Microsoft’s Surface Duo has in the end made the journey to Canada. The luxurious, somewhat weird twin-screen Android telephone-pill is now to be had for a whopping $1,869.

If you paid interest to any of the Duo opinions popping out of the United States when the phone first released final year, you’re probably right here waiting for a similar analysis: buggy software program, horrible digicam and court cases approximately the high fee tag. Well, some of what U.S. reviewers stated nonetheless holds authentic. However, Microsoft has stepped forward the enjoy via software program updates. To be clear, the Duo isn’t best, however in my time with the smartphone, it additionally amazed me with how properly all of it comes collectively.

Still, software program updates by myself won’t restore some of the Duo’s extra obvious issues, like a loss of 5G connectivity (no longer that it’ll depend in Canada for at the least some more years), dated hardware and negative digicam nice. For many human beings, the Duo’s specs alone will rule it out as an option. And but, whilst you operate it, the specifications rarely matter — the Duo comes very near “simply working.”

Ultimately, I think the most important impediment among most clients and the Surface Duo can be the price. Beyond that, the Duo presents an exquisite revel in for those who want what it gives. For people who don’t, that’s exceptional — you don’t want to own one to comprehend what Microsoft is attempting to do.

While the hardware is surely unique, I experience the software program is the more pressing component to cope with with the Duo. So tons of Microsoft’s desires with the Duo come all the way down to making apps on two screens paintings — nearly each layout, hardware and software decision pushes to that aim. That makes it difficult to speak about, say, the lacklustre processor without acknowledging why Microsoft chose it, or how via software optimizations, Microsoft managed to provide extremely good overall performance with it.

SpecsThe Duo shines when the use of both screens

The Duo is at its fine with an app on each display.

Everything I read approximately the Surface Duo while it released returned in 2020 prepared me for a disappointing product. However, using it’s been whatever however. To start, the Duo helped me recognise that the tool isn’t for me, and that’s k.

Microsoft designed the Duo round walking two apps on the same time. Pete Kyriacou, Microsoft’s vice president of devices, made this abundantly clear after I spoke to him approximately the Surface Duo.

“We noticed an increasing number of human beings doing [complex responsibilities] on a cellular device, however doing it with constrained form elements. And we thought, what would we do as Microsoft from a productiveness point of view, to assist human beings get more finished,” Kyriacou said.

“It’s not productiveness, so you can cram more into your day… [It’s] about decreasing the cognitive load that it takes while you get an e-mail [assembly invite,] to open the e-mail after which open your calendar subsequent to it without having to replace to and fro and recall it all however see things contextually side-through-facet.”

Microsoft stored visible tweaks minimum to consciousness at the twin-display screen experience

The center precept of walking two apps side-by-side is the foundational Surface Duo revel in — it’s where the device shines no matter its flaws. And believe me, the first time you do this, it feels definitely revolutionary.

For me, that fell apart once I found out I often don’t use my cellphone that way. Sure, there are instances wherein I want to check two apps on the equal time, however I determined the ones times had been rare. In the usage of the Duo, I often sought out reasons to run multiple apps to feel like I was using the second one screen. More frequently than not, I only ran one app due to the fact I handiest wanted one app.

If you’re thinking about buying a Surface Duo, I assume the primary query to invite is whether or not you need two displays to get matters finished on your smartphone. If the answer is sure, you’ll in all likelihood love the usage of the Duo, no matter its other troubles.

Betting on

You can hint most perceived flaws with the Surface Duo again to Microsoft’s number one intention of a -screen experience. The agency’s choice to acquire that contributed to every layout choice and concession it made.

Starting on the very pinnacle, some people may surprise why Microsoft chose to apply two different shows at the Duo in place of one folding panel like Samsung did with its Galaxy Z Fold 2. Kyriacou hyperlinks it returned to the “windowing” enjoy in Windows 10 — that snap characteristic wherein you can quickly open two windows aspect-via-aspect. He explains that humans have built up a multi-window or multi-display muscle memory with expanded remote work all through the pandemic and video conferencing

So, Microsoft took a similar method when it got here to building out the Duo revel in on Android. Instead of running on a heavily tweaked or changed Android skin like other manufacturers, Microsoft kept an almost Pixel-like simplicity. The employer targeted on adapting Android’s multitasking and windowing structures to feel similar to what you’d get on a Windows PC — apps, or ‘windows,’ snap to one of the two monitors.

Surface Duo windowing in movement (the hinge doesn’t show up in screenshots or recordings)

“If you do the windowing for the end-user, they don’t have to fear approximately sizing the window or positioning the window, it makes things lots less difficult… We appeared throughout the board of all the extraordinary technologies and we gravitated closer to these screens that were conjoined subsequent to every other with a [360-diploma] hinge,” Kyriacou said.

