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With the introduction of Office 365 Home Premium last year, Microsoft radically changed the way it delivers Office to consumers. Instead of just offering an Office suite that includes a varied number of applications priced anywhere from $140-$400, the software maker wagered you’d pay $100 per year to get access to all of the Office apps and the right to install them on up to 5 PCs, plus extra Skype minutes and OneDrive storage.
The addition of Skype and OneDrive isn’t just a frill. Driven by competition from Google Apps, Microsoft’s new approach to Office focuses on making your documents available to you everywhere and facilitating easy collaboration and file sharing.
So now that we’re one year into this new era of Microsoft Office, how is the suite doing? How well do the desktop, Web, and mobile apps work together to keep you productive no matter where you are?
To find out, we adjusted our workflow to rely solely on Office 2013, Office Online and Office Mobile for Android (Office 365 Home Premium subscription required). Here’s how we found the current state of Office collaboration for working together in real time, maintaining a canonical version of your collaborative document, and editing files on the go.Simple sharing and live collaboration
The last time we looked at live collaboration in Office, we said that Microsoft wanted to “empower people to collaborate on documents, but its new Office suites don’t make things easy.”
Little has changed on this front, although there has been one major improvement. Microsoft’s Web apps, recently renamed Office Online, now feature live typing. If both you and your fellow editors are working on a document together, you will see document changes as they happen.
Office 2013 can show you who else is editing the document in real time.
Live collaboration on the desktop, however, is trickier. The main problem is that while Office 2013 desktop apps connect to the cloud, their collaboration features don’t behave the same way as the Web-based applications do.
When you start collaborating from the desktop, a pop-up notification appears at the bottom of the app to alert you that someone else is editing the document. But in our tests in Word, Excel, and OneNote, several minutes passed before the desktop user received the notification. In some cases, changes to the document were available before we were notified that another person was editing the document.
It’s understandable how Microsoft may have come to this decision. Without the cue of live typing, edits that automatically appeared on the desktop app after a save could quickly become confusing. The end result, however, is you have to integrate separate steps into your workflow to send and receive changes to a document during collaboration.
Once you receive changes, they are highlighted so that you can easily see what was added by another editor.
Initiating a chat inside Office Online is not intuitive.
Another not-so-obvious issue for both Office Online and the desktop is that you can’t chat with a collaborator unless they are already added to your Skype contacts. You would think that simultaneously editing the same document implies the need to have a discussion, but that’s not the way it works.
Microsoft’s Web-based chat component doesn’t have chime notifications to let you know someone has messaged you. Without an audio cue, you’ll have to keep your eye on any collaborative browser tabs you have open so you don’t miss out on important communications.
Comments in Office 2013 have the best layout yet.Office on Android
The biggest change to Office over the past year was the introduction of apps for Android phones and iPhones. (The iOS version will install on an iPad, but Android tablet users are out of luck.)
Office mobile apps are great for quick edits and monitoring changes on the go.
Tracked changes are a glaring omission from Office mobile. You also won’t be able to differentiate between each editor’s contributions on a collaborative document the way you can on the desktop or Web app.Web apps
The assumption with Office Online is that the apps are deliberately hobbled so they don’t undermine the company’s desktop business. That may be true, but Microsoft has the fundamentals covered with its Web apps and has slowly been incorporating new features.
Microsoft’s Office Online covers the basics, but will leave power users wanting more.
More so than any other version of Office, Office 2013 and the new Office 365 service try to try to make collaborating with colleagues a simple, seamless experience. It’s moved closer to that goal thanks to gradual improvements to the Web apps and the addition of mobile versions of Office for Android and iOS. Unfortunately, features like chatting and live editing are often unwieldy. Until Microsoft can work out these and other idiosyncrasies, it will be hard to take Office seriously as a collaboration contender.
You're reading One Year Later, Microsoft Office’s Collaboration Tools Are Still A Work In Progress
Zarif Ali / Android Authority
At Android Authority, we cover a lot of phones, and in 2023, we saw a large variety of devices that were extremely competitive in the flagship arena, with the Xiaomi Mi 11 among those devices. In our original review, we stated that the Mi 11 had “the right price and the right specs to compete with the current crop of flagships in the market.” Of course, that was way back in February 2023.
Now, just shy of a year later, let’s see what’s good and what’s not so good about Xiaomi’s affordable flagship as we revisit and reevaluate the Mi 11.
Check out: The original Android Authority Mi 11 review
Zarif Ali / Android Authority
The display on the Mi 11 is beautiful and surpasses many of the other devices within its price point. The Mi 11 has a 6.81-inch WQHD+ AMOLED panel that supports 120Hz and can go all the way up to 1,500 nits of brightness. The best part: you can enable its high refresh rate and higher resolution at the same time.
