Back in April I asked with Windows Phone Continuum, will you need a tablet at all? Now that I’m running a Lumia 950XL and a Continuum dock, the answer? Yes, you still need a tablet. I’m disappointed. I had my Lumia 950 XL pre-order in early. It was a good sign that the phone comes with a Microsoft Display Dock. The phone itself is gorgeous. Light, brilliant screen and lots of power. I suffered through three months of Microsoft’s Insider program, and throughout that time it felt (a) like I was too *far* inside, and (b) I was seriously concerned a stable build would be ready in time. Microsoft mostly pulled it off, which means they were able to get Windows Phone 10 back to Windows Phone 8 capability before shipping. Windows Hello is very cool. Those reports of it not working with glasses didn’t apply to me. Windows Hello recognizes me faster that I can type in my PIN, as long as I bring the phone just a little closer to my face than I’m used to. People watching probably figure my glasses aren’t working. But back to the point: it is Continuum that I am interested in trying, which means I need a Microsoft Display Dock. Except the Lumia 950 XL doesn’t actually ship with the free dock. A rather complex process of getting a ‘Lumia Deals’ voucher is required, and then the ordering process needs to be repeated, with a 10-12 week ETA. Why so complicated and slow? That meant a trip to the local Microsoft Store. While they didn’t have any 950’s in stock, they did have a dock! Time to wire up Windows Phone Continuum. Overall the experience is pretty nifty. With a fully HD display, keyboard and mouse, I was running on my phone in the same way I’d connect a Surface or a laptop. A good start, and pretty thrilling.
The Windows Phone Continuum Good News
Here is the good news: it delivered nearly a full Office experience. I opened, tracked changes and added comments to a Word doc. Then I opened a large PPT from One Drive for Business. Outside of Outlook, I couldn’t tell I was on a phone. In the middle of it, my “phone” rang and I could work uninterrupted on my Word document (wires aside). On top of that, it ran gorgeous full-screen HD video. Things were good. The question – can I work like this? Do I need a Surface? Onto the problems: First, the biggest roadblock seems like a small one. I couldn’t increase the sensitivity of the mouse. Whole arm movements were needed to get the mouse across the screen. In Windows 10, that is an easy fix. In Windows Phone 10, there are no mouse settings. Anywhere. Presumably under the covers the OS can handle this request, but the UI doesn’t enable it (yet). More was wrong. Barely any other apps work. Basically just Office and Edge. File Explorer is… not file explorer. I feel like one hand is tied behind my back. Outlook is slower than the other office apps and not actually the Outlook I know and love on the desktop. And where is Skype? Skype for Business is part of Office and a key productivity tool. Some days it looks like SfB has taken over my life. While I can run Skype for Business on my phone screen, it doesn’t run in Continuum. That isn’t practical, and a huge limiter. If Microsoft can’t ship their own apps with continuum support (which I suspect means shipping a Universal App), do they really expect third parties to ship their own? And there are bugs, and not ones that take days to discover. I opened Gmail in Edge and the search box wouldn’t respond to my clicks. Word kept jumping to the end of the document when I made a particular formatting change. The new feature I love in Outlook 2016 that provides access to your most recently used files doesn’t exist. The list goes on. Windows Phone 10 Continuum is sort of like having a Surface RT… except a small subset of Windows apps work, there is no command prompt, and no control panel. If you thought RT was limiting, continuum takes it to a new level.
Windows Phone Continuum is Not Ready
So, it is pretty clear that continuum is not ready. Given Microsoft’s recent history of shipping too early, that isn’t much of a surprise. Many of these problems could be fixed with time. From a capability perspective, we need a few more things: 1) intel processors. Windows Phone must run Win32/Win64 applications. I feel like we’ve learned that lesson already with Surface RT. There have been rumors of a Surface Phone that is intel based. 2) We need a core set of Microsoft productivity apps that all work. All of them! 3) An ecosystem that will ship universal apps. The jury is still out on that one. 4) Multi-display support. 5) Actual Windows support, so for one I can see my Skype For Business chat beside my Word document. If all that happens, will Windows Phone Continuum work? Well, there is one obvious problem: for continuum I also need a keyboard, a mouse, and a nice big screen. If I’m at work, why wouldn’t I use a Surface where 1-5 above have already been addressed? If I’m traveling, I’m not going to throw a monitor in my carry on. That leaves home, but that PC is shared and needs to be available for everyone, and not everyone has a Lumia 950XL. There is hope, but it is faint and the use case isn’t clear. Disappointing. I’m sticking with my Surface at work, and a Lumia 950 XL in my pocket.