Sam­sung DeX Sta­tion

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Android Advisor - - Contents -

It’s amaz­ing just how heavy an ul­tra-por­ta­ble lap­top be­comes when you’re lug­ging it through air­ports, con­ven­tion cen­tres, and the streets of wher­ever you’re do­ing busi­ness. Even a thin lap­top can be­come a 1kg prob­lem, but now it’s a prob­lem that could very well be solved by DeX, Sam­sung’s desk­top-PC-in-a-dock for the Galaxy S8 (page 33) and S8+ smart­phones.

Drop your Galaxy phone into the DeX dock, then con­nect DeX to a desk­top mon­i­tor or TV over HDMI. Boom: You now have a 1920x1080 PC desk­top with re­siz­able win­dows. Ex­cept all your pro­grams are mobile apps. And, yes, your desk­top is An­droid, not Win­dows.

Once you get past the DeX pain points...

The big­gest pain point with DeX is Blue­tooth pair­ing. If you in­tend to use a Blue­tooth key­board and mouse with DeX (which would make per­fect sense in trav­el­ling sce­nar­ios), you’ll need to pair the ac­ces­sories be­fore you in­sert your Galaxy phone in the cra­dle. Once you dock the phone, its screen goes dark, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to pair Blue­tooth de­vices from the hand­set. Mean­while, the DeX startup screen on the desk­top will re­quire a pass­code, which you can’t en­ter un­less you have a key­board al­ready paired.

The up­shot is we opted for a USB key­board and mouse through­out our test­ing. The DeX dock has two USB 2.0 ports, one eth­er­net port, and a USB-C port for power (and, yes, the DeX Sta­tion will charge your docked phone).

Once con­nected to a dis­play, DeX casts a 1920x1080 desk­top that looks re­mark­ably like a PC. Short­cuts to your favourite apps ap­pear ver­ti­cally on the left, and open apps dock on the bot­tom. Mouse over the docked apps,

and you’ll get pre­views of the ac­tiv­ity at hand. But, hey, you’re still in An­droid, so the lower right of the desk­top show­cases your full An­droid no­ti­fi­ca­tions tray.

The 1080p res­o­lu­tion doesn’t of­fer a load of screen real es­tate and it does suf­fer a bit of blurry pixel in­ter­po­la­tion. But it’s still very lap­top-like, and be­cause DeX ac­com­mo­dates re­siz­able win­dows in a good num­ber of An­droid apps, we found mul­ti­task­ing to be both fa­mil­iar and easy. The dis­play’s re­fresh rate is a bit laggy, but our big­ger con­cern is univer­sal sup­port: we tested DeX on four com­mon 1900x1200 desk­top mon­i­tors, and one 4K TV, and one of the four mon­i­tors re­fused to run DeX full screen. In­stead, the dis­play was hor­ri­bly let­ter­boxed, top and bot­tom, left and right.

Let this serve as a re­minder that when you’re trav­el­ling with DeX for busi­ness, you’re at the mercy of what­ever mon­i­tor or TV you may find in your ho­tel room or busi­ness lounge. We would also sug­gest bring­ing along an HDMIto-DVI adap­tor, just in case. But in terms of get­ting full res­o­lu­tion, a four out of five hit rate isn’t bad.

Win­dows, but in an An­droid play­ground

Once prop­erly set up at work, we spent all our time with an S8+ re­view unit docked in the DeX Sta­tion. Our work re­quire­ments aren’t par­tic­u­larly ex­otic. We don’t need to get into CAD or down­load tor­rents. But we do need to build ar­ti­cles in IDG’s cus­tom CMS; edit doc­u­ments in Word and Google docs; and down­load and edit im­ages, and then load them into the CMS. And, yes, we also need to Slack col­leagues, check email, and glance at the foot­ball sched­ule and check what’s hap­pen­ing in our favourite Subred­dits. Let’s now look at all of those ac­tiv­i­ties in re­verse or­der. Our Red­dit reader of choice is the Red­dit Is Fun app. Un­for­tu­nately, along with a few other An­droid apps we reg­u­larly use, it doesn’t of­fer a re­siz­able win­dow in DeX. Sam­sung cur­rently lists 30 apps with DeX sup­port, but we’re not sure how sup­port is even de­fined. If it sim­ply means the app pro­vides a re­siz­able win­dow in DeX, then Sam­sung’s list is in­com­plete. To wit: Slack doesn’t make the list, but does have a re­siz­able win­dow.

At any rate, we opted to read Red­dit in Chrome, as Chrome has DeX sup­port. We also used Chrome to read our Out­look Mail be­cause our An­droid lock­box for Out­look – an app called Nine (free from tinyurl.com/ qhLLsr8) – doesn’t have a re­siz­able win­dow ei­ther.

As for the Slack app, it fre­quently re­minded us we were still in an An­droid en­vi­ron­ment: be­cause it’s a mobile app, it will show your sta­tus as off­line un­less its win­dow is ac­tive in the fore­ground of the DeX desk­top. This behaviour makes sense when the app is run­ning on a smart­phone, be­cause the phone could be in your pocket, where a dor­mant app re­ally does mean you’re off­line. None­the­less, on DeX, this An­droid behaviour made us miss quite a few di­rect mes­sages, es­pe­cially be­cause we never re­ceived Slack no­ti­fi­ca­tions ei­ther.

