While many are salivating over the Series X’s envelope-pushing, next-gen marvels, two bizarre, odd-looking dual-screen phones have been calling my name — “Psst! Kim! Play with us!” — for a fascinating gaming experiment.
The LG Wing and the Microsoft Surface Duo are the dual-display devils singing these siren songs, enticing me to test Xbox Game Pass on their atypical user interfaces. Who am I to turn down such an irresistible invitation?
I played Batman Arkham Knight — one of the most popular Xbox Game Pass games — on the Wing and Surface Duo using my Verizon FiOS Home WiFi network. The experience left me feeling amazed by the multitasking advantages of multiple-screen phones, but in the end, I’m left wondering if there are sufficient use cases for cloud gaming on smartphones — dual-display or not.
Xbox Game Pass: Gaming on the LG Wing
The LG Wing, equipped with a past-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 and 8GB of RAM, is the most striking smartphone I’ve reviewed thus far. It sports a 6.8-inch, edge-to-edge main display that can swivel into the device’s “wing,” transforming into a T-shaped posture. There is a second, 3.9-inch, 1240 x 1080-pixel display on the T’s stem.
Smooth gameplay, but small text
I fired up Xbox Game Pass’s Batman: Arkham Knight on the Wing’s swiveled, 2460 x 1080-pixel, 60Hz main screen. It took about 20 seconds to boot up, which is par for the course for all Game Pass games. It’s not as quick as Google Stadia’s near-instantaneous loading times, but Game Pass (and cloud gaming as a whole) is a godsend for gamers who despise waiting an eternity for downloads.
On rare occasions, I’d tap on the Xbox Game Pass app, land on the home screen, and the app would crash shortly after — I’d then have to relaunch it (and it would work fine). This happened about four times out of 30 taps. Interestingly enough, during actual gameplay, I didn’t experience any crashes at all.
As Arkham Knight began, I found myself swaying to Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as I got a bird’s eye view of the Joker’s cremation. I waited about two minutes for the cutscene to progress and realized something was wrong — nothing was happening.
As it turned out, the game was waiting for me to press “A” to incinerate the Joker. The text size on the game is so ridiculously small, it’s easy to miss prompts and conversations, but this is an easy fix with a patch from developers. I finally pressed A and watched Batman’s arch nemesis burn to a crisp.
After the Joker’s cremation, you’ll step into the shoes of Officer Owens who’s grabbing a bite inside Pauli’s Diner on a rainy Halloween night. At the request of a concerned patron, you must approach a creepy customer who’s unlawfully smoking. You should have just sat there and ate your food, though, because the confrontation eventually leads to a vicious massacre — the creepy customer is a demonic creature that unleashes bloodshed inside the diner. I found cutscenes and gameplay to be smooth as butter due to my fiber-optic internet.
As I watched the mayhem unfold in the diner, the graphical fidelity wasn’t impressive. If I saw this game playing on a PC, I’d assume the display settings were cranked down to low or medium.
In one scene, I had to interrogate an injured Scarecrow goon after chasing him down with the Batmobile. Although he was on the floor right in front of me, I had difficulties finding him because he seemed to blend right into the road. Colors could be more vivid, too; the Wing’s main display covers 105% of the DCI-P3 gamut, according to our testing, which apparently isn’t sufficient.
At first, I chalked up the so-so graphics to Gotham’s dark and rainy setting, but when I played Ori and the Will of the Wisps — typically a visually stunning game — graphical details lacked crispness and detail, too. I admit that this is nitpicking, though; I shouldn’t expect high graphical fidelity on a 1080p, 60Hz smartphone.
Another display setback with Game Pass is that, although the Wing has 6.8 inches of screen real estate, games only fill a measly 5.5-inch area of the display. The Wing also has an unusual 20.5:9 aspect ratio, which may be the culprit of this issue.
Multitasking while gaming
While playing Arkham Knight in swivel mode, I can engage with a number of different apps on the second screen. I zipped through the Laptop Mag website while waiting for a cutscene to finish. I looked up YouTube gameplay walkthroughs while driving the Batmobile around Gotham. I played reggae on Spotify as I kicked a henchman's ass. Hell, I even sent a quick text to a friend as I flew across a dystopian city. I browsed the web, played YouTube videos, listened to music and sent texts — all without interrupting the game. Pretty badass, right?
The only hiccup is that, after you’re done interacting with the second screen, you have to tap the main display to “tell” the device that you’re ready to recommence your main-display engagement. Otherwise, it will not respond. After tapping the screen, I could use my Bluetooth-connected controller again to dive back into the game.
I also tried to make calls on the second screen while playing Arkham Knight on the main display. It works, however, the game’s audio will mute while you’re playing. In order to hear my friend on the other line, I tried to turn on Speaker Mode during gameplay, but strangely enough, all that does is unmute the game. Callers will be able to hear you, but you will not be able to hear them unless you bring the device to your ear.
