Microsoft Display Dock Review - The device that transforms your smartphone into a PC
You might not have heard about the Microsoft Display Dock but you surely heard about Windows 10 Mobile and the Microsoft Lumia 950 or 950 XL smartphones that were launched at the end of 2015. They are the first high-end smartphones with Windows 10 Mobile and the first smartphones that try to replace your PC. What most people don't know is that, in order for these smartphones to offer you a PC-like experience, they need to be connected to the Microsoft Display Dock. We managed to get our hands on this device and we used it for several days. If you want to find out whether your smartphone can truly replace your PC, you should read this review:
Hardware specifications & packaging
The packaging used by Microsoft for its Display Dock is 100% recyclable and it looks similar to the packaging used for Lumia smartphones. On the front of the box you can see a picture of the device, connected to a smartphone, a keyboard and a monitor.
On the back of the box you can find details about its specifications and features.
When you open the box, you first see the Display Dock itself.
When you open it further, you'll also find a USB-C cable with a length of 100 cm (39.37 inches), the power supply and the user guide.
The Display Dock gets charged through a USB-C port and it offers connectivity to other devices, through the following ports: 1 HDMI port, 1 DisplayPort and 3 USB 2.0 ports.
In terms of size, the Microsoft Display Dock is not very big: it has a width and a length of 64.1 mm (2.52 inches), and a thickness of 25.6 mm (1 inch). The Display Dock is not that light, weighing 230 grams or 8.11 ounces.
The full set of specifications can be found here: Microsoft Display Dock Specifications.
Using the Microsoft Display Dock
The design of the Microsoft Display Dock is quite simple. It's a black box with lots of ports and the Microsoft logo on it. It looks good, it feels solid and it is easy to carry around. However, it has quite a few cables so you do need a backpack for it. If you take into consideration that you also need a keyboard and a mouse in order to use it, there's quite a bit of stuff to carry around with you, alongside your smartphone and the Microsoft Display Dock.
Since this is the first version of the Display Dock, it's not perfect. It was designed mostly for business users who want to carry it between their home and business offices. In order to use Continuum on Windows 10 Mobile, you can use a Bluetooth or a USB keyboard and mouse but you must use a n HDMI or DisplayPort connection through the Display Dock in order to get the best experience.
The Miracast support for wireless displays is there but it's sketchy for now in Windows 10 Mobile. For example, it doesn't work with Microsoft's own Wireless Display Adapter. Therefore, if you want to use your Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL like a PC, the Microsoft Display Dock is a must buy.
During my testing, I hooked it up to a Razer BlackWidow keyboard, a Razer DeathAdder 2013 mouse and an Acer K272HUL 27" display.
In order to use the Microsoft Display Dock, you first need to connect the display, the keyboard and the mouse and then start the Continuum app on your Windows 10 Mobile smartphone.
Configuring this app is quick and easy and you should get started in no time. In just a couple of seconds you will have access to the Windows D esktop that you know from your PC. The user interface works just like on the PC even though the Start Menu is a clone of the Start Screen on your smartphone.
All the Windows 10 Mobile apps look and work the same as on your Windows 10 PC. You should have no troubles adapting to the user interface shown on the screen.
Multi-tasking is there but it's not full-multitasking like on a desktop PC. That's because Windows 10 Mobile uses modern apps that are made for the ARM architecture, not desktop apps. While you can easily switch between apps, you can't have them split the screen side by side and you can have only one app displayed on the screen, at a time. Also, you can't have apps running in background doing their thing, unless they were designed to work as background apps and services. For example, you can't listen to music on YouTube, in Microsoft Edge, while you write a Word document. That's because Microsoft Edge needs to be an active window in order to play YouTube videos.
The user experience is decent, at least when using the Microsoft Display Dock with a Microsoft Lumia 950. Opening and closing apps works just like on your PC and the operating system is generally snappy: you can browse multiple websites i n Microsoft Edge and also get to use the phone features in Windows 10 Mobile, while using it also as a PC. However, when you open several apps simultaneously, things start to get a bit slow and we don't recommend that you use more than 4 or 5 apps at a time. We created small Word documents, a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, answered e-mails and text messages (SMS), played videos on YouTube, watched short movies with the Movies & TV app and also wrote a large portion of this review using the Microsoft Display Dock. The experience was good but not as fast as on a real PC with an SSD drive. When you need to do serious multi-tasking, the Microsoft Display Dock fails short and you will feel the need for using a real PC.
We appreciated the fact that the Microsoft Display Dock remains cool, even after extended periods of use. However, the same can't be said about the Microsoft Lumia 950. The smartphone gets hot quite fast, especially when you multi-task.
One of the aspects that I have enjoyed is the fact that firmware updates and quick and easy, even for users that are not very technical.
The Microsoft Display Dock and Windows 10 Continuum are big ideas. However, this is only their first incarnation and they are far from perfect. Here's what we believe it's missing in order to be truly useful:
In order for Windows 10 Continuum and the Microsoft Display Dock to be used on a wide scale, Microsoft needs to provide several improvements:
- A smaller price - first of all, the cost of using Windows 10 Continuum is very high. You have to invest in very expensive smartphones like Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL and also purchase the Microsoft Display Dock separately, which costs another 100 USD. The price of ownership should be lower in order to drive adoption.
- Support for affordable smartphones - I realize that Windows 10 Continuum needs quite a bit of processing power in order to work smoothly. But, in order to be used on a wide scale, cheaper smartphones need to provide support for the Microsoft Display Dock and Continuum. This feature shouldn't be reserved only for expensive, high-end devices with Windows 10 Mobile.
- More universal apps - You can use Continuum only with universal Windows apps. Right now, their number is small and most of these apps are made by Microsoft. Yes, you get all the Office apps, Skype and other Microsoft apps but you will need more. So far, on my smartphone, only Facebook, Fitbit, Uber and TeamViewer had universal apps which worked with Continuum.
- Accessories - more accessories need to be made available: more Bluetooth keyboards and mice as well as wireless displays. What about having a wireless screen, the size of a 10 inch tablet, with Miracast support, so that you can carry it in your backpack, alongside your smartphone and the Microsoft Display Dock? That would help you have a truly mobile office. Right now, the Microsoft Display Dock forces you to sit in front of a desk, with a modern display connected to it. This limits the user's mobility.
- DVI support - many users have older displays with DVI connections instead of HDMI or DisplayPort. It might be a good idea to provide a DVI converter for the Microsoft Display Dock.
If you have also used the Microsoft Display Dock we are curious to learn which are the things that need to be improved, in your view.
Where To Buy
The Microsoft Display Dock and Windows 10 Continuum are great ideas but they are also very expensive. We believe that Microsoft is on to something and that it should further invest into their development. Soon, we might have a future in which we no longer need PCs in the classic sense of the word, only smartphones that get connected to a couple of smart accessories. Imagine replacing your laptop with your smartphone! It sound s intriguing, to say the least. However, for now, Microsoft is offering only a pricey first version of this concept. It's here, it works but it also has bugs and weaknesses which don't allow it to provide you with a true replacement for your PC. If you are invested in Microsoft's ecosystem and you are using many of their apps, then the Microsoft Display Dock is a good complement to your new Microsoft Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL smartphone. However, if you use many other apps which are not yet universal Windows apps, you might want to wait a while.