Microsoft Surface Duo is great for Game Pass, but it sucks at just about everything else

microsoft surface duo
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The Microsoft Surface Duo is a beautiful device with a unique dual-screen premise (versus a true folding one like the Galaxy Z Fold 3). But with so many caveats, the Surface Duo is not a phone/tablet anyone in their right mind would recommend as a main device. 

If, however, you're really into the cloud gaming aspect of Xbox Game Pass, the Surface Duo is one of the best phones for that. The reason being that, in games with touch controls enabled, the second screen can act as a touchpad, turning the Surface Duo into a Nintendo DS-like gadget.

There are just two problems. The first being that it requires actually using a Surface Duo in any capacity (any amount of money is too much for this thing), and the second being that not all games that work on the Android version of Game Pass support touch controls. Many still require an external controller, something I think Microsoft should have improved by this point. You're therefore left in a worse spot than if you just used a controller.

I used the Surface Duo as my exclusive Game Pass device for a couple of weeks — I couldn't wait to go back to a regular phone. Here are my thoughts.

Using the Surface Duo for Game Pass

Microsoft Surface Duo review: A beautiful disaster

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I like to play Game Pass games on my phone, mostly Maneater and NieR: Automata. The latter works with the Surface Duo's secondary screen setup, as do several others like Hades. But you're nonetheless limited, notably in shooters like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Destiny 2, and even Halo 5.

Even if those were supported, I think I'd have trouble adjusting to touch controls in those fast-paced moments. The benefit of a physical medium like a controller or keyboard is the tactile response to input. There's no such thing on the touch controls for Game Pass games.

It also doesn't help that the layout on the Surface Duo's second screen is different for each game. Hopping between NieR: Automata and Hades, for example, required re-learning the whole control scheme. It baffled me that Microsoft has not instituted a universal input layout for Game Pass on Android. It's downright disappointing.

At the end of the couple of weeks I spent with the Surface Duo, I was itching to go back to a traditional smartphone with a controller. Part of that had to do with the tactility thing, but also for ergonomics — holding the Surface Duo like a DS and reaching for the buttons can be quite tiring, if you're even able to hit them all.

The problems with the Surface Duo

Microsoft Surface Duo review: A beautiful disaster

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As cool as this whole dual-screen thing is, it doesn't take away from the fact that the Microsoft Surface Duo just sucks at almost everything a phone/tablet should do.

Hell, it doesn't even have Android 11 yet and Android 12 is right around the corner. This is a botched attempt by Microsoft to get into the Android space after the failure that was Windows Phone. I know some of you fans of Microsoft's dead mobile OS might hate me for that, but I used it and it was never good. I digress.

But some might argue that the Surface Duo is meant to be more of a tablet than a phone, and I'd agree. But when you look at something like the Galaxy Z Fold 3, which is both a phone and a tablet, you start to wonder where in the world the Surface Duo fits in. The Fold 3 is far more pocketable than than Microsoft's device, too.

The Surface Duo has little going in its favor. From underwhelming performance to no 5G and a bad camera, it fails to make a case for itself. It still has glitches and oddities so long after its release, and it was far too expensive when it launched.

Outlook: Wait for Surface Duo 2?

Microsoft Surface Duo review: A beautiful disaster

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I don't think anyone should buy a smartphone or tablet for one purpose only — that's just an poor use of money for most people. As it stands right now, the Surface Duo is a one trick pony, offering the best Game Pass experience for the titles that support touch controls.

But if you spring for something like the Razer Kishi, you can turn the best Android phones into powerful Game Pass devices. They'll also be better at most other tasks, too, like being phones.

I think the Surface Duo is neat and I appreciate Microsoft trying something new. But novelty alone does not make a good device, and the Surface Duo is far from a good device. It's a bad phone, and it's a lackluster tablet. It could have been OK somewhere in the middle, but it even failed to accomplish that. 

If the rumors are true and Microsoft is readying a Surface Duo 2, we would like to see better cameras, a faster processor and the latest version of Android. Maybe then the Surface Duo can be more than a gaming device. 

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.

  • Mreric66
    Your so wrong it's more than what you say. It's also not a gaming machine. Most people into tech wouldn't use an experimental machine as their daily driver but just to see how things work. It works well as a media consumption whilst doing other things. You couldn't have tried it out apart from gaming. Your post is child like.