Ever since the first days of the Palm Pilot PDA, I’ve wanted a small handheld device that would function as my phone, my camera, and my desktop computer. One device to rule them all!
Companies like Motorola with their Atrix phone flirted with this concept six years ago, and I’ve even tried turning an Android smartphone into a pseudo computer by connecting a mouse and a keyboard using an OTG adapter. With the right apps, it’s possible to get real work done with this type of setup but working on a phone’s small display is pretty painful.
Samsung has a solution for this. It’s the DeX Station. Verizon Wireless sent me one to test. Let’s check it out.
What is it?
The Samsung DeX Station is a docking station for the Samsung Galaxy S8, S8 Plus, and Note8 smartphones. It allows connection to an HDMI display, a keyboard, mouse, and speakers, to turn the smartphone into a multi-windowed multi-tasking desktop workstation.
What’s in the box?
USB Type C cable
Design and features
The DeX Station is a black plastic module that reminds me of a bulging hockey puck.
The top cover slides open and turns into a backrest for the phone which plugs into the exposed USB Type-C connector.
The lid has a built-in fan that turns on to keep the phone cool when it is working hard from displaying multiple windows and apps.
Verizon sent me a Samsung Galaxy S8 to test with the DeX and it fit in the docking station perfectly. The DeX will also work with the Samsung Galaxy Note8, but it won’t work with other smartphones that have a USB Type-C connector. The DeX Station is only compatible with Samsung Galaxy S8 and newer devices.
Along the base of the DeX, you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports that can be used to connect a keyboard and a mouse. There’s also an Ethernet port if you need a hard wire into your network.
Next to the Ethernet port is an HDMI port and a USB Type-C port which is used with the included AC adapter to power the DeX.
Hooking up the DeX Station is simple as long as you have a monitor with an HDMI input and an HDMI cable. I connected the DeX to an LG 29″ monitor. I also connected the Samsung Galaxy S8 to a Logitech K780 keyboard using a USB dongle, and I paired a Microsoft Bluetooth mouse to round out the setup.
When connecting the S8 to the DeX connected to the monitor, you’re given the option to mirror the display as shown above.
Or you can go full screen which effectively turns the smartphone into a desktop computer that can multi-task with multi-windows, a taskbar, app shortcuts, etc. The effect is pretty awesome and really made me feel like my one-device-to-rule-them-all gadget daydream had finally come true.
Launching the Chrome browser really feels like you’re surfing on your laptop or desktop and you forget that you’re using a smartphone. You can do multiple things at once like having multiple tabs open in the browser while updating files through the Play store.
My first gotcha was noticing that Gmail through the Chome browser showed the mobile version of the site instead of the desktop version which I prefer.
I tried requesting the desktop version through the browser settings and tried using an incognito window too but didn’t have any luck.
To get around this issue I tried the Samsung browser and discovered that it does allow you to load the desktop version of Gmail. Yay! The desktop version of Gmail lets me have my multiple inboxes and stars just like working on my Mac or Windows machine. This is a big deal for people like me who get eleventy billion emails a day.
Although the DeX desktop doesn’t look like your phone, notifications still come in like normal and can be accessed in a panel on the bottom right corner of the display.
You can also see thumbnails of open apps to easily switch between them.
There’s also a launcher screen with all your installed apps listed for easy launching.
And there’s a nice big settings picker window.
Working through a browser feels very much like you’re working on a laptop or desktop computer. But when you try to use some of your favorite apps, you’ll start running into issues because they probably won’t work in full-screen mode like you’d expect and want with this type of setup.
Examples of this include Words With Friends, which launches in a phone-sized window that cannot be resized.
The Netflix app has the same problem. What’s even worse is that I couldn’t get the Netflix app to load a video. It would stay on the loading screen forever. But if I tried using my iPhone to watch the same video that I was trying to pull up on the S8 connected to the DeX, it popped up just fine when using the same WiFi connection.
The Samsung internet browser usually works the best to go to the web versions of apps and services vs. the mobile apps that you have installed on the phone. So I thought I could get Netflix to work that way, but it just showed a blank black screen.
