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Samsung’s DeX isn’t the first attempt at turning your phone into a laptop

Samsung’s DeX isn’t the first attempt at turning your phone into a laptop


I’m sorry, but I’m going to talk about Palm again

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Over the course of reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, I spent quite a bit of time evaluating DeX. With the Note, Samsung introduced apps for both Windows and Mac that would let you have a sort of desktop interface for your phone on the computer you already use.

My take on these DeX apps is straightforward: they’re not great. If you just use them for simple tasks like texting, copying and pasting small bits of text, or dragging and dropping a file or two, it’s fine. Pushing any harder than that is likely to be a recipe for sorrow, however, as things tend to get laggy pretty quickly. I think that’s more the fault of the desktop software than the phone’s hardware, but regardless, it’s slightly disappointing.

I don’t think that’s a reason to avoid buying the Note 10, which is still an excellent phone. But the experience did get me thinking: why did I and so many others have the objectively irrational hope that DeX would unlock new ways of interacting with your phone?

I think it’s because the idea of making a sole computer sits right next to flying cars in the “this is what the future will be” section of our collective unconsciousness. Phones are already our primary computers, and they are certainly powerful enough to drive a big-screen experience, so why not?

Why do we keep trying to turn our phones into laptops?

That’s the question I’m exploring in this week’s episode of Processor. To answer it, I dug through my gadget closet to pull out one of my most prized possessions: the unreleased Palm Foleo. It, alongside the Celio Redfly and Motorola Atrix, predated DeX in trying to make your phone the source of truth for your entire computing life.

Even though the Foleo was doomed from the start, it still has lessons to teach us. The most important of which is: if you’re going to go to all the trouble of building a laptop that runs Linux, you might as well build a laptop that really runs Linux instead of one that just tries to mirror your phone.

The main lesson the Foleo, Atrix, and Redfly teach us is that we built a different future than the one we imagined. It’s a lot more convenient to just store data in the cloud and access it via a computer like a Chromebook or an iPad than it is to try to put everything into your phone. The world we built isn’t as cyberpunk as making your phone the ultimate source of your data truth, but it is a lot more practical.

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