Samsung DeX 101: Turn a Galaxy phone into your primary computer

Samsung's Galaxy smartphones are extremely powerful, and with the DeX platform, these phones can power a desktop experience that includes productivity, creativity, and communication applications.

Video: Samsung brings DeX to tablets with the Galaxy Tab S4

The promise of using your phone as your primary computer is becoming a reality.

Modern smartphones are more powerful than the computers used just a few years ago, but over the past decade, we have seen unsuccessful attempts to turn our handheld devices into computers. Recall the Palm Foleo in 2007, the Redfly Mobile Companion in 2009, or the Motorola Atrix in 2011.

Microsoft looked to have a promising product with Continuum, but then we saw the end of Windows 10 Mobile. In early 2017, Samsung launched the DeX Dock with the Galaxy S8, and it has significantly improved its functionality at regular intervals with enhanced support launching with each successive new flagship Galaxy phone.

Must read: Samsung's Galaxy S8 does DeX: Is it a Chromebook challenger or virtual desktop play?

What is Samsung DeX?

Samsung DeX is much more than docking station hardware; it's a platform that turns your smartphone into a desktop computing experience. The newest Galaxy Tab S4 and Galaxy Note 9 extend the DeX experience to an external monitor through an HDMI cable with no docking station hardware required.

The DeX platform contained within compatible Samsung smartphones and tablets projects a full desktop environment to an external monitor in a desktop mode. Apps optimized for DeX look and function similar to what you find in a PC environment so that you can truly experience full computing without having to work with magnified phone apps.

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

Who will use Samsung DeX?

While consumers could likely get by with using their phone as their only computer, and thus be perfectly satisfied with DeX as a desktop computing experience, the major focus of DeX is the enterprise.

There are a number of use cases and business customers for DeX, detailed below, but a key reason DeX is valuable to the enterprise is that smartphones have become tools that are always with us, so having a mobile and desktop-capable device in one saves money, improves security, enhances productivity, and satisfies end users who are often frustrated with their desktop computing experience.

Also: DeX review: Turn your Galaxy S8 and Note 8 into a PC CNET

When smartphones serve as the primary computing platform for a business, IT can easily keep them updated, the phones can be tracked or erased if lost or stolen, employees can work at flexible workstations throughout the business or around the world, custom apps can be deployed for the business, employees can travel with a lighter pack, and a singular device can be used for all work-related tasks.

Road warriors

The first DeX Station was a bit chunky and to fully enjoy a desktop experience you had to connect to an external monitor while also packing around the DeX Station, an external keyboard, and a mouse. This made for a package that wasn't saving much over a laptop, assuming you used a monitor on site. The subsequent DeX Pad allowed your Samsung smartphone to serve as a mouse and keyboard so there was space and weight savings for road warriors. With the new DeX experience, you can leave the DeX Station and the DeX Pad at the office and just travel with an HDMI cable and your Galaxy phone.

Also: Samsung DeX Pad turns the Galaxy S9 into a PC workstation CNET

One aspect of being out of the office for an extensive amount of time is having to remember to transfer projects and data from one device to another. With a Samsung mobile device as your only computing platform, that issue goes away. Road warriors also now only need to charge up one device, do not have to be fluent on a couple of different computing platforms, have a centralized single device for communications, and only have to keep track of one device while moving between airports, trains, cars, and more.

Emergency response/law enforcement

One of the first business sectors to adopt Samsung DeX was first responders. iKey announced a keyboard/display combo that put a full workstation in a responding vehicle when a compatible Samsung phone was docked. Officers are able to collect photos and data on the phone while on scene and then dock the phone to continue the experience with a full keyboard and monitor.

Also: 10 Samsung DeX tips and tricks CNET

Emergency response and law enforcement vehicles often experience excessive environments and forces. In the past rugged computers that could handle these activities were purchased at high prices. With a Samsung smartphone and a DeX docking solution, a significant cost savings can be realized. Responders can also save time in organizing photos and documenting situations when the phone works seamlessly with the docking station.

Hospitality and travel

Business centers are common in hotels and at airports, but these require computers, monitors, keyboards, and personnel to maintain and keep them secure. It is common for visitors to log into their accounts on these shared computers, opening themselves up for security breaches.

If these business centers simply had external monitors, keyboards, mice, and DeX stations then the users could be responsible for their own security, provide the computing power, and also enjoy a familiar desktop computing experience across the world.

SMB

Hardware can be expensive to purchase, maintain, and upgrade. Small businesses also may have limited office space, so optimizing the space for shared workstations or providing a means for easily conducting remote work may be desirable. Samsung smartphones with DeX stations can achieve these goals for less money.

Also: Samsung DeX will finally give life to the Linux smartphone TechRepublic

Small businesses may also have minimal or outsourced IT support so using Samsung smartphones and DeX stations can save on the cost of computing support.

Real Estate

Realtors live on their phones as communication with buyers and sellers is essential to their success. While phones are key for communications, they are also important for capturing photos, collecting a client's requirements and desires, performing monetary calculations, and more. Realtors also spend a significant amount of time on the road, exploring houses, and in shared office spaces.