In practice, the gadget works fantastically nicely. Using the Surface Duo feels lots like the use of phones simultaneously, except that it’s one cohesive tool. When you faucet an app on one display screen, it opens on that display. However, you may also fast swipe an app from one show to any other or maybe bridge a single app across each screens (although this has its own set of issues). Apps jogging on one show paintings as they might on any unmarried-screened device — the main benefit is that you can view two apps immediately, and each apps are greater usable than, say, the split-screen modes to be had on some gadgets.

Careful concessions

The Pixel 4a 5G sports activities a taller, narrower display than the Duo

Another reason to go together with two separate displays rather than a single foldable display become, as Microsoft calls it, ‘inking.’ Rumours abound approximately Samsung bringing the S Pen to its Galaxy Z Fold line, but the enterprise has struggled to make it take place due to the fact foldable displays don’t use glass. But the Surface Duo uses two separate glass panels, which means that it completely supports Microsoft’s Surface Slim Pen for writing at the display. Unfortunately, I couldn’t check this myself — Microsoft didn’t include a pen with my Duo overview unit. Still, in case you’re a fan of virtual writing, it’s a attention really worth making.

However, there are various concessions Microsoft made to gain a -display gadget this is “useable.” For instance, the enterprise desired the Duo to be pocketable, which intended it couldn’t be drastically thicker than a traditional smartphone.

“…Microsoft’s choice to apply a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and stay with 4G LTE likely stems from the design desires”

Going again to Samsung’s Z Fold 2, it’s far successfully the same thickness as two Galaxy smartphones whilst you fold it. Microsoft made the Duo 4.8mm thick, which means that it measures nine.9mm thick whilst you close it. For assessment, the Galaxy S21 is 7.9mm thick, the Pixel 4a 5G is 8.5mm thick and the Z Fold 2 is 6.9mm thick whilst opened up and 16.8mm when folded.

The end result is the Duo feels impressive when you hold it. It’s lots thinner than different telephones in the marketplace, and when you fold it, it doesn’t sense drastically thicker than standard.

The Pixel 4a 5G is a whole lot thicker than one Surface Duo screen.

While the size make the Duo sense better in hand, it also way Microsoft made concessions in other areas to get there. For example, the Surface Duo has an arguably small 3,577mAh battery. Although in my testing, the battery lifestyles was superb, in particular thinking about it powers two displays. Still, a thicker device probably could have allowed for a larger battery.

Likewise, Microsoft’s choice to apply a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and stick with 4G LTE in all likelihood stems from the layout dreams. The thickness also restricted camera hardware — the Duo only gives an 11-megapixel selfie shooter, which doubles as a rear digital camera in case you turn the displays round.

Kyriacou also referred to that the Surface Duo’s width — each 5.6-inch screen is substantially wider than maximum phones way to their four:3 issue ratio — helped cram all the hardware into the skinny frame.

Those four:3 screens are available available in other regions — for example, whilst the use of each screens collectively, customers get a combined diagonal size of eight.1-inches and a 3:2 issue ratio, just like on different Surface gadgets.

Android apps aren’t made for 2 screens…

One app, displays.

I observed the more space pleasant in practice, but maximum builders design Android apps for greater traditional, tall thing ratios like sixteen:9 or, in more latest trends, 21:nine. In many cases, the extra width caused more empty space in apps, as they add padding among icons and different visible factors.

For that remember, one of the most sizable issues I came throughout with the Surface Duo was software. Yes, there are lots of bugs, but in my trying out, none of the insects amounted to more than a few minor annoyance. Things like apps randomly last whilst opened or the swipe gestures no longer registering enter reliably, for example, hindered me however by no means considerably disrupted my potential to get matters performed. Other bugs, like one which reasons the lock display not to reveal up whilst starting the tool, had been extra irritating.

But I’ll take all the bugs thankfully if it method that apps really make use of two monitors. Aside from a small set of Microsoft apps, maximum don’t nicely support two displays. As mentioned up pinnacle, if you open one app on one show, it really works as ordinary. The troubles pop up when you try to bridge that app across both screens for a bigger, tablet-like experience. As far because the app can tell, it’s on one show — which means maximum apps don’t account for the display screen gap, and also you turn out to be with content cut off or blocked by means of the hinge.

Screenshot of Spotify bridged across displays on Duo — the red bar marks wherein the hinge cuts off content material

In some apps, this wasn’t a big deal — Spotify, as an instance, just intended some album artwork turned into cut off. Scrolling a touch could make it seen. Other apps were given it worse — Google Calendar, for example, misplaced the center of the ‘Wednesday’ column whilst in month view, rendering maximum of the occasions there unreadable. Microsoft’s Calendar app, alternatively, robotically adjusts the month view so the hinge falls among the columns.