Related: These are the best Xiaomi phones you can buy
It’s worth mentioning the screen is curved, but not how you’d typically expect. Instead of just curving over the sides, the Mi 11’s screen slightly curves over the top and bottom as well, which has the side benefit of making all four sides of the screen’s bezels the smallest they can be. With its resolution, refresh rate, and extremely thin bezels, the Mi 11’s display is still one of the best affordable flagships for media consumption.
Performance and charging
Zarif Ali / Android Authority
Equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128 or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, there’s no question that the Xiaomi Mi 11 can hang like a true flagship, even a year on. In day-to-day usage, the Mi 11 has little to no hiccups running apps and games. Throw in a 120Hz panel and 480Hz touch sampling and you’re not going to miss a beat with this device.
The Xiaomi Mi 11 can hang like a true flagship, even a year on.
While we’re on the topic of fast things, the Mi 11 supports 55W wired charging and 50W wireless charging. Unlike many top phones today, this phone actually ships with a power adapter in the box, so you’ll be able to get those ridiculously fast charging speeds from day one. In terms of actual battery life, it’s nothing too impressive. With the stock display settings of FHD+ and at 60Hz, you’ll make it through a full day of usage, but as soon as you bump it up to the WQHD+ and 120Hz, you’ll definitely need to charge closer to the evening.
Zarif Ali / Android Authority
The Xiaomi Mi 11’s camera module sports a main wide, an ultrawide, and a telemacro. On paper, this looks to be a flagship-level setup, especially with a 108MP main sensor and video recording available up to 8K at 30fps, but in execution, the camera on the Mi 11 is a mixed bag.
I want to be clear here, the camera on Mi 11 isn’t bad by any means, it’s simply just not on par with other flagships at this price point. The main sensor pulls some very pleasing results, and the 12MP ultrawide can produce some decent shots in the right conditions. When it comes to the telemacro lens, however, it feels like a waste of space, especially because the quality out of its 5MP sensor doesn’t yield anything extraordinary. Its lens has a narrow field of focus that results in large subjects being partly out of focus, while the image overall looks mushy.
Check out: The best camera phones you can get
Here are couple of samples from the Mi 11’s camera system:
My biggest gripe with the whole camera experience on the Mi 11 was its handling of skin tones. The device can shoot great photos of people in proper lighting, but it misses the mark with color accuracy that makes skin look a bit unnatural. Paired with the phone’s beautification and skin smoothing, the final result can look overprocessed.
As you can see, none of these pictures are inherently “bad” by any means, but when looking at similarly priced phones like the Pixel 6, Samsung’s Galaxy S21, and the iPhone 13 series, the Xiaomi Mi 11 can’t consistently keep up with those phones in terms of image quality, color accuracy, and sharpness.
Xiaomi Mi 11
One cool customer, but is it a Galaxy S21 killer?
Xiaomi has created a compelling phone in the Mi 11. It has the right price and the right specs to compete with the current crop of flagships in the market.
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We awarded the Google Pixel 5a 4.5/5 stars and it holds Recommended status in our official review. At the time, we noted that the phone was a great and unassuming phone that just worked without costing a fortune. On the flip side, we also felt its processor and cameras were starting to age even at release. A year later, most of these points remain unchanged.
When we first reviewed the Pixel 5a we immediately fell in love with the massive battery. Our reviewer found he could easily get up to two days of use without needing to charge the phone up. A year later, my experiences are pretty similar.
What makes the Pixel 5a’s battery life so fantastic is twofold. First, the 4,680mAh battery is bigger than most reasonably-sized flagships out there, including the Pixel 6 with its 4,614mAh battery. The second reason is that the mid-tier processor and 1080p display aren’t exactly battery-guzzlers. The combination means you really have a phone that never runs out of juice unless you’re trying to.
If I really try to push the phone with more intensive apps like mobile games and streaming, sure, the battery might drop down faster. Even so, I found the days I pushed it to its max still saw nearly a day and a half’s use on just one charge. When I took it easier, pushing to two days (or even slightly over that) wasn’t too hard to reach either.
Most of the time I found myself not charging at night anymore at all, as the battery lifespan was so good it felt unnecessary. Instead, I’d just plug it in for an hour or so each day while working.
Prefer phones with big batteries? Check out our guide to the phones with the best battery life
Google’s software might not be flashy, but the additions it does add are often truly useful.
The Pixel 5a promised at least three years of OS and security updates, though it’s now a third of the way through that guarantee. It’s not as good as the three-year OS and five-year security pledge you’d find with the Pixel 6, though. The big question is how well has Google kept its promise? Pretty well actually. It’s constantly attempted to squash bugs over the last year. Early on, many users reported issues like overheating and app crashing, and mostly, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for me at all here in 2023.
