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This is Microsoft's canceled Andromeda OS running on a Lumia 950

Andromeda OS on a Lumia 950
Andromeda OS on a Lumia 950 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Ever wondered what Microsoft's canceled version of Windows for the Surface Duo was going to be like? Well wonder no more, as we've got a first hands-on look at a pre-release build from mid-2018 running on a Lumia 950. We've already shown you what Andromeda OS looked like in recreated mockups, so now it's time to see the real thing running on video.

Before we begin, I should make a few things clear. Firstly, Andromeda OS was never intended to ship on the Lumia 950, or any Windows phone on the market at that time. The reason we're using a 950 here is because Microsoft actually used them to help develop Andromeda OS internally, so there are "official" images of the OS for that device. These images were never intended to ship.

Secondly, Andromeda OS is a canceled project. This isn't in active development, as work on the project was postponed in 2018 and never picked up again. Keep that in mind, as I don't want people to think this is something Microsoft is currently working on internally for a future Surface Duo, because it isn't. Android is what will be powering any future Surface Duo devices.

Finally, because Andromeda OS was canceled, that also means it was never finished. As such, the build you're seeing in this article is of pre-release quality, and in a very rough state. The UI and feature set is unfinished, though I do believe there's enough here to get an idea as to what Microsoft was envisioning when it was building out this OS.

If you'd like to know more about the history of Surface Duo and its origins with Windows, be sure to check out my in-depth write up on the subject.

Andromeda OS hands-on

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft decided to do something rather unique with Andromeda OS, and build out OS experience around a journaling/inking experience. On the lockscreen, the user is able to begin taking notes directly onto the lockscreen UI just by putting pen to screen. You don't have to initiate a special mode, or enter an app first, just take your Surface Pen and begin writing, and the lockscreen will store that ink for you to see every time you unlock your device.

This is a super interesting idea, as essentially the lockscreen canvas becomes a whiteboard for quick notes and ideas as you go about your day. It removes any barriers between the user and the ability to take notes, as there's no process involved with having to unlock your phone and find the app or mode required to enable to you take those notes in the first place. Just begin writing on the lockscreen, and you're good to go.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Unlocking the device would take you to your home screen, which on Andromeda OS is another inking canvas. This canvas is called the Journal (though this later became the Microsoft Whiteboard app) which acted as a digital notebook with the ability to take notes with a pen, add sticky notes, insert images and 3D objects, and more. The Journal experience would always be running in the background, with your phone apps running above it.

Andromeda OS was also gesture based. The on-screen Start and Cortana buttons would disappear when opening an app to provide a full-screen experience, so to access those areas, you'd swipe in from the left for Start, and from the right for Cortana, which is also where your notifications were stored. Yes, Cortana and your Notifications were one of the same on Andromeda OS, with Cortana becoming your "manager" of notifications missed or stored for dealing with later.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

A swipe down from the top would reveal the Control Center, which is feature that's now shipping on Windows 11, but started life here on Andromeda OS. Feature-wise, it's exactly the same, with the ability to control things like Wi-Fi, brightness, volume, and music playback. It also features Fluent Design acrylic blur effects, as do many other parts of the UI, even in this unfinished state.

In fact, even with the unfinished software, I think it's clear that Microsoft was going to utilize the beauty of Fluent Design quite heavily on Andromeda OS. Seeing those subtle blur effects in UI areas like the lockscreen make me wish Windows on phones were able to hang on a few more years. Windows 10 Mobile really kicked the bucket before it got a chance to adopt Fluent Design interfaces and modern gestures.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There was also an experimental "Radial UX Menu" mode, where instead of gestures swiping in things like Start and Cortana, swiping would present you with a UI full of circular buttons for things like Start, switching apps, and more. This may have been an alternative to on-screen navigation, as not everyone was familiar with full gesture navigation at the time just yet. Or, it could have been an alternative method of navigation for when you were using a pen. Who knows.

