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Microsoft Surface Duo in the test: chic and slim with too many compromises

Peak: When you open it slightly, the Microsoft Surface Duo shows the time. (Photo: t3n)
Microsoft’s Surface Duo landed in Germany. In the test of the device with double display, it left mixed feelings – among other things, the software is very expandable, not to mention the camera.

Almost five years after Microsoft launched its deficit smartphone Having quit business with devices on Windows 10 Mobile, a new beginning with Android is also beginning in Germany. As early as 2017, Microsoft boss Satya Nadella indicated a new entry and said even then that the upcoming devices would not look like conventional smartphones. From a design point of view, the Redmond-based group has succeeded with its Surface Duo, which was shown for the first time at the end of 2019.

Contents

  • Surface Duo: Ultra-thin folding device with excellent 360 degree hinge
  • Surface Duo: The software is the key – but unfortunately unfinished
  • The equipment of the Surface Duo: Too little for the price
  • Conclusion: A lot of potential wasted

Even if Microsoft does not explicitly describe the duo as a smartphone, it has to be the Put up with comparison due to its range of functions. However, it looks like a cross between a digital notebook and a foldable. At first and second glance, it impresses with its ultra-thin design and elegant exterior with a reflective, silver Windows logo, as is the case with every device in the Surface family. But the logo is deceptive: Because with the duo, the manufacturer does not rely on an in-house development, but, as already mentioned, on Android, which has been specially optimized for the dual-display device in close cooperation with Google. Such a cooperation would never have been possible under Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer. The first result in the form of the Surface Duo is rather sobering in some respects, although the concept has a lot of potential.

Surface Duo: Ultra-thin folding device with an excellent 360-degree hinge

Microsoft’s Surface Duo has two screens. (Photo: t3n)

When the Duo was announced in autumn 2019, the device made a curious impression, among other things because of its ultra-thin design and the 360-degree hinge, with which the device can be used flexibly. Even a year and a half later, nothing has changed: When folded, it is 145.2 x 93.3 x 9.9 millimeters
about the size of a small notebook in A6 format. The front and back are made of white glass, the metal frame of the sides is kept in matt white. The Windows logo is located on the “book cover”, on the right side of the case, next to the volume rocker and power button, there is a fingerprint reader located in a small indentation, which does its job reliably and quickly. There is a USB-C port on the bottom for charging.

The silver hinge of the Duo is attached to the left side of the case, with which the device can be opened to reveal the two display halves, each 5.6 inches and 1,800 x 1,350 pixels. The two screens together form a diagonal of 8.1 inches, a little more than Samsung’s Foldable Galaxy Z Fold 2, which has a diagonal of 7.6 inches. As with the Surface Book, Microsoft shows with its duo how well the manufacturer masters the development of folding mechanisms: The hinge of the duo works excellently. It can be moved into any position without much effort and remains stable in this position. It doesn’t matter whether we hold it in our hand or put it on the table. Even upright, it is easily collapsed on a solid surface – reading news or watching a video clip is no problem.

Microsoft Surface Duo. (Photo: t3n)

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The device exudes a big want-to-have factor on the outside, which becomes a little cloudy when the Duo is opened. Because the two bright screens are framed above and below in one and a half centimeters of almost symmetrical thick black frames, which one would no longer expect in the age of full-display smartphones that do almost completely without borders. They make the device look a bit old-fashioned. In practice, however, they prove to be quite useful to hold the duo between your fingers. In addition, the auricle, camera and LED flash are integrated in the frame area at the top right.

Microsoft Surface Duo – it’s pretty to look at. (Photo: t3n)

While the frame of the Duo is reminiscent of early smartphone times, the thickness of the device is completely different: When the device is unfolded, you can see and feel how thin the two device halves actually are. According to Microsoft, they each measure 4.8 millimeters, which makes the 250 gram device easy to hold. One-handed operation is still only possible to a limited extent, as the screen with its 4: 3 aspect ratio is simply too wide, even if one half is folded onto the back.

If one of the two halves of the display is folded back, it can be used like a classic, but quite wide smartphone because the one on the back Screen is automatically disabled. This position is likely to be the most comfortable when you’re out and about, for example to quickly answer a message – or to make a phone call.

Microsoft Surface Duo – when playing media across both screens, part of the content becomes cut off. (Photo: t3n)

Watching films or series across both halves of the screen is unfortunately not advisable, as the hinge in the middle separates the two displays by several millimeters. The software does not move the content during playback, but simply cuts it out. That can be done much better. Microsoft recommends the tent mode for media consumption anyway, in which the device is set up like a roof and only one screen is used for playback, while the second side acts as a stand.

