Samsung took the wraps off the Galaxy Note 9 last week, and it announced that the device would work with Samsung DeX, a desktop-style environment you can project to a monitor using a USB-C to HDMI adapter / cable.
It sounds fairly simple, and it seems like the Note 9 is closer to fully realizing the smartphone-computer dream: using your phone to power a desktop-style computing interface without needing a mouse or keyboard (while still supporting both).
After all, why shouldn’t powerful phones have capabilities like laptops? This isn’t the first time this question has been asked by a smartphone OEM, and there have been many unsuccessful attempts to make this happen in the past. The past two years have brought more powerful smartphones than ever, with clock speeds and cores that are closely rival those of laptop processors.
Before we get into how DeX came to be, here’s a look at some of the iterations that got us here.
Windows Phone Continuum
The platform that comes to mind (but wasn’t the first) is Windows Phone and its Continuum feature.
Announced back in 2015, it underwent two years of development and didn’t bear fruit in terms of an enjoyable user experience. By the time Continuum was ready for consumers, Windows Phone as a platform was on its last legs.
To make matters worse, most Windows Phone apps (of which there were few to begin with) didn’t work with Continuum, so it was dead on arrival. However, it’s one of the most interesting takes of desktop computing with a phone.
Motorola Atrix with LapDock
The Motorola Atrix was originally unveiled at CES 2011 and launched in the first quarter of that year as an exclusive with AT&T in the United States. It was the first phone to use a PenTile qHD display with 24-bit graphics.
But more importantly, it had a feature called Webtop.
When placed into the laptop dock accessory, you could use an Ubuntu-based(!) desktop, complete with Android notifications, multimedia playback, and Firefox. Much like the phone, Webtop was ill-fated and its source code was uploaded to Sourceforge.
Oh, Palm. The short-lived Palm Folio was announced by Palm Inc. in 2007 to serve as a companion to the then-popular Treo line.
It ran Linux as its main operating system, had 256MB of flash memory, near-instant boot-up, and was canceled only three months after the announcement.
It was an odd accessory, mostly due to the fact that it didn’t actually receive or send emails over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but rather transmitted over synchronization with your companion Palm smartphone.
Also, here’s a fun fact: if the Palm Folio had launched, it would have predated some of the netbooks that would be launched and introduced to the consumer market.
Redfly Mobile Companion
If you thought a companion laptop for your smartphone was weird, then get familiar with the Redfly C7. It was introduced in 2007 (after Palm canceled the Folio), supported Windows Mobile smartphones, had a battery life of around five hours, and two USB ports.
However, it didn’t have its own CPU, RAM, or internal storage, so it was completely reliant on a smartphone. With no support for the BlackBerry or Nokia phones that were popular at the time, its demise hedged most on its lack of compatibility with non-Windows Mobile devices.
Asus Zenfone PC Link
PC Link is Asus’ method for mirroring a Zenfone’s screen to a Windows PC by expanding the user interface on a larger screen and making it possible to run alongside other windowed apps.
You can connect a Zenfone over its USB-C cable or an Asus docking accessory that comes with mouse and keyboard support. It’s not a groundbreaking feature for Zenfone users, but it allows for more flexibility.
Galaxy S8 / S8 Plus / S9 / S9 Plus / Note 8 / Note 9 with Samsung DeX
Samsung DeX first debuted as a dock accessory, and you’d plug in a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. By docking your Galaxy S8, S8 Plus, or Note 8, you could achieve the Samsung DeX experience.
Initially, though, it was a hard sell: why would you use a complete desktop setup with a phone, instead of with a real desktop PC? Still, it was a solid proof-of-concept that extended to the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus with improvements in speed.
Fast-forward to present day, and the Galaxy Tab S4 and the Galaxy Note 9 have DeX built in. The Tab S4 is particularly adept at using DeX, with the option of using it instead of the default Android interface, but it still supports many Android apps.