One thing we're not able to show you is the Continuum mode that Microsoft was also working on for Andromeda OS, as unfortunately it appears to be broken in the build we have. That said, we do know what it was going to be like. Essentially, Microsoft was building out Continuum to be a true desktop experience, with windowed app experiences, the ability to store icons on the desktop, and more.

Final thoughts

Andromeda Journal Hero

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

It's very interesting to see how similar, yet different the user experience is on Surface Duo with Android compared to what Microsoft was building with Windows. The whole inking and journal thing is certainly not a focus point on Surface Duo with Android, whereas it was the point on Andromeda.

Yet, there are small UI and UX things here on Andromeda OS that did make the jump to Android, including the date and time layout on the lockscreen, the multitasking UI, and the animations and interaction model involved with running apps side by side in dual-screen mode.

If there's anything I want Microsoft to copy from Andromeda OS and port over to Android on the Surface Duo, it's the lockscreen inking feature. Being able to treat the lockscreen as a whiteboard/inking canvas without having to enter a special mode or app first is a genius idea. It reduces the cognitive load required to take notes on a digital device. Just take the pen and write, no need to think about it.

Read: 5 reasons why Microsoft canceling Andromeda was the right choice

Once again, the Andromeda OS project is canceled. It's not in development, and is never going to ship. The Surface Duo is now an Android device, and Microsoft is all-in on embracing Android as a first party experience on that device.

Special thanks to @gus33000 on Twitter for helping me get this build up and running.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