The OS side of things has also been handled well. The Pixel 5a shipped with Android 11, but mine is fully updated to Android 12. Android 13 beta is also fully supported by the Pixel 5a, which should mean the latest version of Android will hit the handset relatively shortly after its official release.
There’s little to complain about when it comes to the Pixel 5a’s software or its update schedule, though it’s important to note that Samsung actually beats Google here. Earlier this year Samsung started offering up to four years of OS updates and five years of security patches for select phones, including several devices that compete with the Pixel 5a on price. If long-term support matters to you, Google is still pretty solid but Samsung has really upped the competition.
Okay, the Pixel 5a camera is using a pretty old sensor. Aside from some minor tweaks, the camera used here is the same one as the Pixel 3 series. I can also honestly say pictures from the Pixel 6 series’ upgraded camera suite look better to my eyes, but we have to remember something here: this is a budget phone. It’s hard to find a much better camera at this price.
If you’re a true photography nut, you’ll find that the camera isn’t as good as you’ll find with a flagship. But let’s be honest, most of us just want quick snaps of our food, kids, family, and friends so we can share them on social media. The Pixel 5a excels at those basics, with accurate colors and above-average exposure levels. It also has a fairly wide dynamic range.
The Pixel 5a has a 16MP ultrawide lens with a 107-degree field of view. Pixel 5a photos will come out great almost every time in the daylight, but even night shots manage to hold up pretty well thanks to Google’s Night Sight mode. Really, the only situation where the Pixel 5a’s camera doesn’t perform like a more modern flagship is when zooming in. The 12MP sensor and lack of a telephoto are recipes for disaster at anything beyond 2x, and even then the images just come out kind of blurry. Google’s Super Res Zoom technology is good but it can’t work miracles.
Check out: The best camera phones
For those that love taking selfies, you’ll find the 8MP front-facing sensor does the job just fine. I didn’t really have much to report, though our original reviewer noted that Google’s software can struggle with blurring out hair or the edges of glasses, but that’s usually the case for portrait shots. I didn’t notice it, but to be honest I also didn’t take tons of selfies during my time with the phone.
Yes, the Pixel 6a has a better camera on paper due to it borrowing the Pixel 6’s ultrawide shooter (we’ve yet to fully test it), but the main camera is unchanged as far as hardware goes. It’s no surprise then that the 5a still holds up just fine in 2023 and is still one of the best in the mid-range market. It’s also one of the more stable and consistent camera experiences. Its camera app opens much faster than most other budget phones and 90% of the time, the photos you take are going to look great, even if the lighting isn’t perfect. That’s certainly more than many other budget devices can say.The not so good
The Google Pixel 5a is intended as a phone for basic users and so obviously not everything about it is going to be perfect. Compared to other mid-rangers, it’s a bit expensive for starters. Aside from price, there are a few other downsides worthy of discussion.
Its fast charging isn’t particularly fast
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Earlier, we applauded the Pixel 5a for excellent battery life, but big batteries come at a cost. The 4,680mAh battery takes over two hours to charge from zero to 100% with the supplied 18W charger. This is much slower than not only today’s flagships, but several budget options like the Galaxy A53 5G edge it out at least a little too.
Should you care about this at all? In my experience, no, as the excellent battery life makes it less of a concern. But it’s important to remember that if you use this phone all the way to near depletion, charging it won’t be a fast affair. Then again, if you plug in every night, you’ll never even notice this as a major issue.Price/Value
When the Pixel 5a launched last year, I’d say it was a pretty excellent value since it was priced about $150 less than the Pixel 5. But then the Pixel 6 came out and you could easily buy the Pixel 5 second-hand for much less than the 5a. We also saw more mid-range competitors offering aggressive price tags over the last year.
Currently in mid-2024, the Pixel 5a’s most obvious competitor is actually the Pixel 6a ($449). The newly upgraded phone is priced the exact same but has quite a few improvements. Then we have the Galaxy A53 5G ($449) which is priced the same and in some ways is actually a better phone than the 5a. The A53 5G has a 120Hz display, a longer software support guarantee, and a slightly larger battery (though actual performance is about the same). You also get 25W charging over 18W. If you care about these things, the A53 5G is really tempting. If cameras matter more to you, the Pixel 5a is still the better option.
Google Pixel 5a review revisited: The verdict
When I first started using the Pixel 5a I could really tell the difference from my more expensive Pixel 6, but then I started to slowly forget I was even using a different phone. In most situations, the speeds were similar for day-to-day use, and the size and weight aren’t too different either. That’s a pretty big compliment for a phone that costs $150 less new and can be found even cheaper online at places like eBay and Swappa.
Next: Google Pixel 5a problems and how to fix them
Google Pixel 5a
Google Pixel 5a
Killer battery life • Versatile cameras • Three years of updates
A budget phone with great cameras
The Pixel 5a takes the winning formula of the Pixel 4a 5G, adds a metal build and water resistance, and drops the price a bit. It’s an affordable phone from Google with an impressive camera system and a great software experience.
