, you were trying to swat a fly with bazooka. A quick search on Google came up with a link to an article reviewing 5 free ringtone generators for Windows.


                Can't evaluate the quality of your transit authority website but if you were visiting the site from a phone browser of course it sucks.


                I'm sure that there are specific games on Android that aren't available on Windows and vice-versa but that's not really relevant to the issue.


                I don't know much about podcast software or RSS clients but I suspect best is subjective.


                Again, are we talking about Web apps running on Windows with an average sized monitor or Web apps running on tiny smartphone screens? In my experience Web apps on Windows work well as long as they are web-oriented apps e.g. twitter, maps, google calendar. If it's an application that has no natural web aspect than the native (Win32) program is usually better.


                Unless you are paying $300 or less for your smartphone, the cost of Windows is comparable to the cost of your phone.



                • Avatar

                  obarthelemy

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  You're right about Audacity, but because Windows malware/adware, you've got to look for reputable websites' recommendations, and even for creating ringtones they recommend Audacity. Same for Android, but there you do get recos for simple apps.


                  Transit ('and trains) I'm comparing Android apps to websites on Windows desktop. I'll grab my phone when I have to check on times and routes.


                  Why are games not relevant ? They're a major activity on computers.


                  Best podcast/rss is personal but not quite subjective. I like dark mode, quickest possible item dismissal (a finger swipe on the whole item beats a mouse click on a small check box), an easy way to get into a item then back out of it (Android: click on it, read, then side swipe; Windows: click on it, read, then scroll back to the close item cross, aim for the box, click), an easy way to share.


                  I do pay less than $300 for my phones. Currently a huge Mi Max 3 'coz I use my phone a lot. Hopefully they'll release a succssor next year, they canceled it for this year.

                • Avatar

                  skane2600

                  In reply to obarthelemy:

                  Of course at the end of the day you can have Android for mobile apps and Windows or Mac for productivity. It's not like it has to be one or the other. If Android satisfies all of your needs you don't need to invest in desktop machines or their peripherals.

            • Avatar

              Paul Thurrott

              In reply to skane2600:

              Well, thank God because that's where your argument falls apart. Apps are also all that anyone cares about, not vague capabilities.

  2. Avatar

    jim_priestley

    I’d love to see Dex via casting with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

  3. Avatar

    jules_wombat

    Well this is a bit of a diversion to the obvious solution of Android being the desktop OS in its own right. Legacy Windows fans will grump but the future for 90% users will be an Android desktop.

    I am pretty sure Satya and Microsoft accept this is the direction now. From cars, IoT devices, kiosks, desktops, phones the client platform of choice is Android.

    • Avatar

      skane2600

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      I don't think Android is the leading OS in any category but smartphones and there's little indication that that will change.

      • Avatar

        jules_wombat

        In reply to skane2600:
        Well apart from Cars, TVs, Kiosks and IoT, yeah I guess Android is not leading anywhere else LoL.


        • Avatar

          skane2600

          In reply to Jules_Wombat:

          After doing a little research I believe you may be right about cars and TVs but the fact that both use Android as a base doesn't really add any cross-value to consumers. If you own a Android-based TV but a different type of OS in your car it's not loss because it's just a technical detail. What matters to the consumer is what the functionality is and how easy it is to use. There are many Windows-based Kiosks but the fact that they are Windows-based doesn't make one's desktop Windows experience any better or vice-versa.

        • Avatar

          skane2600

          In reply to Jules_Wombat:

          You're evidence? OS's in cars and TVs are a bit of a niche, but do you have any statistics to show Android leads in those categories? Kiosks have been dominated by Windows for years, it would take quite a while for Android to catch up. IoT applications seem to be the most unsuitable place to use Android given that many don't even have a video UI. What advantage would Android have over pure Linux?

  4. Avatar

    sandy

    Hi Paul, if you can still find the Lumia 950 Continuum 'dock', it works fine with DeX so you can compare performance.


    I agree, DeX (like Continuum before it) is a cool solution in need of a problem; synchronising our work/documents with OneDrive or another cloud-based service means we don't really need this compromise.