Unfortunately, the lack of Android tablet apps means it’s not as compelling as it could be. Plus, the Tab S4’s keyboard is lackluster and in dire need of a mouse, which you can add via Bluetooth. However, this still isn’t a fully integrated, smartphone-as-a-computer solution.
On the flip side, it would appear as if the Note 9 does DeX best by requiring just a USB-C to HDMI adapter and cable to connect to a monitor.
From there, you can use the Note 9’s screen like a touchpad or use the S Pen in place of your finger.
The Note 9 in DeX mode also doubles as a keyboard, so there’s a real argument to be made that the Note 9 is the first smartphone that can accomplish a full desktop environment, without needing a separate mouse and keyboard to work or an additional software download. By removing those seemingly small barriers to entry, Samsung is making it easy for you to get DeX working. You only need a monitor and an HDMI to USB-C adapter; it’s a plug-and-play solution.
How much work you can get done with the Note 9 running in DeX mode will be dependent on app developers, Note 9 owners’ experiences, as well as the results of our upcoming review.
But this much is true: prior to the Note 9, it’s never been this easy to use a phone as a computer.
Phone Case of the Month is a monthly series in which we live with, and subsequently review, our time with a phone case. Phone cases are one of our only ways to express individuality with our smartphones, so what do our phone case choices say about us?
It’s been a while since I last posted a phone case review, and I’m sorry. But I’m thrilled to report that I’ve discovered an incredible phone case hack.
You might remember my last review, which involved cherry pom-poms. Today’s review is about all the things I can do with that one case because it of its back-mounted metal loop.
The case originally came with those cherries on the back that were attached with a key ring. The key ring eventually broke, though, and then the cherries fell off, so I basically was stuck with a case that had an ugly, cheap-looking metal loop on it.
But then, I moved apartments and unearthed a keychain I was given with a nail polish purchase.
Yeah, random. It features a bright pink pom-pom with a pink tassel and a bedazzled butterfly. I tried hooking it onto the phone, and sure enough, it filled the cherry pom-pom void in my heart.
After a month or so in my bag, though, the pink started to turn black with dirt. That wasn’t my favorite look!
Now, having just moved, I was in my local dollar store and saw a strange keychain made out of a bike chain. I think it might be designed for attaching to a wallet and then hanging from your belt loop?
I might try that out at some point. I bought it solely for my phone, and it looks extremely industrial. I love it.
I wear the loop around my wrist or carry it like a purse. Either way, it feels more like a fashion statement. I only wish the metal loop on the back of the case was silver so it matched.
I love this case because I can change it up without fully committing to a whole new design.
A keychain makes my case feel new, and this time around, I’m fully leaning into the hardware trend. Cherries felt good at one time, when spring was just happening and summer was on its way. Now, it’s been over 90 degrees for what feels like years, and all I can think about is fall.
I needed this bike chain in my life.
I don’t know when I’ll change this case out. It’s definitely falling apart a little bit; the sides are peeling up and even the “leather” is peeling, too. If I do end up with a new case, I’ll post about it, but for now, know that my cases and I are in a good place.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Skate Kitchen, which comes out this weekend, at a film festival in Brooklyn. The film is just wonderful — it’s about a skate group composed of teenage girls, and one girl in particular who runs away from home — and is fully just the kind of seemingly casual, relaxed picture about people trying to live that I absolutely love.
The screening I was at was particularly special though, because Skate Kitchen is a real group of skaters from New York, who star in the film as fictionalized versions of themselves. So the tiny theater was packed with people who (judging by the chatter around me) were friends and relatives of the film’s stars.
That led to some funny reactions, like having most of the crowd cracking up during a tense, awkward scene, while one skater was having a moment with Jaden Smith.
I’d love the movie either way, but sometimes an audience’s reaction to a film becomes a wonderful part of the experience, too.
Check out 11 trailers from this week below.
