Brown’s Bytes – The Mobile Only Challenge: Week 2 Update

Welcome to Brown’s Bytes! Your weekly insight from Mobliciti’s CTO Andy Brown. Follow #brownsbytes

9th February 2018

So, the first full week of Mobile Only has been completed and I am still going! This update is again coming to you using Microsoft Word on my phone docked in the DeX Station…

Week 2 Update

Two major items to cover off this week.

The first may sound rather stupid, but it’s answering the phone!! When you dock your phone into the Samsung DeX Station it effectively turns the phone into a brick (by design) and you then start to use the screen keyboard and mouse to navigate around. This works seamlessly and is impressive, but there is a snag with phone calls.

I discovered this when I was phoned for the first time when docked. The phone app flashed up on my screen as you would expect – this was excellent. However, when I clicked to answer the call I was left shouting at my docked phone in speakerphone mode! This would have been bearable, but unfortunately it has a serious flaw… I could hear the caller just fine, but it turns out that they couldn’t hear me very well at all.

It does seem there is a design issue – the phone has its microphone on the bottom (as do all smartphones these days), but once docked in the DeX Station this is almost all covered – hence the shouting.

Amusing for the rest of the office, but not ideal. I therefore looked into the DeX alternative, which is that I can grab the phone out of the dock and start speaking. This has a number of flaws to me:

  1. I can’t see my screen when on the phone any more.
  2. If I answer the call and then take the phone out of the dock then the caller hears a load of noise before I can say hello.
  3. If I pull the phone out of the dock before answering the call then I have to wait for the phone to return from DeX mode back to phone mode (which takes quite a few seconds) before I can answer the call (meanwhile the caller is just hearing a ringing tone – not ideal).

This was pretty rubbish and came close to being a deal breaker. However, I’m not giving up that easily so decided to add a cheap Bluetooth headset into the experiment:

So that’s another £16.69 to the bill for this, but it does now mean that I can now use the phone for voice calls when docked. Now this is in place we can continue!

While on the subject of using the phone features there is an unexpected benefit that is actually rather cool and that I would now miss – being able to text from my “desktop”. Sounds simple, but it’s amazing how useful this is (similar to WhatsApp Web if anyone is used to that).

Now on to the other major update point for this week:

As noted last week there is a full set of Office Apps for Android and a number of these have been optimised for DeX.

First thing to note – not all of them. Only Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are DeX optimised. For me that leaves Skype for Business and Teams running in phone shaped Windows – they still function ok, but it’s not ideal.

Now on to the DeX enabled apps. The key thing to note is that they do not become desktop equivalents once in DeX mode. In effect they become stretched versions of the mobile apps – anyone who has used these apps on a tablet before will have seen a similar experience. My personal findings on this so far:

Word – I’m not really a power Word user, but there has been nothing so far that I have been unable to do. Occasionally it’s a little different to the desktop, but generally good. Even track changes are available.

Excel – This is more limiting. Again, most things work surprisingly well, but there are items missing that are causing some pain points:
– Form controls and macros are not supported – long term this could be a deal breaker
– Linked spreadsheets are not supported

So far, I’ve worked around these issues, but it’s far from ideal.

PowerPoint – This is just about perfect! I have presented from my phone using the HDMI converter successfully and also on a Wireless display. The slides have rendered perfectly and all transitions have been fine. In addition, I find that creating/editing slides to work just fine when docked.

Outlook/ Email – This has definitely been the most challenging. Not because I have been unable to do what I need to do, but because the UI isn’t as expected. Full fat Outlook is a very tweakable interface that you use a lot of the day. As such it almost becomes muscle memory the way you interact with it. The stretched mobile experience of the Outlook Android App is good, but it’s not great and it certainly isn’t the same – I find myself having to concentrate more on what I want to do.

I have adapted, but there are items that are frustrating:
– Viewing other calendars just isn’t available
– Flagged Items can not be scheduled and viewing the items as a to-do list is awkward
– The window sizing can not be altered by the user to get more viewing area for the email

In the end I use a mixture of the Outlook App and OWA. OWA works perfectly in the browser on the phone and has filled some of the gaps. It’s still not Outlook, but it means I can do everything I need to do.

OneNote – This works fine. Not quite the same, but no major issues. However, people have noticed I’ve started using my paper notebook more again – more on this another time.

So, I’m still going – it’s been a bit harder than expected in places, but I haven’t got to a showstopper issue yet. Next week I start to really ‘geek out’ and see what this thing can do!

Watch this space…

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