Up until the iPhone launched, smartphones were focused on business users. They didn’t play games, weren’t that good with music, and video was something Steve Jobs argued was stupid even on an iPod. With the iPhone, the market pivoted, and given it was heavily based on the iPod, entertainment was at its core—in fact, the initial iPhone sucked at pretty much everything but iPod stuff. The iPhone matured, and by the 3rd version it had become a functional smartphone—however still mostly consumer and entertainment-focused. It was also growing to become a decent communications device, but it has never been about business. The Microsoft Surface Duo is here to fill that void.
Microsoft tried a late pivot with their Microsoft phone after they bought Nokia. Still, the defense was too little and too late, and other than an increasingly rare Blackberry, like the Key 2 (which did sell out), the business market was almost forgotten. Well, not any longer, I’ve been using the new Microsoft Surface Duo for over a week, and I love its renewed business focus and the fact that it is more tied to making money than spending it.
However, much like the initial iPhone, it is a first-generation device, which means that it is far from where it will be by version 3, but it is still a better phone for some than anything else out there. Let me explain.
The Ideal Surface Duo User
I think I can describe the ideal Surface Duo user because I fit that demographic. I’m someone that liked the Microsoft phone, misses the Blackberry and wants a device that is configured the way I use a smartphone, not how everyone else uses it. I’m not a phone game player; I have PCs and game systems for that. I do watch videos, I do use social media, I use a headset, earbuds, or smartwatch to answer calls, I’m an avid reader, and I live on Microsoft 365. Besides, I’m on a lot of Microsoft Teams calls, and the app I use the most to communicate is Outlook.
I also don’t take a ton of pictures or videos, and I wouldn’t say I like carrying more than one device if I’ve got a choice. And this phone fits my unique needs like a glove.
As a reader, it holds like a book with two pages displayed. It is the first device in some time I’ve used more than my Amazon Fire Tablet, which was my go-to reader before I got this phone. It displays an email on Outlook the way my laptop does with the email list on one side and the content of the email on the other, vastly improving my ability to triage my inbox.
As a video player, I can tent the device and put it on a table to watch, and the aspect ratio is similar to a TV and fills more of the screen. It should be ideal for Plane tables when, and if, I ever fly again. Social media apps don’t yet recognize both screens, but they’ll expand to fill both, and the experience is similar to having a PC with twin screens and having an app span both of them, so it is better at this than my old smartphone was.
Why the Surface Duo Isn’t for Everyone
First, the Surface Duo is a first-generation product, and that means it will have issues that will get resolved in version 2 and 3. Those that like a more mature offering (the saying is Prospectors get the arrows, settlers get the land) should and will likely wait until this phone is more mature. Second, it doesn’t yet support 5G, Wi-Fi 6, or NFC (granted, I’ve never used NFC, but some do). These are now becoming standard in phones in the Duo’s price class (well except for Apple at the moment). These, too, will likely be addressed in future versions. Many apps don’t yet know what do with a dual-screen phone, which means you’ll likely run them on a single screen. This shortcoming isn’t alarming, really, as you can have two apps active each in their screen, but some apps will get a ton better when they can adjust to two screens (Facebook, for instance). The camera isn’t bad, but it isn’t yet in line with top phones in the Duo’s price range. That, too, should get sorted in version 2 or 3.
Finally, there is a learning curve to this phone, and that can make initial use rather annoying. Once you learn the gestures and particularly learn how to open the app library and put apps into a dual-screen mode, the phone becomes a ton more useful and less annoying. I was doing both things wrong initially and had to relearn how to do both before I started enjoying this phone.
The Microsoft Surface Duo isn’t a cookie-cutter phone, but then I’m not a cookie-cutter anything. I drive a Jaguar electric car, not a Tesla, and my clothing (and most of our house) is dragon themed. I like being different, and I like having tools that embrace my difference. For those like me, the Microsoft Surface Duo smartphone is a breath of fresh air. It is far closer to what Steve Jobs was trying to convey in his 1984 ad than what the company is now building. (It is interesting to note that even Fortnight has realized that Apple is no longer that Apple).
If you like being different, if you want a phone more focused on making than spending money, and mainly if you are an avid eBook reader, you’ll likely find you love this new Surface Duo as much as I do. If not, wait, it’ll get better. In the end, if you like being like everyone else, this is not the device for you.