If you have been following my insights and blogs at Ecosystm, it won’t come as a surprise that I am a fan of foldable devices. I have owned the Z Fold3 for over a year now. In that year, I found myself reaching for my tablet less often as the larger screen on the Z Fold3 was enough for most of my needs. Most apps were resized appropriately and provided an improved user experience, and the upgraded OS with a MacOS style application bar made it even easier to switch between applications.
The larger screen of the foldable form factor boosted my productivity too – I could use multiple applications and respond to an email with the content’s source (PDF, Excel file, website, etc.) also open – meaning far less flicking between apps, which isn’t as easy on a smartphone compared to a laptop or a desktop computer. The computer style view for messages and emails (with the email list on the left and the actual email on the right) was brilliant. And I enjoyed using the external screen as a preview screen for taking selfies (I already have my work cut out in making selfies look good! So, being able to see the picture in advance helps a lot).
However, Fold3 had its imperfections. The slightly narrow front screen made typing difficult when the device was folded – I primarily used it to check the status of things (such as turning my coffee machine on/off, checking my solar production, etc.). The inside screen also had durability issues. After a year, Samsung installed screen protector was coming off, and then, the right inner screen gave up completely on me. That said, Samsung has been excellent at fixing these issues under warranty.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 – Enhanced Features
With the launch of the new Z Fold4, I was keen to get my hands on a trial device, and the good people at Samsung and their PR agency arranged that for me. I have now spent two weeks with this device. Despite it being similar in size to the Z Fold3, the upgrades do make a real difference:
The few extra mm of width on the front screen makes it much more usable – I can now use this screen for typing messages and entering data. I still prefer the larger screen for things such as consuming content and typing longer emails. But the outside screen is usable for more than just checking the status of systems or apps.
The shorter height and the wider screen mean that the inside screen now feels more “expansive” – more of a tablet experience – and is getting closer to an iPad mini. This makes consuming and creating content easier and more enjoyable. As an avid tablet user, even with the Z Fold3, I would hesitate when going out, wondering if I needed to take my iPad with me. I noticed that I did not hesitate with the Z Fold4 – I was fine without my tablet.
Typically, newer phones feature improved cameras. This is certainly the case with the Z Fold4 – the camera feels faster than the Fold3, taking lesser time to focus and take pictures. And the images too are sharper and richer.
The screen warranty has also improved – perhaps in acknowledgement of the issues with the Z Fold3 screen. There are specials offering screen replacements for a low cost, even if you damage the screen, as well as discounts on Samsung Care+, which offers two replacement devices in 24 months.
The only comment I have is that it is the most slippery phone I have used so far! It didn’t come with a protective case and in two weeks, I have dropped this phone more times than I have dropped any other phone in the past few years! It has slipped off seats and desks as well as out of my pocket and hands. Although, it does claim to “stand up to life’s bumps and fumbles” and this has been accurate so far (as it does not even have a scratch on it yet – which is a surprise as it has hit wood, tiles, and concrete pretty hard!). But if I were keeping the device for any longer, I would immediately purchase a case!
Who Will Use It Most?
Whether this device is right for you depends on your device use patterns. I do believe there is a case for businesses to invest in foldables – particularly for employees who share content one on one with clients or prospects, or those who want to be more productive and be away from their desks without lugging a laptop. Anyone who is considering a flagship phone with a larger screen (iPhone Pro Max or Pixel 7 Pro) should take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4. You will be pleasantly surprised with the quality and capability of this device. I know I will be sad to see it go when I hand it back to Samsung!
In March I published an analysis of Samsung DeX – which is a desktop environment which many businesses could benefit from deploying to specific teams, roles or employees. During my research, I found that one of the shortcomings is the lack of native support for dual screens. I know that many information workers in particular use dual-screen setups – and going back to a single screen feels highly unproductive!
Knowing this, a contact at Samsung pointed me to a company that has developed a dual-screen capability for a virtual desktop environment running on DeX – so I jumped at the opportunity to trial the environment in my own dual screen setup.
The product is called NetConnect – and is sold by VOIP. It is actually a Branch Of One style solution, which allows employees to access enterprise resources on any device. But one of its unique features is the ability to run a dual screen virtual desktop environment.
NetConnect’s Dual Screen Capabilities – An Analysis
DeX users that run the NetConnect app can extend the desktop to a second, internet connected monitor or screen. The key point here is “internet connected” – the screen is deployed across the internet – not across cables from the phone. This means any tablet, laptop or connected screen can be used as the second screen for the Windows virtual desktop running through NetConnect. In my particular demo environment, the software (both NetConnect and the Windows server) was running in a data centre in Singapore – but the company (VOIP) sells the solution to organisations to run in their own data centre environment.
