Microsoft Floor Duo 2 re-review: I get it now

It is exceedingly uncommon {that a} product really will get higher months after it was launched. However Microsoft’s oft-forgotten Floor Duo 2, which launched again in October 2021 with a steep price ticket and a laundry record of bugs and points that made it very irritating to make use of, has bucked that development. In reality, the Duo 2 has improved a lot that it is now one in every of my favourite cellular gadgets, even when it is nonetheless bizarre and distinctive sufficient that I can not precisely advocate it to most individuals.

In case you’ve got forgotten, the Floor Duo 2 is a folding cellphone with two large screens joined by a hinge. Not like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3, which takes a single tablet-sized show and folds it in half to slot in your pocket, the Duo 2’s two screens make it really feel extra like two giant telephones connected collectively and working the identical software program. You may simply run two apps aspect by aspect as should you had been holding two telephones on the similar time, or you may span a single app throughout each screens to imitate a small pill. Each halves of the cellphone are skinny sufficient that it could fold collectively like a e-book and match right into a pocket with relative ease. Pair it with Microsoft’s Floor Slim Pen 2and you’ve got a transportable digital pocket book that may work simply as nicely for note-taking, studying an e book, or drafting an e-mail.

After I reviewed the Floor Duo 2 final 12 months, none of its intelligent design or book-like options mattered. The machine was successfully damaged, held again by software program bugs that made it infuriating to sort on, irritating to make use of, and finally disappointing. It was a $ 1,500 novelty that would solely enchantment to probably the most die-hard Microsoft model stooges keen to place up with its many faults so they might have the never-launched Courier machine they dreamed about over a decade in the past.

The Floor Duo 2 would not actually work nicely as a cellphone, however is usually a very helpful pocket pc.

However, remarkably, Microsoft has not given up on the Duo 2. In reality, the corporate has constantly issued software program updates on a month-to-month foundation to deal with the various issues the Duo 2 had at launch. A few of these updates consisted of easy safety patches and small bug fixes, whereas others, just like the latest June replace, included extra vital corrections and added new options. Crucially, Microsoft has addressed the contact latency issues that had been prevalent at launch and made it very troublesome to sort on the Duo 2’s digital keyboard – and even navigate the interface.

Understanding that Microsoft has been attending to lots of my authentic complaints with the Duo 2, I took benefit of a latest worth lower (the cellphone can now be had for $ 1,000, which remains to be costly however considerably lower than its launch worth) and a beneficiant trade-in provide and purchased one in every of my very own. The objective was to see if I might get a greater concept of ​​what Microsoft is attempting to perform with this machine when show-stopping bugs aren’t standing in its manner.

And reader, I can lastly say I get it. The Duo 2 is probably the most distinctive cellular machine I’ve used, permitting me to do issues I simply can’t do with a conventional smartphone. It additionally does sure issues, resembling multitasking and studying ebooks, higher than the Z Fold 3’s single giant display.

A Kindle e-book spanned across both screens of the Microsoft Surface Duo 2

Studying Kindle books stays probably the greatest experiences on the Duo 2.

The Pocket Android app displays an article on both screens of the Surface Duo 2 while it's held in portrait orientation.

Rotating the Duo 2 to portrait whereas each screens are open offers a big iPad Mini-size show for studying vertically scrolling articles or taking hand-written notes.

Previously month-plus, I’ve used the Duo 2 for studying plenty of books within the Kindle app, which takes benefit of the twin screens to offer a extra book-like expertise than another machine. I’ve managed my inbox and calendar on the similar time; I’ve edited Google Docs whereas maintaining with a Slack dialog. I’ve used the Slim Pen 2 to take hand-written notes in OneNote. I’ve learn numerous articles in my Pocket queue with the app stretched throughout each screens and the Duo 2 became a portrait orientation. I’ve watched a lot video spanned throughout each screens that I do not even discover the slight hole anymore. There’s one thing undeniably satisfying about finishing a process on the Duo 2 after which folding it closed like a e-book and slipping it into my pocket.

The Duo 2 has not changed my main smartphone as a result of I exploit them for various duties: messaging, calls, images, good dwelling management, music, and cellular funds on my iPhone; studying, multitasking, note-taking, and YouTube on the Duo 2. I’ve but to really take a name on the Duo 2 as a result of, until you employ wi-fi earbuds, it is horribly awkward to take action. Largely, I’ve used the Duo 2 precisely how I’d use an iPad Mini, besides it folds in half and suits in my pocket. It isn’t even correct to name this machine a “cellphone” primarily based on how I exploit it. (Microsoft tried to place the unique Floor Duo as one thing apart from a cellphone at its launch however moved away from that advertising and marketing with the Duo 2.)

