Sep 10, 2020 - Technology

Axios review: Microsoft Surface Duo

A stock photo of the microsoft duo
Photo: Microsoft

With Surface Duo, Microsoft has re-entered the phone business (sort of), with a dual-screen device running Android. The unique hardware and software combination makes it more than just a curiosity, even if it's likely to be a niche player at best.

Why it matters: Microsoft isn't going to suddenly become a major player in mobile hardware, but the Duo does give the company a novel option for Microsoft loyalists.

Details: Teased a year ago and formally introduced last month, Surface Duo becomes officially available today, starting at $1,400. AT&T will sell the device directly, while an unlocked version that works on all three major carriers will be sold by Microsoft, Best Buy and other retailers.

What's hot:

  • The design is elegant, useful and seemingly hearty: Of all the new crop of folding devices I've used, Microsoft's is the first that doesn't feel delicate and precious but rather built to be used.
  • Two screens makes for great multitasking. I enjoyed more easily moving among my mainstay apps: Slack, Outlook, Twitter and the browser.
  • It's first-class Android. By partnering with Google, you really do get the best of Android in terms of Google's apps and access to the Google Play store combined with all of Microsoft's mobile apps.

What's not:

  • The camera is the Duo's glaring hardware weakness. There's only one small sensor, and you have to fold your phone one way to take selfies and another to capture what's in front of you. That makes Surface Duo ill-suited for candid shots and results in an overall subpar camera experience.
  • Few programs are optimized for Duo's two displays, so you're usually just running one program in each screen. Over time, it would be nice if more programs make full use of the dual screens, as Microsoft has for some of its own programs, like Outlook, and Amazon has with its Kindle app.
  • The phone supports all the major LTE networks, but lacks 5G support. That's not a huge issue today, but could prove frustrating over the life of the device.
  • Surface Duo suffers from the same price problem as other multi-screen devices: It costs as much as two phones put together.
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