Microsoft Surface Duo 2 Review

Today we’re going to be talking about the Microsoft Surface Duo 2. I’m going to have to interrupt you from reading on the Surface Duo 2, and as you can see, this device, it’s not quite a phone, it’s not quite a tablet, it’s somewhere in the middle, but it’s also neither. We’re going to call it a phone for the sake of making things easy in this news. But, this is Microsoft’s latest $1,500 device. We gave it three-and-a-half stars, and we’re here to tell you what we like about it, what we don’t like about it, and who we think it’s good for. So, let’s start talking first about this interesting design. Yeah, this is genuinely the weirdest device that I’ve handled in 2021. And so if you want to bring in the first Surface Duo here, that was the weirdest device I handled in 2020. So, they are definitely continuing the trend of having the strangest hand-helds which we have seen here in the marketplaces. The thing about the Surface Duo that really grabs us and confuses us is the fact that it is not really a phone or a tablet in the form factor that most of us are used to from the past 10 years. It’s a little book. Closed, there is no external display at all. In fact, the only information you get is a little light bar along the side that tells you if you have any missed texts or missed calls.

When you open it up, you can open it up and use it in various different postures almost like a Lenovo Yoga laptop. And every posture has different features that do different things. So, it’s very flexible, and it does some things that no other phone does, but it also doesn’t do things that, say, your Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 does in that you can just pick up the Z Fold 3, turn it on, hold it up to your head, and make a phone call. You can’t really do that with the Surface Duo 2. Everything’s a little more complicated. But on the other hand… Sorry, I was going to say with the Surface Duo 2, if you want to make a phone call, you have to physically open it, and basically turn the two screens around, and then you’re still using a 3.6 inch wide, very large phone for a call. Yeah. So you, as you said, you open it, you turn one of the screens backwards, and then you have very much this phablet here, and it’s got a flagship processor. It’s running Android 11 Snapdragon 888. Got great 4G and 5G reception.

But it is kind of really wide for your hand, and it’s wide to hold up to your head. On the other hand, can your Z Fold 3 do this? Can it sit on your table like a table tent and do a speakerphone call sitting on the table with you leaning back? No, the Z Fold 3, it’s a little awkward to do that. You can unfold it like this, but it’s not quite the same. This table-tent mode really grabbed me in a lot of circumstances. It’s great for watching videos, it’s great for playing games such as Xbox streaming games with a controller. It’s great for speakerphone calls, so that’s a mode that made me go kind of, “wow” about the Surface Duo. And then, of course, its main mode is having these two screens, and what’s important to understand about it is they’re not really one screen. You can span an app across both screens, but they’ve got his bezel in the middle, and the bezel really, I mean, it’s a real gap. It really messes with your content. So what you really… Yeah, really here on the home screen, it’s very prominent. Yeah, absolutely. So what you really want to be running is two apps. You want to have, say, I’ve got Google Drive here, and I’ve got a web browser here. Or, I’ve got, here goes Microsoft OneNote with my web browser.

There’s a couple of apps such as the aforementioned OneNote which are designed to… which are designed to work with the two screens. So for instance, I have my OneNote index over here, and I have my OneNote text over here. But for the vast majority of apps what you’re really doing is you’re looking at a webpage over here, and copying it into a document over here. Or you’re looking at a spreadsheet over here, and writing an email about it over here. ¬†And so it’s good for that productivity type of workflow if you’re in spreadsheets a lot, or if you happen to do a lot of copying and pasting on your phone? Or if you, for instance, tend to scroll down webpages, clicking on various links, but you don’t want to have to always be fiddling with the back button. Like, you can have your index webpage over here, and then the thing that you’re reading over here. And yes, you can have two windows in other Android devices, but it’s a little more awkward. The software interface for multi-windowing in Android is really un-intuitive, and, you know, often kind of doesn’t work. Whereas here the physicality of it really makes a difference. And so, the hinge. I think a lot of this hinges on the hinge.

There are many different ways, as you started to point out, that you can use it. What are some of your personal favorite ways that you are using it as you’re reviewing the device? Okay so, I think one of the coolest uses here is the way the camera app works. And I’m loading up the camera app here to show you. So, you’ve got the view finder on the top half, and then when you take a photo, you can review the photo on the bottom half. And for me, like, I never know whether the photos I’m taking are quite in focus, and kind of having to jump out of the camera app to look at the gallery always kind of brings me out of my flow. So having that right there to check that it’s in focus, that’s pretty neat. Although I will say you are at risk of looking like someone who uses a tablet to take photos. Oh yeah, totally ’cause you’re doing it in the little laptop mode. Right. – Completely, okay? So, that is definitely one use. As you said, the copying and pasting, another use. Another thing that I really liked about it was specifically using the New York Times news app because when I would tap on articles on the front page of the virtual newspaper, the article would then open in the other window. And so that’s a really pleasurable experience.

