Of Two Minds: the Surface Duo

It has been such a long time since I’d been excited. So many years since discovering Linux and compiling from Slackware floppies. So long ago since the first iPhone. A decade since I’d last seriously used Android.

I thought my employer (full disclosure, but nothing to do with my work) was going to bring me the spice. A mobile that used two screens. Sexy thin slabs working together. It’s been a week. I have conceded disappointment.

Initially, the first challenge was acknowledged and addressed. I have been deep in the Apple ecosystem for years. I took a brief foray to Droidland back in 2010. So turn off iMessenger and Facetime. Buy special software to move message history. Prepare for edge case weirdness. Check.

It is a new form factor. It is a first for Microsoft to build directly for Android. Expect bugs. Check.

I just could not stay with it.

First the good. What a sexy hardware setup! Wow! Very thin. Very sleek. Elicited comment from strangers with masks. The dual screen concept seems like it will be useful. I’m on vacation this week so I’m avoiding real work, but I can see it, I guess.

In practical terms, the dual screens are a bit pointless. Only in Kindle reading do they make any sense. And even there one has to ask if it really helps. Launching a link and having it render on the other screen is cool. I like it. Enough?

The navigation took some getting used to. I’m a long way from my Droid reflexes, but even so, strange behaviors. And the fit and finish of the apps on Droid were startling in comparison with what I expect from iOS.

And then there are the missing apps or functionality. Having one gone but another to replace, I expected. But in the choices I see major independent software vendors (ISV) make, I see indications that they know the money is with the iOS users. Frustrating the functions I missed.

When speaking of that which I didn’t expect to feel so hard, we must discuss the camera. I thought, meh, when I’m serious I shoot raw with my Canon SLR. But really, putting aside the surprisingly mediocre JPEG processing from raw, the mechanics to get the camera to function were ridiculous.


I said it.

It was ridiculous.

I’d open the book, launch the camera, flip the book fully open. The viewfinder was looking at the subject. Double-tap the screen to flip this side. Nothing. Open the book again. Move the camera. Flip book backward closed. Point at subject. Still nothing.

The light has gone and I still don’t have a shot. And when I got lucky, the quality is suspect if not outright horrifying.

By contrast, I took a quick shot with my iPhone 11 Max this morning and it was amazing. Took seconds.

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Photo by the author from the hotel at Lake Tahoe during the 2020 fires.

It wasn’t the camera that broke the back. It was the keyboard. Again, perhaps more Droid than Duo, but even so, it was a major frustration that the keyboard was not responsive and when I tried audio dictation it was a shambles.

So, I’ve sadly retreated from what I thought would give me access to phone and messages on my Windows Surface Pro. I was so full of excitement for the sexy hardware and the integration with work. I can only say that I’m thrilled to have had time this week to live through the disappointment without the press of serious obligations.

I will ship it back. Sadly.

Originally posted 15 September 2020 to Medium.

What do you think?