Samsung DeX Pad EE-M5100 Docking Station Review
While Microsoft's Continuum is in decline, Samsung still uses a desktop version of Android, which puts the company in a nearly unrivaled position. Only Huawei offers a similar feature, but it requires merely an adapter cable, not an entire docking station, and it is for now limited to the models P20 Pro and Mate 10 Pro.
Samsung's DeX goes one step further and tries to be a full-fledged replacement for a PC. A permanent dock has the advantage of saving the user the inconvenience of connecting optional peripherals such as a keyboard or a mouse every time and furthermore supplies power for the smartphone constantly.
In comparison to the DeX Station, the DeX Pad has undergone some slight changes. What these changes entail exactly and why we still cannot recommend the DeX Pad unconditionally will be explained in our review.
Case - Functional Design
At about 136 grams, the Samsung DeX Pad is lighter than its predecessor. The case is made of plastic entirely and does not have a very high-end appearance. However, the build quality is good and did not give us any reason for complaints. The pad is rather robust and does not have any sharp edges.
The bottom side is rubberized in part, giving the pad a good grip even on smooth surfaces. Mounting the smartphone works differently now than it did for the DeX Station, as the phone has to be slid onto the USB port horizontally. To do so, the user has to lift the phone slightly, providing a certain amount of wiggle room for smartphone cases. It is an advantage that the audio jack of the phone remains accessible.
The joint is not optimal, though, as the bottom side of a Galaxy smartphone without a case will always hover in the air slightly. Since the phone can also be used as a touchpad, this will put a certain pressure onto the USB port.
Connectivity - DeX Pad without Ethernet but with HDMI 2.0
Not everything has changed for the better about the Samsung DeX Pad's connectivity. The two USB 2.0 ports are probably meant only for connecting peripherals. It is too bad that Samsung did not include at least one port compatible with higher transfer speeds, enabling the user to exchange data faster. During our tests, the USB ports had no problems with recognizing the keyboard, mouse, Bluetooth dongle, gamepad or a flash drive.
The USB-C port has the sole purpose of providing power to the Samsung DeX Pad. The HDMI 2.0 port is an upgrade and theoretically supports the output of 4K content. Samsung limits the resolution to WQHD (2560x1440 pixels), though. However, we could not figure out under what circumstances this resolution can be used at all because the video display on a UHD television was still only in Full HD. The higher resolution was not available. Using a different HDMI cable did not change this. WQHD seems to be restricted to monitors with that resolution.
The DeX Pad's lower price is noticeable in the smaller port selection. The Korean company got rid of the Ethernet port completely, so an Internet connection is only possible via the smartphone's Wi-Fi module. This decision was somewhat confusing to us because the advertized RD tools target mainly business customers, but they prefer working with wired solutions.
Software - DeX 2.5 Regulates More
The Samsung DeX is based on the desktop variant of Google's Android 8.0 Oreo. At the time of testing, its version was 2.5.84. The desktop is neatly arranged and the most important information about the Galaxy smartphone's current state as well as the notification panel can be accessed and viewed quickly. Merely accepting incoming calls is still difficult. When the user does not want to use the speaker, a headset has to be connected.
The size of productive apps such as Office, the browser or the mail client can be adjusted freely. Apps not optimized for Samsung's DeX work only in a small window. Especially for streaming services such as Netflix, this cannot be avoided by activating DeX Labs. Not even third-party apps such as DeX MAX, which harmonized perfectly with the DeX Station, are able to solve every problem, so the DeX Pad is still not an adequate smart TV replacement in our opinion.
Multitasking works well and can be done very fluently. It poses no problem at all to run several apps simultaneously in adjacent windows. More complex apps such as games are still paused while a different app is used, but media streaming can also be done in the background.
Samsung DeX supports remote control of virtual Windows computers via VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions such as Citrix Receiver, VMware Horizon Client and Amazon WorkSpaces. However, they require separate licenses. Users who instead prefer solutions from the Play Store, such as Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection, will be disappointed. The connections works, but the display is limited to a small window and the size cannot be adjusted.
Accessories and Warranty
The manufacturer strongly expanded the DeX Pad's accessories. Samsung includes the same modular power supply that also accompanies the Galaxy S9 among others, along with a USB cable. Furthermore, a suitable HDMI cable can be found inside the box, so the customer is actually ready to go right away.
