The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 Wants to Be Everything but Just Doesn’t Get There

The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 Wants to Be Everything but Just Doesn’t Get There
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia
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In 2002, there was a music video for Dilemma, a pretty popular song performed by Kelly Rowland and Nelly. There’s one moment near the end of the video where Rowland is longing to hear back from Nelly, not realising, however, she wasn’t texting him, rather she had entered the note in Excel on her Nokia 9290.

Rowland has since clarified this faux pas (turns out she didn’t know what Excel was at the time), but it’s an image that lives rent-free in my head.

 

You’re probably wondering why you’ve been given this unsolicited early 2000s pop culture explainer? Well, friends, this is how I felt this week using the new Microsoft Surface Duo 2. A little bit nostalgic and a little bit utterly confused.

The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is part phone, part tablet, part laptop, part book and part completely pointless. It’s kind of the epitome of ‘let’s do something just ‘because we can’, not because it solves a problem.

OK that’s not completely fair. It does sort-of solve a problem. There’s a bit of a void in the flip phone space and sometimes you want a small tablet that you can use Excel on properly. But for $2,769 and bigger than my hands, I wouldn’t want to use this as a phone. There are some great features this thing boasts, it’s not all negative, so let’s start with the facts.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2

WHAT IS IT?

The latest dual screen Surface phone from Microsoft

PRICE

$2,319-$2,769

LIKE

Ease of Microsoft Office use, updated hardware/software, more screen

NO LIKE

Lagging response time, awkward to use, that it tries to be absolutely everything

A little over a year ago, Microsoft surprised everyone when it announced the Surface Duo. At the time, we were thinking the Surface Duo would be so much more than just a dual-screen gadget, keen for that thing to create a whole new and exciting branch in smartphone evolution. We wanted it to live up to this whole “pushing the boundaries of what a mobile device could be” thing Microsoft was pushing. It was cool because it was a brand new concept and our interest was piqued.

Enter the Surface Duo 2.

The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is better than the first Duo

The new device has fixed a tonne of annoying things present in its predecessor: the hinge is smaller (it’s now 60-degrees), its bezels are thinner, screens are a tiny bit bigger, fingerprint sensor is now built into the power button, it’s faster, it’s a lot less sharp around the edges and it now has 5G. The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 also got a camera upgrade, but more on that later.

The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is pretty. But it’s almost too pretty. I feel like putting it down anywhere will result in tonnes of scratches and using it in the kitchen I was paranoid I’d smash the glass on the bench top.

It’s clear Microsoft spent a lot of time on fixing the things its Duo 1 customers complained about, because the device itself does seem premium and a much better version of the first iteration.

The new Duo is available in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB configs, you also have the option of Glacier (white) or Obsidian (black). Under the hood they pack 8GB DRAM LPDDR5 memory. Price of course is affected by a larger storage option.

Two screens are sometimes better than one

Both of the Surface Duo 2 screens are high-resolution touchscreens:

  • Dual PixelSense Fusion Displays open: 8.3” AMOLED, 2688×1892
  • Single PixelSense™ Screen: 5.8” AMOLED 1344×1892 (13:9)
  • 401 PPI
  • HDR
  • Wide colour 100 per cent SRGB, DCI-P3
  • 90Hz adaptive refresh rate
  • 800 nits max brightness
  • Corning Gorilla Glass Victus

You can open and see any two apps on each screen to easily compare or copy and paste content and some apps you can have span across both screens.

Displays are bigger (and faster), as Microsoft has reduced the bezel and curved the device, bringing the displays closer together (by 30 per cent, actually). When open, the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 measures 145.2 mm (H) x 184.5 mm (W) x 5.50mm (T). Closed, this measures 145.2 mm (H) x 92.1 mm (W) x 11.0 mm (T at hinge).

It boasts 5G, Wi-Fi 6 aaaaand it’s NFC capable. For some reason. I won’t be ‘tapping on’ to catch a Sydney train with the Surface Duo 2, but I could.

