Samsung DeX dock: Our first take

Samsung's DeX dock will cost $150, and is set to launch in late April

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 packs the best specs into a glamorous, nearly bezel-less design. But as large as a 6.2-inch screen may be, it’s still far from being the perfect multitasking workstation to replace your desktop. That’s where DeX comes in.

DeX (docking experience) is a circular, thick puck with cutouts on its rear for an array of ports. Connect it to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, then push the surface down to have it slide out as a kickstand for the S8. Plug the S8 into a Type-C port, and your monitor will come to life with an Android desktop UI. The S8 will be charged at the same time.

An Android Desktop

Manufacturers have tried to make Android tablets potential laptop or desktop replacements for a while. Sadly, coupling a tablet with a keyboard accessory wasn’t enough because, for quite some time Android, didn’t support many multitasking features. That largely changed with Android 7.0 Nougat last year, thanks to the native multitasking mode that allows for a split-screen view of two apps. Nougat also enabled a freeform window mode that isn’t active on most of our smartphones.

Samsung took this latter feature and optimized it for several apps, so when the S8 projects the OS on a monitor, you get a desktop mode that looks like a combination of Chrome OS and Windows 10. Supported apps can be resized, and even have right-click functionality — they generally offer a familiar, desktop user experience. Most of the supported apps right now are Samsung apps, as well as Microsoft’s Office suite and some Adobe apps. The company will have a program to help get developers to implement support with third-party apps.

Non-supported Android apps do work, they just look like mobile apps and have sometimes less-than-intuitive interfaces that don’t play well with a mouse and keyboard. For example, Chrome will work, but it will only load mobile webpages (unless you force it not to). It’s similar to how Android apps look on Chromebooks.

Interestingly, Samsung is working with companies like VMware and Citrix that provide virtual Windows 10 machines. A Citrix app enabled a virtual version of Windows 10 to run on the desktop Android OS, and Android apps were still easily accessible. This is clearly a machine targeting the enterprise market.

It all worked seamlessly in our demo, save for a few seconds of delay waiting for the desktop UI to pop up. We experienced hardly any performance hiccups, but we imagine things may start to slow down if you run a lot of tasks simultaneously. Surprisingly, if you undock the S8 and plug it back in, your windows are still open, just minimized.

We’ll have to see how DeX works in prolonged uses, but it’s unlikely it will replace your desktop. It’s more suitable as a workstation at the office employees can use to quickly churn out some work. For example, if you’re visiting your company’s office in another state or country for a day or two, this could be an alternative to carrying a laptop with you.

The DeX dock has an HDMI, USB Type-C, and two USB 2.0 ports, as well as an ethernet jack. It also has a built-in fan to keep your phone from overheating. Samsung said the the docking station will cost $150, and will ship in late April.

Highs

  • Android desktop powered by phone
  • Snappy performance
  • Easy-to-use dock, interface

Lows

  • Needs more app support
  • Only works with Galaxy S8

Article originally published in March. Updated on 03-30-2017 by Julian Chokkattu: Added pricing and release date.  

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