The Surface Duo is one of the few recent examples of the new form factor in smartphones. While it shares similarities (and some use cases) with foldable phones, such as the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the option of using two different displays comes with its advantages and disadvantages. This answers the question: Is the Duo best used as a primary phone, or a secondary device to compliment an existing device?
The Surface Duo’s unique form factor made some people, including our Rhine Hager wonder whether it really should be called a phone. This is a completely different discussion that I have no desire to debate right now, but for what it’s worth, Microsoft likes to call it a “dual-screen mobile device” on the product page. The Surface Duo connects to LTE, can answer phone calls, and fits in your pocket, so many potential buyers are clearly looking at it as a replacement for their current phone.
However, some disadvantages come with the Duo’s design. The dual-screen layout completely increases productivity, as you don’t have to switch between apps to copy notifications or perform two tasks at once, but typing in extended mode without moving the device sideways (which is the keyboard’s Covers the bottom screen). Be difficult. Flipping the Duo into single-screen mode makes typing easier, but then your oil-coated hands are rubbed on the rear screen, which becomes apparent once you return to dual-screen mode. You will want to keep a microfiber cloth.
Surface Duo (left) next to the Galaxy S20 (right)
In single-screen mode, the Duo is wider and smaller than every other smartphone. Both displays on the Surface Duo are 3: 4 (in 4: 3 landscape), while most other phones are 16: 9, 18: 9 or even taller (eg 21: 9 Xperia 1 II). This means that the one-handed operation is more difficult than other phones on the Duo. It also fits the Duo in some pockets, as long as you stick to the cargo pants or carry around a small bag.
There are also ways that the Surface Duo falls behind other flagship smartphones, which is not necessarily due to the dual-screen layout. It uses last year’s Snapdragon processor, there’s no NFC for contactless payment, the screen is only 60 Hz, wireless charging is nowhere to be found, and the Duo won’t survive a full submersion. The camera is more than a mid-range Android phone that you would find on a Pixel 4 or Galaxy Note 20. Finally, the lack of an always on-display or LED light means there is no way to know if you have a new notification without opening the phone (or listening for the notification tone).
The Surface Duo can feel like a regression from your current phone, depending on what features you are used to.
If you wish, you can use the Surface Duo as your only and only phone. It runs all applications just like any other Android phone, calling and texting works fine, and it can snap occasional photos. While this may feel like a regression from your current phone, it depends on what features you are used to. I had no qualms about the lack of NFC, as Google Pay works as well as the Fosil Smartwatch I added my Duo to, but no waterproofing means that I use it to worry about hardware failures in the rain. Can do without If you have wireless chargers around your home, wired-only charging can be a significant drawback.
I think the best use case for the Surface Duo is probably as a secondary device, it complements your existing smartphone rather than replacing it outright. It gives you the versatility of two screens when you need it, and all the features of a regular smartphone, when you are more portable than a laptop or tablet. The Duo works perfectly well without an active cellular connection, and if you always want to on the Internet, many networks in the United States have a data-only plan. For example, Cricket Mobile (an AT&T MVNO) can give you 20GB data-only service or 40GB or $ 50 / mo for $ 35 / mo.
There is a good chance that future iterations of the Surface Duo will bridge the feature gap with traditional top-tier smartphones, but the current model may not be the best outright replacement for your current phone. If you are on the fence, see our full review for all the details.