The Surface Duo is a dual-screen phone made by Microsoft that runs Android rather than Windows— it’s an unquestionably exciting device. But given that it’s not expected to go on sale until the holidays, it’s way too early to start getting hypercritical about its camera performance.
Yesterday, Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay posted a photo on Instagram showing his son using a Surface Pro to help study for his college mid-terms. Typically, a post like this wouldn’t garner much attention, though with much of the country under quarantine due to covid-19, Panay’s pic also provides a quaint sense of normalcy.
However, what got people suddenly amped up is that Panay mentioned that this shot was taken by Microsoft’s upcoming dual-screen phone, which instigated a flurry of impromptu photo analyses.
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Sharing a special moment captured on my Surface Duo. While I am working from home, Costas is learning from home. We're sharing my office today, he's studying for his CAL mid-term. It's great for him to have tools like #Windows and #Surface to help him study in this time. #workfromhome #learnfromhome
Look, the Surface Duo is an incredibly interesting device, but it’s way too early to start nitpicking its camera like this. First, the picture was posted on Instagram which is notorious for compressing and processing images into oblivion. We also don’t know if the photo was or edited or had a filter applied to it, so what we’re seeing may not be the Duo’s actual image quality. And with the photo sporting a resolution of 1080 x 1350 (which is just under 1.5 megapixels), it’s a good bet this image was cropped quite a bit, as even a typical 12-MP camera would produce a pic with a full resolution of 4000 x 3000 pixels.
But most importantly, the Duo is not out yet, which means Panay’s shot was most likely taken using a prototype device with unfinished components. And even if we account for the rumours claiming that the Surface Duo’s hardware and software are mostly finalised, even small tweaks to image processing can have a huge impact on camera quality.
Furthermore, if we take a step back and think about the Surface Duo as a whole, it’s clear Microsoft doesn’t view the Duo as a mainstream device meant for masses. The Surface Duo is a productivity-minded phone meant to deliver improved multitasking on-the-go, and while camera quality is important, the Surface Duo’s main focus isn’t on helping people become social media influencers. Buying a Surface Duo just to shoot pretty pictures is like buying a minivan because you think it has nice headlights. I would even posit that the Surface Duo’s camera quality isn’t even one of its top five (or maybe even top 10) most important features.
Heck, based on what we saw last fall, the Surface Duo doesn’t even have a dedicated rear camera, which means you’d probably have to open the phone and then fold it in half just to take a pic like the one above. (That said, Microsoft could add a rear camera to the final Surface Duo before its official launch.)
So yes, if you zoom in a bit, you might notice that the image looks unusually grainy, or that the highlights on Panay’s son’s shirt are blown out, or that nothing in the picture looks particularly sharp. But without knowing what that scene looks like in real life, having comparison shots from another device, or a bunch of other things, trying to evaluate the Surface Duo’s image quality from this pic is largely meaningless.
Don’t get me wrong, as someone who appreciates phones with disruptive designs like the Galaxy Fold, the Huawei Mate X, or even the ZTE Axon M, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Surface Duo. This is a phone that could finally make good on the legacy of the Microsoft Courier, but trying to extrapolate too much from a simple Insta post isn’t really helping anyone.