Microsoft Surface Duo adds Game Pass touch controls, but you won't confuse it for a portable Xbox
An overdue update on this dual-screen Android handheld adds a touchscreen gamepad, but only to a limited set of games.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
The folding, dual-screen Microsoft Surface Duo promised to redefine multiscreen Android phones when it arrived nearly a year ago. It had support for Microsoft's streaming Game Pass Ultimate games in beta mode then, but that didn't help it feel like an especially game-ready device. That may change now that a new update has added touch-based controls on the second screen that sort of make it feel like a Nintendo 3DS. Using it reminds me more, in a way, of Sony's experiments in phone gaming years ago: full of potential, but not quite there yet.
After using it for a few minutes, it's clear that touch controls, while done about as well as I've ever seen, still don't feel as good as physical buttons. Knowing where to press is difficult, and spotting finger positions with peripheral vision while staring at the top screen isn't all that easy. Also, the buttons are small.
But the Duo does feel really nice to hold, and the displays are crisp. The games load well, but you'll only get to use a limited set of games with those touch-enabled controls. Mostly, these games are all of the retro or mobile type: Streets of Rage 4, Banjo-Kazooie, Enter the Gungeon, Killer Queen Black. Full-on console games like Forza Horizon 4 and Madden 21 still require a physical controller to be paired, which is disappointing.
There are already plenty of add-on game controllers for standard-shaped phones that do a stellar job, which makes me wonder who would ever consider a touchscreen controller as a worthwhile feature for a dual-screen phone. Touchscreen controls for the Duo with Game Pass Ultimate are better to have than not, but they're just the tip of the iceberg on optimized ways to improve the futuristic dual-screened Duo that still haven't arrived yet.
Watch this: Microsoft Surface Duo review: 5 stages of dealing with the Duo