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.

  • They really should inform on which apps work with continuum and which don't as mentioned in the article...
  • The store has a built for windows 10 tag,I believe if it has that tag then it supports continuum.
  • Not necessarily. Like the aforementioned Slack app--Slack has a Windows 10 application and a beta for Mobile yet does not support Continuum.
  • Slack does not say "Built for Windows 10" on it though.  From what I've just read, looks like you're wrong Zachary. Built for Windows 10, does mean it will work with Continuum (or so it appears)
  • No, it doesn't. Built for Windows 10 just means it uses the Universal Windows Platform, which while it sounds like it would imply Continuum, it does not. The app could be available for both PC & Mobile, yet still doesn't have to require Continuum. It's a feature that *must* be implemented by the developer and is not a requirement for the "Built for Windows 10" tag. Edit: Can't confirm right now, but I believe "Rise of the Tomb Raider" says Built for Windows 10 and that *clearly* will not run on a phone.
  • If an APP it works on PC and Phone is compatible with Continuum, except games. Basically if an app is Universal it will work. I don't know for sure if PC only apps works on Continuum, i think that they don't show up on the Mobile Store, so you won't be able to install them on your phone i guess.
  • Hello, just to notify you guys, the iBasket game demostrated above does work for Continuum built on UWP framework.  
  • It is possible to connect beetwen phone and dock via bluetooth?
  • Not sure what you mean but, bluetooth keyboard and mouse can easily connect to your phone. To finish off the Continuum experience by connecting to a TV or ext monitor you either could use the docking station or as the article states a miracast receiver plugged into the display device. That will give you a fully wireless Continuum experience. (The dock is just a box to plug peripherals to the phone).
  • I believe he means is it possible to have the dock connected to the display, and then connect to the dock from the phone without wires, so basically using the dock as a miracast/Wi-Di reciever to which you can also plug in accessories. If that is what he means, the answer is no. However that is a brilliant idea for a continuum accessory!
  • This may be what you want: http://www.amazon.com/ACTIONTEC-ScreenBeam-Continuum-Edition-SBWD60MS01/...
  • I use continuum on my 950XL at the office and it is connected to a Logitech K830 keyboard via bluetooth. It works perfectly.
  • It is not the end of the world if the app is not continuum-enabled - it just refers you to the phone screen where you can pick up the usual mobile experience.
  • Continuum is mindblowing and awesome! I use it to see my dragon ball and wwe videos on the big screen everyday. The outlook, facebook and flipkart apps are also beautiful.
    On a side note: After the latest store update you can see which apps support continuum with the "Built for windows 10" mark.
  • I find it really useless bcoz. If u don't have your laptop with u and want to turn your phone screen into a PC. The thing I need is a monitor. Continuum would be useless if you're using PC monitor itself. If its a tv monitor and I might be in a hotel room or maybe connecting to some sought of screen in the conference then I require 3 more accessories with continuum. First is the dock, 2nd is a keyboard and 3rd is mouse. If I have to carry 3 accessories to use continuum from my Lumia 950 xl why would I not take my laptop along with me as I'm carrying 3 accessories for it . Continuum is nice try by Microsoft but it has limitations and we need to carry 3 accessories which makes pretty useless.
  • You don't need a mouse! The phone screen becomes a touchpad when you plug in. You don't need the dock either. Just a simple USB to HDMI dongle will do. They are available. The only thing you need is a keyboard. I carry the Microsoft foldable keyboard. It's almost as small as the phone!
  • U can't use touchpad when you're working on word or excel document. Excel functions are better handled by keyboard and mouse
  • Of course you can. You need to learn more keyboard keys. Like pulling up 'properties' using a keyboard. Look it up. Educate yourself :) A mouse is only needed to precisely move the cursor. Bigger strokes can also be done using a keyboard.
  • You're right, and this frustrates me about many users, but you don't need to be quite so aggressive about it (at least that's how the comment read to me, anyway). All users (ESPECIALLY those who complained about how "slow" Windows 8 was to navigate!) should try to ban themselves from mouse use for a week, then they would quickly learn how simple keyboard shortcuts and tricks are SOOO (soooo sooo soo!) much faster than clicking everytime they wish to achieve anything. I grew up on command line and getting used to the modern simplification/stupidification of every UI/UX baffles me. However, Windows has always had (and has refined) keyboard shortcuts for a multitude of frequent tasks. ...one takeaway thought and good demo for anyone complaining about how slow the W8/10 start menu is to use is a simple challenge to load anything (e.g. Notepad) using their mouse .vs. you on keyboard (Start>"No"[ENTER] done in less a second/two).
