Last year Microsoft introduced us to a new category of … something … called Surface Duo. Microsoft really went out of their way to convince us that the Surface Duo is neither a phone nor a tablet. Rather, it was a multitasking productivity masterpiece that provided an impressive way to work on the go. You can open multiple apps and use individual apps on both screens to increase your productivity game, even when you’re away from a computer.
But as we found in our test, the Surface Duo was pretty much a disaster from the start. It was brought down by too high a price, buggy software (believe it or not, we’re overly polite), and poor internals. Microsoft tried to control the narrative with a system of embargoes aimed at annoying consumers with the hardware so much that we paid no attention to the mediocre software assistant behind the curtain.
Microsoft finally put the duo on a fire sale in a few outlets earlier this year for just $ 400, and to be honest, it was still hard to recommend at that price. So by the time Microsoft announced a new event next week where all the signs were pointing to the premiere of a Surface Duo 2, we had given some thought to what we would want from Microsoft’s next non-phone, and we’re starting with that label.
Make it a real phone
Jeremy Kaplan / Digital Trends
This is the first item on our wish-list because if Microsoft gets this right, it’s basically the only item we need on the list. It solves 80% of the problems the Surface Duo faced over the past year. Microsoft went out of its way to convince us that the Duo is not a phone, but a productivity device that you can use on the go. I’m sorry, but I call this a “phone”.
What isn’t clear is whether the “no phone” conversation was the chicken or the egg. Did Microsoft design this thing and then realize it couldn’t blend in with the rest of the landscape and create the no-phone conversation to cover it up? Or did Microsoft approach this project with the expectation only to develop a product that lived up to this description in a spectacular way? The latter would be forgivable; the former not so much.
Downsize the screens to a more manageable size, keep the exquisite build, make it thicker so you can pick up the basics for any phone, and for the love of Pete, just sell us a phone, Microsoft.
The Surface Duo wasn’t a phone in the traditional sense. It was way too big to hold your head and talk to. As stunning as the remarkably thin and light design was, such a large device simply couldn’t be comfortably held to your ear for long periods of time. This allowed Microsoft to make other compromises on its non-phone. If it’s not a phone, you don’t need NFC or 5G or any IP rating.
Unfortunately, to Microsoft, a $ 1,400 device that fits in your pocket, accepts a SIM card, and can make and receive phone calls is by definition a phone. Additionally, you can market this as a secondary productivity device on the go, but you won’t be selling many of these. Period. Most people can barely afford a single phone in their pocket. So if you’re trying to sell a second device that can’t replace a tablet, laptop, or phone, and by the way, it costs over $ 1,000, that’s going to be a problem. So shrink the screens to a more manageable size, keep the exquisite build, make it thicker so you can pick up the basics for any phone, and just sell us a phone, Microsoft.
Make it a flagship
Of course, that doesn’t matter if the phone is a mid-range phone and you’re still trying to sell it for $ 1,400. The duo’s specs weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. The processor was a generation old, the camera was terrible, and the battery was tiny. Some of this couldn’t be changed given the extremely thin build Microsoft was working with, so some amounts need to be added.
Samsung has already proven that, given the right market conditions, people are willing to have thicker phones in their pockets as long as the screen real estate advantage is there. However, while adding a little bulk feels like a step backwards from the amazingly thin duo, it will be worthwhile to see the gains in virtually every other aspect of the phone. You don’t have to be Steve Ballmer to sell this concept.
Adding flagship specs should be easier to do in a second generation product. The duo as first generation hardware had to make some compromises as first generation hardware usually has a longer development cycle and you can only change so many internals to keep up with current technology trends. The original duo isn’t the only first generation hardware we’ve seen with less than stellar specs. But now, with a year under its belt, Microsoft had every opportunity to bring the latest and greatest into the Duo 2. Microsoft needs the Snapdragon 888, a top-notch camera sensor, and a larger battery to handle everyday-day phone tasks.
The only compromise Microsoft is allowed to make is excluding 5G, as 5G networks are not yet where they are needed for efficient communication to roll out additional towers for better coverage. Hell, I’m with T-Mobile, they have the best 5G network in America, and I still can’t get a 5G signal in my house in the suburbs of Chicago which, by the way, is also T-Mobile’s best city for 5G -Cover. So if Microsoft wants to make this compromise, it is forgivable.
Fix the software
This point goes without saying, because the software was arguably the biggest train accident that the duo has come up with. Let’s not forget that we first saw the Surface Duo in October 2019. At that time we saw demos of the software and how it should behave. In other words, that wasn’t a whole new idea in October 2019. However, when the product launched in September 2020, the software was so bad that Microsoft felt the need to work around the problem with the reviewers.
Frankly, Microsoft, it’s time to hang up or silence. This software has to work and it has to work well. I’m giving away a couple of Bugabus in there. Let’s be honest; Nobody is currently using Android this way, so there will be some edge cases that will cause problems. But by and large, the software on this device must be a finished product. There is no place for hiccups here.
do not give up
I’ll admit, this list is very broad in its definitions, but that’s mainly because the Surface Duo was a largely flawed product. The people at Microsoft tried to do something pretty cool with the Surface Duo, and they have my respect for that. But honestly, the product was too flawed to sell to anyone, let alone for $ 1,400. The problems are all easily solvable, but only if Microsoft recognized the problems early on in the production process.
And those are all issues that need to be resolved if Microsoft expects the Surface Duo 2 to be a bit more successful than its predecessor. The proximity of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold to this device in terms of form, function and price is putting Microsoft under full pressure at this point. Put simply, Microsoft is trying to change the game with the Duo, but the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is changing it even further. But this isn’t a Galaxy Fold-versus-Surface Duo piece. This is just a laundry list of items Microsoft needs to fix if it wants to play in this area. Otherwise, the Surface Duo will follow the Windows phone into the dark.