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Four Surface Duo tips and tweaks for improved system navigation

Surface Duo 2020
Surface Duo 2020 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Update: On 9/15/2020 we've added two more tips and settings that users may want to try.

Android is a demanding OS, and it has been years in the making of it trying to feel as fast and fluid as Apple's iOS. Spoiler: it probably never will feel that good. But that doesn't mean devices like Surface Duo can't benefit from some tweaks. Indeed, while Surface Duo's hardware is excellent, the software needs some fine-tuning.

Here are four simple tricks that should improve the overall fluidity of Android on Surface Duo. One is obvious, the other not so much.

Tip #1: Turn off navigation gestures

Android and gestures have been a challenge. Whether its older Pixels, Samsung, or LG phones, gestures tend to be a bit janky.

By default, Surface Duo uses swipe gestures for navigation. Besides having a learning curve, some people don't like swiping to go back or bring up the app switcher. But you don't have to use that nav gestures at all and can instead rely on virtual buttons for back, home, and app switcher. Here's how:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Gestures > System navigation
  2. Enable 3-button navigation

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

That's it. Some of you may prefer this navigation method, while others may appreciate how (at least to me) it feels smoother when jumping around between apps. The only real downside is you lose a few pixels of vertical space due to the navbar. Either way, it's good to know your options.

Tip #2: Reduce 'animation' speeds

Animations can look great, but they also tend to tax the system a bit more in addition to technically slowing things down (or at least, giving that appearance).

By default, all Android phones ship with animations at 1x, but you can reduce Window, Transition, and Animator duration scales down to .5x or even turn them off. However, to get the option in settings, you need to enable Android Developer Mode. Here's how.

Warning: There are lots of things you should not touch under developer settings. Use it at your own risk.

  1. Go to Settings > About > Build number (at the very bottom)
  2. Tap 5 times on Build Number

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

That's it. Now, under Settings > System there is a listing for Developer options.

Now, to reduce animation speed:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Developer Options

Surface Duo Dev Options (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Scroll to Drawing
  2. Change Windows animation scale, Transition animation scale, and Animator duration scale to .5x (or whatever you want)

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

The change is immediate and can always be reset to 1x later.

Tip #3: Disable 'Double-tap to dismiss' for the app switcher

There is an odd feature on Surface Duo called "Double-tap to dismiss" found under system settings. It is on by default and is supposed to let you double-tap the teeny gesture bar to go back home (a universal minimize button).

Unfortunately, this feature rarely works and, it seems from anecdotal user reports that disabling it makes opening the app switcher (swipe up) via gesture more consistent. To see if this works for you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Gestures > Double-tap to dismiss

Duo System Gestures Main (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Turn off

Duo Double Tapdismiss (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

It remains to be seen if this is, in fact, an improvement, but that double-tap feature rarely works anyway, so not much use leaving it enabled.

Tip #4: Change 'back sensitivity' to lowest

Another small tweak is found under system settings for navigation gestures (if you choose to use them). There is an option to control back sensitivity (for the swipe back feature).

By default, this is on the second tic from the left, but it seems to turn it all the way down to "low" can prevent accidental back gestures from registering. Here is how to do it:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Gestures > System Navigation

Duo System Gestures Main (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Hit the cog wheel to the right

Duo Back Gestures (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Move the slider to the "Low" setting

Duo Back Low (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Conversely, you could increase sensitivity too if you that suits your needs, so it may be worth experimenting to find what works best for you.

Wrapping up

Surface Duo is like most other Android devices in that it is far from perfect, but there are also plenty of neat tricks to configure how you want it.

I never use gestures, even on high-end phones like the Samsung Note 20 Ultra, so disabling them on Surface Duo is just a personal preference that benefits from making the OS feel smoother. The same goes for the animation scale trick, which goes back years on Android phones, and I have done on every one of them, including my Galaxy Z Flip. And if you didn't know about these options, at least now you do.

Microsoft Surface Duo

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Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