  • Only mouse-oriented gaming that cannot do without mouse. For everything else, I basically do it using keyboard and trackpad (or touchpad, whatever you name it). There are quite a lot people working with their laptop without additional mouse and they seems just doing fine.
  • If you have access to a TV with WiFi, then you don't need the dock as well.
  • How do you link them up? Do you need a dongle?
  • In your case, what you say makes perfect sense. Why wouldn't you just bring your laptop? But suppose you didn't have a laptop and you just had a desktop and your phone? Would it make more sense to spend $1000 on an ultra portable laptop or around $200, to buy the dock, a portable keyboard and mouse? Assuming this setup could do everything you needed it to do that is. It's something to consider.
  • 600$ phone + 200$ peripherals and assumption of available compatible screen to get what exactly? 1000$ full windows laptop :)
  • Except you still need the phone.
  • Except you still need the laptop to run all your win32 programs...
    Continuum is not so appalling to me as long as a phone can't run win32 programs
  • In India ur spending 50k for Lumia950 xl and u get a good laptop in 50k that can run all programmes except high end games. If a person can afford iPhone/950xl I guess he can afford a laptop too. Any Oem laptop not the surface.
  • Many people can afford either a flagship phone or a laptop, but not both. Many of those same people decide they must have the flagship phone and limp by with an older desktop system at home. Continuum would be perfect for those with that attitude. 
  • Well its like carrying Apple device with you. Anywhere outside US you must carry your own cables, chargers and adapters because there is a very good chance that nobody else has that stuff where you are going.
  • Spot on, there should be a landscape continuum option without a monitor. I can resize text in edge to suit, wear my good glasses etc just give us the option. It could be a saviour
  • Not sure what you mean there. That essentially exists. change the resolution on the 950XL and all the UWP apps look almost exactly as they would on a bigger screen. You can hook a BT keyboard in mouse to the phone and get a good pair of reading glasses and go to town.
  • Serious? I was totally unaware of this feature, I feel so out of touch
  • i have a 950xl. at 5.7", i find the screen too small. i am too used to the 1520. continuum worked as advertized. once doked the phone screen becomes a touchpad. i never use a touchpad even on a thinkpad. i find the TrackPoint better than the touchpad. so with continuun, you just need the dock, a wireless keyboard (microsoft folding keyboard is the best, extremely compact) and a wireless mouse. that's it   remember, this feature is still at it's infancy ( a model-T). the best is yet to come.
  • 15" laptop plus a brick of a power pack. Pretty certain Continuum involves less space and weight regardless of items required.
  • This is why @Aashish13, in the article, it states, 'While Continuum interests the geek in me, it isn't a solution for most regular users​.' If there are field stations for transitory staff to simply plug the phone into an already setup desk with keyboard, mouse and monitor then it would be a extremely easy and usable. Personally I haven't used Continuum yet because I don't need to use it .. yet. It sounds like neither do you so of course you will find it 'useless' to you. It is however very useful for those that can really use this feature to reduce clutter and expense for offices that have field agents/staff that can have locations available to them to simply plug their 950XL phone in for their desktop experience.   
  • Actually, it works very well for hotel setups. All you need is the MS Wireless display adapter, MS folding blutooth keyboard, and wedge or arc mouse - which means you can travel VERY light and it works flawlessly
  • An x86 PC stick is the same price as the dock and is smaller. Why deal with plugging in your phone to run nonexistant apps when you can have a full PC? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • An editor needs to review this article. There are lots of grammatical mistakes that distract the reader from the main point.
  • I have to agree. There's good content in here, but it's really hard to read due to the constant stumbling over poor writing. This reads like a draft that accidentally got published.
  • It was all written using continuum on the phone. I guess there are some typing issues that need ironing out
  • we have alll been there. phone's autofill or auto correct can give gibberish results.
  • Written by someone who doesn't speak English as his first language. WC needs a couple of good editors.
  • This.
  • I think I saw two or three typos or missed words and that's about it.. Most of it was written exactly as I'd expect an "english" person would write, or someone who learned English as a second language. American english isn't the only version of english out there... many different dialects. 
    Being educated, I had no issues with how this article was written.
  • I'm a native English speaker, and when I use the Microsoft folding keyboard and continuum I make as many if not more mistakes! :)
  • My brain just autocorrected everything, tbh.
  • Well this ain't an essay writing competition or a grammar lesson
  • Or professional journalism, apparently.
  • Take it easy! Geez...