Microsoft Surface Duo – Films and video clips are better consumed on one half of the display. (Photo: t3n)

Surface Duo: The software is the key – but unfortunately unfinished

Microsoft Surface Duo – with app pairs, two applications can be started at the same time. (Photo: t3n)

It looks similarly mixed on the software side. Microsoft has optimized the software together with Google for the double screen, for example, to be able to use two apps side by side in order to work more productively. The app pairs can be used, for example, to use the Chrome or Edge browser on the left and the to-do app or any other on the right. In addition, content can be moved from one app to the other using drag & drop. Created as an app pair, two apps can even be started with one tap. But Samsung also offers this for its fold, for example. With the Surface, these features work largely without any problems and prove to be a productivity gain. Rumor has it that this function will become standard in Google’s OS with Android 12.

Microsoft Surface Duo – the software is strong based on Google’s pure Android. (Photo: t3n)

Above all, the Microsoft apps adapted for the dual display such as Outlook in the calendar or mail view as well as Onenote and Powerpoint are convincing: They share the displayed content sensibly via the b Both screens: With Outlook mail you will find the inbox on the left, while an open mail can be found on the right. Unfortunately, only a few applications have been adapted accordingly – these include Amazon’s Kindle e-book app and Tiktok. Google’s Gmail app is split in the full screen view, which is activated by dragging the white tab below the app in the middle of the device, but the mail extends over the middle bar so that the content is partially covered. Microsoft and Google apparently still have a lot of work to do here – not only in terms of adapting the apps, but also in convincing the app developers to optimize their applications for dual displays.

Not only Gmail is not adapted: In the test we also had Google’s keyboard app Gboard installed instead of Microsoft’s Swiftkey keyboard. The app worked for the most part without any problems in landscape mode, in portrait or notebook mode, in which one of the displays is on the table and shows the keyboard, part of the Gboard keyboard was cut off so that some keys were not accessible. This shows that even the software development partner Google has not yet optimized its applications for the dual display device, which is why it is advisable to use Microsoft’s applications for the time being.

Surface Duo: Microsoft’s apps work largely reliably in dual display mode, unfortunately others do not yet. (Photo: t3n)

If you are in the Microsoft ecosystem, the manufacturer shows with its first Android device that Windows and Google’s mobile operating system can complement each other sensibly. Microsoft has been working on this for years, but the duo can be seen as the high point of development, as the manufacturer has brought many of its software components to the fore. In-house applications such as your own launcher, Office, Edge, Teams, To do, Onenote, Onedrive and the Bing search are preinstalled. Instead of the Google Discovery news overview, the left home screen has a Microsoft feed that can be customized from the calendar, tasks, notes and other content using widgets. The usual Google services such as photos, maps, the assistant and others are of course also on board.

Third-party software does not get along so well with the Surface Duo – here Google’s Gboard. (Photo: t3n)

When controlling the Duo, Microsoft is based on Google’s gestures, which were introduced with Android 9 and improved with version 10. In order to use the two screens more optimally, the manufacturer has expanded the gesture control: An active app can be moved from one screen to the other with a swipe over the small white bar below the application. To display an app in full screen across both screens, you drag the bar between the two screens until a white background appears on both sides. The whole thing works relatively reliably after a certain period of acclimatization, although we encountered a few bugs here and there. Some of the bugs such as issues with swiping to hide an app have been fixed in an update. Nevertheless: With such an expensive device this must not happen.

Other errors are still present despite a recently published update: For example, when trying to digital zoom with a two-finger pinch gesture in the camera app, the camera completely crashes. This error should actually have been noticed five months after the market launch in the USA and should have been corrected. It is also curious that the viewfinder appears on the left side of the screen when the camera is started in landscape mode and not below the camera. Why?

The camera software of the Surface Duo is also prone to errors. (Screenshot: t3n)

On the software side, the duo still runs on Android 10, with Android 11 being released as the final version in September 2020. A few more months should pass before the 11th update for the Surface device is released – according to Microsoft, it will only appear in the course of the summer. By then, Android 12 will be almost ready. After all, the manufacturer promises an update guarantee of three years, which is long by Android standards. This means that the duo should also get Android 14. Nevertheless, it is a pity that Microsoft is not faster with the update development.

