How to use handwriting recognition with Surface Duo and Gboard

Surface Duo Handwriting Gboard
Surface Duo Handwriting Gboard (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

One of the fun things about a new form factor is figuring out how to do new things with it even with older tools. While Microsoft's SwiftKey sadly does not yet have handwriting recognition, Google does with its free Gboard keyboard.

Here is a quick guide on how to enable it as well as see it in action.

  1. Download Gboard (opens in new tab) from the Google Play Store (free)
  2. Follow the prompts to set up and enable Gboard on Surface Duo
  3. Open Gboard settings via the cogwheel, or open Gboard under Apps

Surface Duo Gboard Cog (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Select Languages

Surface Duo Gboard (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Tap English (US) QWERTY and select Handwriting

Surface Duo Gboard (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

After that, any time there is a text input field, you can use SwiftKey for typing, but use the keyboard select button (bottom right corner) to choose Gboard. By default, it goes to QWERTY, but you can select English (US) Handwriting by long-pressing the space bar. And that's it.

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Now, with Surface Duo, you can use the Surface Slim Pen (or any Surface Pen) to start writing in the handwriting recognition field.

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Although I take a dramatic pause in the above video for effect, you could continuously write if you prefer. It is a fast and seamless experience and ideal for those who like to ink over typing. And since this is just a regular keyboard, you can use it globally throughout the OS for any app you choose.

Microsoft Surface Duo


Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • I am an all in Inking person, that is awesome.
  • I'm having an issue with Gboard in portrait mode when using the an app in extended mode. The bottom part of the keyboard including the spacebar is buried in the bezel.
  • Yup. Solution for now is SwiftKey for typing, Gboard for inking (or wait until Google updates Gboard for dual screens, which I'm sure they will do).
  • Wow, and they worked with MS when they were creating Duo. You'd think they would have optomized their app for this form factor, but it does surprise me.
  • It's going to take time. You can never plan to have it all on day one.
  • Alternatively you'd think MS would have included HWR in Swiftkey. It is their keyboard, they loaded on their device, which supports their pen.
  • It needs to be added to SwiftKey as an option by default
  • l completely agree. I'm writing this on my Surface Duo via Gboad and I'd rather use Swiftkey 100% of the time. I am impressed by Gboard's writing accuracy.
  • Funny thing is you don't even need the pen. GBoard HWR recognition works with your fingers too. And any ol' stylus. Probably even a Vienna sausage.
  • Daniel, how is palm rejection when using the pen? Is there palm rejection when using the pen?