Samsung DeX is Another Constrained Mobile Experience

Thomas Wellburn
March 30, 2017

During the Samsung unpacked event yesterday, the company unveiled DeX. Like Microsoft and Motorola, the smartphone giant is trying to create a mobile experience that can be enhanced in a desktop environment for added productivity.

Unfortunately, this is where things start to get a bit underwhelming. I’ve always been skeptical of desktop experiences coming from a mobile device for a number of reasons. The primary issue is hardware. No matter how powerful the latest Qualcomm actually are, they still can’t run a smooth, fluid desktop experience. Just look at Windows 10 Mobile running Word on Continuum. While it was a great idea on paper, the hardware simply couldn’t hack it in the real world. What was billed as the ultimate desktop experience on mobile ended up feeling like a slow laptop with much more limitations. The newest Snapdragon and Exynos chips will undoubtedly move us closer to that much anticipated seamless desktop experience… but we’re still a long way from perfection at this point.

DeX Software Constraints

The second issue is software, which has never really been on a par with true desktop systems. Continuum on Windows Mobile was a condensed version of the real thing, offering no control panel, no command prompt and no desktop application support. Motorola’s OneCompute implementation failed because it needed a poorly received Moto-mod to work and never fixed the shortcomings of running Android as a full operating system. Then there was the Motorola Atrix back in 2012, which failed because of the huge laptop-like peripheral required to use it.

Samsung DeX will likely see more success because it’s a newer product with improved hardware, though the software side remains much the same. Android simply doesn’t work as a desktop operating system. It needs heavy UI customisation to function more stable as a desktop OS, which hurts application support. Samsung has said that a few partners will be on board to fully utilise DeX, the most notable being Microsoft and Adobe, but the majority will still offer no real benefits to the mobile experience. It’s still a mobile operating system, running mobile apps, in a mobile environment. The only difference is that you’re using a mouse and keyboard to interact.

Microsoft May Have The Answer

Until we have the ability to run real desktop applications that offer benefits to mobile equivalents, there’s still little reason to jump on the mobile docking experience. Microsoft is making by progress by bringing X86 apps to ARM chips, but it is currently limited to Snapdragon 835 chips only. This is the best mobile processor currently available and gives an idea of the power needed to run such apps. The company has hinted in the past about creating a Surface Phone that would function as a full desktop computer, but I suspect they’re waiting to see what Intel’s upcoming line of mobile CPUs can achieve. Ultimately, there will always be a place for desktop computers because people demand power. This is still the Achilles in smartphone computing. While the day will arrive where smartphones catch up, it’s not there yet.

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