Xbox cloud gaming just got much better on Microsoft's Surface Duo

Microsoft Surface Duo review: A beautiful disaster
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Playing a game with touchscreen controls can be cumbersome, but Microsoft has come up with an intriguing solution that turns a Surface Duo into a portable Xbox Series X

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can play dozens of games over the cloud with touch controls. And thanks to the Surface Duo’s dual screens, Microsoft has effectively made an Xbox version of a Nintendo 3DS.

The feature works when you use the foldable in landscape mode (or Compose Mode, as Microsoft calls it), with one screen positioned above the other. The top half displays the game and the bottom has touch controls. The comparisons to the  Nintendo 3DS are obvious, only this time with sharper-looking games on a much more expensive device. 

One big advantage of playing games this way is that you'll be able to see the action more clearly. Unlike when you use touch controls on another device, your thumbs won't get in the way.  Xbox's Larry "MajorNelson" Hryb posted a video on Twitter showcasing what gaming is like on the Surface Duo.

Microsoft has brought some other improvements to the Xbox Game Pass app as part of this update. It'll be easier to view content and move through menus, and the app organizes everything into columns on Surface Duo. You'll need to make sure Xbox Game Pass and your Surface Duo are updated to use the dual-screen touch controls.

Microsoft has added custom touch controls to more than 50 Xbox cloud gaming titles in recent months. After debuting the feature with Minecraft Dungeons last September, the Xbox team has brought dedicated touch controls setups to Gears 5, Overcooked 2, Streets of Rage 4 and many other games. 

Playing games on a phone is so much better than it used to be. Both iPhone and Android support a wide range of controllers, including Sony's PS5 DualSense and the Xbox Wireless Controller. Controllers like Backbone One, which has a built-in phone mount, are proving to be popular as well. 

The rise of cloud gaming has been a catalyst for mobile gaming growth over the last few years. Along with Xbox cloud gaming, PlayStation Now, Nvidia GeForce Now, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and Prsec have all tilted the market in the direction of high-end mobile gaming. 

In general, this Surface Duo feature won't work as well as an external controller. It might be best suited for games that don't require dual thumbsticks or shoulder buttons, and titles that don't demand lightning-quick reactions. Still, the update will give players another handy way to play games on their phone without janky touch controls on a single screen or having to lug around a controller.

Kris Holt

Kris writes about tech, streaming, games, esports, film and much more. He's a Scot who lives in Montreal with his partner and many, many plants.