What Samsung DeX can learn from the HP Elite x3

Samsung DeX

Now the buzz from Mobile World Congress has died down a little bit, I've had time to properly go back and digest all the news. For Windows fans, predictably a slow show, with Android once again the overarching dominator.

The pack leader has to be the Samsung Galaxy S9, as anyone could have predicted before the event. But while the phone itself gets all the headlines, I've been curious to see where the Continuum-alike DeX was going for 2018. And I'm still disappointed.

In 2016 HP produced a portfolio with the Elite x3 that showed how to do this. And I'm a little surprised that it's still the best implementation so far of turning a phone into a PC. Samsung and anyone else trying this need to take a look at what late-2016 Windows 10 Mobile had to offer.

Samsung DeX 2.0

Samsung DeX

To be clear up front, I'm not comparing the software here, at all. Comparing a now out to pasture OS with Samsung's latest creation based on Android is both unfair and ridiculous. This is all about the hardware.

So, what did Samsung do for its second attempt at turning a Galaxy into a PC? It's all focused on the dock, and this latest version turns it into something useful, rather than just a cradle for the phone.

It's now a flat rectangle that the phone lies in. Now, just as you can use a Windows phone with Continuum support as a wireless trackpad, so too you can move your finger around on the Galaxy S9 in the same way. It's honestly a neat improvement and shows that Samsung is at least putting thought into improving the user experience.

But there's one thing that's still the same: It's a desktop experience.

Desktops aren't portable, throw in a laptop dock

This notion of the phone in your pocket also being a capable PC is an exciting one. Anyone who has followed Windows phones in the last few years has already experienced it. But one thing that never gelled with me with Continuum was that it always seemed to be a desktop experience. When the Lumia 950 phones launched, they were accompanied by a desktop dock to turn the phone into a desktop PC. Indeed, the Elite x3 even, the focus here, shipped with a desktop dock.

I used to travel a lot for work in a past life, spending at least two or three nights a week in a hotel with a laptop and working on remote sites. Plugging a phone into a TV in a hotel to use like a PC is not practical. For starters, to get real work done you need a keyboard and a mouse. There's also the fact that in some hotels you just can't connect anything to the TV. See my trials and tribulations using Continuum in Hong Kong and China for an example.

Elite x3

That's just one example, but it's one I've heard a lot and seen a fair deal of on social media in the past week or so as well. If you think Samsung DeX can be your mobile PC, I've got bad news for you. There are scenarios you could see docking your phone in a remote location and using it like your own portable PC, but unless a company had a serious enterprise push on these, presumably there would be an actual PC you can use there. Unless ...

What you need, what Samsung needs, is a laptop dock to hook it up to. Just like the HP Lapdock. A laptop dock enables truly mobile computing from your phone. If you're going to use something like this, why wouldn't you want to use it like a laptop? No-one takes a desktop PC with them. If you're doing the whole "look our phone can also be a real PC" thing, make it be a real portable PC.

Razer's concept nails it

Even though it's just a concept, Razer actually demoed what I think a system like this should be back at CES. The company's Project Linda concept is essentially what HP had going with the Elite x3 Lapdock crossed with Samsung's latest DeX dock. Built for the Razer Phone, the smartphone becomes the touchpad but to a laptop, not a desktop.

And this is the key part of all this. Microsoft might have been years ahead of the competition with some of its ideas, but we are where we are and it's the Android crowd now getting the headlines. But people who want or need a desktop PC have a desktop PC. Is it at all reasonable to think folks are going to buy a keyboard, mouse and monitor to use with their smartphone instead of a PC? I don't think so. And if you already have those things, you probably have the PC to go with them.

The HP Elite x3 runs a now dead OS and is still the yardstick for turning a phone into a PC

What Razer showed off was basically a version of its Blade laptop powered by a phone. Samsung also makes (pretty awesome) laptops, as does Huawei, another company to try the whole phone as a PC thing.

Many Windows Central regulars will continue to hang on to Andromeda and what that may or may not eventually bring to the table, but Android phone makers have a different path to follow. It seems, at least for now, Samsung is certainly going to continue plowing ahead with DeX, but next time around it really needs to have a laptop element to it.

Otherwise, what's the point?

The HP Elite x3: Years ahead of its time, running a now dead OS and still the yardstick for turning a phone into a PC.

