Surface Duo hidden desktop mode is no Samsung DeX

Samsung has often been accused of doing things its own way, at times significantly diverging from the typical Android experience. While the criticism includes some good points, the company should also be credited for introducing new features that eventually influence the wider Android market, as well. From split screens to windowed apps to desktop modes, Samsung has done it all, and often before these types of features were officially introduced in Android. It turns out Microsoft can pull that off, too, but the implementation in its Surface Duo devices definitely needs some work.

Android 10 Desktop Mode

Although some manufacturers and developers have long been trying to shoehorn Android into desktops and laptops, it was only in Android 10 that Google officially supported such efforts. Even then, however, this "desktop mode" was meant only for developers to test Android apps, not for creating a complete Android desktop experience.

Android 12L will improve on the flexibility of Android apps on any screen size, but the foundations have been there for years.

Apparently, the recent Android 11 update to the original Surface Duo unlocks that capability, which OnMSFT says is also available on the Surface Duo 2. Using the desktop mode requires users to enable Android's Developer Mode. To do this, open the Settings app, go to the About section, and then tap the build number seven times.

Can't compete with Samsung DeX

Once enabled, you can connect the Surface Duo to a monitor via USB-C to access the desktop mode. Any apps that are open will appear in standalone windows that you can move and resize, but that's pretty much it. You can also open apps on the Surface Duo's screens separate from the ones on the external screen.

Unfortunately, the experience is reportedly buggy and clearly not intended for regular use. It's a far cry from Samsung's more mature DeX framework, which delivers something close to a desktop experience built around Android.

This is definitely a missed opportunity if Microsoft doesn't improve the feature, but then again, there are more important things it has to do first, including improving the Surface Duo's basic software experience.