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from the Cannaverse Technologies website
LA might spearhead marijuana in the Metaverse, but the Bahamas bring their own take on toking to virtual reality by the end of this year. Nassau-based Cannaverse Technologies is at work on Cannaland, a new Metaverse that joins plant medicine mania with the groundbreaking success of NFT marketplaces to create a Web3 weed community.
Whereas wine and spirits retailers have a more straightforward route to leveraging blockchain technology, marijuana’s position is complicated. Legalization is on the rise, but each state has its own standards that can cause complications for upstart companies connecting with consumers on a large scale. Cannaverse Tech’s site says their forthcoming platform will support “the globalization of current and future cannabis brands while providing major consumer products… a metaverse platform to establish and build their brands.”
Competitors like LA-based Higher Life CBD and Kandy Girl have centered their Web3 models around virtual boutiques on existing platforms like Decentraland where they sell and distribute IRL goods. “Cannaland will not provide a platform that allows users to purchase cannabis,” Cannaverse Tech Founder & CEO Mark Bonner told Metaverse Post. “We are focused on creating consumer brand awareness and building up global cannabis brands, which is unique to our sector.”
Their platform will operate on a Play-to-Earn model powered by Cannaland Token (CNLT), Cannaverse Tech’s own Ethereum-based cryptocurrency. “These tokens provide consumer rewards and indisputable proof of ownership of goods, services and properties that is more secure than any land deed,” their website says. Key user benefits come from connections, but burgeoning brands stand to gain the most–introducing their products to the expansive user base Cannaverse Tech hopes to create.
Cannaland ecosystem, from the company site
“We began the project in 2023 after exploring a local land-based cannabis 360 project,” Bonner said. “Our inspiration was centered around the growth of medicinal and recreational cannabis. We realized the incredible global opportunity it would be, for both consumers and companies, if there were no city, region, or country legal boundaries to constrain corporate messaging that hinder them from building national and global brands.”
Though Bonner kept specific details about the company’s funding under wraps, he did tell Metaverse Post, “We are very fortunate to have a highly supportive institutional investor who has funded the company to date and has committed capital throughout our early stages of development.”
“We are finalizing several interactive gaming options that will provide enhanced user experiences in our community,” Bonner said. “The overarching message of Cannaland for the consumers will focus on the responsible use of medicinal and recreational cannabis. There will be opportunities that include gamified cultivation, virtual new product experiences, and learning responsible use in our Cannalearn area.”
Cannaland stands to make a real mark on IRL reality through The Cannalearn Foundation, which will teach safe and socially responsible practices from cannabis production to consumption. Their site also says the Foundation will “also support causes for individuals unjustly affected by inequities related to local cannabis laws prior to legalization.”
The platform’s slated to launch by Q4 2023. In the meantime, Bonner said that Cannaverse Tech is “working diligently with a leading cannabis legal firm to craft the necessary policies that will ensure we do not violate any existing laws in the USA or globally.” They’re also gearing up to launch CLNT on a tier one crypto exchange, and will announce “major brand and resource partnerships both in and out of the traditional cannabis space” in the near future. Stay tuned.
Read related posts:
The May 2023 update has arrived, and one noticeable change is Microsoft Cortana. If you were used to asking the virtual assistant questions, it may be time to switch to another assistant. Microsoft’s decided to revamp Cortana into a productivity tool, eliminating many of the features you might have been used to. The big question – is Cortana still worth using for the average user?Why the Change?
Even though some users absolutely love Microsoft Cortana, she never really caught on quite like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. Instead of investing more time and money into trying to compete, Microsoft made the choice to turn Cortana into a system application versus the whole system integration the assistant once had.Microsoft Cortana Becomes an App
Cortana is no longer married to the taskbar. Instead, Cortana is a regular app. This means you’ll open and interact with Cortana just like you would other apps. You’ll even get updates via the Microsoft Store instead of Windows Update. You’ll be able to update Cortana without having to install full system feature updates, too.Search Already Separate
A common question users have been asking is how they can search for files. When Cortana was originally introduced in Windows 10, you either asked Cortana to find a file using your voice or typed it in the Cortana search box in the taskbar. However, search and Cortana were separated well before the May 2023 update.Microsoft Cortana’s New Capabilities
Microsoft now calls Cortana a “personal productivity assistant.” According to Microsoft’s official announcement, Cortana’s new capabilities include:
Chat-based interaction – Voice control is still an option, but the chat-based UI gives you the ability to type versus talk to your computer. This is actually a good thing if you’re using Cortana at the office.
Manage your calendar and schedule – After signing in to your Microsoft account, connect your calendar and schedule to Cortana. Add items, get reminders, and check things off.
