Microsoft Surface Duo Review

by birtanpublished on October 5, 2020

Hi i'm sasha segan from pcmag.com once again in my backyard here with the microsoft surface duo the surface duo is a unique device it has two screens it folds back and forth and in and out and up and down and it's designed for you to do two things at once on the different screens uh it's microsoft's first android phone uh microsoft's first phone since 2016 and a truly unique gadget but it's not perfect and i don't overwhelmingly recommend it

Let me show you what it does and why and what doesn't work here so let's take a look at the initial hardware of the surface duo so slim now the surface duo comes with this rubberized bumper which i adhered to it it's kind of a case it's sort of a case it definitely protects it if it goes like this on the table it's also really nice because if you put it in this table tent mode it prevents it from slipping around the surface duo has these two 5.6 inch screens

But they're a five by four aspect ratio and that means that there's a lot more square inches per screen than there are on taller skinnier screens so it's a lot of real estate here together they're an 8.1 inch 3×2 screen but of course there's an air gap between them so it's not really like they're a single screen the hinge is lovely it's really gorgeous it is smooth and stiff it stays put in pretty much any location and you see we've got a fingerprint

Scanner over here here's the uh here's the sim card slot power volume um there's single usb c port on the bottom there is no headphone jack so you'll need to use usbc headphones or bluetooth unfortunately on this surface duo the bluetooth stack was unstable so i was having trouble with bluetooth headphones that's a problem if you want to use your duo as a phone or you just want to use it one-handed you fold it all the way back and then it's basically a very wide one-handed

Phone the thing is it is very wide it's 3.7 inches wide so holding this thing up to your head can feel a little awkward um the sound quality on the other hand is very good and although it's a 4g and not a 5g phone the 4g quality is excellent it's very fast i tried it on both the t-mobile and verizon networks that said it's a real hand buster 3.7 inches wide microsoft has also customized swiftkey

Keyboard for the surface duo when you have it open like this in its sort of standard phone mode um it takes up the whole screen but if you have it open in book mode the keyboard moves to the side so that you can still reach it with one finger and if you rotate the phone so it's in this sort of laptopy mode the keyboard goes to the bottom half and then you can kind of type like this is a pseudo laptop but it's a piece of glass so it doesn't

Feel as good or as responsive as a regular keyboard it's more like the lenovo yoga book if you've never seen that the surface duo runs a highly customized version of android 10 which microsoft devised in cooperation with google and the key is that it works well spanning these two screens you can see here that the home screen goes across the two screens the app drawer on the other hand appears on only one screen now you can also see how the icons are

Not google standard they're a little more square they're very microsoft so now the basic surface duo experience involves launching one app on one screen and either another app or another instance of the same app on the other screen and yes i was surfing to rent a center for you don't even want to know you can make an app span the screens too but it's not the greatest because you've got this air gap between the screens and that makes things like web pages spanning the screens

Definitely not look as good as they do on a single big screen like on the samsung galaxy z fold now some apps are designed to work on both screens in tandem like take a look at my microsoft onenote now this is one note on one screen but when i span one note across both screens i get the index to my onenotes on one screen and i get my notes on the other screen and this is the same with outlook as well not very many apps are designed this way

Yet but microsoft has an api out that will hopefully lead to more apps being designed this way okay here's google maps on one screen here's google maps spam and of course you could have a google map on this screen and say a onenote or edge over here on this screen now another interesting form factor to use this in is what i call the table tent mode and this should be familiar to anyone who's seen

A windows two in one laptop the table tent mode is great for showing videos you can play netflix on it this way and i watched several hours of netflix in table tent mode it looked great microsoft really wants you to put two apps up on these two screens so it lets you create these app duos for instance if i tap here it launches youtube and the microsoft news app to basically fill your mind with misery but you can also create more productive app duos like say

Outlook and microsoft word so of course you probably wonder what this is like to work with uh calling up a webpage on one side and calling up onenote on the other side and typing it in and you know typing in that i can i don't know rent a sofa over here and scrolling through over here and i admit it it's nice it's really nice to be able to look at something over here and to take notes on it and do something

About it over here um it's a great workflow and it's something that i hope microsoft will stick with because it is more like how a pc feels than the more modal experience on most phones so the biggest problem i have here is the camera experience and let me show that to you so there's a single 11 megapixel camera on the inside of this device you fold it up you notice there's no exterior camera

And that's the issue if i power it up and put it in camera mode it's a front-facing camera that's of course the only kind of camera it can be it's front-facing and you notice it has a photo mode it does a software bokeh not hardware it of course does videos um there's no night mode that's a big issue um also if you try to zoom for some inexplicable reason there's no numbers on the zoom it's just digital zoom but i would like to know how much

I'm zooming the thing is if you want to use this as an outward facing camera well first of all if you have it closed like this you have to open it all the way like that and then you have to unlock it and then you've probably unlocked it in the wrong direction so you have to flip it over and then as you can see it doesn't always flip over properly so you can unlock it launch the camera the camera's on this side then flip it

Like this now the camera's in the right place but oh no it's doing something weird with the screen okay now the camera is but that's a really really awkward user interface for an outward facing camera especially when this is supposed to be the camera you have it also doesn't take particularly good pictures all in all the surface duo has some really interesting hardware but the software and the ergonomic experience can be

Frustrating so that i have trouble using it and it's just not as comfortable or productive to use as the samsung galaxy z fold 2. still though it is a really interesting version one of this concept and i can't wait to see what happens when the software is further refined this is sacha sigan from pcmag with the surface duo

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