Microsoft’s weird Surface Duo 2 has surprisingly become my favorite device of the year

It is extremely rare that a product is actually found Better months after its release. But Microsoft’s forgotten Surface Duo 2, which launched in October 2021 with a steep price tag and a laundry list of bugs and issues that made it too frustrating to use, has bucked that trend. In fact, the Duo 2 has improved so much that it’s now one of my favorite mobile devices, even though it’s still weird and unique enough that I can’t recommend it to most people.

In case you forgot, the Surface Duo 2 is a folding phone with two large screens attached to a hinge. Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3, which takes a tablet-sized display and folds it in half to fit in your pocket, the Duo 2’s two screens make it easy to fold two larger phones together and run the same software. Feel like You can easily run two apps side by side as if you’re holding two phones at the same time, or you can spread the same app across both screens to mimic a smaller tablet. Both sides of the phone are thin enough that it can fold together like a book and fit into a pocket with relative ease. Pair it with Microsoft’s Surface Slim Pen 2, and you have a portable digital notebook that can also work for note taking, reading eBooks, or drafting emails.

When I reviewed the Surface Duo 2 last year, none of its clever design or book-like features were undervalued. The device was effectively broken, held back by software bugs that made it infuriating to type, frustrating to use, and ultimately frustrating. It was a $1,500 novelty that could only appeal to the most hardened of the Microsoft brand, who were willing to iron out its many flaws so that they had the luxury of the ever-launched Courier device more than a decade ago. Don’t dream

The Surface Duo 2 doesn’t really function well as a phone, but it can be a very useful pocket computer.

But, remarkably, Microsoft hasn’t abandoned the Duo 2. In fact, the company has continuously released software updates on a monthly basis to fix several issues with the Duo 2 at launch. Some of these updates included simple security patches and minor bug fixes, while others, like the recent June update, included more significant improvements and new features. Importantly, Microsoft has addressed touch latency problems that were prevalent at launch and made it very difficult to type on the Duo 2’s virtual keyboard — or even navigate the interface.

Knowing that Microsoft was attending to many of my original complaints with the Duo 2, I took advantage of a recent price cut (the phone can now be had for $1,000, which is still expensive but above its launch price). Quite low) and a generous trade-in offer and I bought one of mine. The goal was to see if I could have a better idea of ​​what Microsoft is trying to achieve with this device, when show-stopping bugs aren’t getting in its way.

And reader, I can finally say that I get it. The Duo 2 is the most unique mobile device I’ve ever used, allowing me to do things I couldn’t do with a traditional smartphone. It also does a few things, like multitasking and reading eBooks, better than the Z Fold 3’s single big screen.

A Kindle e-book spanned both screens of the Microsoft Surface Duo 2

Reading Kindle books is one of the best experiences on the Duo 2.

The Pocket Android app displays a text on both surfaces of the Surface Duo 2 while it's in portrait orientation.

Rotating the Duo 2 to portrait when both screens are open provides a large iPad mini-sized display for vertically scrolling reading articles or taking hand-written notes.

Over the past month-plus, I’ve used the Duo 2 to read a lot of books in the Kindle app, which takes advantage of dual screens to provide a more book-like experience than any other device. I manage my inbox and calendar at the same time; I’ve edited Google Docs, continuing the sluggish conversation. I have used Slim Pen 2 to take handwritten notes in OneNote. I’ve read countless articles in my Pocket queue in which the app is stretched across both screens and the Duo 2 is turned into a portrait orientation. I have watched so many videos on both the screens that I can’t see the slightest difference now. There’s something definitely satisfying about completing a task on the Duo 2 and then closing it like a book and putting it in my pocket.

The Duo 2 hasn’t replaced my primary smartphone as I use them for a variety of tasks: messaging, calls, photos, smart home controls, music and mobile payments on my iPhone; Reading, multitasking, note-taking and YouTube on Duo 2. I haven’t actually called the Duo 2 yet, because unless you use wireless earbuds, it’s too awkward to do. Mostly, I’ve used the Duo 2 exactly how I use the iPad mini, except it folds in half and fits in my pocket. It’s not even correct to call this device a “phone” based on how I use it. (Microsoft attempted to position the original Surface Duo as something other than a phone at its launch, but withdrew from that marketing with the Duo 2.)