Samsung DeX docking solutions can be set up in each of these places and the realtor could easily connect their Samsung device, conduct business, and then disconnect and be on the road again. Model homes could have an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse so that multiple realtors could dock and use these tools without worrying about security or client confidentiality.

How can you use Samsung DeX?

Connect your compatible Samsung Galaxy phone to a DeX docking device, an external display, a Bluetooth or USB mouse, and a Bluetooth or USB keyboard, and you are ready to experience a desktop experience with very few limitations. Even better, connect a Galaxy Tab S4 or Galaxy Note 9 to an HDMI cable and enjoy the more extensive desktop world.

DeX platforms

The DeX Station was the first piece of hardware launched for the DeX platform. This 230g puck has a round platform that angles up to hold your phone in a reclined vertical position. The DeX Station has an integrated cooling fan and also acts as a phone charger.

There are ethernet, HDMI, USB 2.0, and USB Type C ports on the back of the DeX Station. It is available now for just $69.99 with an original launch price of $149.99.

This year's DeX Pad is a flat device where your compatible Samsung phone rests on its back plugged into the USB-C port. Your Samsung phone can serve as a keypad and keyboard, too, so you could just have an external monitor and enjoy a DeX computing experience.

Also: How Samsung DeX updates improve the Galaxy enterprise experience

The DeX Pad is currently priced at just $68.88, regular price of $99.99, and includes HDMI, USB 2.0, and USB Type C ports. There is no ethernet port on the DeX Pad, but it also does have a cooling fan and charges up your phone while in use. It only weighs 135.4g, so it is a more portable solution than the DeX Station.

Supported smartphones and tablets

Samsung DeX launched with the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, so those devices are fully supported. In addition, the Galaxy S8 Active, Note 8, Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, and new Galaxy Note 9 all work with the Samsung DeX platform. Additional functionality was added with the Android Oreo update, so make sure your phone is updated to this version of Android.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Tab S4: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

Samsung recently launched the Galaxy Tab S4 and it is the first tablet to support DeX.

Desktop applications

The software side of the DeX platform has advanced significantly over the past 18 months and continues to get better as Samsung develops partnerships with developers and industries develop custom solutions. While you can use every app installed on your phone on the external monitor, the best desktop experience will take place through optimized apps. In addition, your phone continues to function as a phone so you can make calls, send/receive text messages, and more while connected in the DeX configuration.

The first thing you will see when you connect your DeX setup is a full display with a background image, application shortcuts, and a launcher for your apps. Multitasking is fully supported, too, so if you have a large external monitor, you can easily run a number of apps at the same time. The Samsung smartphones have stunning power and capability to enable the use of many apps at once.

Also: The best tablets for 2018: Our top picks TechRepublic

Many apps are optimized for the large screen, and this is where the real power of DeX comes into play. With these optimized apps you can see more content such as your email folders with email preview panes on one display. Email, Samsung Internet Browser, Microsoft Office apps, Microsoft Outlook, AutoCAD Mobile, Adobe Photoshop apps, Google Chrome, GoToMeeting, Gmail, YouTube, Spotify, and more are all optimized for DeX. While not related to the enterprise, there are several games that are also optimized for DeX, so if you need a break from work that is a possibility, too.

While there are optimized apps and phone apps that work in a smaller view, sometimes more computing capability is needed. Thankfully, remote access virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) capability is provided through solutions such as Citrix Receiver, VMware Horizon Client, and Amazon WorkSpaces. With one of these solutions active, you can see a full window into your Windows computer back at the office and work without any limits.

Keyboard shortcuts, drag-and-drop, and right-click functionality is also supported when in DeX mode. These action mirror typical desktop experiences and will soon have you forgetting that your phone is powering the entire experience.

Accessories

In addition to one of the DeX docking solutions, to enjoy a full desktop experience you should have a Bluetooth mouse and Bluetooth keyboard connected to your Samsung phone. Connect and set up each of these devices in your phone's Bluetooth settings before you connect to the DeX dock. You can also use USB peripherals connected through one of the DeX docking solutions.

Also: How to use the updated S Pen with Bluetooth in Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 TechRepublic

If no mouse is connected, you can use your Samsung phone display as a trackpad when connected using the DeX Pad. When a keyboard is not connected, your display can also turn into a virtual software keyboard when text fields are selected. This is clearly a compromised experience, but works when traveling light without a keyboard available.

With USB ports in the DeX docking stations, just about anything with a USB cable will work on DeX. This includes speakers, a webcam, high performance microphone, external hard drives, and more. Some peripherals may require related apps.

DeX alternative

While Samsung is currently leading the way with its DeX computing solution, others are starting to look at making the smartphone the primary computing device for everyone. Huawei recently launched its Desktop Mode in its newest phones. When an HDMI cable is connected to an external display (no extra hardware needed), a desktop environment is projected from the phone to the monitor.

Also: Smartphone PC modes: Huawei Mate 10 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

There are a very limited number of apps that currently support Desktop Mode, and many apps installed on the Huawei phone do not even show up on the external display when in Desktop Mode. Huawei has a lot of work to do to make this solution satisfactory for the enterprise and at the moment it is primarily a novelty for some basic tasks.

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