  • A bit OCD? I don't think any of those "mistakes" you see distract from the main point of the article. It was written by someone who uses English as a second language (maybe even third)...so Take it easy
  • I used it via the ActionTec MiniBeam 2 (Non-Continuum version because I have a bluetooth mouse and keyboard) while traveling. I wanted to try it out because I travel a lot. It was ok, but I wouldn't be able to replace my laptop with the work that I do. It was nice to be able to put movies on my phone and play them via continuum through the tv.
  • I am using it mainly at work, when I have to type a lengthy email via my personal account as my workplace blocks any site like outlook.com, gmail.com and the likes. At home it works well with miracast, when and if vlc becomes uwp, then it will be great as a media streamer to the tv.
  • I just want to replace my windows tablet, smartphone and laptop with a single device and that will only be possible if Continuum improves.
  • Hey there. 2 things: 1, now that the Windows store is updated, when you see "Built for Windows 10" in the beginning of the description that app is universal and therefore works with continuum (see Hulu Plus, Two Dots, The Guardian, Dailymail Online, Fhotoroom, etc). 2, Slack has a website version available too. When I connected my Lumia 950 XL to my T.V. and used continuum, I went to the Slack website ( https://slack.com/ ) logged in and had an experience comparable to what I got in the apps (although of course your experience will vary). Anyways great article! Now that I've experienced continuum and love it, I'm stuck on getting eventual mid-range phones for my parents so they don't have to spend lots of money to upgrade computers and their phones.
  • A PC stick is the same price as a dock, is more powerful and doesn't tie down your phone. Continuum is pointless and will become more pointless as hardware prices continue to drop. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I think that it's a bit pointless to make this kind of article, since there are as many use scenarios as there is people in the world.
  • ANd your comment is pointless as there as as many opinions as there are a**holes.
  • It needs the ability to run at least two apps side by side. True windowed mode would be awesome, but probably not practical.
  • I agree with that.  I expect to have windowed apps.  And to have the option of "tablet mode" to run side by side.  That would be the continuum ideal for me. For example having several windows of calculator, and several word documents definetly will be a good change in continuum.
  • I work with a bunch of former Microsoft employees. And one day I busted out Continuum to give a presentation at the office. They were all blown away, but sadly, didnt even know this tech existed on Windows Phone (many of them still have Windows phones).    Little embarrassing getting personal texts popping up though mid-presentation. 
  • I use my phone in this scenario too... Don't forget to turn on Quiet Mode. I have Quiet Mode on my quick actions for just such occasions so personal texts and other app notifications don't intrude on what you're presenting. :)
  • But Quiet Hours is tied with Cortana :(
  • I tried Continuum.  I found it to be completely useless.  My Surface Pro 3 meets all my processing needs while mobile.  The 950 is a sorry piece of junk with dismal battery life, frequent crashes and hangs, and Continuum basically givers me a Windows RT experience, not supporting any legacy programs I still need while mobile.  Add to that the fact that I'd be constantly in need of FINDING an unused monitor, keyboard and mouse, and this is a solution in search of a problem.  I've already parked my 950 in favor of going back to my 1020.
  • And your post proves the statement "There are as many opinions out there as there are a**Holes"
    Thanks for the opinion.
  • Coming from L1020, I have been quite happy with my L950XL and Continuum experience.  Early problems with W10M are gradually dying down.  I have used Continuum a lot, primarily on TV.  With more UWP apps coming in the market, the continuum value will keep expanding.  I never plan to run legacy programs on my phone, so L950XL didn't disappoint me.
  • Received the dock today. Tried it on a tv and was really surprised. It looks really nice and like a PC.
  • I really like the idea of Continuum. Sometime, please tell us more about using Miracast instead of the Continuum/dock setup. As I understand it, with Miracast, the principal difference would be you solely project the phone screen, whereas with the Continuum, it makes it sorta a desktop app, right? With W10M Office apps and such so powerful now, I'd be interested to hear your comparison and assessment.
  • Continuum over Miracast presents itself on the screen exactly the same as it does with the dock. (Hardwired over HDMI cable) You might be assuming that Miracast is the same for a Lumia without Continuum as it is for a Lumia with Continuum. It is not. In this case Miracasts simply means "wireless" and a lower frame rate. (with lag, I might add)
  • No, even with Miracast, it gives the full Continuum experience. Because of the lower refresh rate, mouse movements can feel slightly laggy. However, it's still usable, and I use it all the time for browsing photos on my TV with no keyboard and mouse and simply use the phone as a touchpad and soft keyboard when necessary. I also have a dock in my office which is definitely a nicer experience for extended use. There aren't a lot of universal apps out there yet, but every week there are more and more being updated with Continuum support. The majority of Microsoft apps support Continuum (I use Outlook, Excel, Word, Photos, Messaging + Skype, Remote Desktop beta, News, Weather, Settings regularly). Some notable examples of third party apps that I use regularly in Continuum are Fhotoroom (very recent addition), Readit, Baconit, MyTube, Facebook, Twitter, Breaking News (there are two in the store... one W10, one W8), iHeartRadio (also has two different W10 and W8 apps), and even Uber! There is a growing collection of streaming media apps (e.g. Hulu Plus, etc.) but for most that don't yet have universal apps, Edge seems to work great (except for sites that annoyingly require Flash, which is not present in the W10M version of Edge). BTW, if Dan's reading this... I am very, very much looking forward to the Windows Central universal app, which is reportedly Coming Soon™.
