The first-ever virtual Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event revealed a handful of eagerly-anticipated phones and wearables, but the most understated news was the partnership between Samsung and Microsoft to bring Xbox games to the flagship phones like the new Galaxy Note 20.
Powerful Samsung phones will support Xbox Games Pass and xCloud streaming, and that has gotten me more hyped for mobile gaming than anything before today, even Google Stadia – in short, it has much of the same ambition as Google's service with more follow through.
Personally, that’s a high bar: Google Stadia promised a lot, and I was excited to see how its technology streamed console-quality gaming straight to your phone. But the initial Pixel-only restrictions and severely limited library of games supported – let alone available on its unlimited subscription model – minimized the service's appeal.
This week's Xbox Game Pass on Android news seemingly counters each of Stadia’s pain points: you’ll be able to play on a multitude of Android devices (including tablets!) using a tried-and-true service that’s only getting more robust. You'll be able to choose from a library of over 100 games with more added regularly – including upcoming titles like Halo Infinite. And heck, the xCloud beta launch on September 15 is right around the corner.
It’s encouraging that Microsoft’s Phil Schiller showed up at Samsung Unpacked to tout the service – and essentially give a seal of approval that Samsung’s new flagships would be perfect for Game Pass Ultimate – but it’s more reassuring to see an official Xbox blog post introducing the lineup of 'Designed for Xbox' third-party controllers and phone clips that should work fine with the game streaming service.
Given the wide range of Android phones that will theoretically be able to play Xbox titles through Game Pass Ultimate, having so many options and price points to play with a game pad shows Microsoft put thought into getting gamers to play on the go.
That’s what’s hyped me most – because currently, mobile gaming, well, kind of sucks.
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How xCloud could help mobile gaming not suck
We play games on phones because it’s convenient while we’re away from home (or the couch), but tapping on-screen buttons is imprecise and frustrating, especially since it covers up the action.
Despite how cumbersome it is to drag around a controller and phone clip, it’s an undeniably better experience. And with Game Pass Ultimate, I can theoretically play with far more Android users, which could build up the community of mobile gamers and avoid the ‘empty stadium’ of Google Stadia, as The Verge described it back in May.
That includes my friends, who likely have Android phones that aren’t Google Pixel handsets -- and though the range of Stadia-compatible handsets has expanded to include Samsung phones (the Galaxy S8 and newer), Oneplus phones (the OnePlus 5 and newer), along with the Asus ROG and Razer line of phones, it's still more limited than, say, any Android phone or tablet, as Microsoft is seemingly implying will work with Game Pass Ultimate.
For you iPhone owners hoping to use xCloud on your Apple handset, the outlook isn't promising: the xCloud app stopped working shortly after the Samsung presentation, according to The Verge's Tom Warren, despite the xCloud iOS preview's planned end on September 11. It appears the iPhone version of the app automatically expired after 90 days without an update per Apple's TestFlight rules, reports WindowsCentral. In other words: if you and I want to play xCloud on mobile, we'll likely only get it on an Android device.
Some of my friends are already subscribed to Game Pass Ultimate — and, full disclosure, so am I — reducing the barriers to trying out this kind of mobile gaming. If we already own an Xbox One controller, all that’s left is to buy a clip and hook up an Android phone we already own.
Yes, streaming console/computer gaming through your smartphone (or tablet) isn’t traditional mobile gaming, but it could be the platform that adjusts the definition to include controller-enabled play, if Microsoft’s marriage of Game Pass and xCloud works.
There’s every possibility it won't, especially if the unproven xCloud setup struggles to deliver smooth sessions across uneven connections or limited bandwidth. In which case we would go back to playing PUBG and MOBAs and other games with finicky touch controls, with the promise of streaming better games with controller-assisted precision still on the horizon. But I'm not ready to hit the reset button on this ambitious mobile gaming dream just yet.