I was also frustrated that the standard home screens disappeared when I plugged the Note II into the Smart Dock, replaced by a simplified version that didn't allow the use of familiar actions. The dumbed-down UI makes no sense on a larger screen, especially when you have a keyboard and mouse in use (whether via USB or Bluetooth). Such desktop peripherals actually work better with the standard Android UI than they do with the Smart Dock's streamlined UI. After all, such peripherals are designed to work well with a dense set of icons, menus, and controls.
Fortunately, this pared-down screen can be turned off in the Settings app (look for the Accessory option), returning you to the standard UI. You should turn off the Docking "page buddy" option as well; it replaces the standard UI with a version meant to be simpler, but in practice, it just hides what you likely are looking for.
Finally, the mirrored screen overscanned my TV's edges, so the top and bottom of the Note II's screen was clipped. There are no settings to adjust the image size to compensate. The USB ports worked, though I found the mouse movements rough, without the kind of motion speed compensation standard on a PC or Mac.
At the end of the day, the Smart Dock doesn't do much more than a standard HDMI cable would. Yes, you get a stand to keep the Note II upright, so you can tap it if you don't have a mouse. And yes, the dock keeps the Note II charged. And yes, you get USB ports, though as more and more peripherals are Bluetooth, that's not necessarily an advantage -- I had to scrounge my home office to find a USB keyboard and mouse for testing.
I just don't see the value of the Smart Dock as it is today. Maybe one day we'll have a device that transforms a smartphone into a PC -- but not right now.
This article, "Samsung's Galaxy Note Smart Dock is a dumb addition," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.