Skip to main content

Stick PC or Continuum on Windows 10 Mobile: Which is right for you?

On the one hand, you have the increasing number of Compute Stick PCs. These tiny little boxes plug directly into a TV or a computer monitor and with a connected keyboard and mouse give you a full Windows 10 PC that you can carry around in your pocket.

On the other you have Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum. This setup uses the phone you already carry in your pocket to offer a PC-like experience with the addition of an interface to a TV or monitor, a keyboard and optionally a mouse.

If you're looking for ultimate productivity on the go, which one should you go for?

Some common ground

Continuum

Both methods can result in carrying less equipment than a full laptop with you when you travel, along with offering you a computing experience away from your home office.

However, one "problem" both setups share is that you need additional equipment besides just the stick PC or your phone. First up you need a keyboard, else you're not going to get very far. Microsoft's Universal Foldable Keyboard (opens in new tab) is a great option in both cases, as might something like the Rii i8 (opens in new tab) that we recently reviewed.

In the case of the stick PC, you'll also need to carry a mouse, or choose a keyboard with an integrated trackpad. While this isn't necessary with Continuum since you can use the phone for this, you will need a display interface. Something like the Microsoft Display Dock (opens in new tab) or Wireless Display Adapter (opens in new tab) will be needed to activate the PC-like experience.

While what you may need to add to each device is different, the result is the same. You'll need a few accessories to complete the experience, whichever you choose.

Windows. 10 vs. Windows 10 Mobile

Windows 10

The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) means that there are many apps you can be using on both desktop and mobile Windows 10. In Continuum, supported apps can project a desktop view when connected to an external display.

But that only applies to apps from the Windows Store. And on the phone, (Continuum) you can only use one at once, so you can't snap your email and get some work done in Microsoft Office, for example. At least not yet, multitasking may come down the road for Continuum, but it is not here yet.

By contrast, the stick PC will run a full version of Windows 10, and while many don't have particularly high-end hardware, the capability is there to run 'traditional' Windows desktop apps (Win32) like Photoshop or the Opera browser. Not to mention being able to run more than one Store app at a time.

It comes down to what you need from the experience. If there are win32 programs you need to run, then the stick PC will give you that chance. If you're only doing lighter work, Continuum should be just fine.

Since Office now has apps in the Windows Store, if you only need Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc. either solution should be okay.

Buying the right stick PC

Lenovo Stick PC

Just like laptops or desktops, there are different stick PCs out there with different hardware and prices. In many cases, the lower end models are mostly comparable on hardware, but there are some that differentiate on features. There are also some for the higher end, more demanding Windows user but with a significant price bump.

You can spend around $100, or you can spend a lot more than that. The lower end won't set your pants on fire, but it'll offer a robust, full Windows experience for not a lot of money. If you want more, Intel has a Core m3 or m5 stick that's significantly more powerful. If you want to turn it into a laptop on the go, you can use something like the NexDock for a full experience.

If you need some help, why not check out our round-up of some of the best stick PCs you can buy.

Buying the right phone for Continuum

Lumia 950

If you choose a stick PC you know that you're getting "full" Windows 10 and in most cases, a similar experience. But if you're leaning towards Continuum then you need to be a little more careful what you buy.

The Continuum feature is hardware dependent, and currently, it seems that you need a phone with a Snapdragon 617 processor and higher (but not previous generation chips like the 800 or 801) to get involved.

Phones like the NuAns NEO and Vaio Phone Biz are the 'entry level' for Continuum at this time, while moving up you have the likes of the Lumia 950 phones, the Acer Liquid Jade Primo and the forthcoming HP Elite X3.

The HP and Acer options are sold in packages with docks included to get going with Continuum, but the Lumia phones don't share this same deal. Microsoft has had a couple of promotions where it throws in a free Display Dock, but that's offer is only offered on occasion. Otherwise factor in an additional purchase for the Lumia choice.

You can also use accessories like the NexDock, or HPs own laptop add-on for that portable PC like experience wherever you are.

So which is for you?

