Beware, Samsung DeX! Chrome OS on Android could be a game-changer

Earlier today, my colleague Mishaal Rahman shared the exclusive news that Google has been experimenting with running Chrome OS on Android. Details are still slim, but we know that Google has been showing off to its partners the ability to run, through a virtual machine, a special but up-to-date “ferrochrome” build of Chromium OS (the open-source release of Chrome OS) on a Pixel 8 hooked to an external display.

We still don’t know where or how this project will progress, but the fact that it’s being demoed by Google on an external display is getting our heads spinning: Could this be Android’s properly revived desktop mode? And if so, what happens to Samsung DeX?

Samsung Dex or Chrome OS on Android, which would you prefer?

6 votes

Chrome OS could unlock the full potential of Android phones

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

The prospect of a full-fledged Chrome OS instance running on my Android phone or tablet fascinates me. Especially if I’m able to call it up each time I hook my phone/tablet to an external monitor. I imagine doing this on my own TV at home or when I’m traveling and staying in hotels or Airbnbs. I also imagine my husband would love the idea and use it frequently at his workstation. So, instead of constantly looking down at his phone and then up at his screen, he’d just hook the phone up and have access to his personal accounts with a simple input switch.

It’s not just about external display access, though. It’s about having the power and abilities of Chrome OS in the palm of my hand and in the same device that runs Android. Sure, Android is perfect for on-the-go computing, but Chrome OS is better suited for desktop use. The platform has also become incredibly powerful over the last few years. It’s no longer just a wrapper around your browser but a capable OS that offers tons of features not available on Android phones or tablets.

Chrome OS can bring a full-fledged browser and excellent productivity features that Android doesn’t currently have.

Chrome OS currently has a built-in PDF editor and annotator, a presentation-ready screen capture tool for work and school, a new Screencast app with on-screen annotation, a Canvas app for drawing, a Cursive app for note-taking, a photo editor, a clipboard manager, and more. More importantly, it runs the full instance of the Chrome browser, not the mobile one, which means that sites like WordPress, where I spend half of my work day, run properly. Extensions and custom search engines are supported, too.

I can do 95% of my “real work” on Chrome OS without missing a beat. I can barely do 20% on Android, even though modern Android phones have all the necessary horsepower, RAM, and storage to handle all those workloads. It’s just that the OS wasn’t built for it, nor is the mobile version of the Chrome browser.

Chrome OS could unlock my phone’s untapped power. Being able to run a full desktop OS from the device that I carry everywhere would be a game-changer for me and for many people like me. But it would also certainly put a question mark around Samsung DeX and its future.

Is Samsung DeX in jeopardy?

Pocket Casts and Documents on Samsung Wireless Dex

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Despite how good and capable DeX is, it still is, in essence, a larger display wrapper around your regular Android apps. It’s not a different operating system, nor does it unlock more features that your Samsung phone doesn’t have. Yes, it is incredibly convenient and very much loved by everyone who uses it, but it’s somewhat similar to the iPad’s external display situation: Things look nicer and better on a larger screen, but they’re the same things. Apple doesn’t let you run macOS when you connect your iPad to an external display, and Samsung DeX sits in that same space. A better option, but not the best option.

DeX could have the same future as Samsung’s multitasking, quick settings, or SmartThings Find: A trailblazer soon overtaken by the default Google option.

If Chrome OS were to come to Android phones, and if Google could ship it on its Pixels and convince other brands to bundle it in their own Android skins, that would leave DeX and Samsung at a huge disadvantage. Maybe the millions of Samsung users won’t know or care, or would feel that DeX is enough for their use, but the future would still look a little grim for DeX. The same way it does for Samsung’s SmartThings Find network now that Google’s Find My Device network has launched. Once a default consensus is adopted in the Android ecosystem, any brand-specific implementation tends to be dead in the water soon after, no matter how influential that brand is.

This already happened to Samsung when it first implemented multi-tasking, quick settings tiles, and many other Android features. Soon after, the option would come to stock Android, and Samsung’s APIs and all the work third-party developers had done to adopt them would be forgotten.

Fortunately, that future still seems far-fetched. The “ferrochrome” build of Chrome OS for Android is still far from ready for the public, and we all know how slow Google is in implementing big changes. So raise a glass for DeX, and let it keep being the beacon for desktop modes on Android for months to come; then, when it’s time to move to something more powerful, we’ll give it a nice eulogy.

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