Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review: Now you get it

It’s very rare for the product to actually get better Months after his release. But Microsoft often forgets Surface Duo 2Launched in October 2021 with a hefty price tag and a laundry list of bugs and issues that made its use so frustrating, it bucked the trend. In fact, the Duo 2 has improved so much that it is now one of my favorite portable devices, even if it’s still weird and unique enough that I can’t fully recommend it to most people.

In case you forgot, the Surface Duo 2 is a foldable phone with two large screens attached to a hinge. unlike Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3Taking a single tablet-sized screen and folding it in half to fit in your pocket, the Duo 2’s screens feel like two large phones connected together and running the same software. You can easily run two apps side by side as if you were holding two phones at the same time, or you can extend one app across both screens to mimic a small tablet. Both halves of the phone are thin enough that they fold together like a book and fit in a pocket with relative ease. Associate it with Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2and you have a portable digital notebook that can also work for taking notes, reading an e-book, or drafting an e-mail message.

When Reviewed Surface Duo 2 last yearNone of its clever design or book-like features mattered. The device was effectively jailbroken, hampered by software bugs that made writing on it annoying, frustrating to use, and ultimately disappointing. It was a new $1,500 product that could only attract Microsoft’s toughest brand customers willing to put up with its many mistakes so they could get their hands on it. The never-before-released Courier device They dreamed of it for over a decade.

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

But, surprisingly, Microsoft has not abandoned Duo 2. In fact, the company has always been Release software updates on a monthly basis To address several issues Duo 2 encountered upon its launch. Some of these updates consisted of minor security patches and bug fixes, while others, like the last June update, included more significant patches and added new features. Crucially, Microsoft addressed touch latency issues 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 dealing with many of my original complaints with the Duo 2, I took advantage of the recent price cut (the phone could Now for $1000, which is still expensive but far below the asking price) and a generous trading offer and I bought my own. The goal was to see if I could get a better idea of ​​what Microsoft is trying to achieve with this hardware when display bugs don’t get in the way.

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

Kindle e-book spread across both screens Microsoft Surface Duo 2

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

The Pocket Android app displays an article on both screens of the Surface Duo 2 while keeping it in portrait orientation.

Rotating the Duo 2 to portrait mode with both screens open provides a large, compact iPad display for reading vertically scrolling articles or taking handwritten notes.

In the past month and up, 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 managed my inbox and calendar at the same time; I edited Google Docs while keeping up with a Slack conversation. I used the Slim Pen 2 to take handwritten notes in OneNote. I’ve read countless articles in my Pocket Queue with the app stretching across both screens and the Duo 2 switching to portrait orientation. I’ve watched so many videos stretching across the two screens that I don’t even notice the slightest gap anymore. There’s something undeniably satisfying about completing a task on the Duo 2 and then folding it and closing it like a book and slipping it into my pocket.

The Duo 2 has not replaced my primary smartphone because I use it for different tasks: messaging, calls, photos, smart home control, music, and mobile payments on my iPhone; Reading, multitasking, taking notes, and YouTube on the Duo 2. I haven’t received a call yet on the Duo 2 because unless you’re using wireless earbuds, it’s too awkward to do so. Mostly, I’ve used the Duo 2 exactly how I would use an iPad Mini, except that it folds in half and fits in my pocket. It is not even accurate to call this device a “phone” based on how it is used. (Microsoft tried to position the original Surface Duo as something other than a phone at its launch but walked away from that marketing with the Duo 2.)

Microsoft made the Duo 2’s camera app faster and more responsive, but I’ve never used it to take pictures. It’s very embarrassing to take pictures, and I have my iPhone for that anyway. In fact, I’d prefer it if the awkward rear hump and camera were all but gone and the Duo 2 retained the sleeker lines and the ability to fold flat against itself. It was the first Duo.

Aside from being an awkward camera, there are other things about the Duo 2’s design that make it difficult to use as a primary phone. There is no quick way to check notifications or do something with one hand – you You have To unlock the device to use it. (The recent addition of third-party chat app notifications to the “hinge view” in the June update doesn’t change that fact.) It’s a much more intended device than phones with panels that can be easily opened and used with one hand when you want to spend time in line at the grocery store. Samsung Z fold 3 It is one much better device to replace both your phone and tablet just because you can still use it when it’s folded closed.

Surface Duo 2 black with Surface Pen bumper cover.

The Duo 2’s form factor makes it difficult to protect it from damage. I’ve resorted to using a Surface Pen bumper casing and vinyl skin, but I still treat it with baby gloves (not pictured).

The Duo 2 is also far from a solid device. Although I didn’t get any breaks in a month – plus I’ve been using it again, it lacks water and dust resistance, so you don’t want to get wet. Its design makes it extremely difficult to position the holster and maintain the flexibility of the hinge. (I’ve resorted to Microsoft’s Surface Pen charging case and bumper along with the Dbrand leather.) Although it folds closed when I’m not using it, it’s not something I throw in a pocket with keys and loose change for fear of something getting stuck in the hinge.

The program also has a lot of room for improvement. Aside from the Kindle app and Google Play Books, the only apps that can work well across both screens are 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 of what I expect or an app fails in full screen mode. Pen input in anything other than Microsoft’s own apps is still shoddy. I don’t think I’ve actually used the drag and drop feature because it’s supported in so few apps that it’s not worth remembering that it’s there.

Things can get better with Next Android 12L Updatewhich is designed to improve experiences on foldable devices like the Duo 2 and Fold 3. But I suspect that even after this update, I’ll still be using most apps on a single screen.

All of this means that despite updates and bug fixes, the Duo 2 won’t be a phone for everyone or even most people. It is best suited as a secondary device to perform specific tasks, just like how your iPad or tablet is secondary to your smartphone. Even with the recent price cut, the device is still more expensive than an iPad or any other small tablet. It’s only ideal for those who will appreciate being able to carry it on the go in more places, even if they already carry another phone in their other pocket.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 black closed and sitting on a mattress.

Now that many bugs and issues related to the software have been resolved, Duo 2 is close to realizing the dream of a Microsoft Courier concept from 2009.

Rumors say that Microsoft Duo 3 won’t release this year, rather than keeping it for 2023. This should give it more time to iron out the issues and avoid the bug-ridden launches that plagued both the original Duo and Duo 2. Microsoft could also address aspects of the Duo’s design that make it difficult to use as a primary phone ( A touch screen outside would go a long way here). Perhaps he can figure out a way to attach and charge the pen without resorting to an extra expensive case. a A recent patent from the company Imagine a Duo-like device that uses a single panel that can fold 360 degrees instead of two separate screens connected by a hinge. I’m not sure what problem it would solve other than removing the gap between screens when watching a video, but it sure would look great.

Either way, if Microsoft stays committed to the Duo form factor and keeps iterating on it, I’ll keep an eye on it. The Duo 2 has gone from one of the most problematic devices I’ve reviewed to one of my favorites, and I’m curious as to where Microsoft will take it next. In the meantime, I have another book to finish reading.

Photo by Dan Seifert/The Verge

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