The overall experience is seamless. The fact that one screen is running on a server in Singapore and being sent across the internet to my Samsung phone, and the other screen is running in Singapore and being sent across the internet to a completely different device is remarkable. The mouse moves across screens as if the desktop is running locally. While my demo environment was limited to web and a few desktop applications, I often found myself astonished that this entire environment was being driven by a smartphone (and a lot of clever technology behind the scenes!). Suddenly the limitations of only having a single screen for DeX disappeared – I now could run one application on my first screen and another on my second screen – and continue working, without the need to endlessly alt-tab between applications and screens.
There are some limitations – video streaming is not very smooth, and connected devices (cameras etc. for Zoom or Teams calls) are not recognised. These features are on the roadmap, but not available today. But the NetConnect solution really does open DeX up to a whole new community of users. Some of the VOIP employees I met at their office don’t have a laptop on their desk or a desktop underneath it – they are running their entire work environment from their Samsung phone!
And being a Branch of One solution, NetConnect also brings with it inherent security benefits – of not ever taking company data out of the data centre, reducing threats from viruses and malware that would normally run on the end-user computing device and others. It also improves the manageability of the desktop environment and makes it simple to deploy to users. Branch of One is about bringing all of the inherent benefits and capabilities that an office or branch would have and enabling a single user to get this power and security.
NetConnect is more than a dual screen solution – so working out which comes first is the interesting challenge. If your business is looking to run a solution like NetConnect, it is worth your while examining the opportunity to use DeX to extend full, dual screen desktop solutions to your employees. And if you are a business running DeX, NetConnect could open opportunities to extend DeX to more employees, roles or teams than originally planned.
Checkout Tim’s previous insight where he provides a detailed analysis on whether Samsung DeX is suitable for your employees. He bases his insights from using Samsung DeX as his primary desktop environment over the past 4 weeks.
This Ecosystm Insight is a summary of the client report and is the first of a few Insights into DeX. In future, I plan to trial the dual-monitor ability for DeX (developed by VoIP – an Australian ICT consultancy). These Ecosystm Insights won’t cover how to use Samsung DeX. If you are looking for this information, Gizmodo has published a good piece here.
In trialling Samsung DeX I attempted to cover all usage scenarios, including:
Native DeX with the phone connected to a DeX station and both wired and wireless keyboard/mouse, using both wi-fi and 4G (I live literally 50 metres outside of 5G coverage!)
DeX through Windows 10 using both wi-fi and 4G and a wired mouse and keyboard
In the native DeX environment I worked in the traditional Microsoft productivity apps, collaboration apps (such as Teams, Zoom, Webex, Google Meet), Google productivity apps, web applications (sales, CRM & ERP), file sharing applications (OneDrive, Google Drive), imaging applications (photos, video, image sharing), social applications (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc) and other native Android apps – some of which were optimised for DeX, and some of which were not. I tried to imitate the information worker’s experience; and that of a site or specialist user. I used it as a primary computing environment for most of my work for 3-4 weeks. I didn’t just consume content, but also created content – I needed to be able to sign and attach Adobe documents, create new reports, conduct deep data analysis in Excel and create figures and move them between Excel, Word and PowerPoint. I created and shared leads in CRM systems, did company accounting in a financial application and even had some time to try out some gaming applications.
I have also trialled a Citrix and Amazon virtual desktop in all environments – running productivity applications, finance applications, graphics intensive applications and web apps.
My broad finding is that DeX is not a desktop replacement for power users – but there are plenty of roles within your business who would find that DeX is a capable environment that will allow them to get their job done.
I was planning to discuss the positive features of DeX, but the reality is that it is simpler to understand its limitations. And, most limitations are related to the Android applications or network lag introduced in virtual desktop environments using 4G.
The Microsoft productivity applications in Android are all scaled back versions of the desktop applications. They do not contain many of the features and functions that the desktop versions have. For example, when I needed to format headings in a report, the fast format options (e.g. to make text a “heading 2”) don’t exist in the Android version of Microsoft Word. Power users will find these applications don’t deliver all of the functions they need to get their job done.