48 Comments
  • I ended up re-enabling gestures, because of real estate. If you could replace the taskbar with the nav buttons, I'd probably stick with them, but taskbar + buttons + bezel is a bit too much. Guess I'll adjust to gestures! :)
  • Yeah, I jump between both as they each have their pros/cons. Fun to experiment a little.
  • You can auto-hide the taskbar in the launcher (at least on non-Duos). I have the nav buttons with no taskbar. I swipe up from the bottom to reveal the taskbar.
  • it's funny but I've grown up on Samsung phones so I'm so used to One UI that going to standard Android is so unfamiliar. even the swipe motions of Samsung is different than standard Android.
  • Spend $1400 for a sluggish phone out of the box.... 😂😂😂😂
  • "Whether its older Pixels, Samsung, or LG phones, gestures tend to be a bit janky."
  • "Spend $1400 for a sluggish phone out of the box"
    I did both these tricks on Note 20 Ultra - they're more personal preference than anything, but enjoy the trolling.
  • It's trolling if you don't agree... As you troll below 🤣😂🤣😂
  • You are wrong... I spent $1500 for the 256GB version, so your case is dismissed because of inaccurate trolling. 🤷🏾‍♂️
  • Android is a "demanding OS"? How did you arrive at this conclusion? Yes, it's a bit more bloated than iOS but it's come a long way especially since they introduced the ART runtime.
  • Oh please, Android only got "good" around Android 10. And it's still a dumpster fire compared to iOS for smoothness, gestures, animations, security, support, and consistency. Don't even get me started on wearables for either one.
  • "Android only got 'good' around Android 10." Could have fooled me. I noticed almost no difference from 8 to 10, aside from the new gestures. And 7 wasn't exactly slow.
  • Wow... Android is a dumpster fire compared to iOS. You've heard it here, folks
  • In terms of UI smoothness and consistency, definitely. I have ancient iPads which have smoother animations and transitions than a new Android 10 flagship device. iOS/iPadOS settings makes a lot more sense than the shotgun approach in Android, especially for skinned builds that adopt stupidly random vendor adaptations. I stick to Android only because of Apple's abhorrent walled garden policies.
  • Apples ios goes on apples products. One phone, one tablet. That's it. Android goes on countless devices from countless manufacturers. There's no comparison. Lil apple obsessed rubino always seems to forget that
  • Daniel.. I actually couldn't stand this Note9 until I got 10 on it. 10 was a huge improvement... Before that Android was a mess. I can't see how these guys have been dealing with Android all these years. I guess WP ran extraordinarily well. 🤷🏾‍♂️
  • You decide to use a 'Lag' OS, what do you expect?
  • OS works fine with my 2+ year old OnePlus, been using swipe gestures since day one, hiding the nav buttons.
  • Yeah but Onplus phones are amazing, The Duo is going to be my main driver and the 7 Pro will be my casual phone.
  • My Nokia 9 performance is buttery smooth and gestures work well... As does my Huawei Mate 20x... If you buy an expensive gaming PC you don't expect to compromise on performance and you shouldn't have to with a $1500 phone... Articles like this won't convince anyone to buy one...
  • That's not his goal.
  • even on a fully specc'ed out Windows PC, a lot of people trim down the animations or remove them altogether.
  • I have had zero issues since it finished downloading all my apps, it has been buttery smooth. I found that you just have to be deliberate with your gestures, once you get the hang of it they work fine.
  • Good to hear, yeah I hated gestures on my OnePlus but now I cant go back. Once in a while I would accidently gesture back and loose something but its rare.
  • Got my Duo today. After initial update and installing/ updating all apps I had zero issues so far.
    I did set animation speed to 0.5, but I've done that on every Android device.
    Overall really smooth,. No lags, no quirks, nothing.
    I got it from AT&T.
    Couldn't be happier.
    This will be my daily driver.
  • Good to hear, I also do the .5X speed up, its one of the first things I do once getting a new android device, my Duo should be arriving Downunder next week so FedeX states, looking forward to comparing it to my Galaxy Fold, Microsoft will fix the bugs with the Duo. I have no doubt. with ex Google camera guru, Marc Levoy, joining Adobe. He'll help Adobe's computational photography efforts, including a “universal camera application, so it will probably help the single sensor on the Duo, its only a matter of time, in the mean time ill be looking at a Google Apk camera application, and see if it can help the camera shine a bit more, I am still super stocked for the Duo!.
  • Same with me. Although I tend to buy cheap and powerful phones and install custom roms. Currently have a custom roms which gives me increments of 0.1x. I have set it to 0.7x which is perfect.
  • Me too.. Couldn't be happier
  • Sadly I have had to restart the device multiple times due to freezes and lagging. However, Changing the animation speeds and adding the navigation buttons seem to have helped so far. Thanks for the tips.
  • Just pre-ordered a Galaxy Z Fold 2 here in the UK... Read the reviews, it isn't sluggish, is clearly worth the extra money over the Duo based on specifications and is available in my area...
