Samsung DeX test: use Galaxy S8/S8+ as PC
By Ingrid Wilhelmina 2019-05-30 654 0
The simplicity of use
Many applications not yet optimized
Fluidity in computer mode
Having to trick to see all videos in full screen
Without any significant compromise on basic functions
With DeX, Samsung promises to transform its Galaxy S8 and S8+ into a real PC, with a suitable interface. The manufacturer is not the first to attempt such a bet. Its illustrious predecessors, Motorola and Nokia, have broken their teeth: let's see if the Korean is doing better.
A few weeks ago, Samsung took advantage of the grand announcement of its Galaxy S8 and S8+ to also unveil several accessories dedicated to these smartphones. Among them was the DeX. Connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, this ambitious docking station promised to turn smartphones into real PCs. A concept already tried by Microsoft with its Continuum solution for Windows 10 Mobile... with a very relative success. For several weeks, we used DeX for several hours each day, in order to fully understand its potential. In the following lines, you will see that she has in turn charmed and disappointed us. But rather than putting the cart before the horse, let's start by looking at the design and material ergonomics of this accessory.
As you can see from the pictures that scatter this test, the DeX takes the form of a black case all in roundness, both sober and quite pretty. Its cover slides to make way for the smartphone. At the bottom is a USB connector, which allows both to power the S8/S8+ and to connect it to the solution. You feel a little at first to plug in the phone, before you realize that you just have to slide it straight into the slot. In fact, it works very well with a hull. On the back of the case are several connectors, including an RJ45 Ethernet port, two USB-1 2.0 ports, an HDMI port and another USB-C to power everything.
Note that it is better to use the supplied charger as the solution will not work with low-power chargers. On the back of the DeX, small grids appear when the cover is opened. These are actually vents, through which the fan integrated in the housing evacuates heat. This fan has been activated quite regularly during our tests, but it remains generally not very audible. As for the smartphone, it has never overheated, regardless of the type of activity to which we have subjected it in DeX mode.
As soon as the Galaxy S8/S8+ finds its place in the dock, the device automatically switches to DeX mode. Its own screen is no longer usable and everything happens on the external display. You can decide to output the sound either on the smartphone or on the screen. The tank formed by the bottom of the housing in which the mobile rests also acts as a resonance chamber. In the latter case, the result is far from that of a good small portable speaker, but the sound from the phone is still improved. A keyboard and mouse are essential to control the solution.
These can be Bluetooth or wired devices, to be connected to the USB ports of the box. Even devices with dongle are compatible. Whichever solution you choose, everything works correctly, simply and efficiently. There are still cases where - for some reason - the system will not automatically switch to azerty for the external keyboard. But it is very easily corrected from the parameters. Similarly, if the sound works perfectly, it may happen that the audio output from your monitor is not taken into account right away. In this case, a quick look at the settings will fix the problem again. Finally, all telephone functions remain fully accessible. It is therefore possible to take calls (hands-free) and manage SMS even in DeX mode.
Let's now move on to the software part. The great strength of DeX is to transform the smartphone interface into a version designed for larger screens. In concrete terms, we find of course all the functions of the S8/S8+, but which are logically more fragmented in the interface. The latter is not without reminding us of the one of Chrome OS. DeX therefore does not provide any additional functionality per se, and "just" redesigns everything. But it does it admirably well, so it really feels like you're on a Linux desktop, or Chrome OS so. The interface mainly consists of a desktop, on which it is possible to place applications, folders and shortcuts to files of all kinds. You can open a multitude of windows simultaneously, move them at will or change their size. Like on a classic computer, then.
We also find the usual functions of Android, with the manager of active applications - also presented in an adapted view -, or the drawer of all the applications installed in the device. The programs currently running are displayed in the central part of the taskbar. To its right, Samsung has moved the notification bar and control shortcuts for some phone functions (GPS, brightness, mobile data, Wi-Fi, etc.). If you have already used a computer, you will quickly get used to this simple, refined and very functional interface. Especially since the right click also displays a context menu here. We also appreciate the rather impeccable fluidity of the whole. But to say that DeX can replace a PC or Mac today is a step that we will definitely not take.
This is due to a lack of application optimization. Samsung offers most of the essential applications and services natively, so its solution remains very interesting for those who do not have high needs. For example, if your use at the location where you want to install the DeX is web browsing, email management and other social networks, Samsung's solution will probably be more than enough. The web browser that the manufacturer uses in the Galaxy S8/S8+ is fully optimized for full screen mode. It is even better than Google Chrome in this exercise, although the latter does not demerit. But it can be a little frustrating when launching mobile sites on a very regular basis.
Most of the time, just go to the options and check the box "see the computer version" to get everything back in order. But this involves a few more clicks, which is also not dramatic in absolute terms. Especially since the overwhelming majority of the most popular websites and web services such as webmails, video streaming sites, bank sites, etc. work perfectly in "desktop" mode here. The only notable recalcitrant we met was Netflix, for which it was impossible for us to start playing a video, both on Chrome and Samsung Internet. This would have been without consequence if the application had worked correctly on DeX. This is the most embarrassing flaw in the solution to date, and unfortunately it does not only affect Netflix.
To put it simply: with the exception of optimized native applications, many others are displayed in a window that occupies only a quarter of the screen. This is obviously annoying for video services, but not only. For all the others, it also means that you will only get the mobile version of the app, not optimized to take advantage of the additional display space. It is impossible to tell you precisely which ones are concerned here, because this is really a case by case situation. An app like MyCanal works very well with DeX right from the start.
By launching YouTube directly from the web browser, it is possible to view the videos in full screen.
To get the most out of the video, there is nevertheless a way to "trick", by switching back to screenshot mode, simply by clicking on a button in the interface. We then have the right to simply copy the screen in smartphone mode. This makes it possible, for example, to switch the Netflix application to full screen. It's also the only way to enjoy 4K video, as DeX mode only supports up to Full HD 1080p. Beyond this problem, which can be solved if application developers put their minds to it, there is another more existential obstacle for the DeX: its raison d'être.
For whom? For whom?
Because if the solution is promising in the long term and already achieved on some points, it still has some irritating shortcomings, which could cool some enthusiasm. Before we continue, it is much more successful than Microsoft's Continuum.
But first comes the question of who DeX could be suitable for. If laptops have been on the rise for the last ten years or so, it is because most people no longer wanted to be stuck in front of a fixed computer at home, after potentially spending the day in the same position at the office. So it might put some people off. But we leave the assessment of this point to your discretion, depending on your needs. DeX could probably be more suitable for highly mobile professionals, who do not need all the application and functional richness offered by "real" computers. With the possibility of always carrying all their data with them, in mobile or desktop form depending on the situation. For others, it is up to you to decide whether or not, based on all the points raised during this test, DeX may or may not be right for you, knowing that it will only improve over time and that application display problems will likely be resolved in the process.
Finally, let's extrapolate a little to finish: for us, DeX would have been more in step with the times if it had been integrated into a laptop format. If Samsung ever succeeds in offering the same software offer backed by a shell in laptop PC format with screen + keyboard, we will no longer have to worry about who it is intended for, since it will potentially interest many of those who have a laptop computer.
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