So I bought one thing this weekend. My Apple Watch appeared on Friday, so I spent some time getting used to the new features, but it was not the only new device I got that day. I had looked at Surface Duo reviews, and although I was a little skeptical, I was still fascinated by the concept. There is no absolute guarantee that dual-screen devices will be anything beyond a high-end honeypot, but there is still something new and interesting here for us technical fans to get into.
There is no way to know what you think about new technology without going practical. I finally saw where a local BestBuy had a Duo in stock late last week, and decided to take the plunge.
It has been an interesting, fun, unique, yet frustrating experience so far. I haven̵
There is also a learning curve involved in moving things between Duo’s two screens, or using both screens together. And then there are the times when these movements and functions break down, even when you perform them correctly. The duo also gets confused about which screen to be active when you place the screens in different ways. And then there’s the known delay of split seconds when you change direction on Android. I absolutely remember that. All of this comes to life in the technically fast track, I guess.
Anyway, here are a few early observations of the Duo after a few days with it.
The hardware quality is extremely impressive
This is not too much of a surprise, as most of Microsoft’s Surface hardware is extremely high quality. But considering the form factor’s novelty, the polishing level is still quite remarkable. You can tell a lot of thought and engineering time went into the design. This is especially true when you consider the effort it took to balance the two halves of the device.
Speaking of which, the two halves of the Duo are extremely thin. This means that it is still as thin as most traditional smartphones when folded and comes in at about the same weight. It is noticeably wider than a traditional smartphone, which is a little strange in the pocket, but still manageable. This is especially true for anyone like me who is already used to wearing a large device.
The duo’s 360-degree hinge is particularly impressive. The movement is smooth and fluid, and it has any position you put it in without any problems. I think the design lasts for the entire life of the device, which you can not always say about new designs. The hinges are really the best aspect of the hardware, in my opinion. This is quite important considering the nature of the device.
There are compelling use cases for devices with two screens
Having a device with two screens may seem junk or unnecessary, but there are really cases where I have found the Duo legitimately very useful. Just something as simple as having your email and calendar apps open together without having to scroll back and forth between them or use them in half size, is interesting. I do this all the time with the iPad Pro, but it’s different on a device that can legally be charged in my pocket.
While several reviews pointed out early issues with multitasking performance on the Duo, it seems that Microsoft has worked most of it on this point. This is quite important since multitasking is the main reason why this device exists. I know the Duo does not have the latest processor or specifications, but I never felt it held it back.
I do not feel relentlessly attracted to this form factor, but it’s just me. I enjoy my time with it, but it’s far from being something I can not live without. My interest is more as a technical fan who likes to kick the tires on new and unique devices. Still, I can understand why there are some reviewers who have gone crazy over some of the utility issues that Duo and Galaxy Z Fold 2 unlock.
The duo is also a unit of compromises
This is sort of with new devices. The same definitely applied to the original iPhone. There are several rough edges and problems. In fact, the strongest aspect of the Duo’s design itself is a compromise. The 360-degree hinge is incredibly versatile, but it also prevents the screen from coming together to provide a more unified single-screen experience.
That is not the only compromise. The duo’s mediocre camera has been called out in most reviews. It is a product of hardware design limitations and its 360 degree design. Then there is the battery life, which is ok, but not great. One side of the unit can heat up quite a bit when you slide the unit. The new form factor makes it almost impossible to create a truly protective case for the Duo outside a sleeve, which is a legitimate disadvantage for a device that is glass everywhere.
This will be a recurring theme for devices with dual monitors and collapsible in the foreseeable future. For dual-monitor devices, the trade-off of multitasking functionality and better, more familiar display materials and technologies is the challenges of using the two monitors as one. For a collapsible, the portable large screen comes with an invisible crease in the middle, durability issues and lower quality screen materials. It will take years for manufacturers to get around and past these obstacles. In the meantime, buyers are paying a premium to help them further along that learning curve.
