Even though I knew better, I ordered a Surface Duo. As a former employee, I̵7;m a Microsoft fan and it’s easy for me to believe in Microsoft’s vision. So I ordered the Duo because I saw the concept of a new device category and embraced it. I’ve been handling the device for a few hours now and have some quick thoughts – It gives a great first impression, a terrible second impression and an OK third impression.
To be clear, I recently opened my Surface Duo, so this will not be a full review. The duo wants to be a completely new category, not really a phone and not really a tablet but somewhere between the two. So a fair and complete review will require more time to get a feel for the device.
Think of this as a first impression overview. Not an unboxing- I have a retail, and the box is not that interesting. But everything I noticed from software to hardware with a few hours under my belt. And the boy swung my opinions from moment one to hour three.
A solid first impression from really suitable hardware
I have crushed my brain to explain how it feels to hold a Surface Duo. Whether I have it in “phone mode” in single display or “tablet mode” with dual screens, I come back to a single thought: “This is not a phone.”
And that is the truth; The Surface Duo does not feel like a phone I have ever held for a variety of reasons. First, it is so incredibly wide, even when folded to a displayed position (or closed). I can hold my Surface Duo up to my Nest Hub and almost completely cover the screen. It is wide.
But even though two screens have been joined by a hinge, it is also super thin. I have a OnePlus 7T with a OnePlus PLU case on it right now, and side by side with the Duo closed, the Duo is actually thinner. You read that right, the phone with two screens is thinner than the phone with one screen and one case. Of course, if I remove the case, OnePlus wins, but only with one hair. It’s crazy.
And there is something unmistakably Surface about the phone. It’s glass, but it still looks like a Surface device. The colors are right; fit and finish are right. When you pick it up, it feels premium.
Even the hinge screams premium. I’m a nail biter (I know, I know), and I honestly feared I would not be able to open the case. But I can without problems.
How do you get something just right? Microsoft knows. I do not have to pull all the power to open the phone, but even if I hold it in a single screen, it will not budget on its own. It feels like exactly the right pressure, neither more nor less. Nevermind the specifications and interior, everything about the exterior of the Surface Duo felt amazing. And then I hit it.
The second impression of the software ruined almost everything
Our devices are more than just hardware and Microsoft should know better than anyone else. The best hardware will not save a terrible operating system, and the best operating system will not save terrible hardware. You need a balance.
And initially, the first hour after I turned on my Duo, I thought Microsoft might have forgotten the hard-to-learn lesson. My Surface Duo did not work at all.
The whole point of two screens connected by a hinge runs two full screen apps side by side. And if not this, a single app designed to take advantage of the gap that the hinge leaves. In Surface Duo Demo Panos Panay gave, you saw Outlook and calendars running together. He later demonstrated the Kindle app, which beautifully displayed a single page on each screen with a page-turning animation. But none of that worked for me.
I already knew that Microsoft released a “one day update” (what is this, an Xbox phone?), So I installed it and then loaded all my apps and settings from an Android backup. Even that process was crazy, as one screen prompted me to update the phone while the other tracked the progress of the same update.
Of course, when I finished the installation, the first thing I tried was to open apps on both screens and use the few apps I knew Microsoft or partners specifically tailored for full-screen dual-screen use on the Duo. And each time, the system failed miserably. Apps crashed left and right and the entire operating system froze completely. Kindle apps? It stretched a single page across both screens and refused to animate a page turn. And that was when it did not crash just to try to span the screens.
I thought I was doing something wrong, so I kept looking for more updates for both the operating system and my apps, but there were none. Even the fingerprint reader stopped working after a while.
Finally I put down the Duo and went to dinner. That’s apparently all it needed.
A better third impression
When I returned to my phone, I restarted it just in case and everything started working properly. The Kindle app now displays a single page on each screen and animates the page. I can open apps side by side and I have not seen any more freezes.
I’m starting to see the Duo’s promise. At one point, 1Password inexplicably stopped offering to enter my password. But it’s good. I kept it open in full screen on my left screen and opened apps on the right screen one by one. With my password manager right next to the apps, I needed passwords to make things so quick and easy. No constant switching back and forth between apps, just copy, paste and move on.
Now I have Twitter and Facebook side by side, which at least allows me to get disgusted by social networks faster and move on to productive things. And Slack and my job email also make a good pair.
It is an ongoing work and I need more time with 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 how my opinion holds up throughout the review.