I was lucky enough to get my hands to Surface Duo device for a month. Surface Duo is a dual-screen mobile “phone” that can also be called a Modern Work Productivity Device. There has been quite a many of reviews of the device in the social for some time so I don’t dive into phone side. Let’s just say that I did not replace my OnePlus 8 Pro with this loan device. Instead my goal was to use Surface Duo as a Teams / Productivity device/tablet. As in work use.
Of course if you have two devices in use it will eventually getting more confused than clear. That is one reason I positioned Surface Duo like a smaller tablet that can be used in various ways. I did not install any of my personal apps to it, so I was able to enjoy a very smooth experience and good performance. The drawback was of course that I ended up using it a lot less (you always have your mobile phone with you…). However on phone-side the biggest gaps were cameras and the lack of NFC. I pay quite often with mobile phone using NFC so I did not want to give that up.
Using the device with two screens take some time to learn: you need to learn those gestures (some of those were not intuitive for me). Some apps can utilize both screens very well (like Teams in some parts) and some just work on the either side.
I found out that the keyboard, when used with closed “one side only” mode, was excellently sized to my fingers. Typing hasn’t ever been easier – the wider phone makes the keyboard also wider and the size is just the right one. Typing on opened portrait version (using other screen as a keyboard) on the other hand would take more practice: like trying to write in a really small keyboard.. But then when you open Surface Duo like a book you have a really big keyboard you can use – it isn’t that bad. The result: keyboard and one screen is a win and that is the way I ended up using it.
For Teams and productivity apps I think Surface Duo gave out a really nice performance. Of course the big difference to my usual phone (OnePlus 8 Pro) is that I didn’t install all that load of apps there I have usually running. With relatively light load on apps (=work use) the device held it battery quite nicely and it was a great user experience on performance part. Jumping between apps, switching an account in Teams, making a tenant switch was really smooth.
Microsoft Teams and Surface Duo
This is the area I focused the most. How one can benefit from Duo with Teams. I found my experience very positive, although there are some quirks still that Microsoft needs to fix and weed out. But the main thing: meetings was a nice experience. The other screen can be used for notes or can open other apps there while in the meeting. What is important to note that Surface Duo has only one camera – it doesn’t give you much choices how you want to join the meeting if you are going to use the camera. Audio, mic and all that was a solid experience – I had no complaints or issues with it.
I think I would be using Duo a lot more to meetings if I had that device for longer time so it would feel “own”. It it easy to take the meeting on the go or going to outside and you can quite well control meeting options during the meeting. It would also be awesome if it had eSIM so it would be easy to set up for mobile data. But for this test period I didn’t get a new data subscription so I relied on Wifi connections only.
You can also access participant settings during the meeting. And since disable attendee camera just rolled out it is quite easy to control that when at meeting using Surface Duo.
Something to watch out is that don’t put your finger(s) close to upper left side near camera. The screen turns black for some reason when the device is sensing user is trying to do something.
Thinking about the hybrid worklife we are entering now, it would be nice to have a light-weight device like Duo to ensure you have a meeting experience – a lot better than just using a one-screened device ( or using Duo with one screen). The difference: placing Duo on table and using meeting chat during the meeting.
Teams experience on Duo is very close to standard mobile Teams experience – with a few enhancements. The meetings can utilize two screens the best way, but on other areas there is room for improvement. It would be great to see meetings video on one screen and channel conversation/apps on the other one. While in the meeting jumping to Teams itself isn’t unfortunately possible. You can use meeting chat (& other meeting features) and see the meeting at the same time – that is a big bonus of course.
What works really nice is that you can browse your teams through on one screen and you can see channel conversation/side on the other screen. This is a lot better experience than what you get on a single screen device where you always have to travel back to teams and then dive into a channel.
Some applications work really nicely with Duo and split their content to both screen.
Then some apps just assume it is a one large screen and the hinge makes a nasty line between screens.
So in reality most apps work only on a single screen – meetings is one those rare examples that can utilize both screens. What I really hoped is that I would be using Teams on one screen while I have one Teams app open on the other one. That is unfortunately not possible. At least not yet. Sometimes a dialogue can appear on the right screen but otherwise using apps in a single screen here – while Teams is on both – is waste of estate. It is better to move Teams to one page and open a other app to other one.
Productivity device or not? Conclusion.
Ability to use two applications at once just rocks. Thinking about those cases when you get an email (!gasp, it happens!) and you want to add something to your notes, to your todo or to Teams. Or opening your line of business apps in Teams (or perhaps they are separate apps) while doing a call with the customer. Being in a meeting and using Whiteboard or OneNote app at the same time for notes. And yes, your Dataverse for Teams apps work in mobile Teams as well. As do new emojis. Teams mobile support is getting better and better all the time.
I would not buy one with my own money – it is way too expensive for a tablet – but I can see it would have a great role as managed modern work device. The ability to close and open it helps to carry it around (smaller), using in one hand (one screen open) or opening it wide for calls, notes and apps for work. As a personal mobile phone it is too limited due to lack of features (to me, that is) but as a device to help with hybrid work, meetings, jumping between tenants and using it as a second screen can be really useful.
In my use I position Surface Duo as a “work tablet” than can be extended to various other scenarios. Some frontline workers might be using it – especially in stores or hospitals or other similar locations – but not all. The cost is one obvious thing. Sometimes a good enough tablet gets the job done just as well – with a lot less cost.
To me, and probably to other power users, Surface Duo is a productivity device that helps to lighten the load (no need to have your laptop everywhere) when you go between places. You can use it more versatilely than your “standard” mobile phone. It might not fit all pockets, but at least you don’t need to have a backpack. Once traveling continues I know I would love to have one instead of a large tablet – it would make easier to continue work while on airport or in the plane.
Surface Duo is a great piece of tech. It has room for improvement if it intends to become the main mobile device (for me at least) but purely to worklife: I think we will see some more usage and features coming in Teams that will support both screens better.
One month is too short a time to experiment fully with this one. It was great to to be able to try one out! Thank you Microsoft Finland for arranging this! The only sadness is that I have to part my ways now with the Duo.