Although knowing better, I ordered a Surface Duo. As a former employee, I am a fan of Microsoft and it’s easy to believe in Microsoft’s vision. So I ordered the Duo because I saw the concept of a new device category and kissed him. I’ve been handling the device for a few hours now and have a few quick thoughts. It makes a fantastic first impression, a terrible second impression, and a decent third impression.
Now, to be clear, I only recently opened my Surface Duo, so this won’t be a full review. The Duo wants to be a whole new category, not quite a phone and not quite a tablet, but somewhere in between. A fair and complete examination will therefore require more time to get an idea of the device.
Think of it as a preview of first impressions. Not an unboxing – I have a retail unit and the box is not that interesting. But everything I’ve noticed, from software to hardware, with a few hours under my belt. And boy, my opinions have fluctuated wildly from moment to moment.
A solid first impression of truly fitted gear
I made my brain angry to explain what it’s like to hold a Surface Duo. Whether I use it in single display “phone mode” or dual display “tablet mode”, I always come back to a singular thought: “This is not a phone”.
And this is the truth; The Surface Duo is unlike any phone I’ve ever held for a myriad of reasons. First, it’s incredibly wide, even when folded into a single view (or closed). I can hold my Surface Duo against my Nest Hub and almost completely cover its screen. It is wide.
But despite two screens slammed together by a hinge, it is also very 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 a screen and a case. Of course, if I remove the case, the OnePlus wins, but only by a hair. It’s crazy.
And there’s definitely something Surface about the phone. It’s glass, but it still looks like a Surface device. The colors are fair; fit and finish are correct. The moment you take it, it feels premium.
Even the hinge screams premium. I’m a nail biter (I know, I know), and I was honestly worried that I couldn’t open the thing. But I can without any problem.
How do you get something right? Microsoft knows it. I don’t have to pull hard to open the phone, but even if I’m holding it by a single screen, it won’t move on its own. It’s exactly the right amount of pressure, no more and no less. No matter the specs and guts, everything outside of Surface Duo looked fantastic. And then I turned it on.
The second printing of the software almost ruined everything
Our devices are more than hardware and Microsoft should know that better than anyone. The best hardware won’t save a terrible operating system, and the best operating system won’t save terrible hardware. You need a balance.
And initially, within the first hour or so after turning on my Duo, I thought Microsoft might have forgotten this hard-learned lesson. My Surface Duo was not working properly at all.
The purpose of two displays connected by a hinge is to run two full screen applications side by side. And failing that, a single application designed to take advantage of the space left by the hinge. in the Surface Duo Demo Panos Panay gave, you have seen Outlook and Calendars work together. He later demonstrated the Kindle app beautifully displaying a single page on each screen with page rotation animation. But none of that worked for me.
I already knew that Microsoft released a “day one update” (what is an Xbox phone?), So I installed it and then loaded all my apps and preferences from an Android backup. Even this process was weird, as one screen prompted me to update the phone while the other followed the progress of that same update.
Naturally, once the setup was done, the first thing I tried to do was open apps on both screens and use the few apps I knew from Microsoft or partners specifically designed for use in the open. dual display screen on the Duo. And each time the system has failed badly. Apps crashed left and right and the entire operating system froze completely. The Kindle app? It spanned a single page on both screens and refused to animate a page turn. And that’s when it didn’t crash just trying to sprawl across screens.
I thought I was doing something wrong, so I kept checking for more updates for the OS and my apps, but there weren’t any. Even the fingerprint reader stopped working after a while.
Finally, I put the Duo down and went to dinner. Apparently that was all he needed.
A better third impression
When I got back to my phone I restarted it once again just for luck and everything started to work fine. The Kindle app now displays a single page on each screen and animates page changes. I can open apps side by side and haven’t seen a freeze anymore.
I’m starting to see the Duo’s promise. At one point, inexplicably, 1Password stopped offering me to fill in passwords. But it’s good. I kept it open in full screen on my left screen and opened the apps on the right screen one by one. Having my password manager right next to the apps I needed passwords to make things so quick and easy. No constant switching between apps, just copy, paste and move on.
Now I have Twitter and Facebook side by side, which at least allows me to get off social media faster and move on to productive things. And Slack and my work email are a great combination, too.
It’s a work in progress and I need more time on the phone. But at the moment, as a fan of Surface and Microsoft, I have no regrets. But I’ll be using the camera soon, so we’ll see how my opinion holds up in the full review.