Having spent the past year reading about Surface Duo, I sat idly as Microsoft execs teased it, and watched the media unbox and review it. After finally receiving my own unit and using it for a month, I’m ready to share my take on what it’s like switching to this dual-screen device.
I’d like to get this out of the way first; this is not meant to be a review, at least not in the traditional sense. So I won’t be going into depth over the hardware, or the specs, or the software, and instead focus on what it’s been like actually using the device on a day-to-day basis. Be it at work, at home, or on the go.
If you must, this is an experience review of the Microsoft Surface Duo.
A SURFACE TO REPLACE YOUR SURFACE?
Given that the Surface Duo is a productivity-focused device, I felt it fitting to start with what the Surface Duo has been like to use at work, and what kind of impact it’s had on my productivity.
To put things into context, I spend my days as an Account Manager for a tech company. This sales role has me visiting potential clients, understanding their business requirements, and preparing technical and financial proposals based on those requirements. In between, there are a lot of meetings, presentations, emailing, and I do a little bit of project management as well for deals that have gone through.
Prior to the Duo, I used an iPhone XR, and besides making phone calls and sending the occasional email, I didn’t really use it much for work-related activities. Anything more complex than that was the responsibility of my Surface Pro 7 while at work, and my desktop PC when at home.
Now, with Surface Duo, gone is the dread of having to conduct a Teams meeting at a coffee shop if my Surface Pro 7 was low on battery. I could have Teams open on one screen, and reference material open on another.
Now, with Surface Duo, I no longer think twice about sending an email with multiple attachments if I’m not at the office. I could have Outlook open on one screen, and OneDrive on the other, then simply drag and drop the files I need into the email, just as I would on a PC.
Now, with Surface Duo, I can go to meetings without my Surface Pro 7, knowing I can still access my central archive of information (OneNote), take handwritten digital notes, and even present if I needed to, all from a device that easily slides into my pocket.
Put simply, the Surface Duo, without a doubt, has enabled me to be more productive than I otherwise would have been with a single-screen device, and has fit into my workflow like the missing puzzle piece I never knew I needed.
LIKE TAKING A CONCEPT CAR OUT TO BUY GROCERIES
Surprisingly, the story isn’t that different when talking about using the Duo for “everyday things”. With a regular app open in Book Mode, a second screen is always waiting for you, inviting you to launch another app on it.
I watch a lot of football (soccer, to be clear), and OneFootball is my go-to app to simultaneously keep track of match statistics. With two screens, I can now have Twitter open at the same time to vent my frustrations should the need arise, without breaking away from the stats. This is in addition to many other situations where having two apps open at a time is better than one. App Groups make launching them a breeze. Besides OneFootball and Twitter, I have App Groups for Solitaire and Spotify, OneNote and WordPress, and Reddit and Twitter among others. App Groups are life.
To my surprise, the Surface Duo has replaced tasks normally assigned to my iPad. Duo being much lighter than the iPad while still giving me plenty of screen real estate made it my device of choice for reading eBooks and browsing the web. That said, I still keep my iPad charged for watching Netflix as bigger screens without a bezel down the middle are more ideal for that purpose.
Now, about the camera. I’m not much of a photographer, but I do take the occasional photo every now and then, and the camera, well, it’s fine. I’ve found it to be good enough to decent in well-lit conditions, and generally poor in low-light conditions. But like I said, I’m not much of a photographer. My main use for the camera is to scan documents in Office, and it’s plenty capable for that purpose.
As for longevity, battery life has been a hot topic since initial spec leaks revealed that the device would have a smaller-than-flagship-level capacity battery. Especially when said battery needs to power two displays. The reality is that with the exception of the first few days of getting the device – when I was pushing it to its absolute limits – come the end of a normal day of use, the Surface Duo still has some charge remaining. Obviously your mileage may vary, but in my case, battery life has consistently lasted me all day.
I must admit. Sometimes, it feels almost insulting to use the Duo for “normal phone things”. Almost as if the device was meant to do more, and I’m not properly taking advantage of it. Maybe it’s the price tag. Maybe it’s the new form factor combined with its premium feel. I enjoy using it regardless.
IT’S A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP. BUT MOSTLY LOVE.
It’s no secret that the Surface Duo launched with a few bugs in tow. Some of them can absolutely drive a person insane. Like having to repeat a gesture multiple times because it wasn’t recognized properly the first, second, or third time. Or the camera not transitioning correctly when switching between selfie and rear camera mode. Or the launcher randomly freezing and crashing. Many of these bugs were fixed or smoothed out over a series of updates, but others still remain.
Oh, and funny thing with the speaker. Since there’s only a single speaker situated above the left display, if you have a video playing on the right display, it creates this weird effect. Especially if it’s a video of someone speaking. It’s like having a face-to-face conversation with someone, but instead of the sound originating from their mouth, it’s coming from somewhere off to the side. You can overcome this of course by moving the video to the left display, and eventually, you’ll subconsciously only open video on the correct display.
As a consequence of the thinness and design, I also had to get used to the fact that there is no external display. This is something I love at times, and hate at others. I love it because there’s more intentionality when using the Duo. I open it to get something done, and when I close it, it’s closed and out of mind. I’m done. But for simpler tasks, like reading a notification, having to open the Duo regularly for something as mundane as that becomes a chore in itself. Luckily, I have a smartwatch that makes doing these smaller tasks practically effortless. But for those that don’t have one, get ready to work that hinge.
All in all, the Surface Duo is an incredible piece of kit, clearly crafted with immense precision and attention to detail. The thinness, the glass back and front, the hinge, all contribute to a device unlike any other. But that comes with its compromises, and whether those compromises are worth not only the asking price, but the experiences you’ll get in return is one only you can answer. Hopefully this review shed more light on those experiences to help you make that decision.