The first Surface Duo reviews are in, and Microsoft probably won’t be celebrating

Chris Davies - Sep 10, 2020, 8:39am CDT
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The first Surface Duo reviews are in, and Microsoft probably won’t be celebrating

The first Surface Duo reviews are out, but if you’re not in the mood to read tens of thousands of words or watch a few hours of video, four words about wrap the consensus up: don’t buy it – yet. Microsoft’s dual-screen Android foldable beguiled with its super-slim design and the promise of a Courier-like dual window future of computing. Unfortunately, that future isn’t quite ready for today.

Microsoft clearly knew where its strengths were. Surface Duo units have been out with reviewers for two weeks now, and they’ve all praised the premium construction and the fact that the foldable is just so slim and lightweight. They’ve also not been allowed to show any of the software – or even have the displays turned on in photos or videos – until today.

The reason for that seems pretty clear: Microsoft’s software isn’t really ready. When you’re paying $1,400 for a device, that’s a problem. Most reviewers like the idea of what the Duo is trying to do, but aren’t convinced by the implementation.

“With OneNote, I’ve loved brainstorming and taking notes with the $100 Surface Pen (sold separately),” the WSJ says. “I’d love it even more if the pen could keep up with my writing. Another performance issue. Unfortunately, key Microsoft apps like Excel and Skype haven’t been optimized for two screens.” Instead you get a similar experience to Microsoft’s – generally great – Android apps running on any regular single-screen smartphone.

Third-party software also often doesn’t make the most of both displays, either. You can force apps to span both displays, Android Central points out, but “with varied success.” Sometimes key controls are hidden by the Surface Duo’s hinge. You can only run one app at a time, too, Android Police highlights, unlike a Galaxy Z Fold 2 where you can run two instances of an app, one on each half of the screen.

It’s not just software that might give you pause. The camera is pretty much universally panned – hard to use, with mediocre results, Engadget says it has poor low-light performance but “respectable color and clarity,” but grew frustrated with how “insanely finicky” the app is. Then there’s the hardware, or more accurately its omissions.

No 5G, no wireless charging, and no NFC for wireless payments all get chalked up as problems by CNBC. Their review is also unimpressed by Microsoft using last year’s Snapdragon high-end chipset, the mere 128GB of storage “which probably isn’t enough for power users,” and the lack of water resistance. Microsoft says the Surface Duo isn’t necessarily designed to replace your phone, and that’s something reviewers seem to agree on.

On the upside, battery life is generally praised as solid, and the dual 1,800 x 1,350 AMOLED displays are great. Microsoft is promising software updates every month, Windows Central points out, and already fixed what some reviewers described as dire bugs in their early experience. Still, there’s only so much Microsoft can do with software.

In short, and as many predicted, the Surface Duo is shaping up to be very much a “first generation” device. One with no shortage of promise, certainly, but also one that – unless you’ve plenty of spare spending money and a patience for bugs getting ironed out – you should probably hold off on experiencing. Just like with the original Surface, as The Verge concludes, it took a few generations for the hardware and software to be fully-baked. The clever shopper maybe waits for the Surface Duo 2, or even the Surface Duo 3, before jumping in.


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