It's a complicated choice without a clear recommendation for everyone. If for example, you have or want to buy a Continuum capable Windows 10 Mobile phone, you can probably save yourself a few bucks and go with Continuum and be just fine. Or even spend the extra on a NexDock to have a PC wherever you are.

If you don't have such a phone, or even use a phone on another platform, then a stick PC makes more sense. Likewise, if you're tied to legacy, win32 apps as UWP just won't cut it.

And those m3 and m5 sticks from Intel are like carrying a decent laptop PC in your pocket.

What's best for all of us is the opportunity we have to make such a choice. Windows 10 offers truly portable computing in a number of formats. Depending on what you want to do and how much you want to spend, there's a solution for you.

Your thoughts?

Portable PC computing is a new area with rapid innovation. As such, there will be plenty of new and unique offerings in this new PC category. Did you go one way or another or still on the fence over which might be best for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

46 Comments
  • Continuum for now since I for it for free with Microsoft offer:-)
  • Continuum in nothing more than win10mobile on bigger screen
  • Oh, you haven't used it I hear. Posted from Windows Central for XL
  • Plus keyboard and mouse and adaptive UI yeah, thank you for the definition anyway :D
  • Its different bro
  • Yeah i don't think you understand what continuum is but thanks for sharing. Posted from my Lumia 950
  • There does appear to be similar issues to the full Windows versus Windows RT decision that faced tablets in the W8 era though. Continuum on phones seems to be as limited as RT was on tablets compared to the stick PC, only this time the phones needed are more expensive (carrier subsides excluded) than the full cream stick PC option though, whereas RT was always the cheaper option in the tablet world. I can't see that being a factor that helps the more limited option in this new iteration of Windows. Continuum is interesting if you have it as a by-product of a phone bought for other reasons, but doesn't seem to be the most attractive option for many (perhaps most) uses. It is certainly lacking flexibility from what I can see.
  • Win Mobile is on highest priority...
  • You don't need a physical keyboard to use Continuum for phones, you can use the on screen keyboard. A mouse and keyboard are both optional so you factually only need a Continuum phone and a way to connect to a display.
  • For simple tasks like a PowerPoint presentation or browsing internet then yes.
  • Continuum will be my first choice, if its with powerful ram and processor. Because Stick PC has some impossibly great specs in it.
  • Nope. Using a stick PC myself and it works fine and fast. As well as a tablet, in fact. Even the basic type of stick makes an excellent HTPC running Kodi, and runs Steam fine for streaming any game I want at full HD with a Steam Controller. A Continuum phone can only dream of such flexibility. And unsubsidised costs a fair bit more.
  • So if the stick PC is so tiny, an intel processor can be put into a Surface. Phone to make it a full win10 PC if used in continuum, right? :)
  • Theoretically yes, but you also have to consider how much battery that would use when you're undocked.
  • Continuum is just a toy right now, it's not a productive solution. It doesn't support multitasking, the UI it's like a PC not exactly a windows 10 PC. If they add win32 support in continuum mode and fix the UI to look like exactly a windows 10 PC then we can talk for a productive solution.
  • Uh, it supports multitasking and why does the UI have to be identical to W10 on PC? Posted from Windows Central for XL
  • When I try continuum with a Lumia 950 I can not have two windows side by side. I believe if the UI is identical with the PC version will be more comfortable for the most users, and it will make more sense as a PC like experience.
  • I agree, supports multitasking nicely
  • It supports background processes maybe, but you cannot have two apps running at the same time. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • If you want take a look to Motorola OneCompute.
  • Kangaroo mini pc
  • When I need "pocket computing" I go with continuum about 85% of the time. I have a kangaroo PC for the times I need a little more power. Both options have it's advantages .
  • As thin and light as laptops have become, both these seem like a solution in search of a problem. One thing I didn't see mentioned is: how likely is someone to have access to the HDMI port in a hotel's TV?
  • And, how likely is there to be a TV or monitor in the airport, on the train, in a taxi, in the coffee shop, etc.? If you decide to carry a keyboard and a mouse you will be better off with a Surface or a slim laptop with everything incorporated and no set up time, and you can use it on your lap, in bed, or on that tiny table in the airplane.
