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My Samsung DeX experience


An image meant to represent Samsung DeX as a viable option for on-the-go productivity tasks. Image generated with the assistance of Dall-E3. 

I've had the opportunity of first trying out the Samsung DeX experience ever since I got my Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The ability to transform your mobile phone into an Android-based laptop/desktop was an interesting proposition. All you need is an external monitor that is capable of being used via a USB-C connection (I heard that the newer implementation of DeX can be cast wirelessly on a display that supports it) or via a USB-C docking station with HDMI output. You can make use of your phone as an input device (both as a TouchPad or as the keyboard) but it is better if you have a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. 

I didn't find it that compelling to use since I was only able to use it at home via my desktop monitor (it wasn't portable for me with that configuration but if you have a big enough Samsung Tablet, this can replace some of the functionality of a laptop), and besides I was already using a Chromebook as my daily driver so having android apps available on a laptop form factor wasn't that interesting to me anymore. My Chromebook had a touch screen and was powered by a reasonably capable m5 Intel chip. Running Linux apps wasn't really an option either so that's another minus point for the DeX use-case. (I have heard that having a Linux on DeX, LoD, was being developed but as I understand it, the project is now dead - too bad). 

I couldn't really think of a situation in which I would be using it regularly (it felt more like a novelty to me) except probably in a pinch and even then I probably would not have bothered setting up a keyboard mouse and monitor just to get things done. I'd probably do it on the phone itself despite the smaller screen. As far as writing long articles using my phone, I was already using that using a Logitech KB480 Multi-Device Bluetooth Wireless keyboard with my phone on landscape mode and there was no need for the DeX interface. I would sometimes would just bring that keyboard (which is by no means a lightweight keyboard I might add) if I don't want to bring along the much bulkier Chromebook and that setup would serve me well for a time. 

The DeX interface was meant to mimic a full-fledged desktop operating system environment with a program dock area, multiple resizable windows on the screen, and a program launch bar that is really meant for bigger screens. 

Another big hindrance to adoption from my experience, is the dearth of available programs in Android that would replace mainstream desktop apps. This isn't much of a problem with productivity tools such as word processors and spreadsheets since Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace have very much addressed that limitation with their offerings. I'm talking more about that one essential software that you often use that just doesn't have a viable Android alternative. Most of the programs I used to work with only worked on full desktops and the alternatives on Android were few and far between. 

Recently, there have been several developments that made me take another look at Samsung DeX, and have been using it more and more when I'm doing light tasks like writing on my blogs whenever I'm outside in a Cafe for example. These are:
  1. Perhaps the primary reason is the obsolescence of my Chromebook. I still use it at home when I need to use some Linux apps despite it already being out of support. 
  2. Another big influence is my purchase of a lightweight  Touchscreen portable monitor. Getting used to a touchscreen laptop for quite a while and then shifting to a normal screen is quite jarring for me. I have the added bonus of extending my Chromebook to 2 touchscreens and using it with my phone works great also. 
  3. The reason why I enjoy writing again is because I finally jumped onto the wireless mechanical keyboard bandwagon. It's a fully customizable one with interchangeable keycaps and switches with customizable RGB backlights. Doing my clickety-clack noises while in a Cafe is so satisfying and no amount of strange looks from the other patrons will deter me. 
  4. I have recently discovered the fascinating world of PKM (personal knowledge management) and the Obsidian software (which works the exact same way on my Windows desktop, in my Chromebook via Linux, and on  Samsung DeX - of course, it looks a bit different on my phone's smaller screen but that is to be expected). It has replaced my workflow in terms of how I brainstorm blog/article ideas, provides a clutter-free interface in which to draft those ideas, and has inspired me to write regularly again. It has even replaced my to-do list app and to a certain extent my note-taking/journal app (I used Google Keep heavily before), and how I interlink those ideas. Great stuff! I'll definitely write about it on the blog soon. 
  5. And last but certainly not the least, my trusty Logitech MX Anywhere 2 wireless mouse which I have been using for ages on both my phone and Chromebook and I can't seem to remember when was the last time I recharged it. It seems that it just magically works by drawing energy from my willpower and enthusiasm or perhaps Logitech lets loose pixies that charge their devices when nobody is looking. 

The only software that I need that I can't find alternatives to in DeX is GnuCash which is my personal finance tracking software that can run in Windows and in Linux. This software has actually freed me from being confined to Windows ever since I migrated from using Quicken. Fortunately, I don't update my financial tracking stuff every day and have the option to keep my receipts in my wallet for the meantime (the transactions without receipts I quickly jot down in Obsidian) and just update GNUCash on weekends. 

In summary, I think that depending on the use case, Samsung DeX can definitely replace a full-fledged laptop for those on-the-go light tasks. Do bear in mind that not all of your mobile applications will work on DeX mode and some that do may not behave quite right. Having a portable touchscreen monitor, a good keyboard, and a mouse, can be a big plus in recreating that laptop experience. Your experience may vary of course depending on your individual needs, the software you work with, and the specific model of your Samsung handset. 

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