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

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It’s exceedingly uncommon {that a} product truly 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. The truth is, the Duo 2 has improved a lot that it’s now considered one of my favourite cellular gadgets, even when it’s nonetheless bizarre and distinctive sufficient that I can’t precisely suggest it to most individuals.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Floor Duo 2 is a folding telephone 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 possibly can simply run two apps aspect by aspect as if you happen to have been holding two telephones on the identical time, or you’ll be able to span a single app throughout each screens to imitate a small pill. Each halves of the telephone are skinny sufficient that it will probably fold collectively like a guide and match right into a pocket with relative ease. Pair it with Microsoft’s Floor Slim Pen 2, and you’ve got a transportable digital pocket book that may work simply as properly for note-taking, studying an e book, or drafting an e-mail.

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

A person writing on the Surface Duo 2’s left screen with the Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2 while reading a website displayed on the right screen.

The Floor Duo 2 doesn’t actually work properly as a telephone, however could be a very helpful pocket laptop.

However, remarkably, Microsoft has not given up on the Duo 2. The truth is, the corporate has constantly issued software program updates on a month-to-month foundation to handle the numerous issues the Duo 2 had at launch. A few of these updates consisted of straightforward safety patches and small bug fixes, whereas others, just like the current June replace, included extra vital corrections and added new options. Crucially, Microsoft has addressed the contact latency issues that have been prevalent at launch and made it very tough to sort on the Duo 2’s digital keyboard — and even navigate the interface.

Figuring out that Microsoft has been attending to a lot of my unique complaints with the Duo 2, I took benefit of a current value lower (the telephone can now be had for $1,000, which continues to be costly however considerably lower than its launch value) and a beneficiant trade-in supply and purchased considered one of my very own. The purpose was to see if I may get a greater thought of what Microsoft is attempting to perform with this system when show-stopping bugs aren’t standing in its means.

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

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

Studying Kindle books stays among the best experiences on the Duo 2.

The Pocket Android app display 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 supply a extra book-like expertise than another system. I’ve managed my inbox and calendar on the identical 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 don’t even discover the slight hole anymore. There’s one thing undeniably satisfying about finishing a activity on the Duo 2 after which folding it closed like a guide and slipping it into my pocket.

The Duo 2 has not changed my major smartphone as a result of I take advantage of them for various duties: messaging, calls, photographs, good house management, music, and cellular funds on my iPhone; studying, multitasking, note-taking, and YouTube on the Duo 2. I’ve but to truly take a name on the Duo 2 as a result of, except you utilize wi-fi earbuds, it’s horribly awkward to take action. Principally, I’ve used the Duo 2 precisely how I’d use an iPad Mini, besides it folds in half and matches in my pocket. It’s not even correct to name this system a “telephone” based mostly on how I take advantage of it. (Microsoft tried to place the unique Floor Duo as one thing aside from a telephone at its launch however moved away from that advertising and marketing with the Duo 2.)

Microsoft has made the Duo 2’s digicam app sooner and extra responsive, however I’ve by no means used it for taking photographs. It’s simply too awkward for taking photographs, and I’ve my iPhone for that anyway. The truth is, I’d want it if the ungainly rear hump and its digicam have been gone fully and the Duo 2 maintained the sleeker traces and skill to fold flat in opposition to itself that the primary Duo had.

Apart from being an ungainly digicam, there are different issues concerning the Duo 2’s design that make it difficult to make use of as a major telephone. There’s no fast method to test notifications or do one thing one-handed — you have to open up the system to make use of it. (The current 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 system than slab telephones that may be simply unlocked and used one-handed whenever you wish to kill a while in line on the grocery retailer. Samsung’s Z Fold 3 is a significantly better single system to interchange each a telephone and a pill just because you’ll be able to nonetheless use it when it’s folded closed.

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

The Duo 2’s kind issue makes it tough 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 also be removed from a sturdy system. Although I haven’t had something break within the month-plus I’ve been utilizing it once more, it lacks each water and mud resistance, so that you don’t wish to get it moist. Its design makes it extraordinarily onerous to place a case on and keep the flexibleness of the hinge. (I’ve resorted to Microsoft’s Floor Pen charging cowl and bumper together with a Dbrand pores and skin.) Despite the fact that it’s folded closed once I’m not utilizing it, it’s not one thing I’d simply toss in a pocket with keys and free change for worry one thing will get jammed within the hinge.

The software program additionally has loads of room for enchancment. Apart from the Kindle app and Google Play Books, the one apps that may actually work properly 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 instances when an app or hyperlink opens on the other display screen from what I’m anticipating or a gesture to full-screen an app fails. Pen enter in something aside from Microsoft’s personal apps continues to be awful. I don’t suppose I’ve ever truly used the drag-and-drop function as a result of it’s supported in so few apps that it’s not value remembering it exists.

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

All of that’s to say that, regardless of the updates and bug fixes, the Duo 2 continues to be not going to be a telephone for everybody and even most individuals. It’s finest suited as a secondary system for particular duties, very like how an iPad or pill is secondary to your smartphone. Even with the current value lower, it’s nonetheless dearer than an iPad or different small pill. It’s solely ideally suited for individuals who will admire the power to take it on the go extra locations, even when they’re already carrying one other telephone 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 gained’t be launching a Duo 3 this yr, as an alternative holding it for 2023. That might 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 may additionally deal with the points of the Duo design that make it tough to make use of as a major telephone (a touchscreen on the skin would go a good distance right here). Maybe it will probably work out a method to connect and cost the pen with out resorting to a goofy and costly add-on case. A current patent submitting from the corporate imagines a Duo-like system that makes use of a single panel that may fold 360 levels as an alternative of two discrete screens connected by a hinge. I’m unsure what downside that will clear up aside from eliminating the hole between the screens whenever you’re watching video, however it undoubtedly would look cool.

Both means, if Microsoft stays dedicated to the Duo kind issue and continues to iterate on it, I’ll be watching. The Duo 2 has gone from one of the crucial problematic gadgets I’ve reviewed to considered one of my favorites, and I’m curious to see the place Microsoft takes it subsequent. Within the meantime, I’ve received one other guide to complete studying.

Pictures by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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