Hands-On with Samsung DeX for Windows, One Year Later

Posted on August 29, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android with 19 Comments

One year ago this week, I looked at the then-new DeX app for Windows, which provides an Android-based desktop environment. I’ve always been fascinated by this kind of thing and the promise of a single device that could, through some combination of hardware and software wizardry, replace two devices. But at the time, I found that performance issues hampered the experience greatly. It was basically unusable.

For one-time fans of Windows phone like myself, Samsung DeX is, of course, a modern take on Continuum, a Windows desktop-like environment that required a USB-C hub and an external keyboard, mouse, and display. As original conceived in March 2017, Samsung DeX also required a hub, but with the August 2019 release of Note 10 line, Samsung released DeX apps for Windows and Mac, allowing PCs users to experience this environment using the display, keyboard, and mouse they’re already using.

Year-over-year, the DeX experience I’m seeing today with my Note 20 Ultra review unit seems very similar to what I saw previously. But there is one major change: the performance is much better now, and while there are occasional little slowdowns, it’s usable overall. And that suggests to me that a hardware-based solution—with a dedicated USB-C, display, keyboard, and mouse—would likely work quite well indeed.

My only qualm here is that DeX is something that should come from the platform’s maker, in this case Google. There is some precedent for third-party features like this being pulled into Android, but for now at least, it’s a Samsung-only feature, and one that is limited to its flagship-class handsets.

All that said, DeX works well and should be familiar to anyone who’s used Windows or any other desktop environment. There’s a desktop with a Start-like button, a taskbar, and a notification area with a clock and other related icons. And that taskbar now looks and works more like what we see in Windows.

The display I’m using is 2160 x 1440 and from what I can tell, DeX wants to run at 1920 x 1080 so it’s a bit fuzzy when used full-screen. But when I restore the window—so that it’s floating, not full-screen—it’s razor-sharp.

When you select the Start-like button, and All Apps view appears across multiple pages if required, and there’s a nice “Check out app for Samsung DeX” link to help you find apps that are optimized for this desktop environment.

In experimenting with a few apps, I found the effect I was hoping for in Your Phone’s new Apps capability: Properly-written apps will dynamically adapt their layouts as you resize them. (And DeX goes one step further by making the default view of any app a kind of square window shape instead of the more typical portrait-style phone-shaped window. So Outlook for Android, for example, will expand to display additional column views if you make it bigger and wider. Nice.

I also discovered another aspect of the Samsung and Microsoft partnership: Samsung is telling its users to replace Samsung Cloud with OneDrive in its Gallery app. We already knew that there would be some link between Samsung Gallery and OneDrive, but were confused about why they were doing this. But it appears that Samsung will keep the app while getting rid of its online service and handing that role over to Microsoft. I think that’s smart.

Not all apps understand or work well with DeX. The Microsoft Office app, embarrassingly, is one such app despite the fact that it is preinstalled on the Note. You can resize it all you want, but it will present a one-column layout that is optimized only for a phone.

Microsoft Word, however, is another interesting example of a great Microsoft mobile app. It looks a lot like the old Word Mobile app for Windows, or like Word for web.

In its current form, DeX works well enough that I’m going to see if its even better with a dedicated hub. But even in this app-based form, it’s a great peek at how nice it can be to run Android apps in a desktop environment.

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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Hands-On with Samsung DeX for Windows, One Year Later”

  1. codymesh

    The true killer use for Samsung Dex is on the new Galaxy Tab S7+, Dex runs on the tablet itself, so it functions like a Desktop Mode toggle on the tablet, transforming the on-tablet Android experience from phone-like experience to PC-like.

  2. davidblouin

    Google should make this available android-wide with casting support it would be awesome.

    And if they could find a way to make TV/Monitor makers put casting on their product !

    • sglewis

      In reply to davidblouin:
      And if they could find a way to make TV/Monitor makers put casting on their product !

      Don't they already though? Android TV is available to license for use within a TV and has native Chromecast support. Best Buy's website lists several models from each of Sony, Hisense and TCL running Android TV. Plus you can always add a dongle or streaming device.

      • davidblouin

        In reply to sglewis:

        and you can sideload fortnite if Google decide to block it on their store but the average consumer is still wondering what the heck is sideloading to begin with !

        Do they know they gotta buy that particular TV or dongle to "cast" (in actuallity their asking what the heck is cast to begin with) all they want is surf on their tv with their phone/tablet .

        That's what Google need to correct, make it simple, easy and widely known.