102 Comments
  • In 2022 I still miss my Lumia 950 badly. The whole experience (except for the app gap) was so much better than Android and IOS even today.
  • I still miss my 950XL as the outlook email experience on Android is nauseatingly poor. I still can get round using the 950XL to day but unfortunately everyone I know is on either on whatsapp or signal. Currently I'm using Xperia 10 with Sailfish X running Android apps with zero google services.
  • Me too. That's why I am currently running Launcher 10 on my Note Ultra.
  • Still using my Lumia 950 as my daily driver and it still doesn't disappoint despite the chipset's occasional heating.
  • Cool, personally I managed till end of whatsapp support (end of 2020 I believe). Afterwards I use it solely a year or 2 for the camera till it was replaced almost completely by a S20FE (still the flashing leds on the Lumia are miles better though and I prefer the Lumia's camera app).
  • Honestly, windows 11 would look really good on mobile with the center windows button kind of like the app drawer for Android... Maybe someday it'll come back. Esp with Linux code running within windows too, they've gotta have a way to integrate smoothly enough by now to have a Windows core running Android stuff *fingers crossed*
  • With WSA (Windows Subsystem for Android) it's a reality today. In W11 you can run Android apps.
    https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/android/wsa/
  • It's not a reality today. Its only available in the Dev channel. It is extremely limited and buggy. Even using the workaround that allow for installation of arbitrary apps, many just do not work.
  • I'll tell you what, if Microsoft ever does release a different "Duo" type device, or something else as small, it wont run Windows 11. Or be based anything that is around today. It will be a completely different. And you fans of W10M and Windows 11 could hate it. It's nice to look back at what might have been but the future will be different.
  • Replied to wrong comment.
  • This is true to any massive changes. Hard to say which group will dislike it. I guess W10M fans may not hate as much since it is pretty much closer to that but with something way more. The canvas home screen is indeed different, and some may don't like that Live Tiles isn't a default home screen experience anymore. Assuming Microsoft won't give an option to switch which default home user wishes to see. But Microsoft at times bad at giving options either. Fans of Windows 11 group may don't like this more in a sense this is "busy". At least it seems number of fans of Windows 11 but not all, likes simplistic OS than being feature rich. It will be the same group who hated Live Tiles for example. Whatever that reality it may be if Andromeda OS went though, it will be different reality for Microsoft ecosystem of today. Hard to say if it will be a success or not, since Microsoft often have very good ideas, they just often just plague with bad execution. So it all depends how Microsoft will execute it in the end.
  • I still remembered the Surface Neo. That could easily be a bigger tablet-like version of the current Surface Duo.
  • Man, just do it Microsoft. I'll never buy overpriced apple products. Android has so many issues. Sigh..
  • If you think Apple is over-priced, wait until you see Surface.
  • At least with Surface you can now replace/upgrade/repair the SSD.
  • This is that kind of OS that would be fantastic for a specific niche, the kind of person that loves the Galaxy Note would probably want this (with Apps though). This OS also makes much more sense on a bigger display like a Surface Duo or Galaxy Fold.
  • The Galaxy Note was canceled if that tells you how big that niche is.
  • "The Galaxy Note was canceled if that tells you how big that niche is."
    I love how you're just wrong on literally everything. Note 21 was canceled for various reasons: High-end smartphone slump in 2021 Samsung had too many high-end phones over competing Chip shortage. A lot of that is on the record, especially #2. And, you say this, when just today Samsung teased what is expected to be Galaxy 22 ahead of WMC, where Samsung is simply folding Note's S Pen into the Ultra series.
    "This fits with the fact that most leakers now think the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra will come with an S Pen stylus, as well as a slot to fit it within the body, as those aforementioned renders show."
    Tom's Guide is on it too. You also missed the part that the Galaxy Fold 3 now supports S Pen. Like, do you try hard to be this misinformed? I'm almost bored dismantling your comments around here.
  • I agree, I don't know how he did even claim that Galaxy Note being a niche, sure it doesn't sell as S series. But that's because it's cheaper. For those who like larger smartphone tend to get the Note.
    Note series is getting discontinued due to Fold series replacing it which now supports pen, and S series line also have variants with larger display like Note and now S series supports pen, like the Note. This leaves Note in a weird position to exist since its unique thing about it is already with other Samsung models as well. Fold series is now the new enthusiast and super flagship smartphone devices of Samsung. This is Note used to be. Samsung will always have this kind of flagship, and Note just got its replacement.
  • Yeah, they bought the Note for the big screen. I bet anything actual pen usage on those devices was small. That is my point, a pen focused device would only sell to old guys.
