Ever since it’s unveiling last year, Microsoft’s Surface Duo has by far been the most exciting new device on my mind for almost as long as I knew of its existence. Here was Microsoft’s re-entry into the mobile space combining the hardware ingenuity of the Surface devices and the software capabilities of Google’s Android, a once near impossible project that reignited the passion of Windows and Android fans, and tech enthusiasts all over the world. And after almost that year of following the Duo’s development, talking about it in different capacities and (sometimes literally) drooling at the mouth each time we saw it’s renders or demo videos, it’s finally here, and so are its reviews. And the consensus? Well, Microsoft made a compelling, impressive, and attractive device, one that unfortunately feels unfinished.
Now we feel the video above (courtesy of The Verge) would probably be the best encapsulation of the Duo: pointing out how the hardware is beyond amazing, and easily the best in the foldable device category. Using two screens allows Microsoft to actually use glass for the Duo’s dual screens, making them farm much better to use, touch and of course, write on(which currently can’t be done on any other foldable devices including Samsung’s galaxy folds). The Duo is also the slimmest foldable device, easily being much thinner than all it’s competitors, and boasting a svelte profile even when folded. The Duo is also simply beautiful to look at, a description that can’t be applied to most tech devices, let alone foldables, even if the Z Fold 2 does it’s best to compete in the same area. The Duo is a sight to behold, and folded or unfolded you’re likely to catch people’s attention while holding it. Of course the Duo’s 2 screen approach does offer some huge differences compared to the Galaxy Folds, Z-Flip, or even the Huawei Mate X folds. Instead of being giant tablets that fold into phones, or standard sized phones that fold to fit in your pocket, the Duo is literally 2 screens combined into one, and acts like a dual-window setup that you likely implement on a PC, with the Duo itself being built from scratch for multitasking on the go. It’s Microsoft’s realization of a mobile power user’s dream, and this it seemingly does well, mostly.
Why mostly you might wonder, well that’s where the other half of this device comes into play. Now while the Duo’s hardware is amazing, albeit a little unorthodox, the Duo’s software is….lacking, unfortunately. Not in it’s design and implementation but rather in it’s refinement. The Duo’s software is incredibly buggy, filled with glitches and errors that likely stem from Microsoft trying to create a deeply integrated but fundamentally different version of Android 10, whose development was likely hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes the experience of the Duo itself feel incomplete, as if there’s some other half of the equation that wasn’t quite finished. And due to that feeling of incompleteness, the Duo itself becomes….broken, for lack of a better word. That doesn’t mean it’s not still impressive, rather most reviews that have used this device (including the Engadget one below) agree that Microsoft’s version of Android 10 handles multitasking in a way that’s simply better than anything Samsung or Huawei are doing with their foldable devices. But it’s seemingly not ready yet.
And all this put’s Microsoft and the Surface Duo in a risky place again. After all Microsoft has a continuing record of not quite nailing it when it comes to phones or mobile devices. Windows 10 Mobile was arguably steps beyond Android and iOS when it launched, ushering a universal core with Desktop Windows 10 that we praised as the platform was being laid to rest. But due to being buggy and very late to the game, it was essentially dead on arrival. The Duo isn’t the same, in fact the first Surface devices were less than perfect, and often that came from hardware issues instead of software. And with a promise to at the very least update the Duo monthly, Microsoft can likely salvage this amazing device’s reputation enough for people to want to buy the Surface Duo 2, or 3 if the line is successful enough to get to those. They just need to do it quickly. Because for many, the Duo is still an angelic Halo device. It’s hardware is certainly that, Microsoft just has to patch it’s software too before this angel gets its wings clipped.