Those who need broader functionality beyond the Android applications will benefit from a virtual desktop environment. Both Citrix Workspace and Amazon Workspaces delivered a very usable Windows 10 experience (although I found the base configuration to be a little slow). For existing users of virtual desktops, it is a no-brainer to roll them out to mobile devices if required. But would you add a virtual desktop environment to your existing desktop fleet just to enable DeX? I can’t answer that – as it is another environment to manage and support for your end-user computing and IT support teams. But again, for power users, this is not an ideal environment. It does EVERYTHING you want it to do – but it might not do it fast enough to satisfy all users.
It’s not a mobile environment. This isn’t something you use on your phone (although I believe you can use it on some Samsung tablets). You need a monitor, keyboard, and ideally a separate mouse for DeX to work. It doesn’t replace a laptop for a mobile worker.
DeX does not natively support dual screens or monitors. I found that I would switch back to my PC when I needed the productivity of two screens, as I personally find application switching on a single screen to be a productivity killer. BUT – this is changing – VoIP has developed a capability to run DeX across dual monitors (I will be testing this shortly and will post the results).
When using DeX natively and not using a virtual desktop, the screen sharing features of collaboration apps don’t work in the way you expect. The screen that is shared is NOT the DeX desktop screen but the horizontal mobile phone screen. This is a significant issue if you want to share a Word, PowerPoint, or Excel file or another “full desktop screen” application. DeX users can view other people’s shared screens, but not share the screen effectively themselves.
DeX introduces a new environment for your helpdesk to support. DeX isn’t Windows, it isn’t cloud, and it isn’t exactly native Android. Your tech support team will need to be trained on DeX and be required to learn a new user environment. It introduces an additional OS into the mix. That means at least some service desk technicians will need to be trained on the environment. As it is still running in Android, it doesn’t particularly require specific QA or testing for your business mobile applications. But to take full advantage of the larger screen real estate that DeX facilitates, you may need to make some changes to how applications perform in DeX.
Despite these challenges, DeX is a very capable environment. Running a virtual desktop was a breeze and performed far better than I would have imagined. I was worried about lag and had introduced many opportunities for it to run slowly – a wireless mouse and keyboard, wireless display adapter, running over wi-fi, and 4G using a virtual desktop in the cloud – and the lag was barely noticeable. I was impressed with this and understand how DeX could even be used to support legacy applications and environments too.
The convenience of having your phone at your fingertips – being able to respond to text messages on the large screen, taking calls using the same Bluetooth headphones that you use to watch video content on the larger screen, not to mention the security of taking your “PC” with you in your pocket when you head out to lunch or home for the day – adds to the value of DeX. The concept of a “PC in your pocket” has been around for a while – however most Samsung mobile users don’t realise that they have one there already!
Who are the business roles or personas who could benefit from it? The simple answer is that anyone who uses a desktop part-time would benefit from DeX. Many businesses have shared PCs for multiple users or dedicated PCs for users who don’t use a PC full-time. These might be site managers in constriction, store managers in retail, nurses, security staff, librarians, government or council workers. The significant factors that define potential DeX users are:
They spend a fair amount of time away from a PC
They still need a PC for reporting, document sharing, content creation etc
They return to a fixed site regularly (like a store, office, site office etc)
Again, it is worth noting that DeX doesn’t replace a laptop or tablet. It is not for mobile computing – it replicates fixed computing environments in a more mobile and potentially cost-effective form factor. Remember that the employees need a screen, mouse, and keyboard (you can use the phone as a mouse, but it is not ideal). They also need the charging cable to connect to the computer. If they are making regular video calls then I suggest a phone holder that allows the charging cable to stay connected and the phone to be angled so as others can see their face (wireless chargers tend to sit too far back).
And while DeX is a secure solution, and can benefit from Samsung’s Knox security platform and capabilities, pairing DeX with a secure branch of one style solution – such as that offered by Asavie, now a part of Akamai – has the ability to add end-to-end security and secure application/data access that your employees desire and your business needs.
The opportunities for DeX outweigh the challenges. I am certain that most businesses have potential DeX users – employees who reluctantly carry around a laptop, or who have to come back to a location for their computing. They might be employees who use their phones for image capture and spend much of their time transferring photos to a PC to store them into a corporate system (such as an OH&S team member, or a repair and maintenance provider for a company). It could be a brand salesperson who spends time in various retailers or on the road but still need computing for product training, entering sales figures, and other administrative tasks.
If your business already offers Samsung devices to your employees, switching on DeX is a no-brainer. Start with a trial in a limited employee pool to determine the specific challenges and opportunities within your business. If you are already using virtual desktops, then this is the easiest way to start – roll out the app to your Samsung mobile devices and you have a ready-made portable computer in your employees’ pockets.