Not the Android Apps Solution We Were Looking For … Yet (Updated)

Posted on August 27, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile, Windows 10 with 47 Comments

As I noted in my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra First Impressions post, I’m going to step through each of the Microsoft ecosystem integrations that Samsung is making available in its latest smartphone flagships. This partnership is interesting stuff, especially for those who rely on Microsoft apps and services on Windows and are looking for the best productivity experience on the go. Surface Duo is, perhaps, one route—the jury is still out on the efficacy of that solution—but I’m far more interested in the Samsung approach.

And of many the integrations that the two firms promised during the latest Unpacked event, none were more promising than the ability to remotely run Android apps from a Samsung flagship directly on a Windows PC alongside native apps. Unfortunately, the experience is disappointing in its current incarnation. The good news? There are improvements on the way.

After connecting the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review unit to my PC using a grueling multi-step process across both devices—an act that is only made slightly easier by the “Link to Windows” functionality that’s built-in to the Samsung—I quickly set off to see what it was likely running an Android app remotely on the PC.

It started promisingly enough. The Apps view in Your Phone logically lists all of the apps on your handset in alphabetical order and there’s a Favorites area at the top for those who have far too many apps and don’t want to hunt and peck.

You can even pin apps you think you’ll use a lot to the taskbar and/or Start menu.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends today.

You can only run one Android app at a time because the apps aren’t really run in their own windows. They’re run inside of the screen mirroring window that debuted last year.

This introduces a number of curious problems aside from the obvious inability to run two or more Android apps side-by-side. Though that capability is coming in an update soon and should improve matters.

Less obvious, if the phone is locked and you run an app in the Apps view, the app window will come up displaying the phone’s lock screen, not the app. The good news? You can use Google’s Smart Lock feature to trust your PC, ensuring that the phone will be unlocked while using Your Phone. But you need to configure that first.

And of course the app window itself doesn’t display the name of the app, just the name of your phone. Because, again, this is just a shortcut to screen mirroring for now. I assume a more seamless experience is on the way.

Some Android apps, like Microsoft Outlook, are tailored to optimize their own display according to the size and aspect ratio of the device on which it runs. And with Samsung flagships supporting DeX, those apps will display differently if they’re on the phone’s display or on a larger (and probably landscape orientation) external display. So it’s reasonable to assume that you can stretch out the app’s window on Windows so that it is larger and in landscape mode, and you’d get the tablet version of the app. But you can’t do this because, again, it’s just a shortcut to screen mirroring.

If you use an Android app that emits sound, whether it’s a notification beep, a song playing, or a video, that sound comes out of … the phone. For some reason. And not the PC. And while at least some apps that play video (I tested Google Play Movies & TV) will at least correctly switching into a landscape mode during playback, the app window can get stuck in landscape mode after playback is over with certain apps, like YouTube. Manually twisting your phone into portrait mode can fix that.

As bad, when I ran and closed an Android app, it hung the Your Phone app. I’ve had to force-quit Your Phone using Task Manager every single time. That’s irritating, but when I relaunch the app, it comes up in a small window sized and shaped like a phone screen, not like the main app window. Doubly-irritating.

Curious about this, I tested Your Phone on a different PC and it worked fine. I’m not sure what went wrong on the PC I normally use—an HP Envy 15 laptop these days—but the problem persists, unfortunately. I sent a bug report in to Microsoft.

Put simply, I had high hopes and, I thought, reasonable expectations. I knew, for example, that you could only run one app at a time. But having now experienced this, I realize that my expectations were not reasonable at all and that the reality of this solution is even worse than I’d imagined. And that … sucks. I really wanted this to work. But I know it’s going to get better, too. So I’ll reevaluate Your Phone’s apps feature when that happens.

Note: This article was significantly updated with new information on September 1, 2019. –Paul

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