DeX gets pro­duc­tive

While Slack proved prob­lem­atic, our other main mes­sag­ing plat­form – reg­u­lar old SMS – was bet­ter than ever. Be­cause your DeX’ed S8 is both your phone and your PC, you can have full tex­ting con­ver­sa­tions on your desk­top

in the re­siz­able Mes­sages app. Like­wise, you can make voice calls from your docked S8. Just launch the phone di­aller and make the call, and you’ll hear your part­ner over the docked speak­er­phone.

Mu­sic apps? We ex­pe­ri­enced mixed be­hav­iours. Spo­tify launched in a fixed An­droid por­trait win­dow, and re­fused to play mu­sic. But YouTube and Google Play Mu­sic co­op­er­ated, play­ing mu­sic through the phone’s speak­ers.

But enough about these dis­trac­tions. Let’s talk pro­duc­tiv­ity. DeX sup­ports a num­ber of im­age edit­ing apps, but we opted to go with Pho­to­shop Light­room, which is both in­cred­i­bly re­fined for a mobile app, and runs speedy-fine on the Snap­dragon 835 pro­ces­sor of the Galaxy S8+. What’s more, it wasn’t much of a has­sle to find the im­ages we needed to edit. Once you down­load a file, it

ap­pears in My Files, the rudi­men­tary An­droid file man­ager app that’s pre­loaded at the top of the DeX desk­top.

Edit­ing raw text was just as easy. When col­leagues sent over video scripts via email, we sim­ply clicked on the links to Google Drive, and up popped the scripts in Google Docs (which also sup­ports re­siz­able win­dows, cut and paste, and other DeX be­hav­iours). Mind you, we were still in the mobile ver­sion of Docs, so tasks such as sim­ply adding a com­ment re­quired a few ex­tra in­puts. But it never felt ex­ces­sively te­dious.

DeX also sup­ports the mobile Mi­crosoft Of­fice suite, in­clud­ing Word, Ex­cel, Pow­erPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype. You’ll need an Of­fice 365 sub­scrip­tion to un­lock ev­ery­thing, but once you’re up and run­ning, you’ll feel right at home.

But could I CMS?

The real pro­duc­tiv­ity test would be work­ing in­side our cus­tom con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem. This work­flow re­quires get­ting through pass­word pro­tec­tion; up­load­ing im­ages; search­ing through a data­base for im­ages; and mak­ing finicky text ed­its in what can of­ten be a slow and in­flex­i­ble cloud-based en­vi­ron­ment.

To race right to the pay­off: work­ing in the CMS was easy. We never hit a brick wall, and per­for­mance was more than ac­cept­able.

We en­tered the CMS via Chrome, and had zero is­sues with pass­word man­age­ment (the days when mobile browsers for­got our pass­words are clearly over). Up­load­ing im­ages re­quired a bit of cre­ativ­ity: at the be­gin­ning of out week of test­ing, when we clicked ‘Up­load new im­age’ in the CMS in­ter­face, Chrome pre­sented us

with four source op­tions: Cam­era, Cam­corder, My Files (the An­droid file man­ager) and Doc­u­ments (Google Drive). From there we could eas­ily nav­i­gate to My Files, where my down­loaded im­ages were stored.

Strangely, to­ward the end of the week, the CMS in­ter­face stopped giv­ing me My Files as a di­rec­tory op­tion. But we eas­ily found a work­around by jump­ing into Google Drive and up­load­ing im­ages stored in the phone’s My Files di­rec­tory. And that was pretty much the only hic­cup. Oth­er­wise, all our CMS ac­tiv­ity was busi­ness as usual (if per­haps a bit slow).

Verdict

Would we like to have multi-mon­i­tor sup­port? Ab­so­lutely. Are we ir­ri­tated by Blue­tooth pair­ing chal­lenges? Sure. But it’s pretty hard to poke holes in DeX when we can get all our day-to-day work done with rel­a­tively lit­tle has­sle.

None­the­less, there’s still the un­cer­tainty of what dis­plays will be wait­ing for you in the vast busi­ness-travel unknown. How many ho­tel rooms will have TVs with HDMI ports? How many ho­tels can loan you a desk­top dis­play? And what hap­pens if you get seem­ingly ap­pro­pri­ate hard­ware, but DeX still let­ter­boxes its desk­top?

These are ques­tions that give us pause when think­ing about leav­ing our lap­top at home. But, wow, when DeX is up and run­ning, it re­ally de­liv­ers. This is a plat­form that Sam­sung should mi­grate to other Galaxy phones; that Google should steal for Pixel 2; and that Mi­crosoft should study for its Con­tin­uum scheme. There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy S8 and S8+, but for peo­ple who work, DeX might be the best fea­ture of all. Jon Phillips

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

Re­quires Sam­sung Galaxy S8/S8+ HDMI 2.0 100Mb/s LAN port 2x USB 2.0 USB-C 105.2x105.2x47.5mm 231g

This is how DeX looks when it’s run­ning prop­erly. Chrome, Set­tings and Play all of­fer re­siz­able win­dows in DeX, but Red­dit Is Fun is locked to its mobile app pro­por­tions. Note how no­ti­fi­ca­tions ap­pear in the lower right-hand cor­ner

Hover over a docked icon, and you’ll see a lit­tle pre­view – just like in Win­dows

The An­droid ver­sion of Light­room ran with­out hic­cups on the Snap­dragon 835 built into the Galaxy S8+

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