Integration with Microsoft Teams – If you use Microsoft Teams, use Cortana to join meetings, see upcoming meetings, and book meetings.
Work and school integration – Using your Microsoft work or school accounts, ask for more details about other members of your organization.
Create lists – Since productivity is the entire purpose, Cortana is able to make lists and give you reminders so you don’t forget to do anything.
While Microsoft Cortana isn’t quite as functional as before, you can still ask her some questions. Some extras Cortana can do include:
provide weather information
answer simple questions
provide news headlines
open apps and settingsWhat’s Missing
In many ways, Cortana is still a virtual assistant. However, the app is now all about productivity. You’ll no longer be able to control smart home devices. Even though music can be helpful with productivity, you won’t be able to use Cortana to control your music either. Instead, you’ll use Cortana to connect with other Microsoft apps and services, such as Office 365.
If you still want to control smart home devices and do everything that Cortana used to do and more, you can download Alexa from the Microsoft Store. You’ll then have a full-fledged virtual assistant on your desktop or laptop.How Do Users Feel?
Based on the 2.6 star rating at the time of writing, users aren’t thrilled about the change. In fact, the general consensus is Cortana isn’t useful at all.
However, if you mainly used Cortana for work, such as opening Microsoft apps and managing your calendar, you may not notice much of a difference. For the average user, Cortana isn’t nearly as useful as she used to be before the May 2023 update.
That being said, give the new version a try. If you don’t like it, it can be removed with a little effort. Or, if you don’t want to install it, simply sign out of Cortana to stop using it altogether.
Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.
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Dual-screen experience is exemplary
Surprisingly good daytime shots
Very good battery life
Thick when folded back, surprisingly heavy when opened
Dual-screen design makes it awkward to shoot photos
Camera suffers in low light, portrait shots
Still buggyOur Verdict
Microsoft still believes in its dual-screen phone/tablet hybrid. Its vision is coming closer, but isn’t quite there. Hold out for the Surface Duo 3.Best Prices Today: Microsoft Surface Duo 2
Microsoft’s new Surface Duo 2 smartphone poses a problem.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that skepticism, and apply it with a fresh eye towards some key questions: Does the Surface Duo 2 succeed as part of the Windows ecosystem? How does it compare to other Android phones? Does it solve the issues that plagued the first Surface Duo? And can it work as both a traditional phone, as well as some new breed of productivity device? Customers certainly never saw the original Surface Duo as anything special, and it tanked. Microsoft saw dual screens and the way it integrated into the app ecosystem as the selling points. Customers expected a quality camera, NFC, 5G, and wireless recharging.
The Surface Duo 2 represents Microsoft’s attempt to reach a middle ground. Yes, it checks some of the boxes people asked for, but little more. The camera is just okay, there are still bugs, and the price tag is outrageous. But under certain conditions, it shines.
Camera bumps aren’t that unusual with modern smartphones, and Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 joins the club.
Mark Hachman / IDGSurface Duo 2 configurations and pricing
The Surface Duo 2 costs an astounding $1,499.99, minimum, for the base model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Two other versions are available: a 256GB SSD model ($1,599.99) and the top-of-the-line Surface Duo 2 with 512GB of storage, for $1,799.99. If you buy into the Microsoft ecosystem, you’ll be saving most storage-chewing photos and videos to the OneDrive cloud anyway, which means that anything above the base model is superfluous.
Microsoft also sells a Surface Do 2 bumper ($39.99), which we didn’t test, which surrounds the Duo 2’s edge and provides some basic protection. It appears that most third-party cases are going the same route, with the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 Riveter case ($89.95) from Otterbox adopting the same approach. If you’d like to ink on the Surface Duo 2, you can buy the Surface Slim Pen 2 ($129.99) and the Surface Duo 2 Pen Cover (price not disclosed yet) which will grip and charge the Slim Pen 2. The real thumb in your eye is the $40 Surface Duo 2 charger. No, Microsoft does not ship a charger alongside the Surface Duo 2 (thanks, Apple) and you’ll pay extra for the plug. There is no wireless charging. A USB-C cable is thankfully included, though, and for free.
