Late-starters to the smartphone market like Razer or Essential, despite earnest camera attempts, failed to impress potential buyers. The "new" Nokia (HMD Global) can't even recapture that old Lumia camera prowess. (On the other hand, Google proved you could do a lot with one camera and good computational AI.)
Related to this, I simply don't care if the upcoming Surface Duo's camera is not amazing. Why? That's the life of the early adopter.
Early adoption, and the sacrifice to move forward
Technology, for most people, is supposed to be about win-win situations. You don't give up much to move forward. By the time you commit to the thing, the pricing is normalized, and the kinks are all worked out.
You buy it, it works, you don't think much about it, and civilization advances.
Take, for example, TVs. The first 65-inch 4K TV went on sale in 2014 for $10,000. Today? You can get one on Black Friday for $279.99.
The first 8K TV (88-inch) went on sale in 2019 for $42,200. How many years from now will we be buying those for less than $300 – three, five?
The same goes for expensive electric cars, and at first, we had only a few destination recharge stations. That has all changed in 2020 as prices keep dropping, and there are now nearly 16,000 Tesla Super Chargers.
Back in 2005, right as the super-thin Motorola Razr was hitting mainstream success, I got a big, bulky Palm Treo 650. The Treo 650 weighed 179 grams — nearly twice that of the Razer v3 — and it had 100 percent worse battery life. It also didn't look so hot in a front pocket. Hello, belt holster!
Are these examples of products only purchased by early adopters who were dumb and bad with money? Maybe. But the more significant point is without them, those technologies don't move forward.
Surface Duo takes two steps forward, one step back
When it comes to the Surface Duo, the potential promise is clear: a new way to work while mobile.
The idea behind information management and having multiple displays is not lost on anyone who works in an office. For many years, I worked with three screens on my desktop because it made it easier to manage the Windows Central team (via Slack), work on my content (Word, web), and never miss social (Twitter, email).
Using three displays was so compelling, I hated working on laptops; I couldn't wrap my head around moving from three 27-inch displays to one 13-inch one.
That's the promise of Surface Duo. It's not just a "cool" device. Having dual displays where we can have a Skype call on one side and a document or PowerPoint on the other is valuable. Being able to manage email with the list on one screen and open emails on the other is more efficient. The ability to flip the phone into landscape to type while having a full display on top brings back why, for years, we all loved slider smartphones.
And yeah, the older I get, the more I care about making stuff rather than consuming it. I don't listen to podcasts, read a lot of reviews, or watch what content others are making — I'm too busy trying to make own. I need hardware that facilitates that.
I've always been interested in technology that lets me do something new. (As a teenager with a pager back in '95, everyone thought I was a drug dealer.) But early on, all new technologies have had trade-offs.
The first cell phone was $4,000, had 30-minutes of talk time, and basically worked nowhere. The first iPhone? It didn't even have an app platform, let alone apps, by design.
The original Surface was slow, ran too hot, had lousy battery life, and it wasn't a great tablet. Windows Phone had missing apps forever. The amazing new Surface Pro X can't run 64-bit apps. The Treo 650 had to be charged every day versus twice a week for the Razr, and PalmOS was notoriously crashtastic.
I stuck with those technologies not because I love agony, but because those devices let me do things other ones could not. A part of me advanced by using them. Because of that, I'll always defend and proselytize new tech.
An investment in the future
The Surface Duo is the first of a new category device. It's what a smartphone would look like if making phone calls wasn't the essential feature. There are a lot of unknowns including whether it will be any good. That's the fun part.
But if using the Surface Duo gives me a new capability, lets me do my job more efficiently, and is just fun to use, I can give up that camera. That doesn't mean you have to, and that's OK.
In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to make a sacrifice. But I'm an early adopter; that's our albatross. All technology starts as two-steps forward, one step back. Every piece of tech you have was likely terrible at first. It didn't get better because no one bought it. That happened because a few people took the risk early on to help the rest move forward. You're welcome.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.