Surface Pen compatibility was a smart addition
Because a dual-screen device can be made with traditional glass panels, it is much easier to include active touch compatibility. Although I would like to see Apple take a turn on this form factor at some point, stylus compatibility is the part I would most like the iPhone to have today.
I will never understand why Apple is so reluctant to do this for Pro iPhones, especially the Max version. The pencil does not need to be connected to or fitted to the phone. Leave it to Samsung and the note. Just make it work, and those who want to use one will carry it around and do it. I like having that option on the Duo, and it was smart of Microsoft to make their existing pen compatible.
This device is supposed to run some form of Windows
My biggest complaint about the Duo is simple. That’s Microsoft’s cowardice. Or maybe it was either laziness or apathy when it comes to Windows. Maybe my perception of this is a bit angular, but I have gotten tired of crushing MS and giving them a pass over the years.
As a lifelong desktop user, I wanted Microsoft to do its part and make Windows 8 something good that worked across multiple form factors. They failed. BAD. Then I got hope again when the rumors about Andromeda hovered around. Maybe Microsoft will FINALLY contact more than a second-rate experience on Windows. Maybe they could finally make a modern smartphone that harnessed the power of Windows. No.
Then there were rumors of a device with two screens and Windows 10 X that led to a Microsoft event last year. I was busy at work that day and could not follow the incident live. When I read that they unveiled a phone, I was very excited for a moment. Then I read that it would run Android, and I wanted to throw my iPhone through the windshield (note that I was not running at the time). This was Microsoft’s final failure in mobile and the final warning that they will probably never care about Windows again. What a disappointment.
For the record, I do not hate Android. I just do not like it. Maybe I’m just put in my ways, but I’ve never enjoyed using this operating system, and I still do not. I’m not saying it’s bad or not in any way. Whatever the reason it just does not fit the way I do things too. Add that several apps and services that I use do not exist on the platform, and I just do not have much interest in it. If this device was running on Windows, it would be a different story. I would think more seriously about keeping it.
In my opinion, the choice of Android for Duo shows a great lack of vision on the part of Microsoft. It was literally the easy way out. Except it still sounds like it wasn’t particularly easy. Multiple articles and interviews suggest that Microsoft struggled to get the device optimized until after the hardware was in the hands of reviewers.
If this device was destined to be a battle to produce a boutique smartphone aimed at hardcore Microsoft users and fans, why not invest so much time and effort in their OWN PLATFORM? You know, the one that still sucks to use with touch and is in the middle of a transition to ARM. What better way to take on the challenges than with a dual-screen smartphone?
Instead, Microsoft did not do the hard work required, producing a device with at least as many compromises as benefits. As a Windows user and someone who is deeply embedded in several Microsoft services for work and home, I still have no compelling reason to keep Duo. I have heard the arguments and explanations, but they will never make sense to me.
The Surface Duo also undermines the hope I had that the Surface Neo would be a great device. At this point, I’m not sure there will all be any kind of unity. The fact that it has been delayed indefinitely and Windows 10 X has already been redesigned as something not dedicated to dual-screen devices gives me more reason to believe that Microsoft is not really committed to making Windows a better one. touch experience, or much better for that matter. Maybe they will get their ARM transition moving thanks to the 64-bit emulation that finally appears, but I think it works well when I see it.
All that being said, Duo’s interesting hardware means I’ll take a good, hard look at the Surface Neo if it ever comes. I can not say that I have much hope that Microsoft will get it right this time, but there is enough potential in a dual monitor device running an operating system that better suits my needs to at least give it a shot if MS will follow through next year.
Until then, I will continue to kick the tires on the Duo for a few more days. However, $ 1500 in taxes is way too much to pay for a device that is not good enough to be my daily smartphone and running an operating system I just do not like to use. It’s almost certainly on its way back to BestBuy soon.
However, if you have questions about it from an iPhone user perspective, feel free to ask in the comments below or @iPadInsightBlog on Twitter.