There are plenty of things about Samsung's Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ that deserve to be called eye catching. The pearlescent design. The triple-lens camera on the back. The center-orientated hole-punch notch.
All the same, one of the smaller and more intriguing details that caught my attention from the moment that the device was first announced was Samsung’s extremely casual and low-key entry into the game streaming space via a new Android app called PlayGalaxy Link.
Similar to apps like Steam Link or Nvidia's GeForce Now tech, PlayGalaxy Link allows Note 10 and Note 10+ users to stream gaming experiences from a Windows PC straight to their smartphone.
What Samsung are offering here is quite technically distinct from fare like Google Stadia. There's no subscription fee involved. What’s more, rather than stream via the Cloud, PlayGalaxy Link relies on a more direct P2P connection. Obvious caveat here: PlayGalaxy Link is still technically in beta.
Nevertheless, I’ve always been fascinated by the potential that game streaming services have to shatter the status quo in the gaming world, so I jumped at the chance to give this a try.
How to set up PlayGalaxy Link
To their credit, setting up Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Link service is actually quite quick and straightforward.
Firstly, you need to nab the PlayGalaxy app off Samsung’s Galaxy App store. So far, the app is only available in the US, Korea and Australia. If you live outside those regions, you’ll have to wait until it arrives locally to test the app out for yourself.
Naturally, since the PlayGalaxy Link app is only available through Samsung’s app store, you can only get it if you’re using a compatible Samsung smartphone. At the time of writing, Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, Note 10 and Note 10+ devices are supported.
Regardless, once you’ve installed the app, launch it and log in using your Samsung account. If you don’t already have a Samsung account, you’ll need to create one.
Next up, you need a PC and some games.
Samsung says that your connected PC needs at least an Intel Core i5 processor and at least 8GB of DDR4 RAM. They also list Nvidia’s GTX 1060 or AMD’s Radeon RX550 as minimum specs on their website.
Those requirements aren’t particularly onerous but they do make for a sharp contrast to the promise of things like Google Stadia - which is able to run on something as stripped-down as a ChromeCast.
Samsung also recommends a router with gigabit bandwidth - which makes sense.
Our initial round of testing relied on a Galaxy Note 10+, a Netgear AX8 router, a fully-specced out Intel Hades Canyon NUC and an NBN50 broadband connection. Unfortunately, I did not have access to Samsung’s GLAP controller during our testing.
Assuming you meet those requirements, downloading the PlayGalaxy Link app for Windows is pretty straightforward. You can download it here.
Once installed, you just log into your Samsung account on your PC. Then, the PlayGalaxy Link app should automatically populate itself with games that are installed on your system. If it misses any, there’s a helpful button at the bottom of the window that you can use to manually add games to the launcher.
Of course, if any of the games you try to launch via PlayGalaxy Link have their own launchers, things are going to inevitably get a bit messier. More on that to come.
What’s the experience of gaming via PlayGalaxy Link actually like?
At first blush, I felt like the rich colors and curved corners of PlayGalaxy Link application did an effective job of making the prospect of streaming PC games over a P2P connection seem a whole lot less intimidating. Unfortunately, this tilt towards simplicity also proved frustrating when things inevitably went sideways.
And, don’t get me wrong, my first bout with Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Link app fell off the rails fast.
Once you’ve got both your host PC and client smartphone setup through the PlayGalaxy App, you should just be able to connect the two at the press of a button. The first time I tried that, I couldn’t even detect my PC on my smartphone. The second time, I could see the host PC but any attempts to connect ended in failure.
A few frustrating re-installs later, I finally got the PlayGalaxy Link app working - but I couldn’t tell you how or why. It’s hard to identify where things aren’t coming together when all the technical details are brushed over in the name of user friendliness.
Still, once the planets aligned and the app began to sort-of work as advertised, I was excited at the prospect of moving closer to realising my dream of grinding out a few extra hours of Destiny 2 from the comfort of my bed instead of the comfort of my desk.
Unfortunately, for both the multiplayer Destiny 2: Shadowkeep (review here) and the single player Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (review here), the latency here was more than just perceptible. It was significant enough to compromise the experience.
Even on a 4G and NBN50 connection, it felt like my inputs weren’t coming through until 4-6 seconds after I’d make them. In addition, any rapid camera movements would consistency cause a severe degradation in the visual quality of the stream. In-game audio was also out of sync by several seconds.