The Surface Duo 2 is a dual-SIM phone, but with one eSIM and one physical SIM slot.Surface Duo 2 basic features
Display: 5.8-inch AMOLED (1344×1892, 401 PPI, HDR, 90Hz, 800 nits max) (single screen); 8.3-inch AMOLED equivalent (2688×1892) (dual-screen equivalent); Corning Gorilla Glass Victus
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G
Memory: 8GB LPDDR5 DRAM
Storage: 128/256/512GB (256GB as tested)
Camera, rear-facing: Wide: 12MPixel, f/1.7 aperture, 27 mm, 1.4µm, dual pixel phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) and optical image stabilization (OIS); Telephoto: 12MP, f/2.4 aperture, 51 mm, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2X optical zoom/10X digital zoom; Ultra-Wide: 16MP, f/2.2 aperture, 13 mm, 1.0µm, 110o diagonal field of view with distortion correction
Camera, user-facing: 12MP, f/2.0, 24 mm,1.0µm
Network: WiFi 6 (802.ax), Bluetooth 5.1
Wireless: 5G (mmWave, sub-6); LTE Bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, 48, 66, 71
Battery: 4449mAh (rated)
Dimensions: 5.72 x 7.26 x 0.21in. (5.5mm) (open); 5.72 x 3.63 x 0.43 in. (11.0mm) (closed)
Weight: 284g / 0.63lb
Operating system: Android 11
Optional accessories: Surface Duo 2 Bumper ($39.99); Surface Duo 23W USB-C Charger ($39.99); Surface Slim Pen 2 ($129.99); Surface Duo 2 Pen Cover
The Surface Duo 2’s book-like pair of screens is the phone’s selling point, and it’s the obvious place to begin. Unlike, say, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold devices, there’s a distinct gap between the two displays — these are two separate screens, which can fold closed like a book or else fold back along itself. With the original Duo, this was the only way to take a photo, as there was just a single camera. With the Surface Duo 2, Microsoft invested in a rear-facing three camera array. Unfortunately, that creates a fairly thick camera bump that prevents the Duo 2 from flattening out when folded back on itself. It doesn’t seem to have any negative effect on either the camera or phone, however.
Microsoft loves to tout the engineering behind its Surface hinges, and yes, the Surface Duo 2 lives up to its reputation. The Duo 2 can sit, cocked at a 90 degree angle, so that one screen can display an email app (Outlook appends a “Sent on Surface Duo” signature by default) and the other can project Microsoft’s SwiftKey keyboard. (SwiftKey seems to be the only keyboard option instead of Gboard.) This is a fantastic orientation for content consumption, as I found while streaming the MLB playoffs while cooking dinner. The 5.8-inch AMOLED screen is also excellent for playing streamed cloud games from Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass.
This landscape orientation is quite useful for streaming video and games, but a persistent gyroscope glitch means that the screens often get stuck in a portrait orientation in multiple scenarios. It also can be a bit top-heavy, too, with the camera bump.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Quite a bit of the Surface Duo 2’s utility boils down to one contradiction: The Surface Duo 2 is most effective when used with two screens. Ergonomically, however, it’s most comfortable when only using one. It simply isn’t that comfortable to hold the Duo 2 in the “book” orientation for a prolonged period, while navigating and interacting with content. Part of that is due to the edge. While the Surface Duo 2 isn’t that thin, there’s a sort of “palmability” aspect to it where the Duo 2 leans into your hands like the Surface Pro 8’s kickstand digs into your thighs. (The bumper may solve this.) You’ll notice the size and weight almost immediately. The camera bump tends to overbalance it in some scenarios, too. This is a relatively massive phone.
Physically, I suspect most people prefer to use a phone either one-handed (nearly impossible across both screens) or two-handed, with one hand holding the phone and the other swiping and touching. You can certainly fold the phone back along itself, though you’ll only be able to use the right-hand screen, as the left shuts off.
Of course, that also means that the only way to take a photo is with the Surface Duo 2 unfolded, making you look like one of those weirdos who take photos with their iPad. Yes, you can kind of cheat by holding the phone in landscape mode, so that it looks (well, sort of) that you’re taking a photo with an ordinary phone. There’s really no cool way to take a portrait photo with the Surface Duo 2.
While it’s awkward to shoot photos with the Surface Duo 2, the ability to review your recent shots is undoubtedly useful.
Mark Hachman / IDG
The 90Hz displays on the Surface Duo 2 feel like a nice compromise between battery-sucking high-refresh-rate displays and slower, laggier screens. Scrolling was generally smooth and lag-free.Is the Surface Duo 2 a successful productivity phone? Largely, yes
Those are the negatives. If the Surface Duo 2 does one thing right, it’s that working on dual screens — with certain apps, under certain conditions — is revelatory. The Duo 2 allows you to drag one app over another, “grouping” them. When the group is launched — say, an email app alongside your calendar — the arrangement makes perfect sense. Chatting with a friend on one screen while a playoff game streams on another? Fantastic…until you get carried away and rotate the phone into landscape mode. Then the Surface Duo 2 will put your chat app on the top screen and the keyboard on the other, hiding your stream until you compete your message.
Microsoft probably expects reviewers to gush a bit here about how well it all works. Let’s put it this way: If you can grok why a second monitor adds to your productivity, you intrinsically understand the Surface Duo 2’s core appeal. The Duo 2 is less effective when an app spans both screens: held like a book, the small gap between the displays is still a bit distracting. One app that Microsoft specifically included as a dual-screen demo — Asphalt 9: Legends — was supposed to span both screens, Nintendo DS-style, with controls on the lower screen and the main action taking place on the top screen while in landscape mode. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the app to span both screens. Otherwise, there was nothing that forced me to use spanned apps, so I didn’t.