I’m not sure how much I enjoyed the first season of The Deuce. It kept setting pieces in place, building and building toward something — and then as soon as it seemed to be in a place where the show could light a match and set off into something immensely exciting, it just ended. And now, we’re getting a first look at season 2, showing that the series is jumping ahead in time by several years.
I’m interested, I’m skeptical, I’m ready to be slow rolled again. It starts September 9th.
The Nutcracker and The Four Realms
I’m extremely torn here. On one hand, this movie required extensive reshoots, during which the original director of the film — the guy behind this dog reincarnation movie — was entirely absent, leading to a second director getting his name in the credits.
But on the other, I am so, so into what I’m seeing here. The visuals are hypnotic. And I’m not one to pass up a Keira Knightley film this heavily stylized.
So I’m hoping for the best. It comes out November 2nd.
Here’s our first real look at whatever Maniac is — though even with this look, it’s hard to get a sense of exactly what we’re in for, since at one point we seem to be looking at Emma Stone hallucinating herself in Lord of the Rings. The limited series, from the director behind the first season of True Detective, seems a bit like a trapper, more violent version of Eternal Sunshine, with a relationship wrapped up in some futuristic and borderline dystopian new science.
It comes out September 21st.
Black Earth Rising
Netflix and the BBC have another co-produced series coming up, a thriller that has Michaela Coel (who you might remember from Black Mirror‘s “USS Callister”) working to prosecute war crimes but becoming wrapped up in some kind of deadly conspiracy. More generally, the series seems to care about the experiences of African immigrants in England, and it seems like the overall subject matter gives the series a lot to examine. There doesn’t appear to be a release date yet, but usually these things air in the UK before heading to Netflix everywhere else.
And speaking of Netflix and British TV shows, it has another series coming up with a very Stranger Things-style premise, starring a young girl who’s being experimented on.
Except in this case, it seems that she’s one of several people capable of shape-shifting. It comes out August 24th.
Michael Moore’s been at the head of the #resistance since he went viral just a day after the 2016 election for an old blog post predicting beat-for-beat how Trump would edge out a victory. Now, he’s turned that energy into a documentary, with its title playing off one of his most famous films to date.
For what it’s worth, I find myself perpetually skeptical of Moore only to end up enjoying his documentaries, which have often been surprisingly prescient and forward-looking. I’m in the same place of skepticism after seeing this trailer, but I’ll admit I want to know more about where he takes what could be a very myopic subject. It comes out September 21st.
Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel Bel Canto tells the story of a group of opera lovers held hostage for months by a rebel group trying to free their comrades from an opposing government.
Despite the catchy setup, the novel spins into something far more intimate as it traces the relationships that form among the hostages. Now it’s been adapted into a film, with Julianne Moore starring, and it seems to be trying to boil a lengthy story into a short, tense picture, which I suspect will be tough. It comes out September 14th.
Michel Gondry, the surreal director behind films like Eternal Sunshine, is re-teaming with Jim Carrey for an equally playful TV series about a Mr.
Rogers-style TV host who begins to just completely lose it. I suspect this will be worth watching. May I also say, as someone who watches way too many trailers, this is a superbly cut trailer and the play between the music and what’s on screen is really working.
It starts September 9th.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back together for Slaughterhouse Rulez, which looks like a wacky mashup of a whole bunch of Harry Potter-style fantasy tropes. Pegg and Frost don’t appear to be the main stars here, but it’s at least something before the duo inevitably reunites with Edgar Wright. The film comes out on Halloween.
Escape at Dannemora
Ben Stiller usually directs comedies, but for some reason, he’s gotten behind the camera for Escape at Dannemora, a Showtime limited series about inmates who escaped from a New York prison in 2015 and led authorities on a weeks-long manhunt.
Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano play the inmates, while Patricia Arquette stars as a prison employee who gets caught up in a tryst with the inmates and ends up helping them out.
The series starts November 18th.
47 Meters Down: The Next Chapter
As my colleague Tasha Robinson put it, “Why not 48 Meters Down?”