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DeX Review: Getting Files and Photos From a Samsung Phone to a Computer Is Easier Than Ever

November 14, 2019, 3:00 PM UTC

Like the grand unified theory of physics that never quite arrived, gadget lovers dream of a unified computing world in which every screen—large and small—is a window on the same apps, services, and files.

No more iPhone versus Mac, Android versus Windows, or Chromebook versus Fitbit. From desk to lap to hand to wrist, it would be one seamless world.

The dream is nowhere near a reality, and it may never be. But leading Android phonemaker Samsung is still trying, following some similar efforts by Apple.

Two different programs are available that connect Samsung phones more closely with computers, or at least some computers. There’s Samsung’s own DeX program, introduced in 2017, and then Microsoft’s similar service, Your Phone Companion, which debuted this year.

Both feature nifty tricks to improve productivity. But in the end, DeX is more capable and Microsoft is more convenient.

Let’s start with Dex, which requires downloading a companion program onto your Windows or Mac PC, and then connecting it to your phone with a USB cord. I linked two home desktop computers and a laptop with a brand new Galaxy Note 10 phone.

As soon as you plug the Note into a computer, the companion DeX program pops up on your PC’s screen. It looks a lot like a PC desktop rather than just a stretched version of your phone’s screen. From there, you can run any mobile app to do whatever you do on your phone, including texting, web browsing, and Instagramming—all while using your full-size keyboard and mouse or trackpad. It works on laptops, too.

Data flows easily between the two environments. I dragged a Microsoft Word document from my Mac onto the DeX window and, later, back onto my phone, and then opened the file with the Android version of Word.

Likewise, it was easy to drag a photo, or several photos, from Samsung’s Gallery phone app in DeX to my Mac’s desktop, where I could edit them on the big screen. However, sometimes I had trouble dragging files from DeX to drop on my Mac’s desktop. But after repeated mouse clicks, they transferred.

Aside from easily moving files and photos, however, I’m unsure how useful it is to run mobile apps on a PC. Maybe you really love the Twitter client on your Note? Or maybe there’s some other mobile app that you can’t live without and want to use while sitting at your desk looking at a big screen? But it’s not a common scenario. And some mobile apps don’t transition easily to appearing on a bigger screen.

That’s probably why Apple hasn’t gone there with its apps for the Mac and iPhone. In Apple’s ecosystem, users accessing an app on one device can slip seamlessly onto another Apple device and see the same content, but on that device’s own appropriate app.

For example, with the continuity feature, if I’m reading a web site on my iPhone and I sit down at my iMac, an icon pops up on the dock to take me to that same web site. But on the phone, I was in the mobile Safari app and on the iMac I get the Mac version of Chrome. That seems like a smarter way to connect mobile and desktop devices. Apple also shares photos and text messages across apps using the cloud, a slicker solution than dragging and dropping from DeX.

A whole other approach for connecting phones is Microsoft’s Your Phone Companion, which only works with Windows computers. Still, it dramatically simplifies connecting two devices—no cable required.

Once I added the necessary apps to my Windows PC and Samsung Galaxy Note, creating a wireless connection was simple. I merely opened the app on my PC with the phone nearby.

With Microsoft’s service, using phone apps on the PC is simpler but also more limited than with DeX. Built into the PC app are just three functions: photos, messages, and notifications.

Each one allows you to use your PC to interact with related data on your phone, such as old text messages or photos. For example, it’s easy to search through previous messages or send a new text using your PC keyboard and screen. Or you can grab a photo from your phone to include in an email sent from your PC (though the app only shows a couple dozen of your most recent photos).

With both devices sitting side by side, all interactions are speedy. New photos show up immediately and file transfers are quick.

However, using some other parts of your phone’s functions is weird. The PC app can display a duplicate version of your phone’s screen in the same rectangular size and shape of your phone’s screen. You can click on any app on this duplicate phone screen and use it like you would on your phone. While doing so, the action is mirrored simultaneously on your phone’s actual screen.

It’s like a ghost. It saves you from having to physically pick up your phone to access mobile apps while you’re sitting at your PC, although that’s not exactly a giant benefit.

microsoft your phone companion app

Another oddity is that all sound is through your phone’s speaker. At first, while trying to watch a YouTube video from the PC app, I thought the video was muted. Then I realized the sound was coming from my phone’s tiny speaker. Yes, I could watch a video. But it wasn’t ideal.

The bottom line is that Microsoft’s Phone Companion app provides a quick and simple way to access a few key mobile apps directly from your PC. Meanwhile, Samsung’s DeX does a lot more, but maybe more than the average user needs.

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