Samsung DeX Dock review: $99 to turn a Samsung phone into a sorta-PC isn't so crazy

The Good Compact size doubles a charging dock. USB, HDMI, Ethernet and USB-C ports support keyboards, mice and monitors. Samsung's clean computer-like layout works well as a basic Chrome-like browser. Multiple apps can run at once in separate windows, even ones that aren't optimized for DeX. Microsoft Office is supported.

The Bad The desktop-style layout requires a monitor or TV to set up, plus BYO computer accessories. Some apps run slowly. Only a few truly DeX-optimized apps exist, and Microsoft Office requires a subscription to use.

The Bottom Line As a $99 way to turn your phone into a makeshift basic PC, Samsung DeX makes the case if you have an extra monitor and some desk space. But it's best used for light browser work.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
Samsung Dex

DeX likes to work with HDMI-enabled TVs and monitors, and not use dongles.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Has the age of phones-as-computers come? Will it ever come?

And do we even need it?

Of course, our phones are already powerful everyday computers. But I'm talking about the connecting-a-keyboard-and-sitting-down-at-a-desk-to-write type of computer.

For a few days I tried to do all my work on a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, sitting at a desk, connected to a keyboard and mouse. I'm doing it with the Samsung DeX, a dock that launched earlier this year that connects to the latest Galaxy phones and turns them into desktop computers, sorta. In some ways, it's remarkable. In others, it's annoying. But so far, color me surprised: DeX works. The question is, would I ever really use it over a regular computer?

I'm working in Google Docs, through my CBS corporate account. Typing this story. Editing it. Posting it in our browser-based content management system. Uploading photos from the phone. Leaving my laptop behind. 

DeX is a dock that works with the Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8. It retails for $150/£130/AU$199, but it can already be found online (in the US, at least) for more than a third off. The phone plugs into the dock. I then connect the dock to a TV or monitor, using HDMI and connect a regular-sized mouse and keyboard (USB or Bluetooth) to the dock and I'm ready to go.

In this case I used a wired keyboard and mouse. The TV was an old monitor in the office. DeX doesn't work with all HDMI-to-monitor dongles: an HDMI-to-DisplayPort didn't work. Samsung recommends regular HDMI for the best effect.


Do you still use a desktop to work?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Welcome to desktop computer-land

Using DeX feels like I'm working at a remote terminal, or a lite Chromebook-like environment. The layout of icons and settings is useful. It reminds me of a generic computer interface, but cleanly done.

Android apps on the phone work, for the most part, and many look just fine on a big-screen monitor. I used Samsung's web browser, and it felt like a desktop.

The experience is pretty amazing, actually, when you think about it: I mean, here I am, doing all my work on my phone. It's happening. The future is here. I can get writing done. I can check Twitter, Slack and my email. I can basically do what I do during a day.

But would I prefer working like this? My typing felt a little imperfect at times: I couldn't tell if I just had a bad keyboard or if there was slight lag. Living in Samsung's web browser was fine, mostly, but few other apps are updated to support DeX. Microsoft has DeX-optimized Office apps for Android, which is fantastic, but they require a subscription to use for writing and editing, which isn't fantastic. (Microsoft considers larger-screened Office apps to operate in a different pay zone than "mobile" ones.) I tried a funky free app called Hancom Office. I settled on Google Drive and Docs in-browser instead.

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung DeX puts your Galaxy S8 phone on your desktop

The future repeats itself

There's a long history of phones trying to become PCs. Microsoft tried this same idea on Windows Phones with Continuum back in 2015. Motorola pursued it with the Atrix, which I used about six years ago back in 2011. DeX is repeating the formula in many ways: just a big-screen experience on a monitor, plus a keyboard/mouse.

But, DeX arrives in world where PCs are becoming increasingly virtualized and invisible. Consider Chromebooks and Chrome-on-a-stick, or Intel's Compute Stick. Samsung DeX feels spiritually similar.