How to use Samsung’s PC-emulating DeX mode on Galaxy smartphones

Samsung’s phones are crammed with special features, so it’s understandable if one or two have passed you by. However, Samsung’s DeX mode is something you absolutely don’t want to miss. Essentially turning your powerful Galaxy smartphone into a versatile desktop computer, Samsung DeX allows you to hook up a computer monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and start using your phone as a PC.

While you might expect a trick like this to trumpeted loudly and then abandoned, Samsung has actually been consistently improving DeX. The feature used to require a specific (and expensive) dock to use, but over the years, Samsung has refined the process so now you now only need a simple (and cheaper) USB-C cable to use DeX mode. Here’s a quick guide on how to use Samsung’s DeX mode.

What is DeX?

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“DeX” is the name for Samsung’s desktop software, activated by plugging a compatible mobile device into a spare monitor, laptop, or computer. It turns your phone or tablet into a full-fledged desktop experience, complete with word processing software, internet browsers, and more. Samsung DeX is principally aimed at those who require a mobile office, but really, it can be used by anyone with a spare monitor lying around.

Of course, many people already have a serviceable laptop, so what’s the point of the DeX mode? In short, t’s the ease of having everything you need in a single device. Being able to seamlessly switch from writing an email or document on your phone to writing it in a desktop environment can be extremely useful for some people — and that’s exactly what DeX offers.

Samsung DeX on the Samsung Galaxy S10 range and newer (including the new Galaxy S20 range) is even more useful, as DeX on those devices is able to trigger within Windows or MacOS — so you don’t need a separate, spare monitor to use DeX. Instead, it’ll pop up in a separate window, allowing you to use your phone in a desktop environment, while also allowing the use of your regular computer.

DeX-compatible devices

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Not every Samsung device can use Samsung DeX mode, and it’s pretty much restricted to Samsung’s flagship ranges only — which doesn’t include the Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite, for some reason. The following Samsung phones and tablets are compatible with Samsung’s DeX mode:

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S20
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S10
  • Samsung Galaxy S10e
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 9
  • Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 Active
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

How to use DeX on a spare monitor

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Starting Samsung’s DeX mode on a spare monitor is as simple as connecting it to your phone or tablet. Except, it’s not. DeX mode has gone through a few transformations over the years, and as a result, there are a few ways to access DeX. Whether you’re using a dedicated dock or a single cable, here’s how to use DeX on a monitor.

Connecting with a USB-C cable or hub

Using a USB-C to HDMI cable is one of the most convenient ways to use DeX, and it was introduced with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and the Galaxy Tab S4. Since then, it’s spread to all DeX-compatible devices, so it’s an option for any of the devices listed above.

While using a cable is likely to be a popular choice, since it doesn’t require an expensive dock, there are no additional ports to attach wired accessories such as keyboards and mice, so you’ll be reliant on Bluetooth peripherals. If you need ports, then you can also use a cheap USB-C hub instead of a cable — but these can be a little fiddly. Whether hub or cable, it’s the easiest way to try out Samsung DeX. Here’s how to get it running:

  • Start by making sure you have the right cable. Samsung recommends its own DeX cable, HDMI Adapter, or USB-C Hub, but you can use most other third-party USB-C hubs as well.
    • If using a third-party USB-C hub, make sure it has a USB-C port as well as an HDMI port. The hub will need to be plugged into a fast-charging charger, or DeX will not trigger.
  • Make sure you’re using a monitor with an HDMI port. Almost any monitor should work, but not every TV will work with DeX.
  • Connect your device and monitor. You may need to remove any protective cases for the cable to connect properly.
  • DeX should start automatically.
    • If it doesn’t start automatically, check your notification shade and select the option for DeX from the list.
    • Otherwise, make sure everything is connected properly.
    • Make sure you’re using a fast charger. The charger that came with your device should suffice.
  • Once DeX has started, pull down your notification shade and tap Use your phone as a touchpad.

