Microsoft Surface Duo adds Game Pass touch controls, but you won’t confuse it for a portable Xbox

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Streets of Rage 4 on the Microsoft Surface Duo: cloud gaming meets touch controls via Game Pass Ultimate.


Scott Stein/CNET

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. 

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Banjo-Kazooie! (Note the shifted touch control layout.)


Scott Stein/CNET

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.

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Add controller, please.


Scott Stein/CNET

Microsoft has also recently added touchscreen controls for some Xbox Cloud Gaming games, which you can use on both Android and iOS or iPadOS devices. 

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.


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