Microsoft has made the Duo 2’s digicam app quicker and extra responsive, however I’ve by no means used it for taking images. It is simply too awkward for taking images, and I’ve my iPhone for that anyway. In reality, I would want it if the ungainly rear hump and its digicam had been gone completely and the Duo 2 maintained the sleeker traces and skill to fold flat towards itself that the first Duo had.

Other than being an ungainly digicam, there are different issues concerning the Duo 2’s design that make it difficult to make use of as a main cellphone. There is no fast method to verify notifications or do one thing one-handed – you have to open up the machine to make use of it. (The latest addition of third-party chat app notifications to the “hinge show” within the June replace doesn’t change this truth.) It’s a way more intentional machine than weak telephones that may be simply unlocked and used one-handed if you need to kill a while in line on the grocery retailer. Samsung’s Z Fold 3 is a significantly better single machine to exchange each a cellphone and a pill just because you may nonetheless use it when it is folded closed.

A black Surface Duo 2 with the Surface Pen bumper cover attached.

The Duo 2’s type issue makes it troublesome to guard from injury. I’ve resorted to utilizing the Floor Pen cowl bumper case and a vinyl pores and skin, however I nonetheless deal with it with child gloves (not pictured).

The Duo 2 can be removed from a sturdy machine. Although I have never had something break within the month-plus I have been utilizing it once more, it lacks each water and mud resistance, so you do not need to get it moist. Its design makes it extraordinarily laborious to place a case on and preserve the flexibleness of the hinge. (I’ve resorted to Microsoft’s Floor Pen charging cowl and bumper together with a Dbrand pores and skin.) Though it is folded closed once I’m not utilizing it, it is not one thing I would just toss in a pocket with keys and unfastened change for worry one thing will get jammed within the hinge.

The software program additionally has loads of room for enchancment. Other than the Kindle app and Google Play Books, the one apps that may actually work nicely spanned throughout each screens are made by Microsoft, even even supposing the Duo 2 has been available on the market for eight months now. There are nonetheless occasions when an app or hyperlink opens on the alternative display from what I am anticipating or a gesture to full-screen an app fails. Pen enter in something apart from Microsoft’s personal apps remains to be awful. I do not suppose I’ve ever really used the drag-and-drop function as a result of it is supported in so few apps that it is not value remembering it exists.

It is potential that issues will get higher with the upcoming Android 12L replacewhich is designed to enhance the experiences on folding gadgets just like the Duo 2 and Fold 3. However I believe that, even after that replace, I’ll nonetheless use most apps on a single display.

All of that’s to say that, regardless of the updates and bug fixes, the Duo 2 remains to be not going to be a cellphone for everybody and even most individuals. It is best suited as a secondary machine for particular duties, very similar to how an iPad or pill is secondary to your smartphone. Even with the latest worth lower, it is nonetheless dearer than an iPad or different small pill. It is solely splendid for individuals who will recognize the power to take it on the go extra locations, even when they’re already carrying one other cellphone of their different pocket.

A black Microsoft Surface Duo 2 closed and sitting on a placemat.

Now that lots of the bugs and points with the software program have been resolved, the Duo 2 comes nearer to fulfilling the dream of the Microsoft Courier idea from 2009.

Rumors have it that Microsoft will not be launching a Duo 3 this 12 months, as a substitute holding it for 2023. That will give it extra time to iron out points and keep away from the bug-filled launches that plagued each the unique Duo and the Duo 2. Microsoft might additionally handle the facets of the Duo design that make it troublesome to make use of as a main cellphone (a touchscreen on the surface would go a great distance right here). Maybe it could determine a method to connect and cost the pen with out resorting to a goofy and costly add-on case. AND latest patent submitting from the corporate imagines a Duo-like machine that makes use of a single panel that may fold 360 levels as a substitute of two discrete screens connected by a hinge. I am unsure what downside that may remedy apart from eliminating the hole between the screens if you’re watching video, however it will positively look cool.

Both manner, if Microsoft stays dedicated to the Duo type issue and continues to iterate on it, I will be watching. The Duo 2 has gone from some of the problematic gadgets I’ve reviewed to one in every of my favorites, and I am curious to see the place Microsoft takes it subsequent. Within the meantime, I’ve acquired one other e-book to complete studying.

Pictures by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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