  • Really? How you say so? How come these pen enabled devices actually built more and more recently. Sure they are not that common but they are catching on, considering pen enabled devices were normally exclusively very expensive devices, too few people experience them and too few apps can use them. Most people are actually not aware about it, realizing what they can do with this stylus thingy. Not everybody of course, just like most things not everybody will have similar use case.
  • "I bet anything actual pen usage on those devices was small." That's based solely on your opinion of pen usage for yourself, not on anything relating to the people who actually bought one. You really are the walking (I assume) embodiment of "I don't like it so no one else should either".
  • I never had a pen focused device, so I don’t even know if I like it. It has nothing to do with me. I am just looking at the sales and number of phones available today built around the pen feature > zero.
  • You're looking at the sales numbers? Show us these numbers you're looking at that you have access to. 🤔
  • In that case, you can really form a good opinion against it either. Since you lack a personal experience of it, let actually use it in the real world. Do you have a sales figure saying how pen is not even selling, like zero? Note existed for years and now that S Pen capabilities just basically transferred to other models. Heck it used to be only Note series can do it, then some Galaxy Tab. Competitors have it such as iPad, and they were impressive pen. Apple won't make one if they can't make money out of it.
  • Samsung for the last several years have made S series phones with screens around the same size as Notes. People did not need to buy a Note phone for a big screen.
  • I use the sPen all the time. I bought my first Note series as the Note 8 tablet in 2013. I used it all the time taking notes in meetings. Worked great with OneNote. Have all my meeting notes and tasks ready to assign out after a meeting. I have had 3 Note tablets over the years and still have a 10 inch Note tablet I bought a few years ago. Samsung still makes Note tablets. I bought three Note phones 4, 8 and 10+ I used them the same way. Now I use the Fold 3 with the sPen. Very exciting to see the Note live on now with the S22 Ultra. I personally will stick with the Fold.
  • Pen input is certainly niche. Having a whole phone based around it doesn’t make sense. They wouldn’t be canceling the Note otherwise. It would be a mistake for Microsoft to make a pen focused phone.
  • "They wouldn’t be canceling the Note otherwise." Except not. The Note is only being cancelled as its own line. It's really just being renamed as part of the Galaxy S range. That's actually quite smart because all the Note people will buy the S Ultra because its basically the same phone while many Galaxy S people will now now effectively buy a more expensive Note because it's the best Galaxy S in the range. They're not losing any Note customers while upselling some of their Galaxy S customers. It's almost like you don't understand anything about anything.
  • All we know is the only pen focused phone left no longer exists. That definitely hints to pen not being a big selling point. We will see if the new Ultra is pen focused or just tacked on.
  • There are actually more pen enabled devices in the market than before now, few Android tablets supports pen, Huawei I think supports one, of course Apple does with iPad. Samsung basically just made their S Pen not exclusive to Note, now it's on S series and Fold series. The Note series will have to be discontinued since there is not much difference from S Ultra. The S Pen software will still lives on with One UI.
  • What is the S22 Ultra (the new Samsung flagship) and why does all of the Samsung Ads show it with a sPen?
  • Dan, "Bleached" is a Troll. Always has been, always will be. Don't feed the Trolls.
  • Note was discontinued, since its basically got its replacement. Samsung won't hold that series for too long if it was not making money for them. Samsung just got too many S-series variant nowadays and now will support S Pen. If S series remained like what it was, a smaller flasghsip, Note would have continued at least.
  • While Samsung does cancel the Galaxy Note lineup, Samsung spiritually brings it back to the Ultra variant of the upcoming Galaxy S22 series. So the demand is still there.
  • Very much miss those blue squares (though I changed mine to red) along the way. There was just something about the feel that I can't describe but miss. I can do anything with my phone that I need to, but that Windows Phone was just better. Too bad the masses didn't feel the same way we did. 5 years ago I was a Microsoft super fan. Now I just don't care about technology.
  • I can attest to that. I used to be on the Android bandwagon until I switched to Windows Phone in mid-2016. Needless to say, I'm still loving the Windows Phone experience to date. The only reason I was forced to go back to Android is because of WhatsApp.
  • So... I have a Lumia 950 sitting in a drawer... you guys should definitely dump this rom ;-)
  • gosh, if only they had not let windows phone fail, this OS would have been pretty awesome.
    Imagine this OS running on a galaxy s21 ultra, it would be impressive. I would actually use my s-pen more than once a year.
  • I remembered Samsung launched the Windows Phone-powered Ativ lineup. Samsung can easily resurrect the lineup with Windows on ARM.
  • Photon, Andromeda.... History indeed repeats itself at Redmond.
