Samsung's "desktop experience" is not only a curious concept, but it's quickly becoming something I like to use.
There's more to the Galaxy S8 an S8+ than its vibrant screen, cascading glass edges, and shiny back cover. Samsung would also like you to try its new Android-powered phone to unlock a desktop operating system that can be used on a whim.
The Samsung DeX — which stands for desktop experience is a hockey-puck shaped dock with a pop-up cooling fan for the Galaxy S8 and various ports for the necessary peripherals. We've talked about Dex before, but we haven't been able to actively try one until now.
I've been using the $150 device for casual tasks for the last few days, and it's already got me fooled. I keep turning to my monitor thinking that it's my Mac plugged into it — and then I start using it. DeX looks and feels like Mac OS (it's more like Windows 10, actually), but it's when you attempt to deviate off the path that you realize there are limitations.
The Samsung DeX dock.
The honeymoon period
Samsung DeX is exceptionally easy to set up and it's way easier than setting up a brand new computer. Granted, I've already put in the leg work of setting up the Galaxy S8+ in the way that I like it, and downloaded the apps that I like to use, but isn't it neat to be able to set up something once and then have it work like a desktop, too? DeX is definitely meant for anyone who thinks so.
Various ports on the DeX include an Ethernet port, USB Type-C, and HDMI.
As I was saying, DeX requires no learning curve to set up. I paired the Galaxy S8+ with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and then plugged in the HDMI cable from the monitor into the dock. Once the interface appeared on the monitor, my trained computer-brain instinctively knew what to do from there.
It's neat to be able to set up something once and then have it work like a desktop, too.
DeX uses the same navigations buttons and imagery as its Android interface to denote the different parts of the operating system. For instance, there's the apps drawer icon in the corner, right next to the recent apps screen icon and the Home button, in its simple squareness. Move your eyes a bit to the right, and you'll start to see squircles populated with the icons of any apps that were already fired up and ready to go before the Galaxy S8+ was plugged in.
Click for a closer look at the DeX interface.
There are also some apps that won't even launch at all, like Spotify.
As you launch apps, they'll pop up in their own individual windows just as they would on any regular desktop operating system. You can minimize and maximize the windows, too, though you can't resize all apps. Any apps that are coded specifically for smartphones will remain in that form, while apps that were coded for multiple screen sizes will have an easier time conforming to the DeX interface. There are also some apps that won't even launch at all, like Spotify, because they aren't optimized for anything like the DeX format.
Some of the apps are properly optimized for DeX, though, and those are pleasant to use. Adobe Lightroom Mobile, for instance, lets me work in a variety of window sizes, and the Slack app, which is optimized for tablets, lets me use a mouse right-click in the selection field like on the desktop version.
Multiple apps screens on the DeX interface!
Any apps that don't work well with DeX just go unused, for the most part. Or, I'll turn my chair the other way and get back to work with the MacBook Pro. I'm still uneasy about the concept of getting work done with this sort of desktop experience, especially since I'm still have trouble finding a productivity groove with the Chromebook Flip.
I don't think that Samsung intends for DeX to replace your full computer, however – not in this implementation, at least. But I do intend to explore what else a DeX can do besides help you get some work done.