Surface Duo 2 review: getting better – TechCrunch

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If you dispute the the status quo was easy, we would see a lot more. In the smartphone world, that means daring to step outside the rectangle, a form factor by default for over a decade and a half. Slowly but surely amid stagnant smartphone sales, companies tested the water.

There have been a number of evolving dead ends in recent years. ZTE’s Axon M comes to mind. A valiant, albeit deeply flawed, attempt that was, for all intents and purposes, two smartphones stuck together. Samsung’s foldable phones seemed destined for a similar fate at first.

After a few generations the company made a difference, although longevity and the general implications of the line and the category in general are still a matter of question. I can honestly say, for example, that I enjoyed my time with the Galaxy Z Flip 3. It performs as expected, isn’t too heavy like many of its folding brethren, and is honestly the first foldable device I would recommend.

Like Samsung, Microsoft is well positioned to push the boundaries of the category. The company has long given up hope of being a mainstream mobile powerhouse. It’s not for lack of trying, of course. But even its $ 7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia couldn’t keep those dreams alive. Instead, the company found material solace in the Surface line, a modest success that produced some really compelling form factors.

Image credits: Brian heating

The first Surface Duo was born from this line, which prided itself on thinking outside of the standard PC / tablet form factor. At an event in October 2019, the company showcased the dual-screen Neo laptop and the smaller Duo, a dual-screen Android handset. The first never went into production. In May, Microsoft confirmed the death of Windows 10X and, apparently, the Neo’s hopes with it.

When the Duo launched last fall, it was one of the most anticipated devices of the year. Like ZTE, Microsoft has bypassed the need for a foldable display by merging two displays with a hinge. With nearly a decade of Surface hardware under its belt, however, the company had clearly created a much sleeker solution. But like the Axon M before it, the original Duo was a big disappointment.

It wasn’t a hardware failure, exactly (although sales may tell a different story), but it was plagued by too many problems to justify its asking price of $ 1,400. The lack of an external camera, buggy software, and the decision not to include 5G were among the main pain points of a sore point-laden device. First-generation products are going to be imperfect – that’s the fate of early adopters.

Image credits: Brian heating

But when consumers are asked to shell out that much money for a new device, there are certain levels of quality that are anticipated – those that the original Duo did not achieve. To its credit, however, Microsoft listened. Obviously, that doesn’t help the chosen few who bought the original product, but the company is clearly committed to doing better for future customers. In that sense, the Surface Duo 2 is more than just an update to the original device – it’s an effort to correct some of the biggest mistakes of its predecessor.

We could make a pretty convincing argument that Microsoft would have saved itself a lot of heartache if the first Duo had moved closer to this new model. The addition of the Snapdragon 888 with 5G, a rear-facing triple camera setup, closing the gap between the two screens, and continuous software improvement are important steps in the right direction. But the Duo 2 is still a far cry from the kind of device you can wholeheartedly recommend. The next two generations – if Microsoft continues to invest in the device – will determine whether the issues with the device are fundamental or something that simply requires continued refinement.

Image credits: Brian heating

The software, which can still be bugged when switching between screens, is probably the latter. In addition to developing its own dual-screen software, Microsoft is using much of the work Google has done with companies like Samsung to create a version of Android that runs on foldables. Of course, developing for a foldable, dual-screen form factor isn’t a perfect one-on-one. But given Microsoft’s immense resources, perfecting this experience is likely a matter of the time and money that it is willing to invest – which, in turn, is a product of perceived interest in the company. device.

Where the original Duo relied on an internal camera for shooting, the 2 now has three rear-facing cameras: a 12-megapixel-wide telephoto lens, a 12-megapixel telephoto lens, and an ultra- wide of 16 megapixels. It certainly sounds good at first glance – and it’s definitely an improvement. But the camera app is rudimentary, and the image quality was consistently lower than significantly cheaper systems. The Duo struggled in mixed and low light conditions more than one would expect on a $ 1,500 system in 2021.

Image credits: Brian heating

Microsoft is not as invested in mobile photography as Samsung, Apple or Google. It certainly shows here, but it’s also something that can be improved upon in future generations. Ultimately, however, the camera brings us to one of the potentially fundamental issues with the device. Among the reasons the original Duo relied on an internal camera, there is a pragmatic form factor issue: opening the device with the camera on one side and the second screen serving as a viewfinder. the other.

The company actually did a decent job of working with the camera bump, so the backs of the screens are tilted slightly. But in fact, the use of the thing is painful. It’s a bit handy to have the second screen to show the photos once they’re taken, but the process is unwieldy – more like attempting to photograph something using a tablet.

Despite some seemingly inevitable flaws like this, the Duo 2 is good hardware, and the addition of features like Microsoft Pen support and dual-screen gaming, which arrived on the original Duo in May, bring the product closer to where it should be. Other cool touches like the Glance Bar, which shows notification previews in the space between screens when the device is closed, show how Microsoft continues to work intelligently with the form factor it has. But with lingering issues and an asking price of $ 1,500, any hope that the product will really go mainstream feels – at best – multi-generational.


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