  • Photon was just a continuation of Windows Mobile. Windows Phone 7 was the radical departure and riskier bet but also was more interesting. I think, in that case, they actually did the right thing and delivered the right product.
  • Yes indeed: Photon was supposed to be the replacement for WM 5 and it could have been an excellent antagonist for the coming iPhone. WP 7 was also based on the same OS of WM, WP changed it.
    Yes Tiles we’re the right paradigm… again butchered in its infancy lacking further development.
  • Yep, Live Tiles was a great concept, but later became a victim of neglect with no more innovations implemented. There was in Microsoft Research before that turning it into widget, but Microsoft just didn't puruse it, so in Windows 10, we still have the same old Live Tiles without anything new about it. They won't even need this currently inferior Windows 11 Widget it they just made Live Tiles better. It even became buggier during the course of WIndows 10.
  • Live Tiles were a terrible concept with nearly zero utility. Inferior to widgets in every way. There is a reason every single OS built around them was a massive failure. They were ugly, distracting, and useless.
  • Did you miss the remarks about being abandoned? Check what the Live tiles future was supposed to be: "Interactive Live Tiles".
  • I understand that you are a troll but you are just straight stupid at this point. Name one phone or one OS today in wich when you look at the screen you can see st a glance : The time and date
    Wheater
    Whatsap messages
    Facebook messages
    Text Messages
    Calls
    Emails
    Notes
    Music
    Photos
    Etc This was possible because of the live tiles concept, and nothing in the modern OS and widgets matches the live tiles NOTHING.
  • Lol, if you really think they are "ugly, distracting, and useless", why would Apple copy it for iOS 15? They could have just not done it if you really claimed that. Forget Android widgets, they are completely hopeless in every way.
  • Yep, visually and basic interaction with iOS/iPadOS widgets and Live Tiles were so close to each other, with some different or else Apple would be accused of straight up copy. How come of all, Apple, now got a very similar thing. Well there is an argument whether Live Tiles is useful or not, which all depends on the user. But thing is, it is almost a widget which basically adding interactive UI elements into the Live Tile. The Interactive Live Tile research were actually for intents and purposes, widgets, just happens to have a non-generic name. Windows Gadgets were widgets as well. KDE on Linux got Plasma Extensions which are widgets. How come they have zero utility? They literally provide information, which is their utility. It just lacks additional function to be a widget, which is what people were asking in the past. Not to ditch and make a new one, loosing all the code and apps supporting it.
  • Interesting to see what could have been.
    I would have wanted to try it out. I might be moving to a Lumia 650 later this year, if/when the 3G network
    goes down. I'm still on windows phone 7.5, with an Optimus. So I will always be using
    windows phone. Yes, i have a duo 1, but i will never switch to android for phones,
    its too clunky. later
    -1
  • Writing on the lock screen is a super cool idea. I don't know how many times I'm talking to someone and they rattle off something important like their phone number and I need to jot it down. I've tried using Whiteboard for this purpose, but it is just too slow to load.
  • Oh, I wanted to add, it was the right move to cancel Andromeda. The world can only deal with so many proprietary third party integrations like CarPlay, Apply Pay, Android Car, Android Pay, etc. (I'm sure I got the Android names wrong, but you get the idea). Also, app support would not have panned out. Native phone apps are still dominant; PWA have not taken over the world yet.
  • Oh, one more thing. Microsoft was about a decade ahead of their time. It will be about a decade until we see this vision play out; that is one device/OS/account that can take on all form factors (e.g. phone, tablet, and desktop) via peripheral device connection (e.g. monitors, keyboard, mouse, etc).
  • Except Android already did that years before. It can take any form factor and 12L will do that even better.
  • This is a bit disingenuous. Android can be on many form factors, but really generally sucks beyond a phone screen. It's only when Samsung forks it that it works reasonably.
  • Microsoft's mobile was a confused mess. As a developer it was a nightmare. Microsoft actually had a decent market share with Win Mobile 6.5, but they let it rot on the vine and lost just about everyone. Then they eventually moved to Win 7 OS and devices, but never planned on these devices being upgraded to Win8. Even a little bit of planning and Win7 devices would not have been a dead end. Windows Mobile 8 had great potential, but was rushed. Microsoft should have built a mobile OS for Phones and tablets. Instead they had four separate OS, one for phones, one for tablets, one for desktops and one for servers. The connections between all four were not great - the unification usage strategy was always very rough. The tablet OS RT was beyond bad. Only a company driven by some with the ego of Balmer could even think it might be successful. I still have my RT table, bought for $99 at Tech ED 2013. At the time MS was selling the model I bought for over $700 at the MS Stores. Very sad. By the time Win 10 mobile was released the game was over. We developed corporate apps to support the Enterprise software I managed. We did not even bother with Win 10 mobile. We had almost no demand. Due to Microsoft's crazy non unified approach they could not easily move their mobile strategy to support the major cloud platforms, including their own. MS woke up in time and got rid of Balmer and now they are experiencing a major growth path. I have zero doubt that if Balmer had not been let go in 2014 Microsoft would be in worse shape than IBM is today.
