On the road with Samsung DeX: Almost good enough to leave the laptop behind

Over the past two weeks I traveled to Florida and New York on business trips with my Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and the Samsung DeX. The experience wasn't perfect, but it's the closest we've got to using just your phone for computing.

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There have been a few articles here on ZDNet regarding the Samsung DeX accessory and whether it offers a desktop experience for the enterprise or is better served as an option to a Chromebook. I tried using it as my work computer in hotel rooms after spending most of my days in meetings with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and a paper notebook.

Hardware required

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In order to use a Samsung DeX device, you need a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, the DeX, an HDMI cable, USB Type C power cable, mouse, and keyboard. The DeX retail package includes an HDMI cable, so you won't need to purchase one for your trip.

While the Samsung DeX includes a couple USB ports, I wanted to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. You must set up your mouse and keyboard prior to dropping your Galaxy S8 into the DeX, or you won't be able to navigate on your connected display.

I have a Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse that I use with my Microsoft Surface Pro 4, so at first, I tried connecting it with my Galaxy S8 Plus. I was able to connect the mouse, but it did not function with the S8 Plus. I then connected the Samsung Bluetooth mouse that Samsung provided for evaluation, and it worked perfectly with the mouse pointer immediately appearing on my Galaxy S8 Plus -- even without the phone docked in DeX.

The Microsoft Wedge Bluetooth keyboard connected quickly and easily as well. This is one of my favorite keyboards to use with my mobile devices. There are foldable Bluetooth keyboards available so you can minimize your travel package, which is what I would do if I was planning to travel with the DeX on a regular basis.

DeX software experiences

A few of my initial DeX experiences were contained in my full Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review, and after these two business trips, I was able to further explore what apps worked and which did not. For work, it was fantastic to see the Microsoft Office suite worked perfectly in full screen mode on the DeX. If you spend a lot of time in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, then you won't be disappointed by the DeX experience.

The default Samsung apps work well so I was able to use web browser, email client with Exchange, calendar, and file browser without issue. While you can open multiple instances of some apps, such as the file explorer, you cannot drag and drop between them like you can on a desktop computer. I would like to see better My Files support for such desktop-like functionality. Drag-and-drop support is provided between the image gallery and email/messages app, so it is possible we will see this provided for My Files in the future.

Many non-Samsung apps also work just fine in window or full screen mode, including Google Chrome, Google Plus, Google Play Movies, and more. Some apps, like Twitter, will expand to full screen layout, but they are not optimized for the DeX experience and have poor layout on a big screen.

A number of apps are limited to just the phone format, so you cannot make the viewable area any larger. These include Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, and others. Lastly, there are some apps that do not work at all with DeX. I found that Spotify and Xfinity TV simply pop up a warning and then shut down when you attempt to use them with the DeX.

Keyboard shortcuts and mouse right-click functionality is supported by DeX, so you definitely get an advanced smartphone experience when you dock in the DeX.

Can you leave the laptop behind?

Currently, carrying a DeX, keyboard, mouse, and associated cables doesn't save you much over carrying something like a Surface Pro 4 and A/C adapter. You also need to make sure you have a TV in your hotel room or work location to connect to your DeX, because you certainly don't want to be packing around a display with everything else.

Samsung will sell millions of the new Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, so it is possible hotels and other venues could provide DeX docking stations so that all you need to do is plug in your Samsung smartphone. This would be the ideal for the future of DeX, and I look forward to that possibility.

Most of the apps I needed to get work done performed well, so I was able to be productive with the DeX and could have left my Surface Pro 4 behind. I use my smartphone as my primary computing device throughout the day, so extending that experience to a bigger screen with more capable input devices is an attractive option.

Related ZDNet Samsung Galaxy S8 coverage:

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