I couldn't use the Surface Duo as a phone, but it's better than any tablet

Surface Duo with Android 12L
(Image credit: Future)

Despite having started my journey in this industry covering phones, I'm just not interested in them anymore. And so, initially I dismissed the Surface Duo, no matter how impressed I found myself with its design and potential. I'm just bored with phones now. That's why I use an iPhone. Because it's boring and just does the phone things I want. 

However, I have now, finally, actually tried the Surface Duo. It's the first-gen model, so not the latest and greatest, but that's absolutely fine. I only care about horsepower on my PC. The form factor and potential use cases in my daily life are what I'm more interested in, anyway. 

I've been playing with one for just over a week now, and I'm already convinced. Not that it could be my phone, my only device. Not at all. There's no way that I, personally, could use a device like this as a phone I use to call people with and do other mundane phone things. But the Surface Duo has completely consumed me as a replacement for a tablet. And my Kindle. And now I want the Surface Neo to become a real thing again.

Two screens are better than one

Two screens gives so many more possibilities than a single one. (Image credit: Future)

I've used every sized iPad from the Mini up to the iPad Pro 12.9, and none have ever stuck. I'll use them for a while and then just get bored. Part of that is iOS, it just doesn't do what I wish could be done on larger screens. But mostly it's because even the smallest one is still quite a large thing and doesn't really feel like something I want to carry around alongside my iPhone. 

But the Surface Duo has two screens. And with that comes so many possibilities. I generally use a tablet to relax, but occasionally for more boring tasks like checking email, social media, etc. However good split screen or multi-app support has been on the iPad or the few times I've tried living with an Android tablet, having two distinct screens is just better. 

It's like using two big-screen phones at once. So using more than one app doesn't ever feel like I'm being distracted. And of course, folding it around and turning off one display means I can focus when I want to. 

It's been really awesome for watching media content, too. Daily, now, if I'm washing the dishes or eating lunch at the kitchen table, the Duo comes with me. Folding one display up to watch Netflix or YouTube without needing a case with a kickstand is more convenient than I ever thought possible. It's just nice. Really nice. 

More portable than a tablet or a Kindle

The Kindle app is a perfect use case for the Surface Duo. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The real gem of the Surface Duo is that it folds in half. And I, for one, am glad it isn't a folding display with an unsightly seam down the middle. Those things drive me crazy. 

But the Surface Duo fits in any pocket on any of my clothing. It hasn't been beaten once. I can't say the same for an iPad Mini or my Kindle. That's the other device that has been replaced by the Duo. 

I never enjoyed reading on an iPad. Or my phone. So I bought a Kindle. Naturally, it still has many advantages, but the Kindle app is properly optimized for the Duo and so you get two pages on it at a time. And you can hold it like a real book. These little details mean the Kindle has now retired to a drawer and the Surface Duo is the main reading device now. 

But it's not just a fancy e-reader. The fact it runs Android, the fact it can seamlessly run two apps side by side, is incredibly portable, and has huge screen real estate when required has been a game changer for me. I guess I really did just need to bite the bullet and try it for myself to see that. 

Now I just need one with Windows

Lenovo is already established with folding Windows PCs. (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

The Surface Neo was always interesting to me and I was really disappointed when it got canned. While that might not be happening anymore it does at least give me hope for the future to see folding devices from the likes of Lenovo and ASUS

I still think that I would personally prefer to have two separate displays over a single folding one. I'm still a little unsure about the longevity of folding displays for the length of time I traditionally like to keep a device that would cost so much, and I guess I'm going to have to get over the crease that inevitably seems to follow these things. Especially if the Surface Duo 3 is going to go down this path. 

While Microsoft may not be getting into the larger devices itself, we are in good hands it seems when it comes to getting these types of devices from others. Lenovo is already well into it, even now experimenting with rollable displays for its laptops. The ASUS folding ZenBook also looks incredible, and there's bound to be even more selection coming in the future. 

I guess using the Surface Duo finally has been a transformative experience. 

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine