What’s a PC? Why I’m looking forward to Surface Duo
Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced preorders on the Surface Duo smartphone/tablet device to the whopping tune of $1,400 for the 128GB model minus any accessories. My tech Twitterfeed was split between being excited about the future and aghast at the price. I was shocked as well, but I don’t know why I was to be honest. It was probably the early-morning delirium of having woken up at 5:30am that morning and worked out before work for probably the second time in two years. I work in IT so I’m blessed with the ability to try out a wide variety of devices and even though I regularly hop between a MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iPhone, at the end of the day my iPhone is definitely my most used computing device. Its always with me and I’m using it constantly for work since I work in a position that is a mixture of system administrator and end-user support. My traditional set-up at work has been a desktop with an iPad Pro. I find the iPad Pro to be a great device for meetings because of the Apple Pencil and the screen is big enough that I can get work done on it as long as I’m content with just working on one thing at a time with maybe a sidebar app for Teams, Outlook, or iMessage. This Surface device intrigues me because at work a lot of my end users use Surfaces at this point and it really plays into the idea that since its an Android phone with Microsoft’s Your Phone app built in, its going to have some tight integration between a Windows 10 PC and Android, allowing you to easily swap between devices for stuff like Teams, OneNote, Xbox, text messages, Android apps, etc.
For me, the synergy between Apple devices, namely being able to reply to text messages in iMessage or having my documents synced over iCloud has been incredibly useful. Another selling point over the years has been the top-notch hardware mixed with a great software experience and arguably Surface devices like the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop that I deploy all the time now are like that. They do not come with any junk-ware, the hardware is top-notch, driver support has almost always been great through Windows Update, and the machines marry what people want in a laptop with ergonomic enhancements like a touchscreen, magnetic power adapter, Surface dock support (a big selling point in our offices), a great webcam (My 16” MacBook Pro feels like a potato camera next to a Windows Hello camera), etc.
I think the best thing they did with the Surface Duo is make it run Android. I loved Windows Phone, but the biggest problem was it simply did not have any apps, especially niche apps. Running Android eliminates the “App Gap” that we used to talk about so much in the Windows Phone community. Also, Microsoft has been investing in Android a few years now with great Android apps for Outlook, Teams, OneNote, and OneDrive, as well as the EXCELLENT Microsoft launcher that is highly customizable, integrates all your Microsoft365 services into your launcher, and still retains that Windows 10 Fluent design look and feel with the icons and transparency effects. If you can’t afford a Surface Duo (Or don’t want to pay that price), you can actually install the Microsoft Launcher on your Android phone and essentially have a Surface Uno (See what I did there?). Furthermore, the YourPhone app brings one of the best features of a Mac to Window: text messaging on your laptop or desktop as well as the ability to pull photos directly from the phone in question and if you have a Samsung phone you can also mirror your Android phone apps on your Windows 10 computer. Sounds silly, but I really like the idea that you can simply run and touch phone apps projected from your screen. I’m also excited that Microsoft appears to be working with Google and other software developers to really make the expand dual-screen Android app experience work well. All of the Office365 apps like Outlook, Teams, Office, OneDrive, etc. all support this two screen view, but I was impressed to see that Kindle is going to support at at launch because, might I say, a big book nerd the idea of having a phone that lets me pretend I have a small pocketbook with me at all time is fantastic. Also, the thing that gives me the most confidence about this new form factor is that this is an officially supported form factor by Google. Microsoft is not doing anything weird to Android to make this work so I have hope that other OEMs will follow Microsoft’s lead and introduce more form factors like this and Android app developers will invest more development time in supporting tablet applications.
I’m also excited about the Surface Pen support on the Duo. I really love Windows Ink support in Microsoft Office apps like Word and Excel and I am a big proponent of OneNote in the office and classroom. I’ve wanted an iPhone for years with an Apple Pencil where I can simply pull it out of my pocket, scribble a hand-written note, and put it away. All the time at work I end up taking a photo on my iPad or iPhone, and then using the iPad Pro’s markup support with the Apple Pencil to hand write notes or doodles on top of photos for others. Sometimes a doodle is worth a thousand Helpdesk ticket notes and it saves me a bunch of time. Heck, today I did purchase card reconciliations (A process of identifying and explaining why I purchased what I did for work…as somebody who works in IT I order a LOT of gear) and used the Apple Pencil to mark up PDFs that I printed to my desktop on my MacBook Pro. I would love to be able to do that on my iPhone. We just moved my college to a digital-only workflow for a lot of our paperwork now with COVID. Microsoft showing off Adobe Acrobat on the Surface Duo was boring for most people, but it made me really excited because handling documents is something that I do more than I wish and ANYTHING that makes that easier for me so I can get back to my primary job functions is super desirable.
Xbox xCloud support is also really appealing to me as well. I love the idea of having an Xbox controller in my book bag at work that I could pull out and maybe pick up a game of Dead Cells or another game on my lunch break. I’m not super into mobile games beyond Pokémon Go so the idea of being to just have an Xbox controller in my book bag to play games from my phone and eventually Windows 10 PC sounds borderline magical.
The Surface Duo feels like the first device from Microsoft in a long time that marries all of their experiences together with the apps that people want on a smartphone. Yeah, it’s SUPER experience, but I think this computer is really for the fans that want to really live that Microsoft life that they always wanted. Its paying to play with the future of technology TODAY, like 2020, not 2021 or 2020 when folding screens get super cheap. If you want a more reasonable software experience just get any Android phone and install the Microsoft Launcher on it and YourPhone app. That gives you 75% of the Surface Duo experience. Is that extra 25% worth it? I think for some people it will be. If you live and die by Microsoft365, namely OneNote, Teams, Outlook, etc and love your Xbox Game Pass subscription I think that this is going to be a great device. Yes, its a really expensive phone, but in 2020 smartphones are most people’s primary computing device. The Apple ad that has been mocked endlessly called “What’s a Computer?” I think is a good metaphor for the Surface Duo. What is a computer? Its several things, its smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, hybrids, convertibles, the cloud, etc. I think the Surface Duo is Microsoft growing up as a company and acknowledging the market’s realities around mobile devices and doing their best to make their strong suite: cloud and productivity software with a touch of gaming, available in the nicest form factor they can for fans. Surface Uno is going to be the present for most people, most people have single-screen phones that do not fold out, Surface Duo is starting to play with that future that foldable screens help us replace tablets for a lot of people and that’s okay. I’m excited about the Surface Duo and I cannot wait to get my hands on one.