The Continuum Experience - Hands on with your phone as a PC

The Continuum Experience - Hands on with your phone as a PC

One of the biggest features that Microsoft showed off about the Lumia 950 and 950 XL flagship phones, which were released earlier this month, was their ability to fill in as your PC using a special hardware mode called Continuum.

By pairing either of these devices with a Microsoft Display Dock, keyboard, mouse and external monitor you can try and be more productive when your only computing device on hand is your 950 or 950 XL. I say try because there are some challenges with the process and experience.

In order to truly test the productivity concept I decided to start my Friday morning off by choosing to operate purely in Continuum Mode with my Lumia 950. There is no better way to understand the benefits and limitations of a technology then by just jumping in.

So I set everything up and at 7 AM officially began my four hour journey with Continuum. Although I have jumped in and out of Continuum on several occasions since getting the Lumia 950 this is the first time I have dedicated time to solely use it in my daily activities.

My main focus when working each day is writing, social media, and reading my RSS feeds.

As I settled in with the 950 and Continuum Mode, I jotted down some notes about various things I noticed while working so here are those notes/observations:

  • Multitasking is possible but only by using on app on the external monitor and a second one on the phone itself. This comes in handy when an app has not been updated to support Continuum which prevents it from opening up on the external monitor. You do get a dialog box informing you of this and it offers to open the app in the phone instead. Visually apps that are not Continuum compatible will have their live tiles/shortcuts dimmed. You can also switch to using an open app on the phone and the external monitor (and vice versa) as long as they are both Continuum compatible.
  • In some apps, as I was typing in them on the external monitor, word based suggestions showed up on the phones screen. I guess it would be easy enough to reach out and tap the one I want but it would make a lot more sense for those suggestions to show up on the external monitor in the app.
  • When an external keyboard is attached it seems you an use most of your favorite keyboard shortcuts within apps on the external monitor. I did not test every shortcut out there but the standard ones such as copy, paste, delete, and select all worked just fine. I was even able to use the volume controls on the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard to control the phones volume level.
  • Right Click context menus are missing in most situations in the apps that I tried out and throughout the system itself.  This did not prevent functionality but impacted convenience and muscle memory for the same experience on the app when run used on a desktop.
  • Screenshots can be taking using either the phone shortcut (Volume Up + Power Button) or the keyboard shortcut key if it is available. A phone based screenshot takes an image of the phone screen while the keyboard shortcut will take an image of what is on the external monitor. An interesting twist exists with external monitor screenshots depending on the orientation of your phones screen. If your phone is sitting in portrait then your external monitor screenshot will be in landscape; if the phone is in landscape then your external monitor screenshot will be in portrait.  This is likely a bug and the external monitor screenshot should always be in landscape since that is the default display mode.
  • I noticed a flash on the phones screen each time I switched apps on the external monitor and while it did not impact performance or usage it was distracting.
  • Continuum really needs local network access if the phone is connected to a known Wi-Fi network. While I could still upload screenshots to OneDrive using the Photo app or OneDrive’s own interface, I do keep some stock images on my network storage device and that would be handy to have access to when in Continuum mode.
  • Notifications only pop up on the phones screen and not on the external monitor.  Most of the time this is not an issue because the phone screen is right in front of you anyway plugged into the dock. However, it would be handy to have them pop up on the external monitor for interacting with them if the app allows it. Otherwise, they do appear in the Action Center which is accessible on the external monitor.

I may have also discovered a couple of bugs as I was working with images in Continuum Mode:

  • In the OneDrive image upload process if you select more than one image from within the Photos app and choose to share them to OneDrive using the Share option then it only uploads the first image selected. I had to go into OneDrive and select multiple images for upload to make sure everything made it of the phone.
  • In the Photos app I could not edit images using the built in cropping tool. Primarily I was trying to crop a camera image to use as the hero shot for this article but I could not get Edit mode to open while viewing the image on the external monitor. I had to go to the Photos app on the 950 and do the cropping from there.

Bottom Line with Continuum Mode is that you should be able to accomplish quite a bit of your work as long as it does not require any Win32x86 programs that you would normally use on your main desktop.  Any and all apps in the mobile Windows Store can be used in this mode even if they are not compatible with Continuum Mode yet because they can be used on the handset itself if necessary.

While the Edge browser works well in this mode in full screen you may find some challenges with certain websites that are not fully functional in the new browser. The lack of extensions can also be a hindrance if you depend on some of them for passwords and other functionality because there is no option to use an alternate browser.

I have written and prepared this entire article while in Continuum Mode including publishing it through our CMS system which I accessed through the Edge browser. The main writing happened in the Word app and then I copied and pasted the contents over to the browser based CMS for final tweaks and publication.

Continuum is quite functional for a lot of daily tasks but I am not sure I could travel with this being my only mode of work on a trip. This is not just about the logistics of having access to an external monitor and then carrying a spare mouse and keyboard but more about efficiency. While I was able to ultimately get my work done, listen to music and stream video the number of times I wanted to just jump on my main desktop or laptop were too numerous to count.

Now this is a v1 implementation of this functionality so I am sure it will see improvements in future iterations and updates but I would probably go a little crazy in this mode for a full day let alone a week on the road because I would miss my ability to truly multitask and just get things done.

What has your experience with Continuum Mode been like on your Lumia 950 or 950 XL so far?

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