Samsung offers a warranty of 24 months for its product.
Handling - PC Feeling with the Right Accessories
Those looking to use the Samsung DeX Pad as a replacement for a desktop PC should consider purchasing an additional keyboard and mouse for optimal handling. We chose a wireless Bluetooth variant for our test that has a dongle that can simply be plugged into the station.
Alternatively, the connected Samsung smartphone can also be used as a touchpad now. However, we were not quite convinced of this solution, starting with the orientation of the smartphone (we used a Galaxy S9+). The touchpad app uses a position sensor for orientation, so it can happen that the smartphone and the pad have to be tilted together for an optimal orientation of the pad. The cursor speed and reaction times are fine. Gestures are supported as well. When operating in this way, though, it happened to us quite a few times that we hit the connected smartphone with the heel of our hand, which sometimes interrupted the DeX connection.
In our opinion, using the touchscreen of the Galaxy smartphone for operation is only an emergency solution. Users looking to actually work with the Samsung DeX in a productive way should consider using a mouse and keyboard instead.
Games - DeX with Many Limitations
Each of the Galaxy smartphones compatible with the Samsung DeX offers more than enough performance to play games at high details. This should also apply for games on the DeX, but we encountered problems here.
Firstly, many games are designed to be operated via touchscreen and are incompatible with connected USB controllers. Bluetooth models often do a better job here, but even then some gamepads are still not suitable. Dead Trigger 2 was an exception in our test, recognizing the connected USB gamepad as well as mouse and keyboard right away and guiding us through the associated configuration.
Not all titles can be run in full-screen mode, which is another problem, and some cannot be started at all, such as PUBG Mobile among others. Even games suggested by the Game Launcher, such as Vainglory, were not a lot of fun on the Samsung DeX, as the controls have not been optimized very well and the scaling of the games' resolution was rather unsightly, too. It worked much better for titles such as Shadow Fight 3 and Dead Trigger 2. Other games such as Asphalt 8 are blocked by the system for DeX.
We ran the zombie shooter on the Samsung DeX through our test course. The frame rates determined by GameBench were above those measured in our Galaxy S9+ review because the frame limitation of 30 FPS is revoked in DeX mode. This can probably be ascribed to the additional cooling from the docking station's cooler. The frame rates are higher overall but have strong fluctuations. The rates vary between 41 and 46 FPS, especially during combat scenes.
GFXBench had significantly worse results in DeX mode.
|Dead Trigger 2|
Emissions - High Power Consumption in Standby
The DeX Pad's power consumption has not improved in comparison to the DeX Station and is even slightly higher. The docking station was never below 0.92 watts in our measurements, which amounts to 8 kWh per year. This was even without a smartphone connected to the pad.
The surface temperatures are pleasantly low in everyday use, surpassing the room temperature only minimally. Under load, the DeX Pad warms up especially near the ports. The area around the HDMI port in particular gets really warm and we measured nearly 46 °C.
The Samsung DeX Pad includes a cooling fan again, which is audible in idle mode only if the ear is held directly to the station. The fan seems to spin even if no Galaxy smartphone is connected to the pad. Under a protracted load, the fan becomes audible with up to 47 dB(A), but this scenario happens only very rarely in everyday use.
The Samsung DeX Pad is not the advertized replacement for a computer, but it is still an exciting product based on good ideas. Most of Samsung's changes were detail-oriented. An advantage of the smartphone's horizontal position is the possibility of using the smartphone as touchpad. It also leaves the audio jack freely accessible. However, the LAN port has been discarded, but this compromise should be acceptable to private users given the lower price of the device.
With its additional accessories and the lower price, the Samsung DeX Pad is an exciting product despite its flaws.
The software limitations are a more serious matter. Many multimedia apps cannot be run in full-screen mode and some games cannot be started at all in DeX mode, even though it was possible with the DeX Station. Those intending to use the DeX Pad only for browsing the web, writing emails and running some office applications without being forced to buy an expensive computer will find the Samsung DeX Pad a suitable alternative.
The docking station is no all-rounder, though, and it has several limitations especially for gaming. At a price of currently slightly above 60 Euros (~$70; 99 Euros RRP, ~$115), the DeX Pad is still a worthwhile investment for users who own a compatible Galaxy smartphone.