The new S8 flagship mobile from Samsung has had a lot of fanfare over its new “Infinity” screen and contextually aware digital assistant Bixby – but oddly WIRED was perhaps most impressed with a new dock accessory, almost casually introduced after the reveal of the handset itself.
Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+: everything you need to know about the new phones
This dock effectively turns your mobile into a home PC that can run Windows Word, PowerPoint and Excel. After you lower the S8 into the DeX, it couples the smartphone to an HDMI compatible monitor and connects to any Bluetooth-enabled, USB or RF-type keyboard and mouse.
The screen wakes up on docking and quick as a flash you are looking at not a mirror of the handset’s display but what appears to be a regular run-of-the-mill PC desktop.
The reason for this is Samsung has completely redesigned the Android UI so it is optimised for use with keyboard and mouse. This pimped UI offers up those familiar multiple resizable windows, contextual menus and a desktop web browser. In short, you immediately feel you are working on a normal home computer.
The DeX Station itself not only houses and fast charges your S8, it has some ports you’d expect from a PC: two USB 2.0, ethernet and USB-C. For the security conscious, while connected to the DeX, the smartphone is protected by the Samsung Knox security platform and no mobile data is transferred from the device to the “desktop”.
Collaborations with Microsoft and Adobe mean Samsung DeX is compatible with Microsoft Office and Adobe mobile apps, including Adobe Acrobat Reader mobile and Lightroom Mobile. The apps themselves have been altered, too, as part of that pimping of the UI. Microsoft Word, for example, looks more like the full-fat home PC version and not the mobile one. However, DeX also allows users to remotely access virtual desktops through offerings including Citrix, VMware and Amazon Web Services should you need access to Windows OS-based apps.
Samsung describes DeX as “the ultimate productivity environment” – one that “provides an Android-based desktop-like experience that enables users to seamlessly access apps, edit documents, browse the web, watch videos, reply to messages and more, directly from the smartphone on a larger display, keyboard and mouse”. This is typical multinational corporation-speak that makes something quite cool sound terribly dull.
DeX is one of those incredibly useful ideas that immediately makes you wonder why it wasn’t done before, and when you think that it nearly always means its a quality concept.
Samsung Bixby: first impressions of the Galaxy S8’s Siri-rival
Yes, the concept is not entirely new, after all there are existing laptop systems that dock into home accelerators that pimp the performance. There are also ‘laptops’ that run entirely off your mobile phone. The difference there is that is combining two mobile computing solutions – whereas this aims to make a mobile computer your home computer, too, especially if all you do is browse the web, email, create docs, spreadsheets and presentations (i.e. almost everyone, then).
The secret to DeX is that it runs purely off the powerful 10nm processor on the S8. It is this advance in processing power that finally makes this sort of slick functionality possible.
Perhaps the main takeaway here is that DeX immediately makes most old home PCs look anachronistic and obsolete. After WIRED spent just a few minutes using the dock, it was easy to see that it could handle 90 per cent of what most use a computer for, and present it all in a familiar, windows-based manner. Indeed, many websites opened in full desktop version and not the mobile one, despite running on a docked S8.
The one trick missed here, WIRED feels, is that more might have been squeezed into that dock. Wouldn’t it be great if, like those laptop accelerators, once you docked your S8 you got a bump in performance and graphics processing power, too? Maybe that’s to come. And the industrial design of the dock itself is not that attractive.
One thing’s for sure: Apple owners will be looking on with envious eyes wanting their own Cupertino version of the DeX.
The DeX Station will be available with the Galaxy S8 and may be offered as a packaged bundle depending on region.