Hands On: Samsung Galaxy S8 and Dex Station
26 October 2017 | 0
While we are a little late to the Galaxy S8 party, with the overwhelming assessment being it is a great device, more on that later, this review is looking at the S8 in conjunction with the Dex Station.
The Dex Station is a dock that turns your already powerful smart connected device (SCD) into a fully-fledged desktop. Despite there being a plethora of options for the road warrior, mobile worker or just being caught short and having to do something complicated, there has been a trend towards smart phones being able operate as a desktop in some way recently, with the now ill-fated Microsoft Lumia 950 models offering a very competent experience.
“The core apps that you are likely to need, Microsoft’s Office suite of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are optimised for the format and away you go. For the time you need it to be a desktop, it is. When you are finished, pop the phone in your pocket, the Dex in your other and away you go.”
The scenario goes that you are away off to a HQ, a branch office or a client and want to travel light with the minimum of clutter. All you have to do is one presentation and off you go. The answer? Bring your phone. Connect it wirelessly to a display and off you go. But then, your audience is so impressed with you and your presentation, that you have to stay on and do more. Oh.
Fortunately, having wowed the room with the presentation from your Galaxy S8, you had the fore thought to put your Dex Station in your other pocket (it would fit) and so all you need is power and a hot desk (with monitor and Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, preferably Ethernet). HDMI connects you to a screen, Bluetooth to your interface devices and Ethernet gives you full network bandwidth.
The core apps that you are likely to need, Microsoft’s Office suite of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Sumsung’s own, are optimised for the format and away you go.
For the time you need it to be a desktop, it is.
When you are finished, pop the phone in your pocket, the Dex in your other and away you go.
Or so it goes.
Looking at the S8 first, the review model is the European specification SM-G950F. This is important as the S8 is available in two primary variants, that above for EMEA featuring Samsung’s own Exynos 9 Octa 8895 (10nm), not the Snap Dragon 835 as they are for the USA and China markets. Why? No one seems to be sure and the issue is muddied further by the fact that a fairly exhaustive set of tests from respected mobile mega-site GSMArena has found that overall, there is little to choose between the two models. It may be more to do with legal issues, or perhaps supply and demand for the Snap Dragon 835 chipset, which Samsung had exclusivity on initially for the S8, over rivals such as LG.
Regardless, the core spec is still very impressive.
The S8 is powered by the Samsung Exynos 9 Octa (8895) octa-core processor chipset, with an ARM Mali-G71 MP20 GPU, supported by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage expandable by up to 256GB with an SD card.
The screen is an exquisite AMOLED, 1440 x 2960 pixels (default) resolution 147mm job that has beautiful colour depth and clarity, supporting the other major differentiator of the S8 line: the camera.
The camera takes stills like an SLR, with very good low light and dynamic range performance. With many smart features such as face recognition, optimisations can be set to elevate even the most inept shooter to a near David Bailey capability.
On the video side, you can go from 240 to 30fps, depending on the resolution being shot, but 4K video is possible, and it can handle 4K playback even more easily.
Connections and OS
There are all the connectivity options you would expect right up to the latest 4G, as well as Wi-Fi of 801.11as and n, plus built in standards such as Google Cast and Miracast. Bluetooth is similarly spec’ed with version 5. All of this sits on Android 7, Samsung Experience 8.1, and for the business and security conscious user Know 2.8.
With many clever features built in, as we have come to expect from the Galaxy line, one such a notable one is the Blue Light Filter. If you simply cannot leave the phone alone for that hour before bed, turn on the blue light filter to stop its deleterious effects on your sleep cycle, and drift off happily.
However, the other major point of note for the S8 is Bixby, Samsung’s virtual assistant. Swipe right from the lovely edge screen, and Bixby appears, with voice control. What differentiates Bixby from other VAs is the voice control and application integration. For instance, tell it open email, and show all mail from a certain sender, or everything going to a recipient. Ask Bixby to open the clock and set an alarm for 07:00 tomorrow.
An extension is the Bixby Vision augmented reality overlay for the camera. It can identify objects and offer a shopping, image search or text extract and translate option. All very clever stuff, but it can be a little hit or miss. On major stuff such as household groceries, it performs well, on more obscure items, it is good at recognising the object, searches for shopping options often prove fruitless. This is obviously a developing technology and the results are promising as long as you do not mind the early adopter level of service.
That said, the Knox Secure Folder implementation is superb and for private or corporate use, a key differentiator.
All of which brings us back to the Dex Station.
In use, it will easily drive 560mm (22”) monitor at full HD resolution which means the display is crisp. and deep. A taskbar style menu gives you easy access to things, as well as desktop icons. The main productivity apps, as mentioned above, are all optimised for this and the rule of thumb is, if an app works well on a tablet, it should be fine in Dex Station use, but there are glitches here and there.
The jump between touch interface and pointing devices is not always seamless, but is acceptable and developing. However, integration with the likes of Windows Remote Desktop, VMware View and Citrix Receiver mean that this can easily go to full desktop control without relying on apps to adapt, offering even more flexibility.
The Dex does not have a built-in speaker, so the S8’s own speakers will suffice for most things, but again a Bluetooth accessory could easily step in, as the headphone jack is obscured by the Dex when the S8 is docked on the USB type C connector. However, the fact there is an HDMI connecter, Ethernet, and 2 x USB means there is plenty of space to use most devices that might be at hand.
The only complication then is when you get a call while docked. The easiest thing is to pick it up and answer as normal, loosing nothing of the desktop content, but also not have access to it as you talk. This is a drawback, as when docked the phone screen is not used, and alerts appear on the attached display.
Overall, the S8 is simply one of the best phones on the market currently, and with Samsung’s usual customisations and integrations, provides a great experience and platform for the business user, with security uppermost.
There has been much criticism of the biometric capabilities of the S8, but these seem to have been ironed out now. The visual facial recognition, as opposed to infra-red, works well when it needs to and is backed up the fingerprint sensor when not. The sensor is fairly robust and after a few goes at acclimatisation, it is easy to find and unobtrusive in the process.
If you do not like carrying a laptop or 2-in-1 tablet every time you travel, then an S8 and a Dex is a compelling option, especially if you go from hot desk to hot desk environment. Or, if you find yourself having to utilise a shared workspace or hotel room but need more than a phone interface, it is the best option right now. However, when Huawei’s Note 10 Pro arrives on these shores, that may change.
The S8 is available from free on various plans, or retails unlocked for around €600, while the Dex Station is available for around €129.