I ditched my Surface and only used Continuum on my Lumia — here's how it went

It's no secret that Continuum is the biggest highlight of Microsoft's latest Windows 10 flagship devices, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. The marketing pitch of the 'Phone that works like a PC' is not just disruptive, but also a huge bet by the company.

While it looked fascinating in demos and interesting in short bursts, the real power of Continuum, or lack thereof, could be validated only by taking it for a regular work day drive. So, that's what I did.

The Setup

My typical work day (when I'm not attending a meeting or a press event) involves working from home or from a coworking space I'm a member of.

At home, I sit on a desk, plug my Surface 3 to the external display (a 40" LED TV), and use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for a desktop-like setup. Sometimes, when I want to watch a movie or live sports action while working, I disconnect the external display and just use the Surface 3 with the peripherals.

At work, I just carry my Surface 3 and Microsoft Wedge Mouse, keeping it light and mobile, and it works well for me.

The Experiment

Microsoft Display Dock

Microsoft Display Dock

So here's what I did. For a few days I gave up on Surface 3 for the entire day and just used my Lumia 950 XL with the Microsoft Display Dock for my daily driver. I did not cheat… the joys were mine, and so was the pain. Even this article was written entirely while through the Continuum experience.

I conducted this experiment only when I was working from home the entire day, since the coworking space I work out of does not free monitors to hook up to.

I did go for few meetings without the Surface, but with OneNote on the Lumia 950 XL, I usually don't need anything else for meetings.

The Experience

For my rig, the setup wasn't really different. I worked with the same keyboard and mouse with the TV. The Surface 3 was replaced with the Lumia 950 XL and the Display Dock. If you use a standalone laptop every day, it would be like going back to a desktop.

It takes a little while to get having something like Tablet Mode, but on a desktop, and without pinned taskbar items. Of course, there's the familiar Start Menu, Cortana, and the Task View button to switch between the open apps. The Start Menu mimics the Start screen of the phone, so it is instantly familiar and comfortable to navigate with. The Action Center is flipped, and the notifications appear below the shortcuts just like on the phone, but unlike Windows 10 on desktop.

"It takes a little while to get having something like Tablet Mode, but on a desktop, and without pinned taskbar items"

A good thing is that when the phone is connected to the Display Dock, it is also charged so you'll not lose battery while you're in Continuum mode. Also, as expected, if you play anything while working in the Continuum mode, the sound is relayed through the television or attached speakers.

Continuum allows you to use the phone as a touchpad to navigate the desktop, so that you can navigate and work without the keyboard and mouse. If you don't have to type a lot, maybe just the dock and phone would suffice for you.

The Good

Once you get used to the setup, surprisingly, it all works very well. Apps on Universal Windows Platform demonstrate the magic of the platform (and the good work by the developers) almost instantly. They are not just blown-up versions of the phone apps on a big display; they look and behave the way they do on the desktop.

"They are not just blown-up versions of the phone apps on a big display; they look and behave the way they do on the desktop."

The Outlook app, for instance, is laid out in individual screens on your phone, but on the desktop it puts your emails list on the left and a reading pane on the right. Hook up your phone to a bigger screen via Continuum, and when you fire up the Outlook app you get it in full glory with the reading pane. Similarly, the Microsoft Edge browser renders desktop sites on Continuum even if you've set it to display mobile site. You get the drift.

Any app that you open from the Continuum interface opens on the external display, and any app that you open by tapping on the phone screen opens up on the phone. It's a well thought-out and intuitive execution.

The Bad

The most obvious pain point is that a lot of the apps that you might use on a regular basis are not universal. But there are two sides of the coin.

There are few apps which you don't need when working on your desktop. These mobile-oriented apps work well in mobile scenarios and will mostly be not missed. A Vine or Instagram, for example.

"There is no way to find apps that work with Continuum. You'll have to install apps one after the other and check them yourself."

However, there are a few that you'd love to have on desktop. Like Slack, for example. They make a fine desktop app and a progressive beta app on mobile, but neither is a universal app. But when one is on Continuum, it hurts to not have Slack available.

I could get work done on emails, the usual Web browsing on Edge, and regular productivity tasks via the Office suite of apps. While some of the third-party universal apps made the transition easy, I also hit a roadblock in a few cases. I'll talk about the individual app experience in a follow up post.

One of the issues on Windows Store is that there is no way to filter apps that work with Continuum. Need a photo editor? You'd have to install apps one after the other and check them out yourself for compatibility. It's an unfortunate miss, and I hope Microsoft takes care of it.

And the Rest

While Continuum interests the geek in me, it isn't a solution for most regular users. Carrying a notebook or a Surface is not much different than carrying a dock, cables, keyboard, and mouse. However, a lot of enterprise users or field employees will like it. The idea is not to carry all the stuff on you, but have it on your desks, and just plug your phone when you are there — a thin client setup of sorts. And that's when it makes the most sense.

I was traveling all of last month, and one evening, I connected the Display Dock to the 32" LCD TV in my room. For a couple of hours, I worked like that, and realized that it could be a great solution for frequent travelers as well.

A little known fact is that you can achieve the Continuum experience wirelessly via a regular Miracast receiver. The experience is a little degraded – you get 30 frames per second as opposed to 60fps via the Display Dock – but you can avoid investing in a $100 dock if you already have a Miracast receiver.

Have you tried Continuum? What are the scenarios that you think that can take advantage of the technology? Let us know in the comments.

Abhishek Baxi