Many people were disappointed when Microsoft canceled Windows Phone. Part of the reason for the disappointment was that Windows fans were expecting the software company to ship a new and exciting phone OS named Andromeda. While the debate on whether it was a good move or not, or what went wrong, would continue forever, Windows Central has got their hands on a pre-release build of the OS, giving us a feel of what might have been. The build is from 2018 and runs on a Lumia 950.
Andromeda was not intended to ship on the Lumia 950 or any Windows phone existing at that time. However, the developers at Microsoft used the hardware to test the OS in-house. In fact, Andromeda was meant to ship on a double-screen device, just like the Surface Duo.
In the video below showing the OS, you will notice a rough, unfinished, and inconsistent UI. Sadly, it will always remain this way because Microsoft has abandoned the development in favor of powering their Surface ‘phone’ devices with Google’s Android.
One of the unique things about the Andromeda OS is that Microsoft built it around inking or journaling. Right on the lockscreen, you can scribble with a pen, unlike anything we have today. This makes jotting things down very fast and natural as you didn’t need to open any app first.
However, unlocking the screen brings even more inking opportunities because the home screen is basically another canvas, called the Journal. It would have allowed you to take notes with a pen, write a sticky note, and even insert images. Any app can access the Journal because it is always running in the background.
Just like any modern OS, Andromeda is gesture-based, and you swipe to get around. To get to the Start, swipe left. To access Cortana and your notifications, swipe right. Cortana and notifications are bound together. The Control Center comes up when you swipe down from the top.
Interestingly, you will find some of these gestures on Windows 11 because that is how you access controls like Wi-Fi, brightness, volume, etc. So, in a way, Andromeda lives on.
The relationship between Andromeda and Windows 11 goes deeper because you will see the Fluent Design on the former, including blur effects.
Andromeda also has a Radial UX Menu that Microsoft was experimenting with. The model replaces the gesture navigation with circular buttons for jumping to the Start or switching between apps. Microsoft probably meant it as a bridge for those unfamiliar with gesture navigation then. Swiping might have become second nature for many phone users, but that wasn’t the case in 2018. Also, this navigation menu could have suited pen input better.
Continuum is present in this build but is unusable because of bugs. Microsoft definitely intended to ship Andromeda with the feature, but Windows Central could test it because it is broken in the build. Continuum had high hopes, with features like pinning store icons on the desktop, windowed app experience, etc. However, it wasn’t to see the light of the day.
Andromeda has lots of similarities with what shipped on the Surface Duo running Android. The most prominent is the date and time layout on the lockscreen. Other similarities include the multitasking UI, animations, and how two apps run side-by-side. However, there were significant differences. One of such is that inking was central to Andromeda while Microsoft didn’t prioritize it on the Surface Duo. You can’t scribble on the lockscreen on the Surface Duo.
Microsoft has canceled the Andromeda project, and we might never see it running on a device. Instead, the company is committed to making ‘phone’ hardware that runs on rival’s Android.