The features of the Surface Duo: Too little for the price

Unfortunately, there are points of criticism not only on the design and software side of the duo. Unfortunately, the duo’s camera is also not the best one can look for for a 1,500 euro device could imagine. Unfortunately, the photo quality is more like that of a cheap smartphone – Google has shown with its Pixel 4a (test) that even cheaper smartphones can have excellent cameras on board. The problem is likely to be the slim design of the Duo, in which there may not be room for better sensors.

The specifications of the Microsoft Surface Duo

Model Microsoft Surface Duo
Display Individually : 5.6 inches (1,800 x 1,350), 401 ppi, aspect ratio 4: 3;
Open: 8.1 inches (2,700 x 1,800), 401 ppi, aspect ratio 3: 2; AMOLED
Operating system Android 10
Processor Snapdragon 855 Octacore
Working memory 6 GB RAM LPDDR4
Internal memory 128/256 GB UFS 3.0 (not expandable)
Battery capacity 3,577 mAh dual battery (permanently installed)
Camera 11 MP, f / 2.0, 1.0 µm, PDAF, 84 °
Connectivity WiFi-5 802.11ac (2.4 / 5GHz), Bluetooth 5, GPS, LTE, GPS, Galileo, GLONASS , BeiDou, QZSS
Others Fingerprint sensor on the side, charging with 18 W, USB-C (3.1)
Dimensions Open: 145.2 x 186.9 x 4.8 mm;
Closed:
145.2 x 93.3 x 9.9 mm on the hinge
Weight 250 g
Colours White
Price (RRP) from 1,549 euros
As for the other hardware of the Duo, Microsoft has here and did not choose the latest equipment there. The built-in Snapdragon 855 processor dates from 2019, which powered the Pixel 4 and other top models at the time. This makes it the grandfather of the current Snapdragon 888, which will be used in high-end smartphones in 2021. You rarely notice that the SoC, which is supported by six gigabytes of RAM, is a bit older, but you can still see brief pauses for thought here and there. What is also annoying with such an expensive device in 2021 is the lack of the fast 5G cellular standard, which is now common even in mid-range and sometimes even entry-level devices. Microsoft has probably also dispensed with NFC and wireless charging in favor of the thin design. The latter is tolerable, but due to the lack of the NFC coil, the duo unfortunately lacks support for contactless payment via Google Pay.

There is little to criticize about the available flash memory of 128 or 256 gigabytes in view of the fact that much is now being outsourced to the cloud. Some would probably still want a variant with 512 gigabytes or at least an extension via micro SD card. However, more flash memory would make the duo even more expensive, and there might simply be no space for a card slot due to its ultra-slim design. The built-in battery with a nominal output of 3,577 milliamps is not particularly large, but is enough for a day.

Conclusion: A lot of potential wasted

Microsoft Surface Duo – the second generation will hopefully be more rounded. (Photo: t3n)

Microsoft’s first “smartphone”, even if the manufacturer doesn’t want to categorize it like that, has a lot of potential. The design is chic, the workmanship is excellent and its thin construction is second to none. We also consider the approach of using two separate displays, which are connected by an excellent hinge and therefore flexible in use, to be very good. In contrast to foldables with their flexible displays and the fold in the middle, the duo should be more robust and have a longer lifespan.

The decision to use Google’s flexible Android to optimize the user interface is also to be rated positively. Unfortunately, the system is not yet as mature and stable as one would like it to be. In addition, only a few apps are optimized for the dual display – if you are mostly in the Microsoft cosmos, you can get over that. But this still has to be massively added and optimized.

In terms of equipment, the duo offers very little, especially in view of its high price. Especially if you use Samsung’s Foldable Galaxy Z Fold 2 for comparison, which is now available for around 1,000 euros, but is far better equipped. In view of the numerous points of criticism and the high price, we can only recommend the duo to die-hard Surface fans who focus on Microsoft services. But we also advise them to wait a while before buying. Because there are signs that Microsoft could reduce the price – in the USA, the group has lowered its duo by 400 US dollars in price a few months after the market launch. In Germany the Surface Duo costs from 1,549 euros with 128 gigabytes of memory.

In general, we like the concept of the Duo and we hope that Microsoft will work on the Ball remains to bring a second and third generation with better equipment and software optimizations onto the market.

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Sallie Anderson
Sallie works as the Writer at World Weekly News. She likes to write about the latest trends going on in our world and share it with our readers.

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