Screenshot of apps on Surface Duo — note that the distance among the apps doesn’t show up on the tool due to the hinge

Other than a few Microsoft apps, a small range of third-birthday celebration apps tailored to a two-screen revel in. But once I say small, I suggest small. Only TikTok and a few e-book apps, like Amazon Kindle and Google Play Books, labored with displays in my testing. For that matter, Play Books handiest seems to help twin shows when in a e-book — navigating the relaxation of the app is a pain whilst bridged across both displays.

The separate displays also imply you may’t use each panels to have a larger display to look at Netflix or YouTube, that’s traumatic. The tradeoff is that you may put the video on one display whilst you do stuff on the alternative, which I observed beneficial every now and then.

TikTok bridged across screens on Duo

I changed into additionally amazed by means of a number of the Microsoft apps that didn’t assist screens. Perhaps the largest leave out was the Xbox Game Pass app. I was excited for an xCloud gaming enjoy reminiscent of the Nintendo DS, with the touch controls on the bottom show and the sport running on the pinnacle display. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t offer that form of dual-screen assist.

… But neither is Android

Although apps often pissed off me with their loss of support for the Duo, it’s tough accountable builders. The Duo is many of the first -screen devices to be had, with LG’s 2nd show upload-on for devices like the G8X, V60 and Asus’ ROG TwinView Dock for the ROG Gaming Phone 2 being other superb examples. With this sort of constrained array of twin-screen devices, there’s little motive for builders to construct apps that guide the form aspect.

Another factor to consider is that Android isn’t exactly constructed for gadgets with multiple displays, despite what Google might also say. I suppose Microsoft’s attempt with the Duo is admirable — the corporation essentially came into a brand new working system and built a reasonably comprehensive software layer to facilitate two screens in an environment designed for single-display devices.

That the Duo’s windowing software program works as nicely as it does is a testomony to Microsoft’s engineers. At the equal time, it’s a long way from ideal. We talked about bugs already, but I additionally determined some problems with the consistency of Duo’s windowing good judgment.

By logic, I mean how the Duo handles while and where to open apps. To start, apps normally open on the display you faucet them on. This works always, and I haven’t any proceedings right here. However, the Duo can even once in a while open an in-app web page on the second display screen.

When you create a new record in Microsoft’s Office app, as an instance, it’ll open on the second display screen. This lets you effortlessly view your exceptional documents and notes aspect-by way of-facet. Not all apps leverage the second panel like this, and almost every app that does, does so erratically. The Settings app, for example, opens the software replace take a look at menu on the second display screen, but doesn’t function any other menu from the app inside the equal manner.

“Perhaps the maximum wonderful a part of the Surface Duo is that it manages to provide a normally proper enjoy notwithstanding using older hardware”

Likewise, every now and then after I attempt to autofill login details with my password manager, it’ll open on the second display screen. Other instances, it opens on the same display as the app I’m automobile-filling.

The inconsistency creates confusion for customers considering that it is able to be difficult to realize what’s going to happen whilst you faucet something.

Solid overall performance and extraordinarily proper battery

Perhaps the most astounding part of the Surface Duo is that it manages to offer a normally desirable experience regardless of the use of older hardware. Perhaps Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 become a better chip than human beings gave it credit for. After all, it did power a few remarkable phones — the Galaxy S10 collection, as an instance, and the OnePlus 7 line. I haven’t any lawsuits about it within the Surface Duo, apart from to say that an older chip like that during a phone this highly-priced is frustrating. In exercise, even though, it plays thoroughly.

While I don’t positioned a whole lot inventory in benchmarks, I included a chain of Geekbench five assessments under comparing the Surface Duo with the OnePlus 7 Pro (every other Snapdragon 855 tool on Android 10, just like the Duo), the Pixel 4a 5G and, for context, Samsung’s Snapdragon 888-powered Galaxy S21. Although the Duo’s unmarried-center and multi-middle scores of 736 and 2,822 barely outperform the OnePlus 7 Pro’s 732 and 2,793, they’re pretty a chunk worse than the S21’s 1,112 single-core score and three,378 multi-core rating. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tool with a Snapdragon 865 to be had to test, however looking to closing yr’s S20 Ultra evaluate, it scored 800 factors for single-center and a pair of,644 for multi-middle. Surprisingly, that placed the S20 Ultra barely above the Duo in single-middle and barely below it in multi-middle, which in all likelihood comes right down to software optimization.

From left to proper: Surface Duo, OnePlus 7 Pro, Pixel 4a 5G, Galaxy S21

On that equal note, the 3,577mAh battery had a surprising quantity of durability, considering it powered 5.6-inch screens. In my checking out, the Surface Duo always made it through a day of use, usually with five or more hours of display screen on time.