  5. Avatar

    decolonialblack

    Can confirm that Dex on even the S8 using either a cable directly to the monitor or Dex Pad is less janky than what I've been (and seems like you have) experiencing using the Note 10+ with my Envy X360's USB-C or A ports. Dex on PC installs a set of phone drivers along with the actual app. If I had to guess the driver could use some improvement because on a standalone set up Dex is actually really fast mimicking a decent 8th gen core laptop in terms of interface smoothness + near instant app loading.

  6. Avatar

    waethorn

    I think Dex is something that businesses would use. PC's could be set up as thin clients with Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC and the Dex client software. When a user sits down at a terminal, they launch the Dex app and do all their computing work from their phone. The phone would be locked down with business DRM functionality for Android, and mobile workers could move from office to office and be able to keep their data on them at all times, managed by the company, but still be able to sit and work from a desk. The business also gets to save on additional software licensing by not having to license for a separate desktop computer. It's a good business solution, if it weren't for all of the tracking and sketchy counter-privacy that smartphones have.

  7. Avatar

    Rob_Wade

    I think this is another example of a solution in search of a problem. First, there's nothing native to an Android device that I'd ever need to run on my PC. Second, every bit of data/media I access is available on the cloud so I CAN access it from my PC (and have a much better experience) or any other device (if I'm willing to settle).

  8. Avatar

    nbplopes

    It’s just feature for the feature fake. They can say to the users that “we dot it”. Compare approaches using a feature list, it’s a winner.


    Its a clever way to .. lie.

  9. Avatar

    harrymyhre

    Somebody said there’s a battery operated display that one can connect to the phone. Then connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and boom.

  10. Avatar

    Jorge Garcia

    Dex makes almost zero sense in this context. The real value of DeX is as a replacement "default boot-up OS" for simple people who just want a computer that "works". Barring some proprietary win32 business apps, DeX can handle pretty much all the office needs of a large swath of people. Windows is too bloated, too precise (I know that sounds dumb, it's not) and the update process is 100% CRIMINAL. HP, Dell and others should either copy it or just license the code from Samsung and slap it on MOST of their lower-to-mid tier PC's. I know this comment will receive tons of down-votes because people just don't like hearing the truth.

  11. Avatar

    allaboutsmartphones

    This is available today - it's not crowdfunded.

     

    Here is Office 365 running on a touchscreen dock connected to a

    Note 9 using Samsung DeX. The touchscreen also allows signature capture capability too.

     

    youtu.be/JypzVJ4VaoY

     


  12. Avatar

    Thom77

    This might be a side issue, but I cannot understand in 2019, why I cannot designate my android phone as My Phone in Windows, which allows me to give permission to Windows to AUTOMATICALLY, through bluetooth or a Wifi hotspot, connect my phone as an external device that is accessible in my Folders and run apps from my phone (using the phone's CPU) on my desktop. This must be done seamlessly without me having to give permission on my phone. Also, I don't understand the technology's limitation that is current today that forbids me to watch a movie on my SD card that is in my phone that is connected via USB to my Windows machine. Maybe I'm wrong about that, perhaps it was an installer program I downloaded on my phone once on my SD card and I tried to just connect my phone and run the installer directly from the phone's SD Card, but in either case, the SD card seems to be unable to be treated like a normal SD card that is directly inserted into your computer.


    In my opinion, This is what DeX should be ... an extension of your phone onto your computer that is seamless, automatic, and wireless. I have my phone in my pocket, sit down at a desk, open my my laptop, go to my Files and BOOM ... there is my phone's file system. No permissions, no clicking ... it just happens.


    By the way, I believe it was Motorolla, a long time ago, had a laptop that you inserted a Motorolla smartphone into, and it ran your phone's OS on the screen. There was no CPU/GPU in the laptop, your phone was the internals.



