Admit it, Nintendo fans: when Microsoft revealed its first official Android-powered smartphone, all you saw was a $1400 Nintendo DS Pro. With its newfound focus on streaming games in the Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft is reevaluating how it approaches them on the Surface Duo. With the latest version of the Android app, controls on the Duo can be entirely assigned to one screen in your hand, leaving the second screen free for gameplay.
It's one of those things that you're surprised to learn wasn't active already. After all, Sony had this gameplay on top, controls on the bottom thing nailed with the Tablet P's PlayStation emulator almost ten years ago. The obvious advantage is that you can access all the controls for any given game without them being overlaid on the visuals of the game itself, but this layout also turns the entire bottom of the Surface Duo into a dedicated grip, making for much more comfy gameplay in any case.
A very cool update goes live for #SurfaceDuo customers today! Working with @Xbox we've put touch controls on to the second screen. More than 50 games are available to play with touch for @xboxGamePass Ultimate Members. pic.twitter.com/ZPIqQZXxS4
— Panos Panay (@panos_panay) May 24, 2021
This behavior was previously live in the beta version of the Game Pass app, but now it's available in the stable release, which previously limited the app to working on a single screen or spanning the gameplay window horizontally across both. At the moment the control options only benefit the 50+ Game Pass streaming games that have adaptive touch controls enabled; any of the other games will still ask the player to connect a gamepad.
While only a fraction of the total Xbox Game Pass streaming library, these tend to be some of the most popular, and/or those that lend themselves well to the dynamic shifting controls. Hopefully we'll see Microsoft expand this functionality to devices with similar form factors, like the Galaxy Fold, in the near future. In the meantime, the Duo is looking a little better, especially now that it's starting to reach a reasonable price.