A growing number of phones can connect to a lapdock. Depending on your workflow, your phone has more than enough power to replace your PC, but the experience isn’t without its drawbacks. Here are hiccups you can expect before you dive in.
1. Inconsistent Text Selection
When you’re using a PC, you can highlight text by double-clicking. You can expect this to work in essentially any window, regardless of what program you’re using.
When you’re using an Android desktop like Samsung Dex, this isn’t the case.
Some apps highlight text when you double-click, but then you have to drag the same handles around that appear on your phone. Some require you to use keyboard shortcuts to highlight text instead. Others simply don’t allow you to highlight text at all.
2. Right-Click Only Sometimes Works
The story with right-clicking is the same as highlighting text. Right-clicking will often bring up the context menu you expect if you were using a desktop PC. But in many apps, nothing will happen at all.
In those apps, you will have to remember what you normally do when using your smartphone. In Slack, for example, that means holding down left-click until a context menu slides up from the bottom of the window, as though you’re tapping and holding on the screen.
3. Most Apps Only Have Phone Layouts
If you’ve tried to use an Android tablet, you know that most apps are designed with phones in mind. Some adapt their interface to utilize the extra screen real estate, but most simply stretch across the screen.
The situation on the desktop is no different. Fortunately, unlike on a tablet, you can leave these apps as small windows rather than use them maximized. But you may find the situation frustrating when looking for an app that you need to properly fill your monitor, like a web browser or office suite. Google has done a decent job with its apps, but most other developers haven’t made the effort.
4. Text Scaling Is All Over the Place
Text scaling presents a bigger challenge. Most apps will open with text at the appropriate size. Others will launch with text magnified, as though the screen should display the same amount of words on your 24-inch monitor as it would on your 6-inch phone.
Unfortunately, unlike on a desktop, you don’t have many options for adjusting this. Most Android apps are not designed with an understanding that they might be viewed on a monitor, so there are very few settings for adjusting the text size.
5. Swiping Is Awkward With a Mouse
Gestures are a basic part of how Android works. On newer phones, you swipe up from the bottom to return to the home screen, and you swipe from the edge of the screen to go back to the previous page in your app.
On the desktop, certain apps have a back arrow in the desktop title bar, so that you can continue to navigate them with a mouse. But in some cases, if you drag your mouse in from the edge of the window, you will still trigger the gesture. This can occasionally result in a loss of whatever you were working on.
You can turn off Android’s system gestures to alleviate the issue, but that can be inconvenient if you prefer using gestures when you go back to using your phone as a phone.
6. Expect Duplicate UI Elements
Some apps will have a title that appears both in the title bar and within the app window. Some also have a back arrow that appears in both places. Is it a dealbreaker? Not really. Is it weird and distracting? Yeah.
7. Window Management Can Be Hit or Miss
Desktop PCs typically come with buttons in the title bar for minimizing, maximizing, and closing the current window. You can even use keyboard shortcuts to manage windows.
On an Android desktop, you may also see buttons for tiling the window to the left or right side of the screen. On Samsung Dex, you can tile windows using keyboard shortcuts. On a Motorola device you can’t. Likewise, if you tile a window, you can’t un-tile the window by dragging it away from the screen. Instead, you need to manually resize it back to how it was.
In short, your experience may vary based on which manufacturer’s Android desktop you’re using, and the results may not be quite on par with what you expect.
8. System Tray Icons Open Windows
This is less of a problem and more of a quirk, but on Motorola’s desktop, clicking in the system tray doesn’t open popup menus. Instead, it opens full-blown app windows.
Clicking the clock opens the clock app. Selecting the Wi-Fi icon opens the “Internet” page of Android’s system settings. Clicking on the battery icon opens up the “Battery” page instead.
9. Lack of Desktop Configuration
Android is a pretty customizable experience. But on the desktop? Not so much. Don’t expect to be able to move the panel from the bottom of the screen to either of the sides. You can’t even drag icons around the panel (instead, you must pin and un-pin apps in the desired order). Samsung Dex allows you to create folders for your apps. Motorola’s desktop doesn’t.
You can change your wallpaper. You can also adjust whether the interface is large or small. That’s about it. The Android desktop is even more basic than using a Chromebook, which at least allows you to move the shelf around.
10. You Have to Manually Disconnect Bluetooth Devices
When you remove your phone from a dock and walk away, your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse remain paired. This means that when you pull out your phone and start typing, a virtual keyboard doesn’t pop-up. Even if you’re no stranger to Android, it may still take a moment to figure out what’s going on.
So remember to make turning off your keyboard and mouse part of your routine when you leave your desk.
The Android Desktop Is Still Surprisingly Usable
No, the experience isn’t perfect. But you may have noticed that system performance was not an issue on this list. Smartphones are more than powerful enough to deliver a stutter-free experience in desktop mode.
So if you like the idea of getting more out of the device you’re already carrying around with you, and you know that Android apps suit your workflow, consider picking up a compatible phone the next time you upgrade.