Microsoft has made the Duo 2’s camera app faster and more responsive, but I’ve never used it to take photos. It’s so awkward to take pictures, and I have my iPhone with me anyway. In fact, I’d prefer it if the unintentional rear hump and its camera were completely gone and the Duo 2 retained smooth lines like the first Duo and the ability to fold flat against itself.

Besides having a weird camera, there are other things about the Duo 2’s design that make it challenging to use as a primary phone. There’s no quick way to check notifications or do anything with one hand — you passed To open the device to use it. (The recent addition of third-party chat app notifications to “Hinge Display” in the June update doesn’t change that fact.) It’s a much more deliberate device than a slab phone that can be easily unlocked and unlocked when you Can be used one-handed if desired. To kill some time in line at the grocery store. Samsung’s Z Fold 3 is a better single device to replace both a phone and a tablet, as you can use it even when it’s turned off.

The Black Surface Duo 2 is paired with the Surface Pen bumper cover.

The Duo 2’s form factor makes it difficult to guard against pitfalls. I’ve resorted to using a Surface Pen cover bumper case and vinyl skin, but I still handle it with kid gloves (not pictured).

The Duo 2 is also far from a durable device. Though I haven’t taken a break in months—plus I’m using it again, it lacks both water and dust resistance, so you don’t want to get it wet. Its design makes it extremely difficult to put on the case and maintain the flexibility of the hinge. (I’ve resorted to Microsoft’s Surface Pen charging cover and bumper, as well as a debranded skin.) Even though it’s turned off when I’m not using it, it’s not something I can just hold down to the keys. I’ll throw it in the pocket along and loose change for fear it might get stuck in the hinge.

There is also a lot of room for improvement in the software. Other than the Kindle app and Google Play Books, the only apps that can really work well on both screens are those made by Microsoft, despite the fact that the Duo 2 has been on the market for eight months now. There are still times when an app or link opens on the opposite screen I’m expecting or a gesture to full-screen an app fails. Pen input is still lousy in anything other than Microsoft’s own apps. I don’t think I’ve ever actually used the drag-and-drop feature because it’s supported in so few apps that it’s not worth remembering that it exists.

It is possible that things will improve with the upcoming Android 12L update, which is designed to improve the experience on folding devices like the Duo 2 and Fold 3. But I suspect that, even after that update, I’ll still be using most of the apps. single screen.

All I have to say is that, despite updates and bug fixes, the Duo 2 is still not going to be the go-to phone for everyone or even for most people. It’s best suited as a secondary device for specific tasks, just as an iPad or tablet is an accessory to your smartphone. Even with the recent price cut, it’s still more expensive than an iPad or other small tablet. It’s only ideal for people who would appreciate the ability to carry it to more places, even if they already carry another phone in their other pocket.

A black Microsoft Surface Duo 2 closes up and sits on a placemat.

Now that many bugs and issues with the software have been resolved, Duo 2 comes close to fulfilling the vision of the Microsoft Courier concept from 2009.

Rumors have it that Microsoft will not launch Duo 3 this year, but will instead keep it for 2023. That would give it more time to resolve issues and avoid the bug-filled launch that affected both the original Duo and the Duo 2. Microsoft could also address aspects of the Duo design that make it difficult to use as a primary phone (a touchscreen on the outside would go a long way here). Perhaps it can figure out a way to connect and charge the pen without resorting to a goofy and expensive add-on case. A recent patent filing from the company envisions a Duo-like device that uses a single panel that can fold 360 degrees, instead of two discrete screens connected by a hinge. I’m not sure what problem it would solve other than eliminating the gap between the screens when you’re watching a video, but it sure will look cool.

Either way, if Microsoft remains committed to the Duo form factor and continues to iterate on it, I’ll see. The Duo 2 has gone from one of the most problematic devices I’ve reviewed to one of my favorites, and I look forward to seeing where Microsoft takes it next. In the meantime, I have another book to read.

Photography by Dan Seifert/The Verge

Source link

Leave a Comment