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.