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Samsung DeX first impressions: Impressive and impractical
Along with the grand launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ yesterday, we also saw the announcements for new accessories like the new Gear VR, the new Gear 360 and the all-new DeX cradle.
The DeX cradle comes with 2 USB ports, 1 USB Type C port, Ethernet port, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and an HDMI port.
Clearly this was DeX’s first shot in the spotlight and instead of heading to the Gear VR and Gear 360 booths in the demo area I was more than eager to try out Samsung’s DeX, a cradle that basically let’s you leave your computer behind, letting you use the apps on your smartphone on a bigger screen.
That bigger donor display, donor keyboard and donor mouse, are the standard requirements to make your DeX experience perfect and seamless. In fact, it would be great if you have a wireless mouse and keyboard that would make the experience wire-free.
It’s been done before
Well, a concept like DeX has been done before. We have had Motorola who took a shot at it with its Atrix 4G smartphone, which also happened to have a fingerprint reader (swipe style) for authentication back in 2011.
Users could plug the handset at the back of the laptop-like dock or lapdock and you had a full-fledged desktop space to work with using the computing power of your smartphone. Back then however, chipsets were not all that powerful, Motorola had a 1.0 GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 paired with 1 GB RAM and 16 GB of internal storage.
Next we also recently had Microsoft’s Windows 10 Continuum. Continuum similar to the Samsung DeX needed a dock to connect all your devices together. The downside was that you had a chiseled-down version of Windows, which did not exactly work like the Windows you used on a desktop. This is because Continuum lacked multi-window support at launch and still does today as well.
Samsung takes the same approach with Windows but adds Android to the mix, a grown up Android that now scales to the entire display and comes with plenty horsepower, thanks to the 10nm Exynos 8895 chip inside.
And boy does it impress at first glance. You simply plug in your Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+ into the DeX dock, wait for about 3-4 seconds and Samsung DeX logo shows up on the display and then switches to the desktop view.
You have a lockscreen, that can be unlocked using the Iris scanner on the phone (which will be next to you on the table). Once unlocked you have a homescreen, that looks eerily familiar to Windows.
In fact, it felt more Windows than Microsoft’s own Continuum system because things just worked and were placed where they are supposed to be.
From left to right at the bottom area, you have smartphone’s navigation keys followed by the opened app icons with an underline, hinting that these are running apps in windows, and then the notifications area with all sorts of icons that would show up in your notifications bar. Tap on the up arrow and you get your notifications tray popping up showing you all the notifications on your smartphone.
While you cannot use the smartphone when plugged into the DeX cradle (you can do this with Windows Continuum), there really is no need to switch between the two as all app notifications show up on your desktop including the ability answer calls.
In fact, a majority of installed Android apps opened up in tablet mode, taking advantage of the wide display I was using. For a full list of DeX supported apps, click here.
Need to multi-task? Well, open as many windows as you like. You can place them wherever you want and in any size you need, on the desktop.
Like with every other Android tablet or smartphone there is also the recent menu where you can view all those running apps at the same time as thumbnails. You can either choose to close all or close each one of them individually. During my short demo, I rarely needed to go there because every app that I opened did so in its own, movable, scalable window with the minimise, maximise and close button at the top right corners.
In short, everything just works! As you would expect it to. In fact I could stream a YouTube video in the YouTube app or browser while ten other apps were open and running all over the display. With lag free performance, DeX is impressive and it will blow you away when you use it for the first time. Also, when you unplug your phone, those windows will be open in the Galaxy S8’s recent apps menu.
But there’s a problem
Like a common consumer would comment, “If you own a Rs 60,000 smartphone, you would already own an ultrabook”. True. Samsung DeX sure made its great first impression on me, but then came the impractical bits that were hard to oversee.
You do get a great set of Android apps to work with. You have an almost full-fledged arsenal of Microsoft Office apps (including the ability to remotely access virtual Windows machine via Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) support and a mouse and keyboard to fly through those presentations instead of tinkering around on the tiny display of your smartphone.
But that’s were the problem really lies. To complete your Samsung DeX experience, you will need a donor display, a donor keyboard and a donor mouse. I can understand that powerusers would even carry a Bluetooth keyboard around and I can also understand that you can carry a mouse around. But a display?
And that is exactly Dex’s weakest link. You need a display to make your Dex experience into your desktop experience.
Someone told me that a TV would always be available in your hotel room which kind of completes the loop and reduces the need for me to carry a laptop. The DeX cradle also works like a charging stand (a rather large one) but it also packs in a cooling fan to keep the internals and the phone cool. So it also doubles up as a phone charger that will cost you a cool Rs 8,999.
But the need to carry a DeX cradle, a Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth mouse around looks like plenty of things to carry around. Add to this the need for a power outlet and its not exactly a practical solution. You might as well carry around a laptop that takes care of all three (CPU, keyboard, trackpad) and includes a battery to keep it powered as well.