As I wrote last September, the Microsoft Duo is a very different smartphone. I tend to think of it now as more of a smartbook. There have been several times I’ve tried to stop using it and go back to a more common smartphone design only to come back to the Duo because I miss it so much. This isn’t to say the phone is perfect, far from it; but what it does well makes it hard to give up. I started using it seven months ago, and it has become the only device I now carry with me all the time.
Let me explain why that is and where I think it will likely improve in its next iteration.
What’s to love?
If you like to read, spend a lot of time on social media and watch videos from time to time, this thing is incredible. I have read of a typical smartphone, but the experience isn’t ideal, so I generally carried an Amazon Fire Tablet with me for reading and watching videos. When I started using the Duo, I quickly realized the tablet was redundant, and I now only use it at night, and the tablet doesn’t travel with me.
Now the reason to not have the tablet is that it is one more thing to keep track of and lose. My wife, who uses an iPhone, still carries her Amazon fire, and just the other day, a waitress chased us down because she’d left it in the restaurant.
With watching movies, you can have the movie run on one screen and do email on the other, or it sits nicely on a table for one screen, or I’ve propped it on my steering wheel while I’m waiting for my wife and spread the video over both screens. You have enough screen size that you don’t need to hold the thing up to your face, and while my larger tablet might be better, this is good enough, so I don’t feel I need that tablet with me.
Finally, there are so few Duo phones out there it tends to draw attention, and folks will come up and ask me what it is and what it does. Women do this more than men suggesting. Was I single? This device might be a date magnet; since I’m not single, I can’t test this, but it does convey status better than any recent smartphone (mainly because they kind of all look the same these days).
What sucks, and what is likely to get fixed
The most annoying thing is the camera sucks. It takes an OK picture and has a flash, but the damned image doesn’t transfer to the right screen, making it difficult to use, it often won’t recognize QR codes, and there are a lot of far better cameras out there. I expect this to be a common complaint, and I also expect this to be addressed in the next version.
It is made of glass, which means you need to install the unique rubber bumpers, which tend to peel off over time and are incredibly expensive (nearly $50) to replace. The glass makes it slippery to hold, it tends to fall out of pockets, and I have time floors, which mean mine has a crack on the external case that annoys me. I hope the next version will have a more robust case that doesn’t require this problematic bumper solution.
Finally, it isn’t 5G, even though it had Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon solution. 5G is a ton better (where it is installed) for connectivity, and while I haven’t experienced data problems, phone issues, particularly with Wi-Fi calling, have been problematic. I’d disable the feature, but I use AT&T, and I’m clearly at the edge of coverage where I live, creating phone quality problems. One thing 5G does far better than LTE is a performance at the edge, and I expect the next version of this phone will be a 5G device.
There is a saying about prospects getting the arrows and settlers getting the land, which applies to those who love cutting-edge products. There is always an extraordinary number of problems with a generation one device, and the Surface Duo is a generation one device. That being said, I’m sadly addicted to the thing and have been resisting moving to a new phone (I’ve had several come in) because I don’t want to go back to carrying a tablet.
The glass case, camera, and lack of 5G support should be addressed in the next version of the product, given my complaints are hardly unique, suggesting that the next Duo may be something I can love without reservation. Until then, I’ll be using this first-generation Duo until someone forces me to give it up.
Fingers crossed that the next Microsoft Surface Duo becomes all it can be.