More: Full coverage of the Samsung Galaxy S9 at Android Central

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

  • It's a little sad that HP had a whole new eco system with new hardware and features for Windows 10 Mobile almost ready to launch. And then they got burned by MS, just like us customers.
  • How could anybody. Truly anybody come to trust Microsoft again. The 90s were about Microsoft violating anti competitive laws. It appears 2010 is about Microsoft violating their own customers. Curious about the future. I think they are smart enough that they will never go under. But back to my original point, they cannot be trusted
  • I agree. I still think killing off windows mobile is (sadly) right but they did it in a horrible way. They should have supported the system (including just a few new smartphones) till Andromeda arrives.
    With a SD835 and an updated Win10m companies could still use Windows Phones and Continuum could have been way better by now. Actually useful with apps in Windows and more app support.
    And then when Andromeda arrives the whole eco system including Lapdocs is ready and Win10m could finally die and let Andromeda take over.
  • Couldn't agree more.
  • I've never understood the concept of 'docking your phone into a laptop form factor'. If you have to carry something around that is the size of a laptop, why not just carry a laptop? It would certainly be a more powerful, better experience that a phone. The desktop dock makes a little more sense, but only marginally so. With the cloud, it's not like the stuff you need to work on it's available to you on whatever device you want to use. The only redeeming factor on this might be on the IT side, where you only would have to support and configure a single device. Otherwise, this sees like something very few people would be interested in.
  • Cloud isn't for everyone. Certainly wasn't for my previous employer. Everything had to be stored locally, usually on encrypted flash drives. But I had a phone and a laptop, but not a phone I could do anything work related on. Using my own experience as an example, I'd have loved to have a phone I could open my PDFs, spreadsheets, CAD images and stuff on and interact with, but also have the ability to quickly open up a laptop dock for a bigger look. Not to mention, a dumb dock with just a screen and a battery should be a ton cheaper than a comparably small and light laptop. The beauty is you only have one device to handle stuff on. Not two. Or more.
  • A dumb lapdock should be cheaper, which is why I don't understand how HP thought they could charge $600 or $700 for one.
  • Not every body needs a powerful laptop & experience is subjective for lots of average users less is more.
    Mobile phones are necessity in today's world but laptops & desktop are not.
    This concept just adds more depth in mobile based computing idea.
  • You carry a laptop to use on a desk, train, etc. But what if you're walking, running, or just waiting in line to get a coffee! You use your phone and not really get the 'whole' laptop out!
  • Biggest problem is the two aren't competing against each other.
  • Asus has this entire form factor figured out...to bad it's asus and they had **** hardware,  and software to complete the deal.  the first padfone.   Phone that docked into a tablet,  that in turn docked into the keyboard with extra battery and storage.   It was the IDEAL concept,  with piss poor asus backing it.      
  • Oh man I remember when I got the Padfone 2 in for review. I wanted to be so excited but the truth was it was an excellent phone you couldn't buy without the utterly useless add-ons!
  • Yep.   Amazing concept.    The pf1 had the pen that you could supposedly use as a handset for calls, etc.  If another company made the padfone, it would have been much better,  but asus.   
  • Andromeda FTW. We will see...
  • Definitely, I hope it's worth it.
  • Anyone with an Elite x3 can get some accessories in the fire sale on HPs site. I think the downside of HP was the cost of the phone and lapdock was high, but it was a first iteration and they were business focused. I'm not sure this presentation is ready for consumer buy-in nor do I think the IT world is truly embracing it outside of saying it. Though, it seems HP is listening as they just release Healthcare machines so it shows they know their audience.
  • hmmm.  Microsoft set off a spark, and it is slowly catching on.  HP knew what they were doing, but had the initial flame smuthered by Microsoft themselves.  It is interesting that in two years time Samsung, Huawei and others still can't come up with a viable, workable mobile solution for power users and business folks.  When is the next Razer device due?
  • I wonder if Microsoft and HP had any type of agreement where Microsoft had to pay HP for their change in strategy making the hardware less marketable? At least Razer has assurances that their OS won't be yanked, though it does not have the beefiness of Windows in a desktop iteration.
  • I don’t think the X3 was made for consumers but more so for Office 365 business users. There is a real use case today for sales reps and consultants to have 1 corporate device in many forms.  Consumers need more horsepower and have different demands. Win 10 mobile didn’t have the apps for consumers undocked to make it viable in that market. 
  • Samsung is building something even better.  It will be a small cylinder that opens up and gives you a screen as well as a virtual keyboard.  
  • Wouldn't they be learning this from the Motorola Atrix or one of those other ancient devices that could power a laptop shell? The HP certainly didn't do this first.
  • Yeah but they did it best. I love using wireless Continuum with the Lapdock
  • I had a NexDock and Lumia 950 and was so disappointed it didn’t work out. I was really looking forward to the 2nd gen X3 only to have it all cancelled by MS. The Lapdock, although not first was truly ahead of its time. Ironically now that my job is heavy on Office 365, if Windows Mobile would have been right this would be a non issue. There is definitely a use case. It’s just ahead of its time as far as the OSes of today.
  • LOL, what to learn? Are you serious?? MS PATHETIC continuum was and is a joke compared to Dex. HP charged $500 for a laptop like dock! Seriously! What kind of idiots do work at HP?? .There is nothing to learn than how to FAIL. Dex has APPS that work in that mode compared to continuum which did not even have multi window support.
  • Smart idiots MMGN, they were geared towards corporate. Corporate buyers go for certian things regardless of costs. I worked in that field for awhile and know how it works. That being said, the whole x3 thing never took off because of MS, NOT HP and hardware prices. Hell as soon as the x3 was released, if not before, MS already stated they were titanic'ing windows 10 mobile. Therefore, the X3 was a dead duck before release. HP were to far into the project to back out so they released it anyways to recoup some money they have invested.  That being said,  If I were HP,  I would be developing android and chrome devices left right and center.  Seeing as MS royally screwed them over. 
  • One item this article didn't touch on is that Samsung is bringing the ability to run a full Ubuntu Linux desktop from a Galaxy S8/S9 in the not so distant future. With Microsoft sinking Windows 10 Mobile and effectively Continuum for a true desktop experience Dex + Ubuntu Linux is probably going to be the best thing out there for anyone wanting to do this.  I do agree that Samsung needs to come up with a laptop Dex dock to really make the experience great. I have a Dex dock at home and use it when I just want to do some light work. But carrying a Dex dock with power and HDMI cables even just to use it with wireless mouse/keyboard and a hotel TV setup is a bit too much of a pain.  Samsung could take their Chromebook Pro 13" laptop and strip out the processor and other components not needed when the computing power is coming from a Galaxy phone and make it a Dex lapdock. That would be a pretty slick setup and I have to think you could get it down to $350 or so or maybe a little less.  I'm a little surprised Google hasn't added a docking function to their Pixel's that gives you a ChromeOS environment when docked.