Knowing better, I ordered a Surface Duo. As a former employee, I̵
To be clear, I only recently opened my Surface Duo so this is not a complete review. The duo want to be a whole new category, not quite a phone and not quite a tablet, but somewhere in between. A fair and complete review therefore requires more time to get a feel for the device.
Think of this as an overview of the first impression. No unboxing – I have a sales unit and the box isn’t that interesting. But everything that caught my eye, from software to hardware, with a couple of hours to spare. And boy, my mind fluctuated wildly from moment one to hour three.
A solid first impression of really suitable hardware
I was racking my brain to explain what it feels like to hold a Surface Duo. Whether I have it in single screen phone mode or dual screen tablet mode, I keep coming back to a unique thought: “This is not a phone.”
And this is the truth; The Surface Duo doesn’t feel like a phone I’ve ever held for a myriad of reasons. First, it’s incredibly wide even when folded into a single display mode (or closed). I can hold my Surface Duo to my Nest Hub and cover almost all of its screen. It’s wide.
But even though two screens are closed by a hinge, it’s super thin too. I currently have a OnePlus 7T with a OnePlus PLU case and next to the closed duo, the duo is actually thinner. You read that right, the dual display phone is thinner than the single display and case phone. If I take the case off, the OnePlus wins, of course, but only by a hair. That’s crazy.
And there is something unmistakable about the phone. It’s glass, but it still looks like a surface device. The colors are correct; The fit and the finish are right. Once you pick it up, it feels top notch.
Even the hinge screams premium. I’m a nail biter (I know, I know) and I honestly feared I might not be able to open that thing. But I can without any problems.
How do you get something just right? Microsoft knows. I don’t have to pull with all my might to open the phone, but even holding it to a single display won’t budget it on its own. It feels like just the right amount of pressure, nothing more, nothing less. Regardless of the specs and the insides, everything on the outside of Surface Duo felt fantastic. And then I turned it on.
The second impression of the software ruined almost everything
Our devices are more than just hardware, and Microsoft should know this better than anyone. The best hardware doesn’t store a terrible operating system, and the best operating system doesn’t store a terrible hardware. You need a balance.
And initially, for the first hour after turning on my duo, I thought Microsoft might have forgotten that hard-learned lesson. My Surface Duo did not work properly at all.
Two full-screen apps run side by side on two displays connected by a hinge. Otherwise, a single app can take advantage of the void the hinge leaves. In the Surface Duo demo that Panos Panay gave, you saw Outlook and Calendar running together. He later demonstrated the Kindle app, which beautifully displays a single page on each screen with an animation to turn the page. But none of that worked for me.
I already knew Microsoft was releasing a “Day One Update” (what’s that, an Xbox phone?) So I installed that and then downloaded all of my apps and settings from an Android backup. Even this process was peculiar in that one display asked me to update the phone while the other was tracking the progress of the same update.
After completing the setup, the first thing I tried was opening apps on both screens and using the few apps Microsoft or partners knew that were specifically tailored for using dual displays in full screen mode on the Duo. And every time the system was difficult. Apps crashed left and right and the entire operating system froze completely. The Kindle app? That stretched a single page across both screens and refused to animate a page change. And then it didn’t crash just to jump across the displays.
I thought I was doing something wrong so I checked for more updates to the OS and my apps, but none came up. Even the fingerprint reader stopped working after a while.
Finally, I put the duo down and left for dinner. That is apparently all it took.
A better third impression
When I got back to my phone, out of luck I restarted it and everything started to work properly. The Kindle app now shows a single page on each ad and animates page breaks. I can open apps side by side and haven’t seen any freezes.
I’m starting to see the duo’s promise. For some inexplicable reason, 1Password stopped offering to enter passwords for me at some point. But it’s ok like that. I opened it in full screen on my left display and opened apps one by one on the right display. Since I had my password manager right next to the apps, I needed passwords to make things so quick and easy. No more switching back and forth between apps, just copy, paste and move on.
Now I have Twitter and Facebook side by side, which at least enables me to get disgusted with social networks faster and focus on productive things. And Slack and my work email are a great match too.
It is a work in progress and I need more time on the phone. But right now, as a Surface and Microsoft fan, I have no regrets. But I’ll be using the camera soon, so we’ll see what my opinion is in the full test.