I suspect a part of that can be that there’s no continually-on show with the Duo. When not in use, I usually closed the Duo, which became off both displays, and due to the fact final it hides each panels, there’s no factor in having an always-on display. However, Kyriacou also pointed to Microsoft’s work optimizing the hardware as the principle cause for the first-rate battery.

“We don’t move take something off the shelf, an Intel chip or an AMD chip or Qualcomm chip… We have what we name system integrators, who go to the 0.33- and fourth-order level of the designs and engineering of those merchandise. And that was the case right here, all the manner all the way down to how we work with Qualcomm on [what’s called the] energy floor while it receives down to its sleep nation, our OLED manufacturers and what they’re doing with their pixels when they’re on and then also when they’re off,” Kyriacou said.

No always-on show, however in case you crack the screen, Duo will allow you to peek at the time.

Despite normally good overall performance, the Duo wasn’t infallible. I encountered the strange hiccup and bout of lag, however it was a lot less than I expected, possibly thanks to Microsoft’s optimization paintings.

My one other be aware about the Duo’s hardware is that it lacks any true way to view incoming notifications in case you don’t have the screen open. In a few ways, this is good — if you have a tendency to check your telephone an excessive amount of, final the display screen can act as an excellent separation from the display screen. For my part, I became usually worried I’d leave out some thing important if the screen was closed.

I can largely attribute that to the fact that I hate having my phone on vibrate and ring (commonly due to the fact Android frustratingly doesn’t let you set simplest sure matters, like calls, to vibrate/ring). Even if I used vibrate, it’d had been remarkable to see either a notification mild like on Android telephones circa 2006, or maybe a small outside show so I could view incoming notifications or calls with no need to open the Duo.

You can take pics with it, but you shouldn’t

When it comes to the Surface Duo’s digital camera, capability shoppers ought to temper their expectancies. If you’re searching out a cellphone to address your images desires, the Duo is not the device.

In my assessments, almost every shot was a pass over, lacking detail, missing attention normally searching washed out. There have been some shots wherein the Duo treated itself nicely, however those were few and far among.

But, even supposing the camera became higher, I’m no longer positive I’d want to take images with the Duo anyway. Thanks to Microsoft’s selection to use one digital camera placed at the interior of the smartphone, taking pix with the Duo is exceedingly awkward. You should turn the smartphone round, get it into single-display mode at the display with out the digital camera, and then you definately’re appropriate to head. If you want to snap a short picture, the Duo isn’t always the tool to apply.

It’s additionally well worth noting that because there are not any secondary zoom lenses, like what you’d discover on different flagships, the Duo is predicated entirely on digital zoom. Coupled with the mediocre digital camera hardware, it makes for abysmal zoom.

Taking selfies is much less awkward, since the digital camera will typically be pointed at you anyway. And, great aside, the placement is first rate for individuals who need to video chat. In reality, video calls are quite first-rate on Duo since you can have some thing else taking place the alternative display.

Ultimately, the digicam is one of the Duo’s most giant weaknesses. But, like such a lot of other problems with the phone, some human beings can be capable of forgive the terrible digicam thanks to the multi-screen capabilities.

Are those flaws really worth the money?

The huge query with the Surface Duo is whether it is worth your money. I don’t assume the Duo is for me — based on how I used my telephone and, in my time with the Duo, how regularly I certainly had to view two apps concurrently, I can’t justify the $1,869 charge.

But people are one-of-a-kind, and those use their telephones in distinctive methods. If you commonly find your self leaping from side to side between apps, you could discover the Duo useful.

The other attention is that the Duo feels very similar to a ‘first-generation’ tool. It has masses of flaws however also breaks new floor in thrilling ways. If you do not mind being a guinea pig, the Duo could also be a extraordinary tool for you.

Still, $1,869 is a steep ask, specifically considering the large charge drop the Duo acquired within the U.S. With that during thoughts, it is able to be really worth waiting till Microsoft drops the rate via a comparable margin in Canada. At the time of writing, Microsoft had a suggestion to get free Surface Earbuds with a buy of the Duo ($259.99 fee), which may be really worth it in case you need a couple of proper wireless earbuds. I turned into keen on the Surface Earbuds once I reviewed them closing 12 months and would clearly advocate them.

With all that during mind, I assume the Duo might be an terrific device that gives a completely unique, new cellular smartphone revel in for a few people. It ought to definitely raise your productiveness as well! But for most humans, the Duo won’t offer any massive gain over a traditional candybar smartphone, nor is it worth the hefty charge tag. Weigh your options carefully, and if you could do so safely, I’d advise attempting out a Duo in a local save earlier than you purchase to peer if it is some thing you may like.

“Surface Duo feels very just like a ‘first era’ device. It has plenty of flaws but additionally breaks new floor in exciting approaches”


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