Samsung’s $180 DeX Pad is a docking station that turns a Galaxy S9 or S9 phone into a desktop computer. On paper it looks like a good idea. In practice it’s less useful than you might expect. At least not for most people.
The DeX Pad is a lightweight black plastic box that lies flat on a desk or table top. It has a cheap, flimsy feel. This is in stark contrast to premium finish of the Galaxy 9 phone. You plug a Samsung Galaxy 9 or 9 phone into it using the USB-C port. This also lies flat, which is a potential minor problem as we will see.
There are two USB 2 ports. You can use these to connect a keyboard and a mouse. A HDMI port connects the DeX Pad to a screen. There’s another USB-C port for the DeX Pad’s power supply. It comes with a New Zealand-style wall plug, but the cable is on 1 metre long, which may not be enough for many people.
The box is a little bigger than the Galaxy S9 phone. It measures 84 by 158 mm. When it sits on its little rubber footpads, the height is around 15 mm plus a small lump with the USB-C phone connector. That adds another 15 mm to the height.
On its own, the DeX Pad weighs 135 g. Together a Dex Pad and a Galaxy S9 phone weigh around 300 g. The two weigh less than, say, an iPad or a small, light laptop.
So all good to go? Well no. The DeX Pad is meaningless without a screen and you really need a keyboard to get much value. Carrying both along with the various cables and power supplies is far harder than taking a tablet or a laptop. Even if you know you can expect to find a suitable screen at your destination, you still have to carry a satchel full of kit.
When you get to your destination it takes time to hook everything up. The inventory of parts you need to carry includes phone, DeX Pad, keyboard, two cables and, perhaps, a mouse. Which mean there’s risk of leaving something behind. Taking a laptop or tablet would be far less trouble.
If you’re OK with all that, DeX Pad has another drawback: Android.
Whatever your opinion of Android as a phone operating system, it is not the best desktop OS. Windows, MacOs or Linux are better in almost every conceivable circumstance. The DeX Pad Android desktop OS feels a little like ChromeOS, but Google’s browser-based operating system would have been a better choice. Indeed, any of the OSs mentioned earlier would give you a better and more productive experience.
That’s not to say Android needs to be awful on the desktop, but Samsung has not done enough work on the software user experience. For example, some apps appear in portrait mode windows that mimic how they would look on a phone. Others have lots of white space. Almost nothing makes the best use of the screen real estate.
The good news is that most apps popular with IT departments and the enterprise users likely to choose Dex Pad now have decent Android versions. You could run, say, Microsoft Office or G-Suite this way.
Microsoft Word functions as expected. But performance is poor. Even the cheapest Windows 10 PC has less lag than a Galaxy and Dex Pad. At times the cursor jerks slowly almost painfully across the screen.
You can choose to use the phone screen as a touch pad instead of a mouse. It’s just as jerky and at times unpredictable. Likewise the double-tapping to click can be tricky when the touch pad function decides to be unresponsive.
Because the phone lies flat on the desk, you can’t use the fingerprint reader. So if you leave the Dex Pad long enough for it to go to sleep, you have to lift the phone in its cradle and turn it through 180 degrees to use the face recognition. There’s little that is downright bad, but lots of small niggles add up to a less than stellar user experience.
Don’t even think of running a fast moving game on this combination. Of course that’s not what Samsung designed the device for. The target is enterprise users.
Samsung DeX Pad verdict
Samsung’s marketing suggests a Galaxy S-series phone owning consumer might choose Dex Pad instead of buying a desktop or laptop computer. They would be disappointed.
Dex Pad would be handy if you’re in sales and turn up at a customer’s office to present with, say, PowerPoint. It might be useful if you stop overnight in hotels where you can plug the Dex Pad into the TV set. Beyond that there is not an obvious market for the product.
Say you shuttle between, say, a home office and a company office. You would need screens and keyboards sitting waiting at both locations. You’d be better off buying two computers.
And that’s the problem. The idea is not silly. After all, phones are powerful and dominant. And the phone business is short of fresh thinking. One day a Dex Pad-like product might arrive and change the face of personal computing. We’re not at that day yet. The execution lacks too much for Dex Pad to be a serious PC alternative. For now it is likely to appeal to a tiny niche.