  3. IanYates82

    Whilst we wait for xCloud and/or remote-from-home console streaming to be available on the PC, does DeX, or "Your Phone" for that matter, work well enough to stream the xbox via your phone to your PC? I was toying around with "Your Phone" at work the other day and was happy to see it launch console streaming properly - even switching to landscape - but I didn't have an xbox controller handy with me to try it out. I also don't have xCloud here since it's not available in Australia (despite being a market for Xbox all access!?)

    • rh24

      In reply to IanYates82:

      I actually tried this on my Galaxy S5e tablet late last week! Connected up a Bluetooth Xbox controller and fired up Halo 5 in xCloud. I had to "force" the app to resize to take up my whole screen when in DeX mode but it DID work. I couldn't detect any latency that was any worse than using xCloud directly on the device.

      You also have the ability to turn off DeX and just use the traditional android mirroring via the USB-C hub. This causes the app to use my entire 1440p screen by default for all apps. This worked a little better than DeX for xCloud.

      Either way, xCloud via screen mirroring actually ran much better than I expected! I think this may be because the game rendering isn't happening on the device. From what I understand of xCloud, it's sort of like remote desktop for gaming. You are just streaming video/audio. The ability to mirror that works just as well as anything else. There might be a "little" extra latency, but not enough to bother me!

    • Paul Thurrott

      Hm. I doubt that, given the extra chance for latency. But I'll take a look.
  4. IanYates82

    Once you're done with the Note 20 review it'd be interesting for you / us to see if an Android emulator environment on your PC would work as a suitable middle-ground to get the Android apps you want but on a big screen.

    On my kids refurbished HP Touchsmart PCs, I installed the MEmu Android emulator. It supports touch screen controls, has the Google Play Store, and pretty good system-wide integration. They used it to play the mobile version of Animal Jam for a little while. As far as I can tell it was a complete Android environment and ran smoothly if you had virtualisation extensions enabled for your CPU (and, I'm assuming, did not have Hyper-V enabled in Windows or at least somehow had that virtualisation hosting shared?)

    • Paul Thurrott

      Given my experience using Android emulators for app dev, I doubt it. But another issue is that I don't want an Android phone in a window, I just would want each app in its own window.
  5. sergeluca

    There is just 1 thing I cannot do in Dex: Zooming in Chrome (or Edge). Using the browser with a big screen makes the font too small. I'm still looking for a way to zoom like in the desktop. (Even in the desktop mode I don't see the zoom option)

  6. rmlounsbury

    Another bonus for DeX on the Note 20 is that it supports Miracast so no hubs or cables are needed at all. The phone can be a TouchPad and you can use a Bluetooth keyboard for entry.

    I'm still interested in this and the Note. But, for now I'm going with the Pixel 4a as a thrifty option. Maybe after the storm clouds of the pandemic break I may consider picking up a Note 20 for its stylus and DeX functions.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yes. I should have mentioned that I tried this with our smart TV (which happens to be a Samsung). It's pretty incredible, really.
      • IanYates82

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Oh that's nice to know. A lot of people don't realise Miracast does allow input devices to go back "the other way" (from the display end to the "CPU" end). It's nice to see this starting to be realised.

        • jgraebner

          In reply to IanYates82:

          Unless I'm missing something, DeX doesn't support using input devices connected to the wireless display at this point. You have to either use the phone as the input device or connect a Bluetooth mouse/keyboard to the phone.

          Wireless DeX does work with Windows 10's Project to PC feature, but it doesn't enable use of the PC's keyboard and mouse/touchpad.

  7. olditpro2000

    I'm very interested to see where this goes. It could really be a one device future if you could plug in to an external dock that provides CPU/GPU/RAM/etc. offloading for higher performance needs.

  8. SvenJ

    I understand the idea of Windows Phone and Continuum and Dex with a hub. You have one device, that when hooked up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, can give you a laptop/desktop experience for those tasks that benefit from the enhanced UI. I don't get the idea of running Dex in a window on a laptop. You already have a laptop which provides you that enhanced UI.

    • Paul Thurrott

      It's about the apps. People spend much more time on their phones than on their PCs, and the apps they care about are on their phones.
  9. jdawgnoonan

    I look forward to everything you write about this device and your experience with it. I was on the fence about it but have ordered one partially based on some things you have already written. I have been tempted by the Note every year since it was a new series. Now I am trading my iPhone 11 Pro for one.

  10. dcdevito

    Thanks for this Paul, this is the one feature that would make me leave Apple Island - one device to rule them all. It would be good enough for me honestly, I am very tempted.

  11. spiderman2

    continuum didn't require a usb-c hub could work with:

    • usbc-hdmi cable or miracast for monitor
    • keyboard and mouse bluetooth (or even without, using the phone as touchpad and keyboard)