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Desktop in your Pocket

Apps_dex_feature07_pcAs if Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ superphones weren’t the current last word in mobility with thin profiles, large high-resolution screens and top-class processors, they add one big new item to the mix that can’t be matched. With the $150 DeX Station fold-open dock, you can connect the phone to a display and keyboard, effectively transforming it into the equivalent of a desktop PC. When it’s time to move to a new class, you can pull the phone from the dock and put in your pocket.

You’d think that after Samsung’s Note 7 disaster, the company would go conservative, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The S8 and S8+ are marvels that squeeze even more power and potential into smaller packages.

The key is how quickly Android software has caught up with Mac and PC apps. With the addition of Android versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint, there’s little need to get a more expensive and sometimes cranky Windows computer when a phone is all you’ll need. Plus, those schools that use Windows client-server emulation software, the DeX-S8 combo includes Citrix and VMware software built in as well as apps for Skype and Adobe Lightshop. The phone can natively run Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube apps.

On the downside, many general-purpose and educational apps haven’t been adapted to work with DeX and can’t run full-screen or are missing some features. Look for more companies to jump on the DeX bandwagon with optimized desktop Android apps.

Inside, the S8 and S8+ are like tiny tablets. Powered by a Qualcomm 8-core Snapdragon 835 processor that runs at a top speed of 2.35GHz, the chip delivers faster action but uses less power than earlier versions. Each phone comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space, so it can handle just about any task – online or off. All this adds up to a powerful phone that scored between 30 and 40 percent higher on the GeekBench 4 single- and multi-processor tests compared to a year-old Galaxy S6.

S8+ and s8The Galaxy S8 and S8+ with their 5.8- and 6.2-inch AMOLED screens (versus 5.1- and 5.5-inches for the S7 and S7 Edge models) are not only among the brightest displays available but can show super-sharp UHD resolution. Still, with all it has, the S8 is thinner, narrower and slightly lighter than the S7 or S7 Edge.

The DeX dock is the phone’s perfect companion with the ability to connect a display, keyboard, mouse and more. The back of the fold-open DeX Station dock has a USB C, pair of USB 2.0 and an HDMI connection, but neither a VGA port for connecting to an older display nor an audio jack. Using the dock’s Bluetooth capabilities put sound it its place. It has an Ethernet port for connecting to the school’s network or you can use the phone’s WiFi or mobile data abilities.

When closed, DeX has a Moon Pie look, but open it and it has a pair of interlocking circlular plastic pieces. The upright portion looks like a Qi inductive charging plate, but all it does is hold the phone inplace. All dock-to-phone connections are made via a Type C USB plug. It’ll likely require some patience and trial and error get the phone and plug to line up.

EE-MG950_004_Front-Slide-Open_BlackSetting up the phone-to-screen connection took a few minutes with an S8 phone, but it’s time well spent. Rather than a tall thin image of the phone’s screen showing up on the display, you get a full landscape view of the phone’s contents in HD resolution. Later when I docked the phone, it took 8 seconds for the phone to link up with the dock, screen, keyboard and mouse.

Overall, it looks and feels a lot more like what you’re used to with a PC, Mac or Chromebook and less like a phone. When its connected, the keyboard, mouse or incoming call can wake up the phone. In addition to printing, the DeX dock lets you drag and drop items between windows, use Control-V, -C, and -X and right click to get contextual menus.

While it worked fine with Word, Excel and Acrobat, the Kiwix version of the PHET science and math simulations show up in partial-screen portrait format. Clearly, a work in progress, you can’t set up printing with a right click, the system balked at opening older PowerPoint files and Samsung’s vaunted voice-activated artificial intelligence agent, Bixby, won’t be available for another six months in the U.S.

EE-MG950_002_Back1_BlackStill, it has the phone-desktop dynamic down pat. When a call comes in, it shows up on the desktop and you can take it, ignore it or push it to the voicemail system for a message. Unfortunately, when it comes to using Skype for video chats in the DeX holder, the S8 camera is aimed at the ceiling, but it can be re-aimed by propping up the phone to point it downward; a stack of business cards or Post-It note pad works well.  

Overall the Dex concept has its pros and cons. To start, for the school, there’s one device to buy, set up and maintain. On the other hand, at $150 plus the $750 (for the S8) or $850 (for the S8+) it’s not a cheap set up. But, instead of some bits of data being scattered on a phone, notebook, tablet and online repositories, it’s all in one place.

Is the Galaxy 38/Dex combo a powerful phone or a mini desktop computer? The answer is yes.

A

Apps_dex_feature06_pc

Samsung Galaxy S8 with DeX dock

$750/$150

+ Phone to screen connection

+ Wired Ethernet included

+ Excellent desktop software

+ Single place to put files

+ Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other apps

- Lacks VGA and audio output

- Hard to aim camera for video calls

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