Connecting with an official DeX Station/DeX Pad

DeX was originally only usable with Samsung’s DeX Station and DeX dock. Later, with the release of the Galaxy S9, the DeX Pad was added, which also allowed you to use your phone as a trackpad. As mentioned above, neither of these are required any more, but if you happen to come across one, you can still use it — as long as it’s built to accommodate it. The DeX Station was built for the Galaxy S8, S8 Plus, and Note 8, and may struggle to fit newer and larger devices. The DeX Pad’s design is more forgiving, but it’s still worth giving the connection a dry run before you set up your workstation.

Why would you want to? Both the DeX Station and the DeX Pad function as USB hubs as well, so you can easily attach wired mice or keyboards, or additional storage systems. Plus, it’s just a more attractive addition to a desk than a simple USB-C hub or single cable. Here’s how to use it:

  • Set up the DeX Station or Dex Pad. Make sure the power cable is firmly attached, as DeX won’t work without it.
  • Make sure you’re using a monitor with an HDMI port. Almost any monitor should work, but not every TV will work with DeX.
  • Attach any accessories you’ll be using to the Station or Pad.
  • Insert your device into the Station or Pad.
  • DeX should start automatically.
    • If it doesn’t, pull down the notification shade of your device and select the option for DeX from the list.
    • Otherwise, check all the connections are tightly inserted.

How to use DeX on a laptop or computer

Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung has continued to improve DeX mode with its latest flagships, and it’s even gone as far as to remove the requirement to have a spare monitor lying around. With the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, Samsung introduced a way to use DeX from inside Windows and MacOS.

This version of DeX was introduced with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 range, but has been ported to the Galaxy S10 range, and can also now be found on the Galaxy S20 range.

  • Attach your device to your computer or laptop with your USB-C cable.
  • After attaching for the first time, you’ll have to install the DeX for PC application on your Windows or MacOS device.
  • Once the app is installed and your phone is connected, DeX should boot automatically.
  • Once DeX is running, you can use it in a window or in full-screen mode.
  • While it’s open, you can reply to messages and read notifications from your phone. You can also access files from your phone, and transfer files between both devices by dragging between windows.

How to use accessories with DeX

A desktop experience isn’t complete without a mouse and keyboard. While a phone is extremely useful for working on the go, for real productivity, a mouse and keyboard are vital, and DeX requires both to get the most out of it.

If you’re using a Dex Station, Dex Pad, or any sort of hub, attaching wired peripherals and accessories is as easy as plugging them into available ports. But if you’re using Bluetooth accessories, you’ll need to pair them to your phone. To do so, head to your Settings, then tap Connected devices > Pair new device. Put your device into discoverable mode — check its manual if you’re not sure how — and then go through the pairing process when it appears on your list.

Once everything is paired, you should be able to use them in DeX mode.

What can you do with DeX?

What can you actually do with Samsung’s DeX mode once you’ve got it set up? In brief, anything you can do with your phone or tablet — but in a desktop environment.

You can access your device’s apps by clicking the app symbol — nine dots arranged in a three-by-three square — in the bottom-left corner. From there, you can run any of your device’s apps, though they won’t stretch to cover your screen if they’re not optimized to work with DeX. Samsung offers a variety of DeX-optimized apps in its Galaxy Store, which you can access from the top of the app drawer. If there’s no optimized version of your app, there’s a rotate option in the top-right of the app window that will turn it to landscape orientation. Just like a computer or laptop, you can add certain apps to your desktop for easy access, or right-click an open app to pin it to the taskbar.

The status bar at the bottom of the screen contains a bar with all your device’s notifications, as well as a few important DeX options. The keyboard icon pulls up a keyboard on your phone, in case you don’t have a keyboard plugged in. There’s also an option to lock your DeX and phone at the same time for when you quickly need to duck away from your workstation.

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