Rating:
6/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $100

Plugable's Phone Cube, a Samsung Phone, and a stylus sitting on a desk next to a computer monitor.
Plugable

Do you want to use your Samsung phone as a portable, dockable PC? Based on my testing of the DeX feature, probably not. But, if you beg to differ, the Plugable Phone Cube is probably the best way to do it.

Here’s What We Like

  • Cute design
  • Compact
  • Works with DeX touchpad mode

And What We Don’t

  • No dedicated audio-out
  • No easy USB access
  • Pricey

Some Very Particular Ports

The Cube is nothing more (or less) than a good-looking, compact USB-C hub with dedicated power. It’s certified for the DeX system, which allows Samsung’s high-end phones to plug into a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and pretend to be an Android-based desktop PC. (A bad one—but that’s not this product’s fault.) The Cube isn’t the only gadget that does this—Samsung sells multiple DeX docking stations, and plenty of third-party USB-C docks can handle this function—many at a lower price.

Samsung phone connected by a USB-C cable to a Plugable Phone Cube.
A single USB-C cable gets you HDMI, a mouse, a keyboard, storage, and Ethernet. Michael Crider

But the Cube offers a usability boost. Samsung’s first DeX design resembled an old-fashioned Palm charger cradle. This doesn’t work with the new touchpad tool, which turns your phone’s screen into a laptop-style touchpad, so you don’t need a mouse. Samsung’s case-style DeX dock allows for this, but it’s limited in terms of expansion. Third-party docks are more like large dongles, and they lack touchpad usability and external charging power. The Cube hits all of these points, and it’s the best all-around option in an admittedly niche field.

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Party in the Back

The physical design of the Cube is, well, cubical. There’s a USB-C port on the front. On the back, you find two rectangular USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port for accessories and data, a single HDMI port (which supports up to 4K resolution), and an Ethernet port for wired networking. The Cube comes with a wall-wart charger that can output 15 watts to your phone.

The back of the Plugable Phone Cube.
There’s a good selection of ports for such a small dock, but I still miss dedicated audio. Michael Crider

The layout is simple and appealing, with a glowing blue LED strip on the bottom that’s fun without being distracting. But there are a couple of changes I would make after using it for a while. The dock could sacrifice some aesthetic appeal for utility by moving one of the standard USB ports to the front, so you don’t have to reach around to the back of the device to plug in a flash drive. PC manufacturers figured this out decades ago, so I don’t know why it didn’t occur to Plugable’s design team. I would also like a headphone jack on the dock for displays without speakers or audio-out options (which is quite common if you’re using cheap or business-class monitors).

Using the Cube for DeX is frustrating, but not due to the hardware itself. As an Android-based system, DeX has some considerable limitations in terms of app management and interface. But this review isn’t about that (check out this video if you’re curious). If you’re committed to the DeX system, which is available on the Galaxy S8, S9, S10, Note 8, and Note 9, you won’t have any problems using it here.

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Monitor with three windows open.
Turning your phone into a desktop sounds cool, but using it is like…using a bad desktop.

I was able to use mice and keyboards over USB or pair them directly to the phone via Bluetooth. I was also able to (awkwardly) access external storage and networking via the standard ports. Video and audio were rock-solid on my monitor, even though my Note 8 was limited to 1080p resolution. It all works, it’s just not a great way to get anything done when compared to, say, an inexpensive Chromebook or even an iPad. The awkward transitions between mobile and windowed desktop apps—and the limited power of the phone—feel stifling.

Lack of Flexibility

Can you use the Cube for other stuff? Sure! It works as a standard USB-C dock, and I was able to plug in my HP Chromebook x2 and access all the same features, including video-out. But since the Cube is designed first and foremost for use with phones, the power output via the USB-C port is limited to only 15 watts, so my laptop didn’t charge while it was connected. It’ll do in a pinch, but it’s not ideal if you need something for more conventional PC-style docking. And you run into the same problems with no easily-accessible USB port and no dedicated audio-out options.

A keyboard and phone connected to a Plugable Phone Cube.
The ability to easily use your phone’s screen as a touchpad without sacrificing dock ports is a big plus. Michael Crider

In terms of value, the Cube is a tough sell for anyone except those looking to use it for DeX. There are cheaper options for both USB-C hubs and DeX-only docks, although, few of them offer the option of easily using your phone as a touchpad at the same time. Because using your phone as a dockable computer requires a keyboard and a monitor (a $200 investment, at the very least), I don’t think $100 for the most flexible DeX dock option out there is an unreasonable additional investment.

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Barring some usability quibbles, the Cube is a good option for DeX users. Anyone looking for a more general USB-C hub for phones or laptops can find better hardware at lower prices.

Here’s What We Like

  • Cute design
  • Compact
  • Works with DeX touchpad mode

And What We Don’t

  • No dedicated audio-out
  • No easy USB access
  • Pricey





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