I also tried the Chrome browser but it would just launch the Netflix app.
Some apps won’t launch at all when connected to the Dex Station like Verizon’s Messages+ app and even worse, the Firefox browser won’t work at all.
However, you can use Samsung’s messages app to send SMS messages while connected to the DeX.
A few other things that I noticed:
- Right mouse click is supported with Dex optimized apps.
- Double-clicking the mouse to select a word in the Chrome browser in an edit window will not work but it does work in the Samsung browser.
- Trying to edit images in Google Photos just brings up a blank black screen.
Who is this product for?
I was excited to try the Samsung DeX Station, but after I used it, I started thinking what I would use it for and came to the conclusion that it would not be useful for someone like me who already has a laptop at work, a laptop at home, and a tablet.
The DeX would be perfect for a minimalist who has no extra room or need for multiple computers but does have an HDMI display, a keyboard, and a mouse to use when a full-screen desktop experience is required.
I can imagine a time in the not too distant future where our smartphones really WILL be our only devices and we’ll have docks like the Samsung DeX Station at our day job and our home.
I enjoyed using the Samsung Dex Station and am excited for the future of devices like this one. I would happily go down to one device if the OS on that one device was beefed up a little more, all apps took advantage of full-screen mode, and there were docks to turn the phone into a laptop and a tablet too. I think it’s just a matter of time and I can’t wait.
Source: The sample for this review was provided by Verizon Wireless. Please visit their site for more info.
5 thoughts on “Samsung Dex Station review”
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T-Mobile had a business giveaway for DeX when the S8 launched, so I ended up with 2 of them. My wife uses Outlook for the web and Chrome almost exclusively (with the very occasional side trip into Excel), so I thought this might be an excellent opportunity for her to ditch the mostly-unused laptop.
Nope. First, when she is on the road, she would have to lug around more and larger stuff (assuming the TV in her hotel rooms had an HDMI connection, otherwise include a monitor). So no benefit while traveling other than sore eyes from the strain of looking at her phone all the time.
And nope at home as well. I thought I read somewhere that Microsoft had a hand in helping Samsung with the desktop implementation, which is why it looks a lot like Windows. That said, there are API’s at work under the hood that make a fair portion of Android apps just not work at all – and, oddly, on the first release that appeared to be the Microsoft Office stuff. Those apps are now working in a window, but will not work full screen (the screen just goes black and you have to pull the phone off the DeX to reset). And the Outlook app does not work at all, window or otherwise.
Some day this may be a great idea, but like the Atrix it just isn’t even a good idea right now. Thankfully mine were free…
I think the DeX is a cool idea but I agree that it’s not completely ready for prime time. If all you do is use a browser, it’s fine though…
Good idea very poorly executed. Way to much design over function, with only a little thought it would have been possible to use it with any case or cover, as it its with anything designed to provide protection to the phone, it wont fit the dex, so the dex is worthless. There is no wireless charging built in? for a device designed to be used with a device that is wireless chargeable!! For me the monitor side of things is again worthless as I have a fantastic DVI monitor with no HDMI input so unless I use some adapter, no go there and no sound, which is irrelevant as monitor does not have speakers, all in all a fantastic idea looking for a use. This free one is going straight on to Ebay!!
I bought an inexpensive and small USB-extender on Amazon (Spigen Essential CA-310 USB-C Male to USB-C Female – $8.99). It raises the port on my Dex Station just high enough for me to connect my Note 8 with a thick case. The added bonus is it raises the phone high enough for me to plug in a wired headphone! The newer Dex ‘Pad’ does away with the ethernet port so I got the older model (Dex ‘Station’). I prefer the speed and stability of a hardwired network connection when available. Phone charges faster than if wireless charging were used, so why would anyone prefer that since you need to plug it into the dock anyway? Combined with Microsoft Remote Desktop and the Dex Max app I can connect to my Windows laptop in full screen or windowed mode right alongside my Android apps. This is well executed.