  • Agreed. Just open up the laptop and go, no need to fiddle with docks and display cables. You may need to charge the laptop if it's a long day, but it's not hard to find somewhere to plug in if you're stuck in an airport.
  • Options, you have options; it there's an enabled HMDI for either option use it. The main reason for me is to have a 200 Gb SSD to have access to all my files even on bad connections or any situation. Then if better options are present, like more accessible meeting rooms, then this solutions shine even more!
  • I mean, you can plug a laptop into a TV or display too.
  • Raspberry pi zero with a Linux distro or xbmc.
  • Definitely PC stick. The premium performance 950 just doesn't show on Continuum.
  • Continuum is like the original ARM Surface. I have that same basic experience now with my L635 & L640. I just mirror to my Actiontec Screenbeam Mini 2. A stick would make more sense in that case, although I can mirror from my Win10 tablet, have 2 screens and be all awesome. There's even an app that allows the use of some like a trackpad or all of the tablet's screen to interact with the projected section. So no need for a mouse or keyboard there in that scenario. Add apps like PCRemote PRO, and even another option there folks with W10M, and a stick PC.
  • Well, since ATT has nearly non-existant coverage for me, a 950/XL/ Continuum is a non-starter. Just now starting to think about evaluating a stick pc at work.... Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Or do what any person with real business to accomplish would do, take a thin and light ultrabook and dont worry about relying on looking round the back of TV's for ports and stuff....
  • You still have to look for a connection to make your presentation, unless you want several people looking at your screen! With a USB-C to HMDI/VGA is the same connections as an Ultrabook that doesn't have them, yet I can work while on a taxi...
  • The cloud lets you work in the taxi on any platform and have it synced with your PC seamlessly. Continuum doesn't have any real world use. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Hope I can use it convenient without the dock
  • Team Continuum!
  • Mouse without Borders works great for stick pc's. You can use your phone as a trackpad, and keyboard as long as your connected to the same wireless network.
  • Mouse without Borders works great for stick pc's. You can use your phone as a trackpad, and keyboard as long as your connected to the same wireless network.
  • Stick PC wins for me. Much lighter and since you have to haul a keyboard and mouse anyway, just packing the little stick which doesn't require an extra HDMI cable (like the continuum dock) makes it a better proposition. Not to mention much more capable. Continuum is neat, but janky in actual use.
  • I think I can find use for continuum as a cheaper alternative to having a surface pro for basic home internet stuff. The problem I have is in every scenario I'd have to get new hardware. Ideally I'd have my big powerful desktop, a powerful enough portable surface pro ( no need for a big powerful laptop but would like portability and enough power to run things) and a phone. If my lumia 930 can somehow support continuum id be very happy.
  • Both, continuum for basic apps like office, and stick cpu for a little higher apps
  • I think really it comes down to Win32 and access to remote desktop, if you will just use office apps or entertainment / reading articles etc then Continuum is great, it's also great if you would only use your stick PC for remote desktop. But if you do have the need for Win32 without remote desktop then really its a no brainer. Saying that though I think any situation that requires Win32 it's probably a lot more convenient to just use a laptop. I still find continuum to be quite specific to certain situations, an example use case for me would be sitting at home in the evening on the sofa and using Continuum for a relaxed computing experience reading articles, watching videos and maybe sending a few emails. I don't think I'll ever get a stick PC because for me at least there's just no real need when Continuum provides a great remote desktop experience on a devi e I already own and have with me 24/7. Even if the Surface Phone was released supporting Win32 apps i would still just use remote desktop as a phone will not be able to power Visual Studio with great performance if at all, maybe in a few years or so sure but not now.
  • Won't be surprised if this question is obsolete mid 2017.
  • It definitely will be. Windows Mobile won't Last that long. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Continuum would be better because at least I could continue whatever it was I was doing on the go. However, I would suggest that you look into GOLE1, an Indiegogo project which puts full windows 10 on a 5in screen (2hrs battery life, but hey, you can still use it on the go.)
  • For the price of the 950 I could buy a better specced nuc