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Tech Creature: Surface Duo 2 - The digital companion for a new age

Let's set some ground rules, shall we? I love my iPhone. Most iPhone users do. I hate Android. I've never found it useful, intuitive or functional enough to be a daily mobile driver. But after several months of debating, researching and ultimately talking myself out of it, I pulled the trigger and purchased a Surface Duo 2, the twin-screened mobile device from Microsoft. What I found is that it is an essential device that harkens back to one of my favorite devices from the past--the Pocket PC or Windows-powered handhelds. These devices didn't have cellular capability, and most didn't even have Wi-Fi, but in the day when laptops were a privilege shared by few and practically needed a wagon to haul around, the likes of the Compaq iPaq (beautiful device), the Casio Cassiopeia or the Dell Axim were a welcome tool for notes, emails and calendaring.

Part of reason for my hesitation in purchasing it initially were my ties to the Apple ecosystem. Dropping iPhone would introduce a difficult element with text messaging alone. So, I fixed that. I wasn't going to outright replace my iPhone with the Duo. So, when I purchased it, I added an inexpensive Mint Mobile sim for cell service. This eliminated the competition that was somewhat unfair to the Duo since this device was not intended to be a smartphone alone and I could now concentrate on whether this really was a worthy productivity device for me. Here are my top takeaways: This runs Android, but in some strange way feels like Windows Phone/mobile. It's that good. Microsoft's software on top of Android changes the game here. I didn't expect this but am very happy with it. The issues other reviewers experienced with touch/interactivity upon release seem to have been fixed. I've had zero issues in two months of use now. This is an Apple quality experience. The cameras are fine. I don't use it for that, so I don't really have an opinion on the quality. I'm easily entertained, I guess, but I love the rounded glass and the Outlook and Teams notifications on the outside of the glass when the device is closed. I use the Surface Slim Pen 2 on the Surface Pro X to create our comics and that pen works great here. I bought the Surface Pen Cover and the pen attaches very securely. I have no calms carrying it in my hand in a way I can't with an iPad with a Pencil, in comparison. The battery is fine for my use. I charge it every couple days, but I'm not on it every minute of the day like some mobile device users. I check email and takes notes randomly. I browse the web, occasionally watch videos, listen to Apple Music, etc. I occasionally use it as a hotspot, although I did have issues getting Windows 11 to connect to it. I ended up just tethering it via USB-C, but I honestly did put that much effort into troubleshooting it. It's great for digital comics via Amazon. The gap (as a result of the two screens) is not a problem for me. I love the viewing experience when the comic is spanned out across both screens. That said, nothing compares to having two apps running at the same time. I've used every combination and I keep finding new things to do at the same time. The dual app experience is better than iPad, Mac and even Windows 11. I'm not an Android user, so I'll except the Samsung and similar phones, but the experience having two apps running at the same time is leaps and bounds better than on iPad. The finger print reader to unlock the device is located on the power button. This works flawlessly for me. Save for iCloud and password sync, I have everything I have on my iPhone, Mac and Windows (on ARM, of course). I have every productivity and entertainment app via the Google Play store that I have on my iPhone. Some of them work better on this device than on the iPhone. I used the Phone Link/Link to Windows service occasionally. I wasn't sure how exactly this worked based on the descriptions I read ahead of time, but the closest I can say after using it is "remote desktop" to the Duo. Some of the apps that I tried to run were a little flakey, but the notifications, photos, etc. worked fine. I thought I would use this more than I do though. Android/Android app notifications are a nightmare. So much of these are so useless. It took a few days, but I finally got the settings tweaked to my liking and now it mostly only shows notifications for things I care about. The least impressive thing is probably the actual phone app. It does what it's supposed to do, but no grand bells and whistles. The fact that it kind of minimizes to the side is so Microsoft. I would like to use Bing instead of Google (yes, I can see you rolling your eyes), but that's nothing to complain about. I use Edge for browsing, Outlook for email, OneNote, Teams and the other Office 365 apps as needed. This is a Microsoft device to the core. Do I wish it ran Windows? Sure. But on the surface can I really tell that it doesn't? No. The device is a little pricey (I grabbed it during one of the discounts this Spring). It is, and feels like, a premium device. That feeling you get when you pick up your new iPhone--I got that feeling here. It feels premium. Not heavy, but well-constructed. This is a great device. If you want a basic smartphone only, this probably isn't for you. If you're an Apple user, this may not be for you either. I live in both ecosystems 24 x 7 and I'm an IT expert, so I can't say everything here was flawless or works as good as it should. But in the end, judging the Surface Duo 2 for what it is, for the tech it uses and the experience that you'll receive, I can't recommend it more. The Surface Duo 2 was design for productivity, mobility and premium feature experiences. If you're a Microsoft 365 user, you'll find a lot to like here. And finally, let me close with a comment on those at Microsoft that continue to innovate with the Surface line of hardware. The software is what makes these devices (like the Duo 2 and the Pro X) successful. For all the accolades that Apple receives for their hardware and software complementing each other to deliver a seamless, cohesive experience, Microsoft deserves the same. These are premium, but bleeding edge devices. I've read other reviews and continue to hear YouTubers comment on the lack of quality for these two devices in particular. They are mistaken--possibly misguided because they reviewed the device on day one and never looked at it again. My Surface Pro X is likely my most-used device. Hours of use every day. Is it 100% flawless? No. But it's far from the failure that some commenters proclaim it to be. (BTW, I still say ARM is the future. Apple, what do you think?) I will end with the same sentiment I had all those years ago with the first Pocket PC's I owned: Kudos to those that make these devices a reality and I look forward to what's next!

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