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Samsung DeX Pad turns the Galaxy S9 into a touchpad PC at MWC

Samsung is still betting there's a future in the phone-based evolution of computers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If phones are becoming predictable, maybe it's the accessories that go with them that can be bold. The latest case in point is Samsung's new DeX Pad -- launched today alongside the company's new 2018 flagship phones, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. It's a second-generation docking station designed to convert those new phones into PC-style workstations in corporate environments. 

I used last year's version, the DeX dock, to turn a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 into my work computer. The experiment worked better than I expected: I could file stories, use my company's browser-based content management system and access Google apps just fine. All I needed was a mouse, a monitor and Samsung's dock to bridge the phone into becoming a "lite" Android computer.

For 2018, the DeX Pad turns Samsung's new S9 into a touchpad driving a PC-style experience you can use with a plug-in monitor. The DeX Pad is only for the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus for now, but it may eventually get an update that'll let it work with the S8.

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Some of the new DeX Pad benefits are clear advantages: It can connect to a monitor at 2K resolution, up from the 1080p maximum of its predecessor. But because the vented dock uses the phone's screen as the touchpad -- it plugs in using the phone's USB-C port -- it blocks access to the rear fingerprint sensor for login. Samsung recommends you use a PIN code or iris scan unlock, but iris scanning would require leaning over the DeX.

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The DeX Pad by itself: a flat dock.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are two USB 2.0 ports and HDMI out on the dock, for physical keyboards, mice, or other accessories. When nothing else is plugged in, the new dock defaults to making the S9 screen a virtual touchpad and soft keyboard.

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The DeX Pad connected to a monitor: it's a multi-window workspace, and the phone's the trackpad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I got to try DeX Pad and the S9 together, but only with the touchpad: The soft keyboard feature wasn't ready yet. Scrolling through apps was fine, but I occasionally missed having haptic feedback or any sort of "click" to tell me whether my tapping was registered. I don't click my MacBook trackpad a ton, but it sometimes comes in handy (and those haptics are virtual clicks, too).

Two-finger multitouch can make documents and web pages scroll, and windows can be resized. Games could theoretically work with DeX controls, too, if they're optimized. I played Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition and was able to tap around.

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Ports on the side.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The DeX Pad is aimed for enterprise and B2B, though: most of the apps and functions are aimed at securely installing suites of apps as needed for targeted sessions, using Samsung Knox security tools. DeX supports Citrix, VMWare, Microsoft Office, and Google's suite of apps. I was able to run just about any other Android app on the S8 as needed, too.

The new DeX Pad doesn't have a price yet. Last year's version currently sells for around $100 (which converts to about £70, or AU$130) on Amazon.

Others have floated phone-computer hybrids and failed: Microsoft tried with Continuum. Google hasn't attempted anything similar in Android. But while other convergences are busy folding phone-like functions into laptops, Samsung is trying to get a bit of PC out of a phone.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are here: We go hands-on with Samsung's new superphones.

MWC 2018: All of CNET's coverage from the biggest phone show of the year.