The Surface Duo is the Best Handheld Xbox You Can Get

But that’s not saying much

  • Android’s Xbox Game Pass app now connects to the xCloud game-streaming service.
  • The Surface Duo is Microsoft’s dual-screen, folding Android device. 
  • The best mobile gaming setup might be an Xbox controller paired with your phone or tablet.
Xbox controller with computer, tablet, and phone screens

Microsoft

Microsoft’s Surface Duo is now a Game Boy for Xbox games. 

Thanks to Xbox Cloud streaming, any PC or phone can play Xbox games. And now, with an update to the Xbox Game Pass app, it also runs on Android devices, including Microsoft’s little fold-up Surface Duo, a dual-screen tablet/phone thingy. The Surface Duo uses one screen to show the game, and one screen to display the touch-screen controls. In this way it’s a kind of combination of gaming on the iPhone, and on the Nintendo DS. But is it really up to the job of playing Xbox games?

“The Surface Duo's processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, is powerful enough to run most Xbox titles at 60FPS,” Art of PC’s Barry Gates told Lifewire via email. “Its 60Hz refresh rate is somewhat disappointing, as many companies have begun opting for 120Hz or even 144Hz displays, but is still adequate.”

Power

There are two possible hitches to gaming on this device. One is power, and the other is the lack of physical buttons. Power-wise, phone chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon are good enough, especially when you consider how Xbox Cloud works. Instead of running the game on the device itself, games run on servers in Microsoft’s cloud and stream the results back to you. Imagine playing an Xbox in the next state over, with really long cables hooking it up to your screen, and you get the idea.

The advantage is that you can play the games anywhere—even on the iPhone and iPad via a web app. The disadvantage is latency. Every time you tap a control, that tap has to be sent over the internet, then fed into the Xbox Cloud machine, and then the video has to come back. 

“Xbox games on my iPad are super cool, except for the lag.” Lifewire Senior News Editor Rob LeFebvre told me in Slack. “[Google’s] Stadia tends to do a bit better in that department, for me.”

The playability, then, is more down to the quality of your internet connection than the power of your device. 

Don’t Touch

The other possible downside of Xbox games on the Surface Duo is the touch control. Smartphones suffer from having the touch controls overlaid on the games themselves, so the Surface Duo definitely has the advantage there. The top screen is reserved for the game visuals, with the bottom screen acting as a controller.

"Most users will find touch-screen controls to be clunky and unnatural, but there's no need to use these."

There are currently around 50 Xbox Cloud games that can be played with custom touch controls, but for the best experience, you’ll want to connect a proper physical game controller. Touch isn’t necessarily worse than physical controls, but tends to work best when games are designed for touch.

The classic Fruit Ninja is a great example of a touch-first game. It would be impossible to play with a gamepad. But anyone who has played old console games like Street Fighter II via virtual on-screen controls will know how bad it can get. 

iPad running xCloud and Xbox controller

Lifewire / Rob LeFebvre

“Most users will find touch-screen controls to be clunky and unnatural, but there's no need to use these,” says Gates, “as Xbox controllers can easily be connected to the Surface Duo via Bluetooth.”

Casual Gaming

So, should you buy a Surface Duo for playing Xbox on the go? Maybe! It’s a pretty solid setup, with everything you need, and the virtual controller is probably as good as touch controls can get.

But Xbox games are not designed for touch. You might be better off using a real controller with a larger tablet, or—as in the video above—using a controller designed for a phone, with a clip to hold everything together. It may not be as elegant as a folding pocket game console, but to be honest, the Surface Duo is not very elegant in terms of being a regular phone, either. 

If only Apple would allow a native Xbox Cloud app on the iPad. Paired with an actual Xbox controller, it would be a killer mobile gaming setup.

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