Microsoft Surface Duo Review: Not Quite There

Notification bar trapped. Some apps freeze. Digicam retains flipping back and forth.

These are a couple of lots of notes I created whilst testing Microsoft’s new cellphone, the twin-monitor Area Duo. I’ve operate into so lots of bugs these previous two weeks that I experienced to get started jotting them down just to keep observe. Presumably just after hearing feed-back from fellow reviewers and myself, Microsoft pushed an update to our equipment a couple times earlier than planned. Just after the update, the software program grew to become extra steady, but lots of bugs and quirks continue being. Even with the most significant wrinkles ironed out, making use of the Duo is continue to an training in annoyance.

The two displays are not the difficulty in actuality, they are exemplary. Ever use two laptop screens at the very same time? It is really hard to go back to a single monitor afterward, and the very same is legitimate in this article. But what drains the Duo of its cellular multitasking charm is glitchy software program that makes this $1,four hundred cellphone feel like a work in progress. And as significantly as Microsoft isn’t going to want to contact it a cellphone, which is what the Duo is, and it falls limited as one particular in a couple crucial parts.

Double Feature

Photograph: Microsoft 

The Area Duo is not the 1st twin-monitor smartphone, but it arrives at a time when providers are experimenting wildly with cellphone models. Samsung and Motorola, for instance, sell equipment with folding screens in distinct styles and dimensions. But instead than falling in line with this new (and delicate) folding glass engineering, Microsoft is betting huge on the two-monitor technique, which it hopes will be a boon for productivity. It is really even setting up a two-monitor Home windows laptop computer for 2021.

What makes the Duo even extra exclusive is that it really is Microsoft’s 1st stab at Android (and a cellphone) since its Nokia times. Why not use Home windows as a substitute of Google’s working program? Apps. The firm’s Home windows Cell phone cellular OS was crippled mainly because it failed to entice 3rd-get together apps, and Microsoft is not producing the very same oversight twice. The Google Enjoy Shop has nearly each and every application you could want, together with people created by Microsoft. And absolutely sure, you can install Microsoft’s apps on any other Android cellphone, but working them on the Duo is distinctive. Microsoft bought one thing suitable in this article: Two screens are greater than one particular.

In its shut point out, the Area Duo appears to be like like a modest paper notebook, and a quite one particular at that. As opposed to a whole lot of fashionable tech, it feels heat and inviting, as if opening it will unlock the tricks of the universe. Select it up and it feels lighter than it appears to be like. Its surprising thinness also makes it easy to hold and tote around (unlike my encounter with some other twin-monitor phones), although it is broad, so it may well not match your pants pockets (it barely match mine).

On the outside the house, which is swathed in glass, there is absolutely nothing but a Microsoft symbol. Each individual foldable or twin-monitor cellphone we have viewed so significantly has some form of modest or substantial exterior monitor for checking notifications, and I would have liked one thing very similar in this article. I appreciate not finding interrupted by alerts, but needing to repeatedly open up the Duo to test the time can quickly feel like a chore.

You can depart it open up, but there is no normally-on display you will continue to have to press the electricity button or use the fingerprint sensor to wake the monitor. The two of people are on the suitable edge together with the quantity rocker. Speaking of which, the edges of the Duo are so flat and skinny that they feel sharp. I propose making use of the provided silicone bumper case—it’s soft and makes it easy to pry the two screens apart.

But what impressed me the most is that unlike phones with folding screens, which have experienced a shaky get started due to their delicate factors, the Area Duo isn’t going to feel fragile. It makes sense. It is really just two screens related by a hinge, just after all. The hinge is the most significant region of prolonged-expression concern on any folding device, but the Duo’s screens swivel back and forth just as smoothly as they did the 1st time I handled it.

I like that the hinge’s 360-degree style allows you set the cellphone in different orientations. You can flip one particular monitor all the way to the back for single-monitor mode, lay both out flat like a reserve if you want to use two screens, or use one particular monitor as a kickstand to keep the other propped up whilst you enjoy video clips.

Pair Amor

Photograph: Microsoft 

When you open up the Duo, you happen to be dealt with to two 5.six-inch AMOLED displays. It appears to be like as although another person welded two iPad Minis jointly, thick bezels and all. But this is the magic of the Duo. As another person who has been sitting in entrance of two laptop screens for extra than five many years, the benefits of acquiring double the monitor actual estate are right away noticeable. You get the means to genuinely multitask with two apps facet by facet with out sensation constrained by the smaller sized, narrower displays on single-monitor phones.

I commonly keep a messaging application like Slack or Telegram open up on one particular monitor whilst browsing Twitter or Reddit on the other. It makes it super easy to keep track of and reply to chats. I also seriously like making use of the inactive monitor to appear at and open up notifications. That way it isn’t going to interrupt my principal exercise. Even extra valuable is when you faucet on a connection in any application, the Duo intuitively opens it on the other monitor if it really is not in use. So if another person sends me a message with a connection, I you should not have to depart the conversation to appear at it.

I also seriously like making use of application pairs. You can pressure two apps to start on both screens at the very same time, and launching Slack and Gmail has been the 1st issue I do each and every day. It may well seem like a modest depth, but it just makes me feel extra productive.