There is also a few seconds of gameplay stutter after transitioning from the second screen to the main display, but it doesn’t last long enough to be a concern.
Dual-display positioning while gaming
While the LG Wing’s T-shaped design offers access to dual-screen multitasking, it isn’t ideal for gaming. I had to prop the Wing against an object on a table to make it stable enough to stand on its own.
On the plus side, the LG Wing can be swiveled back into basic mode. With this position, the Wing looks like a typical, single-screen 6.8-inch smartphone. From here, you can easily attach the Wing onto a controller without any hassle.
Xbox Game Pass: Gaming on the Microsoft Surface Duo
The Microsoft Surface Duo is a book-like, ultra-thin device equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM. It has two 60Hz, 5.6-inch displays with thick bezels. Thanks to its spectacular 360-degree hinges, the Surface Duo can be transformed into a number of different postures, including tent mode, compose mode and book mode.
Low latency, high letterboxing
I powered up Batman: Arkham Knight on the right hemisphere of the dual-screen Microsoft Surface Duo, which, like the left hemisphere, sports an AMOLED, 1800 x 1350-pixel display. Similar to the Wing, loading time took about 20 seconds. Arkham Knight’s tiny font issue is also present on the Duo.
I censured Game Pass for not filling all of the Wing’s 6.8-inch display goodness, but in book mode, the letterboxing is far worse on the Duo with the app only occupying a third of the screen.
Thankfully, you can rotate the Duo into tent mode and compose mode for a screen-filling experience. You can also fold the Duo and hook it up to your controller.
The rusty gears that rolled Joker into the incinerator for cremation looked slightly sharper and more detailed on the Surface Duo. As Batman swooped to the top of a building in Gotham’s Chinatown, I could see the intricate, Asian-inspired designs carved on the wooden-built structure — a visual treat that was harder to see on the LG Wing.
The Surface Duo, according to our testing, covers a whopping 199% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, which is 94 percentage points more than the T-shaped device. Unlike the Wing, as long as the Duo is in tent mode or compose mode, the games fill the entire display, which has an aspect ratio of 4:3. Although the Wing has a 6.8-inch display, games on the Duo appeared larger on the 5.6-inch screen compared to the 5.5-inch allotment on the Wing.
I also tested Ori and the Will of the Wisps on the Duo’s screen. I found that the Metroidvania platformer was more vivid on the Duo than the LG Wing. Graphical fidelity seemed slightly higher on the Duo, but don’t expect to find PC-quality graphics on the dual-screen phone.
Multitasking while gaming
Similar to the LG Wing, you can browse the web, scroll through social media, watch YouTube, listen to Spotify — without interruption — while playing Xbox Game Pass games. Texting is a little tricky, though, because the keyboard takes up the whole screen while in tent mode and compose mode (the most optimal postures for gaming on the Duo), thwarting users from seeing what they’re typing.
I tested calls while gaming on the Duo as well. This multitasking feature was the most irksome. Calls are launched on the screen where the Xbox Game Pass app “lives,” causing Game Pass to shutdown. I had to drag the Phone app to the left screen and re-launch the Game Pass app on the right. Luckily, the game continued from where I left off — what a relief.
Dual-display positioning during gaming
The Microsoft Surface Duo’s design is perfect for smartphone gaming. As mentioned, the best positions for gaming are tent mode and compose mode, which can be set atop a surface without needing to attach the cumbersome smartphone to your controller.
You can also use Duo’s cool feature called “spanning,” which allows you to span the Xbox Game Pass app across both displays. However, this is not ideal because that pesky divider will get in the way. In one instance, I had to shoot down tanks in Arkham Knight, but I couldn’t see the on-screen target to aim and blast ‘em into smithereens because it was hiding behind the divider.
Although I prefer the Surface Duo for Xbox Game Pass, I don’t see why many would opt to play made-for-console games on smartphones. I often found myself squinting for dear life on both smartphone screens — something I wouldn’t have to do on a monitor or a gaming laptop.
Perhaps smartphone cloud gaming could be beneficial for on-the-go folks who can afford a top-of-the-line cellular network, but frequent travelers are becoming more extinct due to our pandemic-affected world. Another scenario is a cash-strapped gamer who can’t afford expensive hardware and consequently must use their smartphone until they can purchase a higher-end machine. But other than these use cases, I don’t see the advantages of the Xbox Game Pass mobile experience.
On the plus side, the Wing and Surface Duo provide special features that other single-screen smartphones cannot offer: beastly multitasking on dual-screen displays. I often run to YouTube if I can’t figure out how to complete a level, so I could certainly see the usefulness of having a secondary screen for reference while gaming. Still, I can only see smartphone cloud gaming as a last-resort alternative — not a primary platform for playing your favorite IPs.