The idea of using a phone as a dedicated computer, whereby connecting it to a computer and the phone somehow morphs into a desktop-caliber operating system and device is a pipe dream. Or is it? ZDNet's Matthew Miller has already taken DeX out on the road and found it to be a worthy laptop replacement.
And I've been using Samsung's new DeX platform for a couple of weeks now and have found a lot to like, and almost as much to hate about the experience.
Throughout the past two weeks of use, I surprised myself each time I would remove my S8 from DeX, only to launch an app a little bit later to see the same tab or document open just as I left it.
Even though as I was using DeX I knew open apps and documents would remain on the device, it is as if my brain has been trained to disassociate any work I perform on a large display with a keyboard and mouse from whatever is on my smartphone.
Right now, my workflow consists of an iMac or iPad as my research and writing tool. My phone is supplemental to those items throughout the day or when I'm away from my desk. But each time I start a project on a given device, it would require me to restart or figure out where I left off when I would switch to another device.
With DeX, there's zero thought involved when trying to continue work. That goes both ways -- putting it in the dock and launching the DeX platform or removing the S8 and using it as a standard smartphone.
With DeX, I'm no longer performing work on machines secluded from one another (save for some form of file syncing through iCloud or Dropbox). Instead, my smartphone morphs into the type device I need at a given moment, and it's incredibly appealing.
The "My Files" app on the S8 and DeX integrates with Google Drive directly on the device, so you can skip using the Google Drive app itself - an app not optimized for DeX - to download, view, and edit files.
While I can wax poetic about the seamless experience all day long, the DeX platform isn't perfect. There are a series of nuances and announces with the platform that will stop it from being the future of computing for a majority of consumers; at least for now.
As with any new platform, the lack of apps that are built to support DeX hurts it in the near term, and potentially longer.
Exactly how long depends on whether or not the platform gains traction and Samsung can persuade more developers to make their apps compatible with DeX.
At launch Samsung has partners like Microsoft and Adobe who've updated some apps to work with DeX, but both require some sort of paid subscription. Granted, most business users are already going to have access to Microsoft's Office 365 suite.
The difference between DeX-compatible apps and standard Android apps lacking any DeX-specific functionality is drastic.
For instance, using the Facebook app gives you a single column view of your news feed. It's the same layout you see when using the Facebook on the phone.
Scrolling through your feed is tricky, with a click of the mouse sometimes accidentally opening a comment thread or enlarging a photo. Getting back to the main news feed is also tricky, as you have to click with the mouse and then figure out which direction to gesture with the mouse to close out the thread. On a few occasions I couldn't figure out how to get back to my feed, and I ended up just closing the app altogether. It's a struggle.
Google Sheets or Google Docs is a similar, frustrating, experience.
Whereas using an updated app, such as Gmail, it's as if you're working on a real computer. Gmail looks like a desktop app (well, more like a tablet app) and works like one, too. The window is resizable, and while it does use gestures for navigation, you can also click and right-click your way through the interface to complete tasks.
Lastly, why isn't there a laptop dock?
I would love to have larger screen and keyboard/trackpad combo in a portable form factor, where the S8 slides into a docking station of sorts, maybe behind the display, and then powers the entire experience.
And no, a tablet isn't the answer.
There were a few times when I was composing an email on my S8 away from my office, where after using DeX, I wished I could complete the email on a larger screen without switching devices.
Indeed, you can carry around a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, HDMI cable, and the DeX station, but then you still have to find a monitor or TV to hook it up to. A DeX laptop would solve that problem.
I know a smartphone powered laptop has been done and failed miserably, but I can dream... right?
At the end of a couple of weeks using DeX, I feel confident performing roughly 85-percent of my daily work on the platform. From conducting research to editing a few spreadsheets to using several different types of publishing platforms in Samsung's browser, I have no issues.
The biggest roadblock for me right now is coming up with a method for editing photos. Adobe's Lightroom is DeX compatible, but I refuse to pay $10 a month to use it.
Hopefully, Samsung will remain committed to updating and improving the DeX platform. It has a lot of potential, and I can see myself using it more than a bloated operating system (Windows and macOS) with a bit more time exploring and adjusting to the DeX platform.