Before the world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, I was having dinner with a friend who had recently graduated. Being close to completion myself, I asked what he felt was the most noticeable difference in everyday life.
He answered, “I’m never on my personal laptop anymore. Everything I need to do outside of work, I do on my phone.”
This was unfathomable to me at the time, as I’ve always used my phone for the consumption of media with anything more than writing a short email leading me to reach for a computer.
However, with phones now rivaling everyday laptops in power and memory, there are fewer and fewer reasons for phones not to be one’s main productivity tool.
What is Samsung Dex?
First released in 2017 for the Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones, Dex is an interface built into Samsung flagships which enables phone apps to run in a windows when connected to an external screen, similar to most desktop operating systems.
This means being able to pull up a browser window while working on an email in Outlook, while occasionally popping up WhatsApp to respond to the memes your friends are sending.
And best of all, all this is being running exclusively through a phone, so all your apps and files are in one place without the need to transfer files between devices. Whether you need to work off your phone, or have a compatible screen handy to run DeX, you’re always good to go.
While DeX mode originally required the purchase of a dedicated dock at launched, Samsung eventually eliminated this requirement, paving the way for a laptop-like experience through the use of lapdocks: external screens in a laptop/tablet form factor.
The Alldocube Expand X is a convertible external monitor with a detachable keyboard similar to Microsoft’s Surface products. The device boasts a 13.3″ IPS touchscreen, two 5,000mAh batteries, and both USB-C and mini HDMI inputs which makes it perfect for use as a lapdock, secondary screen, or portable gaming monitor.
In The Box
I purchased my Alldocube Expand X on AliExpress, selecting the option which included an USB-C to USB-A OTG adapter, mini HDMI adapter, and the keyboard cover. The lapdock took about two weeks to arrive in Canada, which is fairly reasonable given the e-commerce mayhem caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The box was packed rather well, in a tough styrofoam case with rounded corners and wrapped in a layer of bubble packaging. While certainly not retail packaging, this was noted on the listing and retail box can be requested at the risk of being more exposed to the bumps and bruises during shipping.
Within the box was the Expand X screen, a rubbery USB-C cable for connecting a phone, a power delivery cord and power block, one pair of headphones, and the two aforementioned adapters. The plastic-y earphones feels the cheapest of the bunch, while the metallic OTG adapter is extremely well-built.
The screen itself is found within another few bits of plastic packaging (there is a lot of it), and comes with two screen covers installed: a matte one with Alldocube branding, plus a regular glossy one underneath that is meant to stay on.
Screen & Build
Under a matte, branded screen protector and another glossy one, the Alldocube Expand X boasts a bright 13.3″ IPS display with a surprisingly responsive touch panel. Specs listed for the screen include 100% of sRGB, an 800:1 contrast ratio, wide viewing angle, and 350nits of brightness.
On the top edge is the power button and volume rocker, as well as a settings key which has the most rattle of the three. Single pressing this third key brings up the on screen display, allowing access to the battery level, change brightness, as well as adjust a plethora of monitor settings such as contrast, sharpness, hue, colour temperature and more.
I had no issues outputting 1440p video using both HDMI and USB-C inputs, but other reviewers were limited to 1080p for the latter – not sure if this is due to manufacturing differences, cable grade, or something else.
The unibody, all-metal build of the device is solid, and its angled edges prevent it from digging into skin when being held. The kickstand hides the only exposed screws, and uses friction for virtually infinite viewing positions. Very Microsoft Surface-esque.
The speakers are found below the screen, which is a positive in the fact that they are always facing the user. While decently loud, the sound remains slightly hollow. That said, they are certainly more than capable for casual media consumption.
The left side of the device is home to a Mini HDMI port, as well as three USB-C 3.0 ports: for power, data, and connecting a phone.
On the right is yet another USB-C port, this time of the 2.0 variety, alongside an 3.5″ earphone jack. Note that this jack only supports audio-out, and not mic-in. No full-sized USB-A port nor SD Card slot to be found here, unfortunately.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The keyboard comes in its own box from the rest, possibly due to it also being compatible with other Alldocube tablets and thus available separately. The outside is wrapped in faux leather, while the inside of made of hard plastic. There are four rubber feet on each corner of the inside, presumably to prevent the keys from scratching the screen although I question its effectiveness as the keys seem taller than them.
Its five-pin pogo connector links up with the screen by way of magnets. Although snappy, it is not as precise as Microsoft’s offering and little bit of jiggling is needed to push it into place. Disappointingly, the magnets fail to consistently keep the keyboard in place when carrying the screen. The keyboard also does not disable itself when flipped behind the screen, potentially resulting in accidental keypresses.
