Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hands On With The Samsung DeX Station

One of the big selling points of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is that they are the first phones to feature the Samsung Desktop Experience (DeX). All you need to do is purchase the Samsung DeX station which is a hockey-puck looking dock that features an HDMI connection for display and sound, an Ethernet port, and two USB 2.0 ports. Unfortunately, if you usually keep your phone in a case of some sort, you'll probably have to take it off in order to put your phone onto the DeX Station. I'm sure Samsung will eventually remedy this by selling "DeX Compatible" cases for the S8 and S8 Plus. And forget about trying to use a generic USB-C adapter with HDMI and USB. I tried that. The Hoo Too adapter that I use to extend my Chromebook Plus screen to an external monitor and add USB devices doesn't do the job. Something must be embedded in the DeX Station itself must be triggering the phone to jump into DeX mode.
DeX Station: Inspired By Wayne Gretzky?

Imagine being on a business trip, sitting in your hotel room and you've got some last minute work to do. You could drag out the laptop or the tablet if you bothered to bring them along and hope that they have enough of a charge to power up. Or, you can hook up Samsung DeX to your Galaxy S8, plug an HDMI cable into your hotel television, connect a USB keyboard and mouse and start working on that PowerPoint presentation or that Excel spreadsheet. If you need to do something that requires a bit more processing power, Samsung suggests that you connect to a remote desktop via Microsoft Remote Desktop or VMWare Horizon View. Once you connect your phone, to the DeX attachment, it'll start running in DeX mode and you'll be presented with a desktop interface:



Kinda bland looking, right? Looks like Samsung is trying really hard to get you to use that piece of bundled bloatware that they call a browser by any means necessary. Not to worry, though, because you can customize your desktop by arranging icons, putting apps in the taskbar and changing your desktop wallpaper.




Marvelous! Now that's what I call a heroic desktop. Now, let's get to work. One of the first things you'll notice is that a lot of apps aren't expecting to be expanded up to the size of a desktop. If you launch such an app, like, Goat Simulator, it'll just occupy a phone-sized portion of your desktop:


Well, this really breaks my immersion. And it turns out that a lot of Android games aren't exactly optimized for playing with a keyboard and mouse. My poor goat couldn't get himself turned around via keyboard controls. With a few other games, I found that the mouse curser is too small to register as a finger-touch so many pop-up menus can't be dismissed. And Netflix hasn't yet caught on to what Samsung DeX is doing, so the Netflix app doesn't scale up to full screen either. You can try going to Netflix through Chrome but that will only kick you back over to the Netflix app. I suppose you could change your browser identification to make it look like you're coming from a Windows machine and that might work, but I didn't want to mess with that.

In order to minimize these sort of compatibility issues, Samsung keeps a list of "DeX Optimized" apps, the Microsoft Office apps being chief among them. They open full screen with no problem, although the Android apps are just glorified web browsers wrapping around Office 365. And, for movies, Google Play Movies works great.

Now, you might eventually ask what happens if a phone call comes through while you're on DeX. Well, the call will come in, you'll get a notification on the screen and you can answer the phone via speaker or bluetooth headset or you can pull the phone out of the DeX Station and answer it like normal.

One further thing I feel the need to mention is that, after bombing out with Netflix, I tried to connect my Passport drive to the DeX Station so that I could watch some movies that I had ripped. It seems that the USB 2.0 on the DeX Station was powerful enough to nudge the drive awake, but, ultimately, my Passport drive wouldn't spin up and so DeX couldn't mount it. Bummer. It works just fine with my Chromebook Plus. There's probably a way around this, but I suspect that if I did manage to get DeX to mount the drive, VLC would not open up full size to play the movie anyway.

To sum the whole thing up, I'd say that, for right now, Samsung DeX is all work and no play. It's still a fairly new thing, but, if it catches on, more and more apps will come out with DeX support. I think that once DeX starts to get a little more widespread support it'll be an amazing experience.

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