The keyboard seems a little awkwardly crammed near the top for my tastes, and I prefer to still use my thumbs to type. Still, this is a PC-like phone.
Mark Hachman / IDG
I’m torn on the new Glance Bar, an edge-mounted notification bar vaguely like the 2014 Galaxy Note Edge. When closed, a sliver of the curved glass peeks out. Tap the power button (or just wait for a call) and a little icon will light up, showing you have a missed call. There’s really no discreet way to see who called or left a message, though, so you’ll still be forced to open your Duo 2 regardless.
The Surface Duo 2 glance bar offers minimal information.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Inking is surprisingly good. While the only ink-centric preloaded app on the Surface Duo 2 is OneNote, pairing with a Surface Slim Pen 2 was simple, palm rejection just worked without the need for any setup, and the ink jitter was minimal.
There’s also one other thing I really like about the Surface Duo 2: its surprisingly amazing fingerprint reader. The reader is built right into the tiny sliver that is the power button, and it consistently recognized me right away. Opening the Duo 2, brushing my finger across the power button and unlocking the phone/hiding notifications felt unexpectedly powerful for someone used to the “will it or won’t it” fingerprint reader on a Galaxy S20+.
Deadlines meant that I didn’t have too much time to play games on the Surface Duo 2, but the big screens certainly appeal to game players to that regard. Unfortunately, Microsoft claimed that games like Asphalt 9: Legends could be spanned across both screens; I simply couldn’t get that function to work, and Microsoft couldn’t offer any help.
Mark Hachman / IDG
There’s just one thing I’d like to see, and that’s for something to happen when I plugged the Surface Duo 2 into a Thunderbolt dock. For a company that tried and failed with Windows Phone’s Continuum five years ago, that’s a little disappointing. It leaves Samsung’s Dex as arguably the king of “your phone as your PC” implementations.Is the Surface Duo 2 the next Windows phone?
No, not really. Besides the multitude of preloaded Microsoft-authored Android apps — from Bing to OneNote to Outlook to To-Do to “Start” news, all of which can be downloaded on other Android phones — there’s little that explicitly screams “Windows.” Some apps (like the Surface app and Surface Audio, which connects to the Surface Headphones) are specific to the Surface Duo 2, however.
Supposedly Your Phone Companion works with the Surface Duo 2, but apparently not. What it should be showing here is the Duo 2’s screen, allowing remote access from a PC.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Honestly, you’d expect more from Microsoft in this regard.Does the Surface Duo 2 solve the problems of the first Surface Duo?
One of the problems reviewers and customers had with the first-generation Surface Duo was with the numerous bugs that cropped up. And yes, they’re still here. I experienced more than a few instances where the phone refused to switch from portrait to landscape mode. A camera app shot an image upside down because it refused to reorient itself. The SwiftKey keyboard lagged, and didn’t fill the screen in landscape mode. (The latter was probably a design choice.) The Surface Duo 2 kept popping up a message that I could switch an app from one screen to another by double-tapping, and then didn’t switch when I double-tapped. In the ESPN app, the app’s navigation buttons (“Scores,” “Watch,”, etc.) overlapped with the Duo 2’s navigation buttons, preventing me from interacting with the app’s navigation. (Locking and unlocking the Duo 2 solved that issue.) We mentioned the Your Phone Companion bug above.
To be fair, some of the phone’s problems can be fixed by simply understanding it better. The Surface Duo 2 runs Android 11, and I found gesture navigation — swiping up in various places to access either the app drawer or the running apps — to be astonishingly difficult. Switching the phone to use Android’s “soft buttons” at the bottom of the screen made a world of difference. You know how Android 11’s button navigation includes a “switch apps” button? Each screen has its own list of apps to switch between, which feels a bit odd.
A surprisingly useful tip is that swiping toward the center of the screen from the left or right edge is the equivalent of the “back” button, and allows you to navigate without readjusting your hands. It’s also fair to say that the dual screen can be also be understood as a “modality,” or simply another way to interact with data. It’s perfectly okay to use the Surface Duo 2 folded backwards on itself, then open it when necessary.
Yes, the Surface Duo now includes NFC, which worked with the Google GPay app. Weirdly, the Surface Duo seems to “lean” toward the right-hand screen, which houses the camera and tends to open apps by default. When using NFC, though, you tap the left-hand screen to the reader.How does the Surface Pro Duo 2 compare?
The lack of a decent camera probably sounded the death knell for the original Surface Duo. Without a decent camera, consumers simply won’t bother buying a new phone. With the first Surface Duo, there was just one camera, and the device had to be oriented appropriately to take selfies as well as normal photos. With the Duo 2, there’s finally a proper rear-facing camera.