  • What smartphone are you coming from? when you get your Fold Z 2? out of curiosity, the last year I went form a Pixel 4xl, to a Galaxy Fold, and that will soon be a Surface Duo, what I have found is with my current daily mobile device ,the Fold it is a great effort by Samsung for pretty much a proof of purpose, and concept but its limited by its overlay on top of Android, and its form factor, the Z Fold 2 improves the experience, with its ways of usage and its new form factors, but its still very fragile, and I much prefer googles way with the OS, than Samsung, and I ended up loading Nova launcher and making the Fold into a Pixel Fold, and then later using the Microsoft Launcher, as my Default launcher, which I like a lot, what I lose going with the Duo is pretty much just the Nfc and the camera performance, plus a lot of ram lol (6 gigabyte vs 12) ,but the Pixel 4xl has the same system on a chip snapdragon 855 and ram 6 gig as the Duo, and was running a 90hz screen, and I had zero issues with the way it ran with Pixel 4xl, so the Duo after a few updates from Microsoft should be fine, its very true though that Android will never be as smooth as IOS, Apple controls everything from chip to software, anyway with the Fold I was a lot of the time using two apps on the big screen, in split screen mode, so with the Duo, with its bigger screens, it should be a better overall experience for that use case, yes the current state of the Duo software is not fully optimized, but it will be within the next few updates, the future of dual and folded screen mobile devices looks fantastic, and it is only a good thing for the industry going forward in my humble opinion.
  • Nokia 9 and Huawei Mate 20x... The Surface Duo is just too wide for me when used as a phone... I live in the UK and NFC is a must... I also like to take pictures with my phone and the Surface Duo's camera is not good enough... Also couple all of the above with the fact that the Surface is not even available here and you will understand why I have pre-ordered the Fold 2...
  • I'm sure you're going to love your Fold 2. For me, it's too expensive. The Fold 2 front screen is too tall and narrow. The inside screen is still meant as a single screen. They have the app pairs type support thanks to the work of Google and Microsoft. But you're still resizing apps a lot. It's a very thick and bulky phone. the hinge is better but not in the class of the Surface Duo. It's still a more delicate phone. Samsung put on a screen protector and warns users not to remove it. It still doesn't have pen support. And if you're using multiple apps at the same time, each app is narrow because the halves of the phone are tall and narrow. I love the roomy aspect ratio of the Surface Duo! Each half has plenty of space in each direction. I still have my Galaxy S20 and S10+ as my camera and video device. Now that I'm not installing anything but photo and video apps on those, the 128GB I have each of those is more than plenty.
  • I also switched to gestures only to get more vertical real estate. I'm not having any issues with performance and my issues with navigation were solved with some internet searching (as I've never used android guestures before.). I did have a couple apps crash but at the recommendation of others a restart fixed them and they've worked fine since. Some issues might have been related to my installing apps via a restore from another android phone. I also reduced animations to .5. I've turned them off in the past until I hit a bug in another program that was solved by not having them at zero.
  • I've been using gestures since they released on android and its gotten progressively better over the years it works perfectly on my Huawei Mate 20 pro. I have noticed over the years that some launchers work better than others with gestures. Microsoft Launcher even though a fine skin for android, doesn't have a very good gesture support. These launchers can be a bottleneck to gesture support. Personally I always turn on gestures, it's easy and fluid when implemented well and you get to enjoy your full screen.
  • @Daniel Rubino What is your best guess for Android 11 being available for Duo?
  • No ETA as of yet, but will try to get some info from Microsoft. Seeing as the OS here is not heavily customized (the Launcher is), it shouldn't be too long.
  • Awesome.. Thanks for the information, and I hope you find out more. Thanks.
  • These tips were very helpful with my Duo. I'm really liking the device.
  • For something that costs as much as this, you really shouldnt have to do this. In my opinion, this is an abomination, nowhere near ready and should not have been released. This has potential, but as it stands right now, NO. This is in alpha state, nowhere near prime time ready. After the debacle of Windows phone and the terrible execution by lying nutellla, the systematic execution of the line, i would have expected better execution from them on this 'surface phone' which existed in peoples minds and imaginations along wtih various patents that continued to be filed for..etc..etc...and after all this, the price tag they come up for this garbage ...no....just NO. As a windows fan i can say, This is PATHETIC
  • Okay. Not sure how the helps people who already bought one, which is the point of this article, but I hope you now feel better.
  • They could benefit by returning it and getting their money back...and sadly, no i don't feel any better. The enormous disappointment that i feel is unexplainable.
  • Second gen will be much better, some hiccups are acceptable in a new form factor. I was excited for this device, and I was going to pay premium for it. However, it did disappoint me when it was actually released, but I suppose not others. I'll wait for Duo 2.
  • New tech is like this, expensive and not mature yet.
  • You don't have one, do you? As the article seems to imply, these tweaks are often tweaks that benefit all Android users. Or can. Which is why they're there in the first place. My Duo is neither Alpha nor in a pre-prime time state. Really, there's a learning curve and while it's not perfect -- and nothing I've ever purchased is -- I expect Microsoft to continue to fine tune it as comments come in from users. This, like it or not, is how things work. And software that's updated is pretty cool. I drive a Tesla and one of the joys is the additions and changes that come along with software updates because it's really a computer on wheels. For better or worse, software has redefined the meaning of "done".
  • I love my surface duo! thanks for spending the time in a surface duo article!
  • @Dan: My "double tap to dismiss" is greyed out, and I don't know why. Any insights. And thanks for the tips.
  • I actuall like the full system gesture navigation better than the three buttons, I've got use to it