The keyboard magnetically attaches to the far side of the screen when closed to prevent it from flopping around, but it is also quite strong and requires some effort to pry open. The “hinge” area unfortunately cannot be magnetically attached to the bottom of the screen unit to provide a more comfortable typing angle.
The layout is a little odd, with no Escape or function keys and some questionable keymapping. For example, what looks to be the meta key is actually programmed to execute the home button while using DeX, and the brightness keys control the phone screen, not the connected Expand X. On the bright side, the media and volume keys work as expected.
The textured keys themselves are comfortable and are the same size as those on my Dell laptop at 15x15mm. They are snappy and responsive, providing approximately 1.7mm of travel. I would not have an issue using it for casual messaging, but would recommend a dedicated keyboard for longer typing sessions if only for the more standard layout. There is a slight grating noise when pushing the left control key on my unit, as it seemingly rubs against the side due to being slightly misaligned.
The touchpad is made of slightly textured plastic and is satisfyingly precise. It is small, however, at 95x53mm but this may be a blessing as it is less prone to accidental touches which was an issue with the NexDock Touch’s large one.
Like most budget lapdocks, the touchpad is presented to the operating system as a mouse pointer, which results in the lack of palm rejection and typical gestures. A few of the latter are baked into the firmware but are extremely odd, such as a three finger tap for messaging and swiping from the right to open the calculator. Other gestures are also available, such as swiping in from the top or bottom to minimize and restore all, respectively, and swiping in from the left to reach the app overview screen.
Over the past week, I’ve used the Alldocube Expand X as a lapdock paired with my Samsung S10, as well as a secondary monitor for both work and leisure.
I enjoyed using Android apps in windowed mode when undertaking lighter tasks, as DeX was snappy and easy to use with the touch screen. Although the screen is capable of running at 1440p, I find that elements are a little too small at that resolution and routinely stick with 1080p, which provides a good balance of screen real estate and visual comfort.
For productivity, Microsoft’s Office apps are well optimized and provide an interface similar to their desktop counterparts. Outlook was a breeze as well, although it is not possible to have an inbox open in a separate window from the calendar which necessitated a few clicks back and forth. I had no issue using Google Docs for basic editing either, although the Sheets interface is slightly cumbersome when using a mouse and keyboard.
When it comes to web browsers, Samsung Internet had the distinct advantage of being able to open multiple browser windows and force desktop mode by default, but I ended up using Microsoft Edge just for the sync between devices. Reddit-wise, I found Boost for Reddit‘s dual column mode convenient to quickly hop across threads, and being an app, I could jump between the lapdock and phone without skipping a beat.
For heavier tasks best suited for a full blown operating system, I typically used Remotix to remotely access my laptop upstairs. Performance was acceptable in Smooth mode, although there is some image compression and slightly noticeable latency.
The software is a one-time purchase, and offers audio redirection alongside direct touch interaction mode. It’s a shame, however, that scrolling the remote screen is mapped to a two-finger drag as opposed to the more natural one-finger without any way to reconfigure this. While I found RealVNC to be a smoother experience, audio redirection is only available on a monthly plan, and there is no direct touch interaction mode available for Android devices.
I also have Xubuntu installed through Andronix, allowing the ARM-based Linux distro to run on DeX. In a pinch, this allowed me to access the web through Chromium ARM, as well as do some light coding using Visual Studio Code.
As a lapdock, the Alldocube ran slightly hot when connected to my phone, I suspect due to the reverse charging function. I did not find any way to turn this off, unfortunately.
As a convertible external screen, the Expand X is ideal for use as a secondary monitor as the keyboard can be completely detached.
My Dell Inspiron Gaming does not have USB-C video out capability, so I had to turn to my HDMI to Mini HDMI cable I had lying around. Once plugged in and after some minor tweaking in the Nvidia Control Panel’s output settings, I was good to go with Windows 10 having no issues detecting it as an external screen.
The Alldocube screen can also be connected via USB to enable its touch screen, although brightness and volume settings are accessible regardless, unlike the NexDock Touch which required the keyboard to be powered via USB.
As lapdocks are powered by whichever phone is on hand, their hardware quality becomes the key factor for longevity. This is where the Alldocube really shines. Its all-metal unibody build is more than solid, and its great touchscreen makes it a pleasure to use.
And as someone who typically gets everything done on a monster of a laptop, the versatility of the Alldocube Expand X when paired with Samsung DeX is making it easier than ever to leave it behind.
**While this review is not paid or sponsored in any way, I would appreciate the use of my AliExpress referral link if you do end up purchasing off the site.