    • Avatar

      longhorn

      In reply to Thom77:

      Yeah, I believe the phone was called Atrix and it might have been in 2011. It looked cool, but then Google bought Motorola and killed it. It was probably too big of a threat to Chrome OS. It ran a real Linux desktop OS in docked mode (with Firefox as default browser!) and Android applications could be accessed through the Mobile View application which brought the phone UI and its Android applications to the docked screen.


      The Linux desktop and Android shared the same Linux kernel and because no modifications were done to Android apps except letting them show notifications on the desktop Android apps ran as fast in docked mode as on the phone.


      A Windows laptop and an Android smartphone will always be superior to a docked solution. With cloud sync it doesn't matter which device you use. All your data is everywhere.


  13. Avatar

    obarthelemy

    I never understood why OEMs insist on creating a Windows-like UI for "Desktop" Android. The main reason people are asking me for Android desktops is so that they won't have to master 2 UIs. Keep the same as on tablets and phones !

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      In reply to obarthelemy:

      Normally I'm not a fan of a non-platform maker extending a platform like this. But honestly, there is no real unique Samsung UI here. It's just Android with a desktop, and you can pin to a taskbar. But the rest is all stuff right from Android, just bigger.

    • Avatar

      Jorge Garcia

      In reply to obarthelemy:

      Android-based desktops and laptops are the future of "mom-n-pop" casual computing. HP and Dell know this, but they are postponing the inevitable because they know the market is $150-$300 vs. PC which can command up to $600? from regular folks...becasue they don't know that they actually don't need (or want) a Windows PC at all. One of the main issues I can forsee is a lack of standardization of how exactly the "desktop mode" is layered on. But Google is probably going to serve as the standardizing "referee" with upcoming builds of Android, so it might be a non-issue.

  14. Avatar

    mister2forme

    I have a slightly different take on this. I'm currently in the process of doing a similar review, but from a 30-dat workflow perspective. I got my note 10 plus on wednesday and have vowed to make it my only device for 30 days. I'm an IT consultant, so it will definitely be put through its paced.


    As far as dex on windows, to me this solves a glaring problem with dex - lap docks. The HP model was touch and go for compatibility and lacked sound and clicking. The crowdfunded models haven't really been all that great or even delivered. What this does, is let you pick up a really cheap laptop (I chose a Chuwi for my experiment - really surprised by that little device), and turn it into a lap dock for traveling with only a single cable required. Not to mention dex on an 855 is much faster than a heavier windows OS on a Pentium or Core M. Bonus that I can leverage my unlimited phone internet without the need for an additional addon hotspot.


    I'm only a week in and have catalogued some annoyances and mitigations, but I kinda dig the one-device route. I slap the phone on a dock at home and get full 3440x1440 ultrawide support, then pick it up and grab the chuwi for mobile productivity. Everything is a seamless transition from phone to dex. I no longer have to research for something on the phone that I had open on my laptop. I'll be posting it on the dex reddit when finished.

    • Avatar

      bearded_wacko

      In reply to mister2forme:


      Have you tried using an RDP client through this, especially when docked with a larger screen? This would be a great benefit to me trying something like this out.

    • Avatar

      nbplopes

      In reply to mister2forme:


      I find this solution a dead end. It not really one device either. So what's the point? Since when one researches something one the phone that had opened in the laptop? If you do it its because you are not on the laptop, so I guess, in this case would be because it non at that time "dexed".

    • Avatar

      Alex Taylor

      In reply to mister2forme:

      A question for you and for Paul: if as I understand from Paul's article Dex can also connect with a USB-C hub to a monitor/keyboard/mouse, are either of you able to easily test this and confirm if the lag Paul describes is only with the windows app?

    • Avatar

      skane2600

      In reply to mister2forme:

      If it really can satisfy the "one device" requirement, you shouldn't have any reason to stop using it that way on day 31. Then again, DeX is inherently a multiple-device setup. If we don't want to count mice, monitors, and keyboards as devices I suppose we can call the DeX one-CPU unit setup. But no, that would apply to laptops and desktops too.


      If we forgo a mouse, it's really laptops and stand-alone smartphones and tablets that represent the only true one device products.

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