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I tried using the latest Samsung smartphone to replace my work computer — now I'm convinced it's the future

  • The Galaxy S8 DeX Station lets you use your phone as a computer.
  • The DeX Station costs $150 and works really well.
  • If you want to do work, though, getting your IT department on board may be tough.

I tried to use the Samsung Galaxy S8 as my work computer.

Well, sort of. Samsung is offering a $150 accessory called the DeX Station that plugs your smartphone into a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. The idea is that you can leave your laptop behind and use the DeX dock with your smartphone instead.

It's an impressive dream, and Samsung isn't the only one to try it. Microsoft made a similar attempt a couple of years ago with Windows Phone 10 and a feature called "Continuum" that ultimately flopped.

Does Samsung fare any better? To find out, I decided to write this entire experience and review of the DeX Station from my smartphone, and even tried to access all of my work apps. Here's how that worked out.

Simple hardware, big promises

CNBC Tech: Samsung Dex Station 7
TJ Fabian: CNBC

The DeX Station hardware is a small puck that easily fits into your laptop bag. It offers two USB ports on the back for connecting a keyboard and a mouse, an Ethernet jack for connecting to the internet and an HDMI port that lets you connect to a computer display.

It's plastic and simple. The top of the puck pushes down to reveal a small charging port that your phone can plug into while resting on a stand. There's no crazy setup required here; you just drop your phone on that port, turn on your computer monitor, and suddenly you're presented with what looks like a traditional computer desktop, filled with icons.

This is where the magic begins

CNBC Tech: Samsung Dex Station
TJ Fabian: CNBC

The first thing you see is a full desktop environment running completely off the GalaxyS8. This isn't Windows or macOS. Instead, you're looking at a desktop version of Android created by Samsung.

It's magical and a bit unbelievable that what you see is actually powered by your smartphone.

There's a full web browser for viewing actual websites — not just mobile versions of them. Samsung also worked with partners such as Microsoft to make sure that Skype, Word and Excel are all optimized to run much like they would on a real computer. That means resizable windows and what feels like a full set of features.

(I'm writing this review in Word while sitting at my work desk, for example.)

CNBC Tech: Samsung Dex Station 4
TJ Fabian: CNBC

You can also access all of the Android apps on your phone, like Instagram or Gmail, Maps, Facebook, your photos and more. Some are optimized for DeX, which means, like Word, they can be resized and feel more like a real PC application. Others, like Instagram, are simply small rectangular windows that can't be resized and look and act the same as they would on a smartphone.

But good luck getting your IT department on board

You can get some work done so long as all you need is access to Microsoft's suite of apps, a browser or Google Docs. In my previous job as a blogger, I'd have been set.

But the dream that I share with Samsung, where I can work completely off of the smartphone and ditch my laptop while working for a large corporation, ends there.

CNBC Tech: Samsung Dex Station 2
TJ Fabian: CNBC

In my office, for example, we need all sorts of security software in order to access the apps we use for work, as well as specific websites. I tried installing some of them on my phone, but those that required a full version of Chrome just didn't work. (There are some legacy corporate apps, which I generally don't need, that still require Internet Explorer. That's a nonstarter here.)

IT departments may one day allow these sorts of devices, but it isn't something I see happening overnight, and I suspect a lot of folks are going to run into similar issues if they try to use the Galaxy S8 as their full-time work computer.

CNBC Tech: Samsung Dex Station 3
TJ Fabian: CNBC

Aside from these roadblocks, performance was excellent in my tests. I was able to watch the movie "Caddyshack" in one window, browse several sites in a web browser, work in Microsoft Word, check my email and more, all without the system slowing down. I also appreciated other niceties, like the ability to answer phone calls and text messages that came through while I was using my phone in the DeX Station.

A step toward a still-distant future

All said, there are just a few negatives to note.

CNBC Tech: Samsung Dex Station 5
TJ Fabian: CNBC

The DeX Station is expensive. You'll need to pay $150 per dock, which means you're looking at spending $300 if you want one for home and one for the office. While it's made to work well with enterprise applications and can support virtual desktops, you'll need to make sure your IT department supports it and allows you to use it.

Despite all of this, Samsung is on the right track. The DeX Station is light, travels easily, and turns on almost instantly. I also never ran into any strange bugs, and it performed admirably, as if I was using a laptop of sorts.

More important, I believe we're on our way to a mobile future where we carry our smartphones (or some future version) to and from the office and, when we sit at our desks, our desktop screens will light up. We'll see our full suite of work apps, all powered by the devices sitting in the pockets of our khakis.

The DeX Station is a step toward that future, but it's also a reminder that we're not quite there yet.

For that reason, most people don't need the DeX Station, even if it is one of the cooler gadgets I've seen this year.