I’ve unboxed the Microsoft Surface Duo 2, I’ve migrated my data, now it’s time for this team iPhone stalwart to put the shiny new dual screen device through its paces! I want to see if Microsoft’s latest innovation can keep up with my busy hybrid work practices and home life. Where can it outdo Apple, and where can it be improved?
One of the first things most of us do with a new toy or in this case an essential business device is to send a text message. The first thing I noticed was that the Google Messages app spans across both screens but, because it is not optimised for the dual screen, it loses a few characters in the middle. Fortunately, one of my colleagues had recommended an app called Your Phone Companion, which not only solves the issue, but also lends some handy functionality. A big plus is that the mountain of notifications I get daily are easier to view and manage on the dual screen.
I’m fortunate enough to have the ability to work flexibly, and I don’t take it for granted. My work time is often divided between home, office, and client sites, so it is safe to say I spend a fair bit of time in the car. That meant reacquainting myself with Android Auto, an app that I hadn’t loved all that much during my previous flirtation with Android. Although I must admit, it has definitely improved since the last time I last used it, but there are still some issues, such as a navigation bar that obscures a section of the screen.
Nowadays, I handle most of my work-life on Microsoft Teams, and Android Auto is lacking here; the app will read out messages, and I could use Google Assistant to respond, but this would be clunky. Personally, I find CarPlay and Microsoft Teams to be a better combination as it allows me to call the sender instead. I also struggled to find a way to compose and respond to SMS touch-free, even though this is possible on other Android phones. You can, however, listen to emails, which is a useful addition, and hopefully that ease of calling and texting hands-free is something that will be addressed in future versions of Android Auto.
Google Maps, though, does work just as well as CarPlay, and I also found that zipping between music and podcasts was simple. Colleagues tell me that apps like Scribd and Audiobooks are also easy to navigate when you need to keep the kids quiet on a long journey, but personally I think I’ll stick with my tunes for now.
If you like to hit the gym, you’ll likely be accustomed to tracking steps, pace, heart rate etc. on your Apple Watch to measure your workouts. One of the advantages of the Surface Duo 2 is that it opens you up to a wider range of wearable technology. All of them will cover these basics, with some offering specialised capabilities for swimmers, triathletes, or any other sporting passion.
Whether I’m putting in some time on the treadmill, or chilling at a café, entertainment and social media are essential on my device. It is good to be able to watch new YouTube content from a favourite at the same time as checking in on family and friends on the other screen (or, okay, catching up on the latest MAFS gossip). It is also easier to use those moments of downtime, while waiting for others to join a meeting on Microsoft Teams, to add a few items to my shopping list. It did take a while to get the knack of handling the dual screens while lying on the sofa, but it was worth putting in the practice to achieve a greater level of multi-tasking.
There is a lot of screen real estate, and I didn’t find I noticed the few extra grams in weight this required. At 90Hz, they are vibrant, and I found them very responsive. The Surface Duo 2 allows you to create app groups, so that apps are paired, and launched one onto each screen. This is where you really feel the device is built for multi-tasking. For me, having LinkedIn and Facebook at the same time just doubles the goodness of my social hit. You can even turn the device into portrait mode, which is handy for browsing web pages and reading Word documents without the frustrating scrolling involved with smaller screen real estate. A simple swipe upwards will convert the app to span both screens. You do have to watch for losing a little text in that screen curvature, though, and it would be good to see a specific Microsoft Edge setting designed to prevent this.
All that multi-tasking is great for getting more done, and this has clearly been a focus for Microsoft. My favourite Microsoft apps like Edge, OneNote, Calendar, Outlook, Teams, OneDrive, and of course, Office, are terrific on the Surface Duo 2. For example, I found that when I put Calendar and Outlook in a single app group, I could see my daily schedule, plus all four email accounts at once. This was so good that I found I didn’t have to pull out my laptop so often.
Given the more blurred lines between work and life as a hybrid worker, the Surface Duo 2 made it easy to head out with just the smaller device when needed, and still check off a few tasks when I had a few spare minutes. I’m not saying I’m prone to a few extra typos creeping in when I message on an iPhone, but I sure did appreciate the ability to use the entirety of one screen as a keyboard for sending messages more than a sentence long. A nice addition for working on the go was the ability to pair a Microsoft Wedge keyboard, though the on-screen keyboard is enough for most purposes.
If you haven’t already learned to love OneNote, the Surface Duo 2 will change that. This is the app I use for handwritten notes, recordings, and random snippets of information, all easily linked to Teams. The thing was, using OneNote used to mean pulling out my laptop and waiting for it to boot up, by which time, sometimes I had lost my train of thought. Who knows how many brilliant ideas were lost? Using my Surface Slim Pen on the Surface Duo 2 means that thoughts can be captured in moments, making it a star performer.
The developers have done some sterling work on optimising Microsoft Teams for the Surface Duo 2, and if anything, it is an even better experience than on the laptop, because it is so easy to switch between tenancies. As Microsoft Office is integrated, it is easy to share or send content from the share tray. The device is designed to use on the table as easily as in your hands, in stage mode or tent mode, and you can adjust to make sure you get your best angle on video meetings. Android doesn’t – yet – offer presenter mode in Microsoft Teams, which I didn’t especially miss. New functionality, including Room Remote, is coming soon. If you’re a Microsoft Teams player, this is the absolute standout on the Surface Duo 2.
My camera use is pretty simple. I take the occasional scenic pic or selfie for social media, but I am definitely not planning on living off my good looks as an Instagram star any time soon. I do, though, take pictures and video for customer projects that I need to upload into Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Teams, so that integration is more important to me. That said, the very slight lead on resolution that the iPhone offers is not something that is a deal-breaker to most users.
The dual screens do let you overlay the app across both screens, so you can see and even edit the pictures you take on one side while still having the camera active on the other. If you’re at an event where the action happens fast, you are less likely to miss that perfect shot. At the moment, the photo taking function is solely on the right-hand screen, and it would be good to have the choice between the two, though that might be just a matter of what I am used to.
All that extra real estate is, let’s face it, fantastic, but does that make the Surface Duo 2 less portable? It is a bit bigger than other phones I have carried, sitting somewhere between a two-in-one tablet and a smartphone. The addition of the Surface Slim Pen was so good, I found myself also carrying that with me. The pen can be magnetically mounted, but it would easily become separated, so the combination sits better in a small bag. Men’s clothes tend to have larger pockets, so they may find the device easier to accommodate – hint to fashion designers, women love pockets too! For me, though, the trade-off for the extra dual screen value and Microsoft 365 functionality was worth it, and I will use it as an excuse to buy a new handbag (or two).
As I work through the coming weeks with the Surface Duo 2, I will be tracking how I adapt to using this innovative device. Catch up with me as I jot down some final thoughts, no doubt using the extra functionality of Microsoft OneNote to capture the on-the-go experience, and find out if I stick with Team Android for the long haul.