Surface Duo becomes ‘Xbox Portable’ with Xbox Game Pass touch controls

This is the next best thing to an “Xbox Portable” without any extra game controller accessories.

Xbox Game Pass on Surface Duo with touch controls. Microsoft. Android. Xbox. Gaming.
Panos Panay

Just because the Surface Duo hasn’t lived up to expectations doesn’t mean Microsoft’s casting it aside (yet). Today, the dual-screen phone-tablet-whatever-you-want-to-call-it is getting custom touch controls for Xbox Game Pass via the Xbox Cloud Gaming (Beta) app. No more needing to connect a physical controller or do finger gymnastics (aka “claws”) to play games via Microsoft’s game subscription service.

Microsoft says “more than 50 games” (list of compatible titles here) will be available with the touchscreen controls. “With this update to the Xbox Game Pass app, players will be able to turn one screen into a controller through touch controls and use the other for playing over 50 touch-enabled games, including Sea of Thieves, Gears 5, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, Slay the Spire, and many more,” according to the company.

Panos Panay, head of product at Microsoft, shared the below tweet of the controls on the Duo:

Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft aka Xbox chief, tweeted the news, praising all the “teams that came together to deliver this new feature. He added: “It’s important that we provide gamers the best experience based on where they want to play, and we will continue to do so as we move ahead with cloud gaming.”

Two touch layouts — The “Xbox touch Controls” for Surface Duo comes in two versions, one for “compose mode” (DS-style) and one for “spanned” (spread across both screens in either orientation). Microsoft promises “clearer gameplay without thumbs covering the game.”

Additionally, Microsoft says the Duo team has optimized Xbox Game Pass for better optimization with the two screens, including smarter menu navigation and column layouts.

Xbox Portable — It’s not quite a Nintendo Switch or even a PS Vita (RIP), but the optimized touch controls married to Xbox Game Pass are the next best thing to a portable Xbox that we’re going without using any extra game controller accessories like the Razer Kishi with Android phones. It’s about time, too, because emulators on the Duo have had custom touch controls since launch. (Here’s my playing PS1, N64, SNES, and Game Boy Advance games on the Duo using RetroArch.)

Surface Duo 2 coming? — Reviewers (including myself) all agree that Microsoft did a terrific job with the Duo’s hardware. It’s slim and beautiful. But a combination of sluggish software, poor camera (there’s only one!), and the high price hurt the Duo’s chances at paving a new path in mobile.

In February, Microsoft slashed the Surface Duo’s $1,400 price down to $1,000 — a far more attractive price, especially if it’s going to be used as secondary device to your main phone. Other retailers like Woot put the Duo on firesale, discounting it down to $600.

These price cuts could mean two things: The Duo is a dud and this is the end of the line or Microsoft’s clearing stock for a Duo 2. My conversation with Panay at the Duo’s launch gave me the impression that they were committed to making the dual-screen device work even if the first one failed.