Other issues I’ve been carrying out with two screens consist of viewing Netflix whilst browsing a further social media application (or taking part in a sport), and making use of Google Maps on one particular monitor whilst messaging on the other. I am particularly fond of looking at Dune with the Kindle application. You can drag any application to the center of the two screens to span it across both displays, and as the Kindle application has been optimized for this structure, it feels like … looking at a reserve.

Microsoft’s personal apps are optimized to span across the two screens. Outlook displays your e-mail list on the left monitor and the contents of a chosen e-mail on the suitable. Microsoft News also does one thing very similar: Look through your information feed on the left, and browse the chosen story on the suitable. Sad to say, the huge majority of apps you should not appear excellent when spanned, mainly because of the hinge in the center. Gmail, for instance, will display your e-mail list on the left, but e-mail contents are somewhat caught in the center of the hinge, producing it complicated to browse text.

A huge flaw with this twin-monitor style is that it makes typing hard—not so significantly in single-monitor mode where by one particular monitor is at the rear of the other, but when you have both displays open up. Microsoft’s SwiftKey keyboard has a couple tips to assistance. You can have it float or stick to the left or suitable edge of the cellphone for one particular-handed use. I like typing with the latter approach the most, but I would hardly say it really is cozy. Swipe typing improves the encounter, but I would like SwiftKey was extra accurate. I you should not propose switching to a further keyboard, as issues will appear wonky.

If you use the Duo like a mini laptop computer, you can have the keyboard on the bottom monitor and your application of alternative on major. It is really as lousy as it seems. Typing on glass as although it really is a bodily keyboard isn’t going to feel great at all. Plus, there are sufficient software program hiccups to depart me aggravated.

Unfinished Area

And that brings me to the worst part about the Area Duo. I have been finding aggravated a whole lot. Just yesterday, in a rush to get out the door so I could bicycle to my parent’s residence to decide on up some objects, the Duo delayed me by quite a few minutes. All I wanted to do was open up Google Maps and get started navigating. As an alternative, I was greeted with critical general performance stutters, some freezes, and prolonged load occasions. Restarting the cellphone assisted.

The Duo is driven by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855, the flagship chip that was in dozens of 2019 Android phones. I know it really is able of providing a somewhat smooth encounter, so it really is distinct the complications lie with software program optimization.

What else goes erroneous? Android’s swipe-up gesture to go residence functions half the time (it takes quite a few swipes), and the very same is legitimate for swiping down to see the notification shade. The Duo occasionally turns faucets on the monitor into prolonged presses. Also, I strongly counsel you flip off car-rotate it really is so sensitive that the monitor switches orientation each and every time you dip the cellphone a small lessen.

The digital camera is aggravating too. You will find just a single eleven-megapixel sensor. The pics it snaps are pretty weak at night time and barely ample in broad daylight. Even extra aggravating is the juggling you have to do when using a image of a subject in entrance of you. Place the Duo in single monitor mode and stage the digital camera away. It seems easy sufficient, but the Duo may well not adhere to alongside, leaving you staring at a blank monitor. A couple flips afterwards and it will work, but by then I’ve shed interest in using a image.

Microsoft suggests the digital camera is not “the concentrate.” But the Duo has been the only cellphone in my pocket for the previous two weeks, with my principal SIM card in it. If I failed to personal a specialist digital camera, what else am I intended to use to take pics? You can snap quite great images on most phones these times Microsoft just requirements to do greater.

I would be remiss if I failed to stage out all the other lacking features that are regular on most substantial-close phones these times. You will find no NFC, so you are unable to use the Duo to make contactless payments, one thing I’ve been relying on a whole lot all through the pandemic. Wi-fi charging would have been nice contemplating the USB-C port’s weird placement. It is really on the bottom, but not centered, and I’ve used too lots of minutes in the dim trying to plug in. You will find no h2o resistance, 5G connectivity, or a MicroSD card slot if you require extra area. You will find also just one particular speaker on the left monitor, and it really is very quiet.

Updates Will Come

On the moreover facet, the Duo has two very nice screens that get brilliant sufficient to see on sunny times outdoor. The 3,577-mAh battery inside also hasn’t unsuccessful me, commonly ending the day with around 40 percent left. You can join the Duo to your Home windows Pc or laptop computer to check out texts, notifications, pics, and extra, just like you can on Samsung’s Galaxy Notice phones. Even greater, Microsoft is setting up to situation monthly updates that squash bugs, include new features, and keep the device protected.

You will find a probability lots of of the complications I am encountering on the Duo will vanish in a couple weeks or months. If so, excellent. That will make the Duo a solid twin-monitor cellphone. But which is a huge if, and I am not persuaded the encounter will change that significantly. Irrespective of whether it variations or not, this is continue to a 1st-gen cellphone for early adopters, specially people with cash to melt away.

But what Microsoft has in this article is promising. I firmly believe that multiscreen cellular equipment are the foreseeable future, and the Duo has cemented this notion. Obtaining the additional monitor makes me feel like I have space to breathe. I just would like the encounter was significantly extra polished than its present-day point out. I am presently thinking about the Duo’s successor—I hope Microsoft gets it suitable on the 2nd attempt.