The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 and the promise of productivity

Basically, the Duo is built to showcase the power of Microsoft 365 in a device that can fit in your pocket (obviously not a pocket in any item of women’s clothing). It also hits the productivity mark with a dual screen.

You can do more with two screens, this is true. I was hoping to come at this from a productivity perspective, but I ended up spending too much time having Messenger and TikTok open side by side. For lounge screen time, the Duo 2 was fun.

tiktok
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

But on the productivity front, I’m writing this review from the Surface Duo 2. It’s not exactly the easiest way to write and if we want to talk productivity, it’s actually taking me longer than it would on a laptop. But I can have Slack up on one screen and type on the other. The problem is notifications that I have on a phone – messages, Instagram, Tweets, etc – pop up when I’m writing. At least if my phone is separate to my laptop, you hear the buzz but don’t need to look immediately like you do when it’s on the same device.

If your job isn’t to write for a living and you move back and forth from email and the Microsoft 365 suite, the Surface Duo 2 is super handy. Not to replace your usual laptop, but for when you want to work on the go (or on the lounge).

But that also introduces another problem. A phone and work device all in one further blurs the already ridiculously blurred lines of what is work time and what is personal time

But what’s the point of the camera?

Microsoft has added a triple lens camera system to the Surface Duo 2. It now boasts wide angle, telephoto or ultra-wide photo options. Microsoft says the new camera system features high resolution, exceptional low-light performance and bigger field of depth.

But the camera system isn’t great and it’s super awkward taking a photo, here’s what I got out of a quick snap with natural light and absolutely zero effort.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2
Photo taken with the Surface Duo 2. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The camera set up on the back of the Surface Duo 2 also sticks out like a sore thumb, limiting, too, the ability to lay the device flat on a table.

camera
Chunky boi. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

But you can span your camera app across both screens to view photos and videos, edit photos and videos on two screens and the selfie camera is fine for video calls, great even.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 rear camera:

  • Wide: 12MP, f/1.7 aperture, 27 mm, 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF and OIS
  • Telephoto: 12MP, f/2.4 aperture, 51 mm, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS and 2X optical zoom
  • Ultra-Wide: 16MP, f/2.2 aperture, 13 mm, 1.0µm, 110° diagonal field of view with distortion correction

Front-facing camera:

  • 12MP, f/2.0, 24 mm, 1.0µm

What else?

Dual led – dual colour flash, auto mode with low-light & HDR multi-frame photo capture and dynamic range scene detection, night mode, ‘Smooth Zoom’ between all 3 rear cameras and digital super zoom up to 10x, portrait mode with adjustable depth control, panorama mode, capture short video during photo capture with long press and capture photos during video recording

For video recording, you get HDR video, 4K video recording at 30 fps and 60 fps, 1080p video recording at 30 fps and 60 fps, slow motion video at 120 or 240fps and HEVC and H.264 video recording formats.

This all seems great but the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 could have done away with a camera altogether as far as I’m concerned, especially when you’re up against the Google Pixel 6 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max in the phone camera system space.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2, the verdict?

It’s an improvement on the Duo, and it’s definitely fun to use, but I wanted it to be more. I also wanted it to be more functional as a phone. At the moment, the Surface Duo 2 is a mini tablet-laptop hybrid with two touch-screens, a bit of a phone and an additional device for you to work on. It won’t stand up as a replacement laptop or phone.

It’s not a flip phone, it’s a dual screen tablet that can make phone calls. I don’t hate it, I just want a bit more (and, ironically, a bit less).

In the 90s I had a Dear Diary. It was an electronic organiser that I thought was the absolute bomb. The nostalgia part of my brain loves the Surface Duo 2, because it reminds me of the Dear Diary (yep, this thing is oozing in nostalgia), yet it’s more adult and actually does something.

BUT the price is too high for me to sit here and tell you that you need the Surface Duo 2, and although the device looks and feels premium, it doesn’t need to. I’d sacrifice the prettiness for price. And I’d sacrifice the phone part, or I’d shrink the device to actually be a flip phone.