  • Great list of compatible apps. Thanks
  • Ironically, I felt less mouse lag on the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter (a miracast receiver) than on the dock (which may have been fixed). The Miracast receiver built in to my TV was laggy and lower resolution though.
  • I have exactly the same experience. With the Microsoft miracast adapter it works just as well as the dock, no lag issues at all. Using the miracast built in to the tv is a different story with a lot of lag unfortunately.
  • "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." Very good point, and one that needs addressed. Not knowing what you're going to get for functionality when you first fire up your Display Dock is an annoyance for sure. Hopefully it's something MS looks into, at least creating one of those Store spp groups oriented for Continuum, or possibly adding an icon or badge to apps to help users know what's going to happen. Those peripherals look woefully uncomfortable though, I htink. That keyboard's too cramped, and the lack of numberpad would kind of suck, I think. The mouse just looks too small for my hands. Personally, I grabbed a Logitech wireless pair for $20 or so on Amazon, though since you were going Bluetooth before, I can see why you'd stick with what you already have. Good write-up regardless. It's a great conceptual feature that definitely needs more work from developpers. With the upcoming flood of non-MS hardware, and the trickle of Universal app updates (TeamViewer, Hulu, etc.), it could be a big deal in the second-half of 2016, when Microsoft is prepping the Surface Phone for launch. They just need to make sure that they get their app portfolio expanded for Continuum. It's now become TWO app gaps on the platform--one where we just don't have any banking or Snapchat solution, and one where the things we use aren't Continuum-capable. I know IM+ is one I really hope gets updated.
  • My Sony TV allows me to use my 950 and Continium on it. It's not very good. It's pretty laggy when it does connect and I'm always having issues with it not connecting.
  • If the Sony TV has Miracast built in, and you're using a mouse, it's the mouse that's causing the problem.  Both the Actiontec and the MS Display Adaptor support an extra extension for Pointer Events.  Without that extension, the Miracast adaptor has to re-draw the entire screen every time you move the mouse pointer even a single pixel.  It should still be fine for casting videos, images etc.
  • Blame your Sony. All Miracast receivers are not created equally.
  • I thought it will work to use this 950XL as my main computer and ditch my 2-1 because I am an IT professional and need the computer mostly to remotely connect to servers and to access the Internet, but it does not work OK right now for several reasons:
    ​1. VPN providers like FortiNet do not have an ARM client - this can be surpassed by conneting to an x86 computer and VPN from there to the target;
    2. MS RDP supports for the moment only one connection - this is very annoying but can be surpased by connecting to an x86 computer and make multiple connections from there;
    3. Neither Folders nor RDP nor Office are able to connect to local Net Shares and this is b...sh.. to use OneDrive - but this may be expensive in certain scenarios;
    4. I cannot control which program handles a certain file extension and most of the time when I want to see a text file I cannot do that because its extension is xml or properties or whatever.
    5. When on the big screen Edge advertise as being the desktop version, but the processor is the phone version, so on certain sites the browser gets overwelmed by tons of advertising, and I have no way to turn of that Flash ****.
    6. I have no way to disable the remote default gateway on VPN, so when I am connected to VPN I have no Internet except when I RDP to some x86 device and see the Internet from there. I don't have much use of Office, so right now Continuum for me means RDP to some server and then do all the stuff from there, but if I prepare a VM it is a better alternative than carrying a laptop on the motorcycle when I am on hallydays or weekends.
  • Continuum is a new weapoon for your arsenal. It doesn't have to be the "All\Nothing" approach. (Even though the article was a fair approach to considering it) I've found that just knowing it's there and how it presents itself has prepared me to use it in appropriate situations. And I admit that I probably have far more oppurtunuties to leverage it than the average person since I am on-the-go much of the day and night. At this early stage in the development of Continuum it is so unknown that you should use THAT to your advantage. Busting out Continuum in a conference room enviroment over Mirac