Is it up to snuff? Yes and no. In daylight, the Surface Duo 2 surprised me with the quality of its pictures. Color balance tended towards cool (or blue), but the main camera and the wide-angle lens delivered results that satisfied me. Selfies looked fine, too. Portrait mode seemed really iffy, though, with the camera struggling to lock on to the subject with the camera oriented vertically. A 2X optical-zoom telephoto also doesn’t quite measure up to the 3X optical zoom on an iPhone 13 Pro (which also costs $500 less than the Surface Duo 2, by the way).
At night, though, the Surface Duo 2 falls way behind the competition — by years, probably. Microsoft told us that they had largely designed the image sensor itself, tapping its Finnish engineering corps that had helped design the Lumia line. It doesn’t really measure up.
In the photos below, you’ll see that the Surface Duo 2 takes perfectly fine photos outside, in broad daylight, as nearly all cameras do. It’s when you start asking more of it — in portrait mode and in low-light situations — where it simply falls short. In most cases, we shot the same scene as closely as we could with a Samsung Galaxy S20+, Samsung’s 2023 flagship (either $1,200 or $1,350, depending on the storage options) for the people who couldn’t afford a $1,400 S20 Ultra.
A daylight photo from the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) and the Surface Duo 2 (right) with no zoom. The Duo 2 tends to run a little cooler (bluer) in terms of its images.
The Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) compared to the Surface Duo 2 (right), cropped in at 259 percent zoom. The Duo 2 looks a little grainier, but otherwise both images look quite good.
Mark Hachman / IDG
The Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) compared to the Surface Duo 2 (right). Image edited to obscure the car’s license plate.
Using the image above as a reference, this is the Samsung Galaxy S20+ and its 30X “space” (digital) zoom (left) compared to the Surface Duo 2 (right) and its own 10X digital zoom. The Surface Duo 2’s zoom is a mishmash at extremes, losing a ton of detail.
Closeup (not macro) photo from the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) and the Surface Duo 2 (right). The Surface Duo 2’s photo is dimmer, but it’s sharper.
Portrait mode on the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) and on the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 (right). Infuriatingly, the Surface Duo 2 decides to invoke portrait mode about a third partway up the image. There are some weird, jaggy artifacts near the top of the pelican’s beak, too. Interestingly, these problems largely went away if portrait mode was used with the phone held horizontally in its landscape orientation.
Night mode on the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) and on the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 (right). The Galaxy clearly lets in more light, while the Surface Duo 2 blows out its light sources to try and compensate.
Night mode with flash on the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (left) and on the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 (right). What you don’t see here is that the Surface Duo 2 requires several seconds to take the photo, too.Performance is superb
With a phone that’s probably being used for productivity, web surfing, and streaming video first and foremost, it’s hard to argue that performance benchmarks will matter. Inside the Surface Duo 2 is a Snapdragon 888 5G, a processor that’s used in the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, among others. Compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20+, my daily driver with a Snapdragon 865 processor inside, the Duo 2 still felt a bit laggier when navigating through the interface.
Battery life seems more than sufficient as well. I charged the Surface Duo 2 up the night before, let it idle all night, then used it for a day of photos and working out and about and in the office. It had about 20 percent left at the end of the day. Using the PCMark battery rundown test that constantly asks a phone to perform various tasks with the screen on, it lasted 9 hours 59 minutes before giving up the ghost. That’s very good. Quick charging, is only officially supported via the Surface Charger, sold separately.Conclusion: Cynicism is still justified
The old chestnut is that Microsoft is governed by the “rule of threes.” Like Windows 3.0, the third time’s the charm. We’d say the second time certainly isn’t, at least in the case of the Surface Duo 2.
Let’s face it: Some really, really big companies (Apple, Huawei, Samsung, Xiaomi) have spent very large amounts of money designing top-of-the-line cameras for their smartphones. Microsoft might hope that the Surface Duo 2’s camera is good enough, but it falls short in my book. In other areas — NFC and 5G — they’ve checked the boxes customers demanded.
Some of Microsoft’s old Lumia Windows Phones were good, and even great, but those were phones that few bought as Android and iOS took hold. The Surface Duo 2 accomplishes what Microsoft set out to achieve: Develop a productive dual-screen phablet-y device that absolutely works unlike anything else under certain scenarios. But it’s somewhat awkward, nerdy, and hugely expensive. And the bugs, still! I just can’t see Microsoft convincing smartphone buyers the way it can convince someone buying, say, a Surface Laptop Studio. On balance, the Surface Duo 2 still falls short.
Updated at 9:51 AM to clarify some details on how the Surface Duo 2 spans apps. Updated on Oct. 22 to note additional details about Your Phone and the “Phone Screen” feature.
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