I admit, it feels a little harsh to call the experience of using PlayGalaxy Link at home a total disaster. There are some things that Samsung do deserve a little bit of credit for. The process of remapping controls is definitely clunky but it did immediately know what to do when I connected a Nintendo Switch Pro controller to my Note 10+ via Bluetooth.
Likewise, the Galaxy Note 10+ has one of the nicest screens you’ll find in a 2019 smartphone. It was wicked cool to see AAA titles like Destiny 2 realised in this form-factor - even if things felt a little cramped. I suspect that if and when PlayGalaxy Link comes to Samsung’s Android tablet range, the larger AMOLED displays involved will make for better fit.
Still, despite these silver linings, my experience testing out Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Link was extremely janky and far from playable. It didn’t help that I lean the Note 10+ against a mug in order to keep the screen stable. Unless you’ve rocking a pop socket or MOFT X, the problem of stability rears its ugly head fast here.
I still believe that game streaming technologies like this or cloud-based platforms like Google Stadia have the potential to radically reshape the gaming experience for millions of people but the implementation here suggests that either Samsung or Australian infrastructure isn’t ready to deliver that experience quite yet. Personally, I lean towards the latter but it’s hard to say for sure.
The Mythbuster Method
Of course, the conclusion that game-streaming in Australia is a messy business is hardly a satisfying place for this story to end.
What does it take for PlayGalaxy Link to deliver the kind of experience that Samsung promised it could? I trekked out to Milson’s Point in North Sydney - one of the few places you can reliably get a 5G connection over the Telstra network - to try and find out.
The setup here involved an ASUS TUF FX505 gaming laptop and a Galaxy S10 5G. The former was wired directly into a HTC Hub 5G hotspot. The latter relied on its own 5G connection. In lieu of Samsung’s Glap controller, I used an Xbox Elite 2 wireless controller that was linked to the S10 5G via Bluetooth.
On site, our S10 5G measured download speeds of between 200 mbps and 300 mbps - which should be more than enough for this kind of game streaming experience. For comparison, Google’s Stadia streaming service requires 35mbps to stream in 4K resolution.
Essentially, the idea here was to see if relying on a 5G connection for both ends of our streaming made a massive difference. Gaming has been frequently talked up as a big use-case for 5G. Time to see what that looks like in action.
Can 5G make game-streaming work in Australia?
The short version here is that while 5G didn’t magically make PlayGalaxy Link experience as good as it ought be, it did offer improvements in some situations.
To our delight, Dragonball FighterZ was more-or-less entirely playable, albeit not a competitive level. There was some degradation in resolution towards the edges of the screen but, otherwise, Ark Systems’ popular fighting game was still a blast to jump into on a mobile form-factor.
The other 2D title I tested, Dead Cells (review here), ran similarly well with minimal issues.
All three of these titles suffered from significant input latency and frequent frame-drops. You could sort of get away with it when it came to Dante’s latest adventure but the other two titles proved fatally compromised in terms of the gameplay experience. If I was trying to do this for real - and not just as an experiment - I doubt I'd stick with this gaming format for more than a single session.
On top of these top-line performance issues, the experience of jumping between games using the PlayGalaxy App also left a lot to be desired. Exiting out of a game through the PlayGalaxy always super cumbersome and, often-times, it didn’t actually close the title on the host PC at all. Sekiro was still running in the background long after I had moved onto playing other games - which feels like a bit of a recipe for disaster.
Another thing that concerned me here was how quickly this setup consumed both data and battery life. Our S10 5G unit lost about 20% charge after roughly an hour of streaming and consumed 2GB of data in the first twenty minutes alone. It’s easy to imagine how these anecdotal costs of using the PlayGalaxy Link app could add up over time.
The Bottom Line
Even when it works and regardless of whether you’re pairing it up with a traditional broadband setup or a 5G connection, the results offered by Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Link are rarely clean or consistent. The system works but never at a level that it feels like you'd want to make the trade-offs it asks of you.
Ultimately, my experiences with Samsung’s game streaming app have left me skeptical towards the notion that 5G is a magic fix-all from the problems that have plagued game streaming use-cases thus far. Even if it does offer some degree of improvement, it still feels like there’s a long way to go before something like this offers the kind of convenience necessary for adoption by both mass audiences and diehard niches.
It’s cool to see Samsung try to seduce gaming savvy consumers in a way that other smartphone brands aren’t but, all the same, this doesn’t feel like a fight they can actually win.