Thinking About The Surface Duo 2

I am sitting here with 3 phones in front of me: Pixel 6 Pro, Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Surface Duo 2. All 3 phones are attractive to me in their own ways and over the last week or so, I’ve been using the Duo 2 as my primary device.

Let me preface this by saying, like Paul, I pretty much need the absolutely best camera as I can get. And for the past year, that has been the S21 Ultra…a camera that has surprised this long time Lumia and then Pixel camera fan. But more on that in a moment.

I picked up the Surface Duo 2 a few weeks ago out of curiosity. I remember Mary Jo talking about the software quirks and even after the “December Update”, I still encountered them…mostly the Camera App crashing the OS and sometimes app animations getting stuck. I did a post December Update factory reset and it seems to be fine.

The hardware is pretty awesome. It just looks amazing and feels good in the hand. I put a subtle D-Brand skin on the front, back and around the camera lenses and it makes it a little “grippier”. The screens are nice and bright and the colors look pretty amazing. The glance bar is nice but as most people say, it needs to do a little more. I don’t think I’ll put a bumper on it. I do like the fact the phone is generally protected when you have it shut so perhaps less micro scratches from my jeans pocket. Side note, I’ve paired my Surface Earbuds with them and they work great…these are some really nice sounding earbuds.

When in the car, things are a little challenging…I don’t text and drive but I do like to change my media from time to time. You have to have the phone either folded back (risking scuffing the other screen or leave it flat with both screens open. So it is a little odd.

It took me a while to get used to the gestures, which are very similar (if not almost exactly) to stock Android gestures. There are some differences on how to close apps out and bringing up open apps seems a little quirky.

I am really liking the form factor and the ways I can use both screens or SPAN certain apps. It certainly has changed the way I use a smartphone and I honestly feel a little more productive with both work and hobbies. I am a certified storm spotter and those December tornadoes that ravished Kentucky literally began forming right over my neighborhood in Arkansas. I had RadarScope open on one screen and my storm spotter chat app on the second screen. It was very useful during these terrible storms. I think it would also come in handy the next time there is a live announcement of products and I can watch it and enjoy Paul’s Twitter comments on the dual screens.

The cameras…well, it is inconsistent. It has taken great shots, some truly awesome shots. But it does struggle mightily in low light. And yes, I loaded G-CAM on it but I feel I shouldn’t have to resort to using it…that said, it does help in low light situations. Let’s say I’ve been more impressed with the camera than I thought I would but it for sure isn’t up to par as a Pixel or S21 Ultra. I am going to Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas and their 6.5 million dazzling lights…I do not trust the Duo 2 to take the best shots of this event, so the Pixel or S21 Ultra will make the trip as well. That said, I will sure give it a try and see how it does in the dark with those lights.

While I don’t do a lot of mobile gaming, this indeed could be the “XBOX Phone.” When you can use the second screen as a controller, it feels like a completely new device. And pairing an XBOX controller is very easy and you can put in tent mode for some quick gaming sessions.

My smartwatch of choice is the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic…as expected, the ECG won’t work on the Duo 2 because that app (Samsung Health Monitor) is only available from the Galaxy Store…side loading the app has not worked for me. Also, it is odd that the phone’s DND will not sync with the watch’s DND and you can’t set a schedule for the watch…just on and off. Otherwise, it is fully functional.

Other notes…I wish it had Wireless Charging and this is a phone you do not want to get wet much. I also turned off the fold to answer as without a smartwatch, you can’t see who is calling, even with “peek” which does nothing but show the time.

In my honest opinion, I think the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra paired with my Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, Galaxy Buds Live and the great wireless charging trio pad make for a complete experience where I have to make very few compromises, if any at all. It all works flawlessly and the Ultra’s cameras are so very good. For those who worry about “Duplicate Apps” or the “Samsung Ecosystem”, that is really a non-issue anymore. You can hide those duplicate apps and Samsung has gone a long way to remove ad’s and bloat from their apps/phones. And Samsung Health is actually VERY good.

But I can’t quite let go of the Duo 2 just yet. I like this new way to use a smartphone and I can, for now, get around the camera deficiencies to continue using this very intriguing device.

