So I’ve gone and dropped nearly one and half THOUSAND pounds on the new Surface Duo for Business.
I actually spent my own money on this… In case you missed it, this is the latest Microsoft Surface device which launched in the UK in February 2021. We’ve been using it now for about a month and thought we’d share our thoughts.
At first glance, it doesn’t run Windows. It’s not really a phone. It’s not really a tablet and it’s definitely not a laptop. But it does have this beautiful dual-screen setup – So is it any good?! And more importantly should YOU buy one?
Let’s find out!
The Microsoft Duo is an Android 10 based device, with dual 5.6 Inch screens each one running at 1800×1350 pixels which provides a stunning on-screen experience.
All four surfaces are covered with Gorilla Glass which is good and bad. Whilst it’s amazing to look at from any angle, you are one slip away from disaster.
It does come complete with a little rubber bumper to try and delay that tragedy… but you know it’s coming!
You’ll notice that there is only one port on here a USB3.1 and no headphone socket which is typical of modern devices, but with Bluetooth 5 you’ll have no issue connecting your favourite wireless headphones. And trust me, you’ll probably want to use headphones, but we’ll tell you more about that later.
As well as Bluetooth, it does of course support WIFI5 and 4G. Powered by a Qualcomm snapdragon 855 chip and up to 256GB of storage. There’s even a fingerprint reader on the side for biometric authentication.
All weighing in at just 250grams in this nice little package.
Out of the box experience
On starting up for the device for the first time, you are guided through a reasonably straightforward process. Although, we were surprised to see that you are asked to sign in with two social accounts. Firstly you login with a Google account because this is an Android Device and then you are prompted to login with a Microsoft Live Account.
I understand that we need a Microsoft Account but I’m very surprised that there was no option here for a Microsoft 365 BUSINESS account rather than a social account. This is a business device after all.
Now, I know that I can still apply policies to protect my 365 data on this device but it seems like a miss that I can’t use 365 to sign in.
Overall though, it’s an easy setup process with some nice steps to import you data or contacts from other devices.
You can use the device in handheld mode with two different applications running side by side. Or if you drag an application through to the middle of the screen, you can have a full dual screen experience.
You can also use it in single screen mode flipped around. The device prompts you to double tap to switch screens. But in our testing, this really wasn’t a reliable experience.
You can also use it in a laptop style mode like this where you can even use the bottom screen as a full screen keyboard. This is fine for short-term use, but we found that working at this angle is uncomfortable over a longer time.
You can even use the device with the Surface Pen which is a nice little touch.
Whilst I think about it being uncomfortable, we should mention that holding the device in book mode and trying to type is awkward. We would find ourselves just flipping it into single screen mode and using the keyboard that way.
Also if you hold it in book mode for any period of time, you’ll notice that the hinge really starts to dig into your hand which is really not pleasant.
Another minor bug bear we had was the delay in rotating the device around. But the ability to quickly flip between these modes is nowhere near as smooth as we’ve seen with other devices. It’s not a massive issue but on such a premium product, we hoped for better.
As you might expect for this hybrid tablet/phone device it comes complete with a perfectly adequate 11 megapixel camera. You won’t win any awards for photography with this one, but you’ll certainly be able to take any quick snaps that you need.
Although it does only have one camera on the front, so you turn it around and the camera app switches to the other screen automatically, which is quite cool.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the audio capabilities because this is a PREMIUM multi-purpose device, so I’m expecting great audio for my calls, Teams meetings and say a bit of Youtube.
Overall the audio was disappointing, with a single mono speaker setup over on the left hand side screen. The audio quality is tinny and the volume isn’t very impressive either, quite disappointing for a premium device.
The built-in microphones are adequate. Although it boasts noise suppression and echo cancellation, in our Testing with Microsoft Teams calls we found that it actually amplified background noises. Sounds that come from my office air-con were very loud for other people on the call, which made for a poor meeting experience.
With full access to the Google Play store, you’ll find all of the usual applications you would expect on Android devices. We focussed on using the Microsoft Office suite in our testing which certainly provided to be a really nice experience.
We did notice that Office and Particularly OneNote had attached itself to that Microsoft Live account we used during the sign-up process and so had to manually add our Work Account. But after that it was pretty straightforward.
Should you buy a Microsoft Surface Duo?
So the big question is, should you buy one of these?
No. And let me explain my thoughts.
For me this is a premium device with a premium price tag at £1350, that’s nearly 1900 US Dollars today, but it doesn’t behave like a premium device. Minor issues such as the rotation delay, the discomfort of holding it, the tinny speakers and the software glitches in swapping screens all start to add up.
Now, let’s not forget that this is a first generation so they are bound to get some things wrong and improve on the next version. In fact, the Surface Duo 2 is expected to launch in the second half of this year. With overall improved specs, 5G support and a better software experience.
Lastly… this is a hybrid phone/tablet type unit and I guess I wonder who this is designed for? A busy executive who wants a premium device won’t have the patience to put up with the minor issues. A tech enthusiast might put up with the niggles but still want a device that fits in your pocket and is easy to carry around, that’s not this.
When I consider the competition in this space, two devices might still be better than one. For the same money, you can get yourself a Surface Go with LTE support and an iPhone.
If you’re in the Android ecosystem, you could grab a Google Pixel 4a AND a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Either way you are saving against the Surface Duo price point.
The sad part is that I was really excited to try out the new Surface Duo but the reality is that is spent a lot of time sat around on my desk because it was just easier to use other devices. Maybe this will be a different story when we get to see the Duo 2.
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