Can we talk about some of the things that don’t work so well with the two different screens? Yeah. So, the first Duo was super, duper buggy. The first Duo was unusually buggy. This Duo is only slightly buggy. I have more faith in Microsoft right now to fix the bugs, but there are some things that are not working so well such as auto-rotation. Right. So you see here, oh, it’s working now. The last take we did on this video, the rotation totally wasn’t working. So, there you go. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The cameras are not terrific especially in low light. They have the flagship-level specs, but when you compare them to another flagship like, say, the Z Fold 3, they’re just not quite there yet. And two giant screens in a relatively thin device means the battery life is not great. I got about 10 hours using one screen, but why are you using this for one screen? And guess what? Using both screens at the same time all the time, I was getting maybe five, six hours of use time. That’s a lot shorter than most other flagships.

On the other hand, most other flagships aren’t a 8.3 inch tablet. And I would say finally, if you intend to use it as a tablet that bezel really gets in the way. Games, for instance, that tend to focus you on the center of the screen, you know, they’re just focusing you on the bezel. So most games, you end up just playing on one screen because they just don’t know how to deal with the bezel. Now, you did though, have a few gaming experiences that you liked where you were using the tablet in a… What mode is it that you coined? So, yeah. Little laptop mode. Yeah. Oh, are you thinking that little laptop mode, or table-tent mode? I might be thinking of table tent which is the more – Okay. laying down V shape That’s a thing that they initiated. But yeah, it was really nice to… so, the device works with an Xbox wireless controller, and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass streaming service. And in that case, I could very easily prop the device up on a desk, and it sits there very nicely in a triangular mode, and I sit back with my controller and play the games.

And that was a pretty pleasurable experience, at least in games that didn’t have too much lag on the streaming service, and that really varies from game to game. I think we’ve covered pretty well what you can and can not do with these dual screens.  Let’s talk just a little bit more about how this functions as a phone with the hardware and the connectivity because ultimately even though we’re saying it’s not quite a phone, and it isn’t quite a tablet, it is essentially being sold as a phone, and we’re reviewing it as phone. So, let’s talk about it as a phone. Yeah so, this is a Snapdragon 888 running Android 11. It benchmarks very similarly or even slightly better than devices like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, or the Galaxy Z Fold 3, so that’s nice. Web browsing performance is particularly speedy. Radio performance is actually excellent. It works on 4G and 5G with all three major carriers including both 5G millimeter wave and sub 6. It has a physical SIM slot, and a Nano-SIM, and you can use both at once, so it’s a dual SIM phone.

On Verizon’s network I found that it actually outpaced the Z Fold 3 somewhat. So, good connectivity. In terms of call quality, it is awkward to hold up to your head, and weird. If you’re making calls with a Bluetooth headset, it’s fine. Speakerphone is not thunderingly loud, but it’s absolutely fine in a quiet room, and once more as I said, using this table-tent mode for the speaker phone is a fun way to do it. It’s a nice experience. So I guess this brings me to my ultimate question. Who is this for? Okay so, I’ve gotten some emails over the past year from actual fans of the original Duo. And now, that is a small and passionate group because this phone was broken when it launched. And they had to wait several months for a software update to even make it usable. And those folks are really people who enjoy the doing-two-things-at-once aspect. They want to be able, their dream on their portable device has always been able to have two windows open.

And if that’s you, if you’re that person, if you are referring to one thing and copying it to another, if you’re writing an email about one thing while looking at a webpage you’re writing the email about, if you’re really sick of using that Android multitasking button to flip back and forth through apps, that’s who this is for. And it’s a niche of people, it’s not a mass market. But I think those people are going to be able to tolerate the slight bugginess that we’re experiencing right now which I think this year Microsoft will get past. And they’ll enjoy not having to flip back and forth between apps. Right, and so ultimately that’s why we gave the phone three-and-a-half stars.

But I do think that that rating makes sense because we are recommending it to a very specific subset of people, and if that happens to be you, you just might love this phone. Yeah, I mean, I’ve run into a couple of those kinds of products recently. These products where they’re not for everybody. They’re not even really for most people. But a few people are really going to like them. And the Duo 1 was a device I could recommend to no one because of the bugginess. But the Duo 2, they’ve made it. You can check it out now. All right, so that is the Microsoft Surface Duo 2. It is a major step up from the original. It is a $1,500 phone.

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