Conversation 10 comments

  • christianwilson

    Premium Member
    22 December, 2021 - 10:39 am

    <p>Thanks for this writeup. I’m not in the market for a Surface Duo 2 but I am always curious to hear about people’s experiences with it as a new form factor. As an outsider looking in, I hadn’t thought about the placement of the phone in certain situations and how that could risk damaging the second screen. </p><p><br></p><p>For me, I would find a device like this helpful, but it would be too cumbersome as my primary phone. It sounds like a wonderful companion device that I could find a use for, but not something that solves a problem I currently have. </p><p><br></p><p>I am keeping an eye on these devices, though. I can’t shake the feeling that there is potential to these dual screen/foldable devices. It just hasn’t been proven to me yet. </p>

  • navarac

    22 December, 2021 - 10:54 am

    <p>I’m always intrigued with the way people insist on the best-ever camera on a phone form factor. It is also what reviewers seem to concentrate on. I know Paul Thurrott, or instance, takes up most of any phone review about the camera to almost the exclusion of the comms capabilities. It’s almost as if the device is sold as a camera with a phone as a secondary thing. Me? I get a phone as a "communication" device that has a facility for taking pictures. For serious photography, use a DSLR. All phone cameras in comparison are just "Instamatic" type snappers. – extremely useful and convenient, but not serious instruments. Perhaps we should stop calling these things phones?</p><p><br></p><p>Happy Christmas/Holidays to you all.</p>

    • christianwilson

      Premium Member
      22 December, 2021 - 11:16 am

      <p>I have long thought of smartphones as pocket computers. I barely use mine as a "phone" though I do communicate a lot via messaging with it. It is funny how smartphones are more like a PDA with phone features added in instead of a phone with some PDA features added in but yet the phone description is the one that stuck.</p><p><br></p><p>The camera features on a phone have not surpassed a DSLR but most people aren’t carrying a DSLR everywhere they go. The old saying "the best camera is the one you have with you" is true. The camera used to be a nice addition to a smartphone but the feature has grown to be so useful, so popular, that the camera is now a primary function. It is a critical function that many people look for in a phone. It’s just the natural progression of things. I still have a DSLR but I rarely ever use it. Glad I have it, but it will never be my primary camera again. </p>

    • rob_segal

      Premium Member
      22 December, 2021 - 7:25 pm

      <p>For phone reviews, camera performance can be the most complicated. The communications part of a review can be simple. Does it drop calls a lot? Is the signal strength good? For cameras, there is different types of scenery, different lighting conditions, day vs night, zoom vs standard, ultra-wide, sharpness, contrast, consistency with shots, video, video stabilization, audio quality with the videos. That’s going to take up a lot of space in a review.</p>

      • navarac

        23 December, 2021 - 4:01 am

        <p>I appreciate that, Rob, however it is very rare in any review that mention is made of the phone component. It is almost a given that the ‘phone-bit’ hasn’t changed in years. Just strikes me we should be talking about a compact camera <em>with</em> a phone rather than a phone !</p>

    • wunderbar

      Premium Member
      23 December, 2021 - 1:22 pm

      <p>People care about the photo quality in phones because the vast majority of people don’t carry a dslr camera with them everywhere.</p><p><br></p><p>Yes, if you are truly serious about photography, you’ll have one. But for the ther 98% of people out there, their phone *is* their camera. So having the best possible camera in the phone formfactor is important.</p><p><br></p><p>And lets be realistic. The vast majority of people aren’t looking at a picture on anything bigger/better than an phone or tablet screen. So in most cases, a high end phone camera is more than good enough.</p>

  • crunchyfrog

    23 December, 2021 - 10:53 am

    <p>I love tech and especially clever tech that’s well thought out and shows real purpose. That said, I am still struggling with folding phones as being anything more than a solution looking for a problem.</p><p><br></p><p>I owned the original Duo for almost two months. While I liked the device overall, the more I used it the less useful it proved to be. The folding action on the Duo is not well thought out and eventually becomes too tedious to use with having to open it constantly so I resorted to just leaving it in the open folded position, not something the Duo 2 can do. So much of it felt like a compromise, I returned it before the window closed on the 60 days.</p><p><br></p><p>Now I am using a Galaxy Fold 3 and while I do really like the phone quite a lot, I still do not use the full screen very often even though it can do very useful things. The outside screen works quite well in most situations and one handed use is very functional and at the end of the day, we just need to pull the phone out to look at something and then put it back. Folding and unfolding is a two handed chore that just wears thin after the nostalgia wears off.</p>

  • Dan

    24 December, 2021 - 3:23 pm

    <p>Does the Andoid version of Carplay not work in your car?</p>

  • bbold

    27 December, 2021 - 10:43 pm

    <p>I’m still using my Surface Duo 1 and refuse to upgrade until SD1 gets Android 11 and I see that they will continue to support the previous phone, and I want to see if the upgrade would be worth it to me; I’ll probably wait until Duo 3 now. I feel your review is honest and I appreciate it. I also follow ‘scaryifliteral’ on YouTube and he has some great Duo 1 &amp; Duo 2 videos, go subscribe to him and watch. Have a great holiday!</p>

    • stephenf

      28 December, 2021 - 8:57 am

      <p>Ditto. I watch him too. Still waiting for Paul to do a review on the Duo product. Or did I miss it? Merry Christmas and happy new year!</p>

Windows Intelligence In Your Inbox

Sign up for our new free newsletter to get three time-saving tips each Friday

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Thurrott © 2023 Thurrott LLC