  • "Writing on the lock screen is a super cool idea. "
    The concept lives on and we may see it return.
  • Go on.... https://images.app.goo.gl/hSGPfZAdrMt1jkYq7
  • Isn't that something Samsung did with the Galaxy Note lineup before?
  • Yep, pretty useful actually. For those who use Galaxy Note can attest this. Sadly the Lockscreen feature in Note only works with Samsung Note, not in OneNote which I prefer. Still its awesome to quickly jot down notes or diagrams and put the pen to save it. Done and it even saves in the cloud.
  • Loved doing this on my Note 8 and Note 10+. Great to take a fast note on my phone by just pulling out the pen.
  • Nothing that Microsoft is doing these days is attractive or useful as far as I'm concerned. They are only marginally better than Apple or Google garbage.
  • very disgusting, they spend 68 billion, yes billion on a gaming company but could not continue with the small device program. I wish today I would only have a Monitor keyboard and mouse at me work desk and plug in my windows phone to my desk every morning.
    this is nuts they did not do this we are all walking around the a phone that has the power to run windows on it today.
  • " I wish today I would only have a Monitor keyboard and mouse at me work desk and plug in my windows phone to my desk every morning."
    As intriguing as Continuum is, the concept lives on with Samsung and DeX. How has the worked out for Samsung? They never talk about it, no longer sell the dock, etc. I think the idea may have legs further down the road, but, in many ways, it's was just too far ahead of its time, and underpowered for what people want/need.
  • DeX is not Windows...
  • This isn't Windows on ARM. This is Windows Mobile and it could only run Store UWP apps, not x86. It'd be just as limited as Android/DeX, except, you know, even fewer apps. Let me put it another way: Microsoft did Continuum. It did nothing to save Windows phone. Why would it be different here?
  • I would say Continuum were too limited back then either. It wasn't really giving a proper desktop experience, it only do is making your app fill up a monitor but it doesn't do a proper windowing and not even snapping features exist. It was akin to plugging an Android or iPad to external monitor but same exact tablet UI that doesn't adapt. The only made Continuum "desktop-like" was its Taskbar, Start Menu and Action Center. File Explorer is also were too basic even compared to Windows XP. But yeah, docking a smartphone is still pretty nice due to still requiring a space to have it. There is no hotel or kiosk where we can just go and plug it in. Though who knows if space USB-C Monitor in the future may become a common place, for now it isn't.
  • Maybe it wouldn't do enough to save the platform, granted. However, it would have been nice for the general public to be advised of its existence and properly marketed, instead of being practically released for a "for-the-fan-only" device. For instance, it would have been nice for the general public to know that you could have an almost 100% MSOffice experience on your phone, once it was docked, and without any need to pay for a 365 subscription (at least, at the beginning). But they did not. You know, that kind of stuff you see advertised 24h a day, 7 days a week, in commercials with folksy songs, hipster students, and bitten fruits.
  • Because Microsoft stop improving. If they focus to improve it, it will be much usable.
  • I think the main problem is that Android itself is not a desktop-grade OS despite using the Linux kernel. Even with something like Samsung DeX, we are still depending on Play Store mobile apps and mobile apps, in general, hasn't really been much good compared to desktop apps. I like what Linux developers have done with PINE64's PinePhone. That is a truly legit Linux smartphone running a truly legit Linux desktop distro. I saw a video of someone running GIMP software inside a PinePhone and that pretty much says it all. If we really want to see the 'smartphone as a PC' appeal grow big, having Windows on ARM or Linux will make much better sense than Android.
  • Yeah, there is also a thing that most Android apps are not designed to be scaled well desktop use, heck there are some apps that aren't even optimized for tablets to begin with, let alone desktop. Windows 10 Mobile were had some going for it at least since the UWP apps are literally same apps that will run on desktop, and UWP are designed to be scalable. The problem is there just aren't enough developers for the platform, thus it affects the Continuum feature itself since at the end of the day, app is all that matters. Though Continuum of W10M is to be frank, underwhelming. It doesn't do windowed apps and doesn't even do Windows Snap like on regular Windows 10 to begin with. Multitasking in Continuum is akin to an iPad experience in 2010. Just all fullscreen apps.
  • There's something just so Microsoft about wanting to go all in on handwriting and note taking while their actual note taking software, OneNote, has been consigned to abandonware.
  • Its never too late. The most annoying thing about smartphones is the perpetual update of apps. Its so segmented and clunky. I would take