Visiting your company’s satellite office? Carrying your work laptop can be cumbersome, which is why Samsung’s alternative is its smartphones — the Galaxy S8, and the Galaxy Note 8 — paired with the Dex Station. The little hockey puck-like docking station turns the company’s flagship phones into an Android desktop operating system, like Microsoft’s Continuum for the not-so-popular Windows Mobile platform.
It’s surprisingly effective, though there are a few kinks. It’s worth a buy if you do travel to other offices a lot, and don’t want to carry your laptop around. But for every workstation, you’ll need a mouse, a keyboard, a monitor, and the Dex Station. If you don’t have those peripherals lying around, acquiring them can be quite expensive — especially if you don’t have the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy Note 8 as well.
Let’s take a deeper dive.
The docking station
The all-black docking station looks like a generic computer peripheral, which is good because it blends in well with most desktop workstations. Push the top down and the other end slides up like a kickstand — this reveals the USB Type-C plug where the Galaxy S8 will dock.
The pushed-up kickstand doubles as a built-in cooling fan to prevent your smartphone from getting too hot. It does the job, as we’ve hardly felt the S8 get anywhere near hot.
On the back of the Dex Station, you’ll find two USB Type-A ports, along with a Type-C, an HDMI, and an Ethernet port. The HDMI port plugs into your monitor, and the Type-C port charges your phone via the dock. The rest are free for plugging in other peripherals, but you can also use the smartphone’s Bluetooth capability to connect wireless devices like keyboards, and speakers.
Speaking of speakers, you won’t be able to connect wired desktop speakers — you’ll have to opt for a Bluetooth speaker, or wireless headphones. You can’t plug in earbuds into your phone, because the S8 and Note 8’s headphone jacks are on the bottom. With no speaker connected, the audio comes out of the phone — it gets loud, and doesn’t sound bad at all.
Plugging the phone in isn’t the easiest process as it can take some finagling to get the position right. But once docked, you’ll see the Dex interface crop up on the monitor in less than 10 seconds. Unplug your phone, and it will take under 10 seconds to get your normal home screen back. The delay is small enough that it doesn’t make much of an impact, but if you wanted to grab your phone to send a quick message and put it back — the delay may be a little annoying.
The desktop version of Android — at least, Samsung’s version — looks a lot like desktop operating systems such as Windows 10 and Google’s Chrome OS on Chromebooks. A few app icons sit on the desktop home screen, and the bottom left houses navigation buttons: Apps, recently used apps, and Home. On the right is a system tray, where you can access notifications, along with your regular status bar icons such as battery life, Wi-Fi, the date, time, and more.
Apps open quickly, web pages load really fast — we can’t complain about performance.
Apps open quickly and web pages load really fast; we can’t complain much about performance. We haven’t seen any web slow down that we wouldn’t see on another device. We’re surprised at the speedy, mostly lag-free performance — and it’s all thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor powering the S8.
But you can’t do everything you’d expect to do on a desktop computer. Only a certain number of apps are compatible in this desktop mode — that means they open in a full-screen window, they are resizable, and you can right click in them to perform actions like on a traditional desktop. Most of Samsung’s apps are supported, such as Calendar and Email, along with certain third-party apps like Adobe Lightroom and Microsoft Word.
If there’s an app you use and it’s not supported, we found it better to use the web version (if there is one available) rather than using the Android app. Unsupported apps are still accessible, but they open in a small, phone-like window, and you can’t make it bigger or resize it.
Even if your app is supported, it will clearly just be the smartphone version ported over to a bigger size. Adobe’s Lightroom app, for example, suggests gestures as quick actions, and the interface isn’t the most intuitive on such a large monitor. It’s manageable, and a good resource for when you need to edit a few photos, but it’s not as easy-to-use as the traditional Lightroom desktop app.
Still, it’s nice to be able to quickly jump into apps such as Facebook Messenger to respond to friends (chat heads are also available, though limited to a certain quadrant of the screen), or Google Photos to share a photo. You can even perform phone-only functions like placing calls, and texting. Thankfully, keyboard shortcuts are supported in Android, so you can Alt+Tab to switch between apps, Control+C to copy and Control+V to paste text, and more.
We mostly browsed the internet using the Samsung Internet app, which is likely all you need. Why not Chrome, or another Android browser? Because, for now, Samsung Internet is optimized better.
With the Galaxy Note 8’s launch, Samsung has added support for more apps and has improved the interface a little more. For example, the default email app now shows three panes, rather than two. There’s a Game Launcher, where you can find your Android games, and see which ones support fullscreen mode on the Dex Station. Vainglory is one supported app, and the developers are adding improved keyboard and mouse support for the game.
Some other supported apps now include conferencing apps such as Zoom Cloud Meetings, and GoToMeeting. During conferences, taking your phone off the Dex Station will not interrupt the video, allowing you to continue to participate in the call seamlessly.
Samsung’s internet browser
Samsung’s internet app performs like most desktop browsers, even supporting extensions and ad-blockers. It consistently opens up every website in desktop mode, can handle multiple tabs, and it’s fast — especially scrolling on web pages. You can also save passwords for websites like Chrome’s Autofill — this is done with Samsung Pass, and it will ask you for fingerprint, iris, or facial authentication. We recommend the latter two, because fingerprint authentication is awkward when the phone is docked.
To nitpick — the browser doesn’t look modern, and it doesn’t have features on other browsers like pinning tabs, or even the ability to pull out a tab to make a new window.
Regardless, we found our web experience with the Samsung Internet browser more than satisfactory. It’s not necessarily a browser we’d want to use or for long periods of time, but it does the job for work.
Warranty information, price, and availability
Samsung offers a standard 1-year limited warranty on the Dex Station from the date of purchase. You’re protected from manufacturing defects, but accidental drops and damages won’t be covered.
It costs $150, and you can buy it directly from Samsung.Our Take
The Dex Station is a great option for people who own a Galaxy S8 or a Galaxy Note 8 — moreso for people who travel to various offices, and don’t want to be weighed down by a laptop. You’ll need to have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse set up beforehand though, so you’re ready to go when you arrive.
If you have an S8 or Note 8, the Dex could also be a handy place to dock your phone at home for use as a supplemental desktop workstation, alongside your laptop or computer (if you have a spare monitor, keyboard, and mouse).
Is it worth buying the Galaxy S8 or Note 8 for the Dex Station? Again, if you’re the type who frequents other offices and doesn’t want to carry a laptop — and you’re interested in Samsung’s latest flagship — then yes.
Is there a better alternative?
The cost of using the Dex Station is $124 ($150 without the ongoing promotion), but seeing as you need the Galaxy S8 or Note 8, you’ll have spent more than $900 just to get started. If you don’t have a monitor, keyboard, or mouse, then you’ll need to shell out for those peripherals too.
You may be better off grabbing the $450 Samsung Chromebook Plus (or Chromebook Pro), which is very lightweight, or another Windows-powered Ultrabook. While you’ll have to carry it around, you can at least get a full desktop experience for a cheaper, or comparable price.
How long will it last?
The docking station itself won’t move from your desk, so we don’t expect it to see any accidental damage from drops like a smartphone. Since it’s mostly just a dock, we think it will last at least four years, but the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 should last you three to four years before it’s completely shot.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you already own a Galaxy S8 or Note 8 and you often travel to other offices, it may be worth your time to grab a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and the Dex Station to get some casual work done without needing to lug around a laptop. Heavy-duty PC users should steer clear.
Update: Added a few new supported apps, and how the Dex Station is now compatible with the Galaxy Note 8.