Samsung’s smart monitor is trying too hard to be clever • The Register

desktop tourism Samsung’s vision for a smart monitor is enticing: the company suggests that you park your PC and instead use Bluetooth input devices to work with a monitor that bakes in a browser and Office 365 Mac.

When the work is done, the 32-inch M8 Smart Monitor has Samsung’s Smart TV interface and can install apps that allow it to connect to countless streaming services.

The device mainly delivers as an entertainment machine. Samsung’s Tizen-based smart TV environment is intuitive, smooth, and fast. The M8’s 3,840 x 2,160 display is big, bright, pleasing, and handles subtle color grading and rapidly changing images well.

The speakers are just adequate, as you would expect from a display that’s only 22mm deep. Bluetooth speakers are therefore an option that many will go for.

Some might miss the presence of a TV tuner, but I was able to find apps for local free-to-air stations and stream their offerings. The Samsung remote is perfectly adequate and the inclusion of USB-C charging for the battery is pleasing.

The M8 can therefore also do its job in a small room as a TV alternative. I imagine it would work really well in a teenager’s bedroom, for example, if they could watch videos from their beds instead of curling up with a laptop.

But this hypothetical teenager couldn’t use the M8 for much work. Nobody else either.

Samsung’s promised Office 365 integration is very superficial – you get links to web app versions of Microsoft’s famous productivity suite and, if you have an account, access to cloud storage. Each Office app is presented in a browser tab that instantly takes up the entire screen. However, the browser supplied by Samsung reported that it was not compatible with Teams, making the included webcam less useful.

It’s possible to exit full-screen mode and view the web apps as tabs, but the device never offers anything resembling a desktop metaphor or a PC-like user experience. For example, it’s difficult to switch between apps.

Instead, as soon as you leave a browser tab, the device offers a user interface designed for control with a remote control. To get something done, you have to poke around a lot with a giant cursor or return to the remote control.

Samsung M8 smart monitor

Samsung M8 Smart Monitor (click to enlarge)

The device offers the possibility to add other “workspaces”, which I did by logging into my Google account. The browser protested again that it was not designed for the web apps offered.

Remoting into a PC was easy enough, but the performance wasn’t sharp enough to be a viable option for everyday use.

So I imagine the M8 could be useful for emergency access to a document that needs fixing before you get to work tomorrow, but not much else.

On the go with a portable monitor

For the past few weeks, I’ve indulged in some real tourism—a trip to the US to meet other Vultures and attend VMware’s Explore Gabfest—and picked up a Dell C1422H portable monitor along the way.

The device is a 14-inch LCD HD monitor with USB-C ports. It weighs 590 grams and comes in a felt pouch. It’s about the size of a laptop and fits in the padded slot of my shoulder bag next to my ThinkPad with no nudging or squeezing required.

I found the monitor to be a comfortable option for those rare moments when my journey required a few hours of uninterrupted work.

Here it is on a hotel room desk, and its case doubles as a mouse pad.

Dell portable monitor

Dell Portable Monitor (click to enlarge)

I’m above average height and I find that a day spent working on a laptop puts me at risk of neck pain. The extra screen allowed me to lean forward just enough to be more physically comfortable, and finding that the machine’s stand is stable in portrait or landscape mode allowed me to bring the windows closer to my eyeline, and a lot at that appreciate.

Dell’s monitor costs $320 — $9 less than Apple’s most basic iPad — or $29 less than Samsung’s cheapest Galaxy Tab S8. Although both of these tablets are smaller than the wearable monitor, they can extend the screen of a Mac or PC… and likely be used more days of the year than the dedicated wearable display.

If I were to spend my own money I would probably buy the tablet. But for those of you who travel for work and like to add bulk to your bags, I recommend making the boss pay for this portable monitor in the name of improved ergonomics wherever you go.

The M8 is also annoying in other respects. Writing Desktop Tourism means I’ve hooked up a lot of computers to a lot of monitors this year: the M8 failed to detect the presence of my workhorse ThinkPad via HDMI, the first such failure I’ve experienced.

The monitor has a pair of USB-C ports, but only one can handle video, and the tiny glyphs that make this clear are all but impossible to see since the ports are on the back of the device, behind its stand . Yes, I could have read the manual, but the M8 is a monitor, a class of device that I think it’s reasonable to assume plug-and-plays.

The USB-C cable that Samsung ships with the monitor is a stingy length, making it difficult to arrange a desktop around the M8. Whether that’s a sacrifice from Samsung being a tad cheap, or the quirks of USB-C cables, or both is hard to guess. After all, the cable can power a laptop. But it and the monitor couldn’t automatically detect a Mac I had connected.

I also found it odd that the M8 doesn’t turn off when a connected laptop is closed or shut down. The monitor instead displays a splash screen with a countdown to entering Smart TV mode, which can only be resolved by finding the remote and turning off the monitor.

Once I figured out the M8’s weaknesses, which meant ignoring its role as a PC alternative, I enjoyed having it around. I’ve found that a monitor that includes a Smart TV interface draws a pleasingly sharper line between work and play, removing my PC as a distraction when watching videos.

But by trying to be smart with the addition of Office 365, the whole package struggles to deliver on the promise of being smart. A monitor with a smart TV interface and a clear and definitive personality change to a dumb PC-driven display would be more satisfying than this machine’s poor attempt at adding productivity features. Samsung also needs to lower the price of this $700 device as that sum can cover the cost of a decent monitor and a low-end smart TV. ® Samsung’s smart monitor is trying too hard to be clever • The Register

Rick Schindler

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