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Microsoft's Continuum feature. (Photo courtesy of Microsoft)
Microsoft’s Continuum feature. (Microsoft Photo)

NEW YORK — Microsoft gave the press a chance to try out its Continuum feature on Tuesday, demonstrating how the company’s new smartphones can mimic PCs if you connect them to a display, keyboard and mouse.

Display Dock
Display Dock

The company called the feature “insane” on stage at the New York City press event, but after taking it for a test drive I would say it’s more like a promising concept that will be moderately useful for the time being.

But I think that will change.

Microsoft has been talking about its plan to create a common experience across devices of all sizes ever since Windows 10 was first announced last year. With Continuum, I finally saw that vision begin to come to life.

The whole thing is made possible by the USB Type-C port that comes built into Microsoft’s new Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL smartphones. The more robust port makes it possible to connect the phone to a Display Dock, which in turn has ports to plug in other peripherals like a keyboard. The dock is even compatible with USB flash drives, letting you more easily move documents on and off your phone. It’s also capable of full HDMI output, meaning you can connect your phone to a TV for high-definition playback.

Microsoft says Continuum makes your smartphone behave like a PC, but that’s not entirely the case. The Windows 10 experience you end up with is significantly dumbed down from what you’re used to on a desktop, with limits like not being able to open multiple windows at the same time. Obviously, it’s also running off a phone with much less processing power, so things don’t run quite as smoothly.

Reporters testing Microsoft’s Continuum feature in New York. (GeekWire Photo, Jacob Demmitt)

As it stands right now, I don’t see many people relying on Continuum in a very meaningful way. It could be useful when you travel, but you would still need to lug around the Display Dock, a keyboard, mouse and all the cords. At that point, I’m much more likely to bring a laptop. Microsoft says, “leave your laptop at work,” on the website promoting the Display Dock, but I just don’t see many people doing that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the feature.

There will come a day when a smartphone is powerful enough to deliver the full Windows experience. Then, I can see myself pulling out my phone to finish up some last minute work when I get home.

In that scenario, the smartphone turns into a bridge to deliver the interface you’re used to on whatever screen happens to be available. It’s exactly the “mobility of experiences” that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been talking about for so long.

Continuum is still in its infancy, but you can pretty clearly see where Microsoft’s headed with this one. It’s an innovative concept and definitely something to keep an eye on. But for now, it probably won’t be a significant factor in many smartphone buying decisions.

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