Surface Duo and the phablet market

Microsoft has been buzzing with attention since the launch of the Surface tablet and laptop computer in 2013. Interestingly enough, the company has been gaining a steady market share since the initial introduction, currently having nearly 19% of the portable computer market share. However, it is the more recent devices like the Surface Book and the Surface Pro series that has invoked the attention of a particular niche of audience that seek functional value. And don’t get me wrong, Microsoft has done this gracefully with thoughtful design and state-of-the-art hardware packaging in mind.

With the announcement of the new Surface Duo, Microsoft is eyeing a market it once failed miserably in – handhelds. Having revisited the drawing board and improving on its many mistakes, the company claims that this device represents the next wave of mobile productivity combining the power of Microsoft 365 and Android operating system. We all know about Microsoft’s takeover of NOKIA and how the introduction of a line-up of phones with Windows Phone OS turned out for the company – Not good! Moving on, the company has used the packaging department’s full potential to create the thinnest mobile device (at 4.8mm when unfolded) in the market.

With a solid twin-hinge system, the device opens up to a high-quality, colour-calibrated 8.1” PixelSense Fusion display that maintains a similar 3:2 aspect ratio as its tablets. Btw, it’s not one seamless screen as you have seen on the Samsung Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X. They are two separate 5.6” 1800×1350 screens running at 401 PPI (pixels-per-inch) each. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the device is lighter than its competitors at 250 grams, however with a 3577mAh battery it comes as no surprise.

A decent Snapdragon 855 processor but only 6GB of RAM could mean the device is light on performance as well? The device is factory-fitted with a USB-C 3.1 port compatible with fast charging so, you could imagine yourself just hanging out in some common charging area with the other Surface Duo users, more often than with your friends in the cafeteria (so Microsoft is also revolutionizing the way people socialize now. How Interesting. Facebook, you better watch out). The phone comes in two storage options – 128GB and 256GB however, considering the devices come pre-loaded with an army of apps, you’re probably be going to be left with 75-80% of that space anyway. You can use your OneDrive storage if you have a Microsoft 365 account.

Microsoft seems to have spent a considerable time playing around with the operating system to allow various use-case scenarios. A few to name are Dual screen windowing, Adaptive modes and a few others. The one that intrigued me the most was when they flipped the second screen around into “tent mode” which allowed users to watch their favourite content in a viewing position comfortable to them rather than the user adjusting to the phone’s position. And that’s about it. It simply didn’t make sense to me to be multi-tasking or using two apps at the same time. Also, call me a Boomer but I don’t fancy watching any content except maybe YouTube for about an hour, on a screen below 6 inches. And targeting this device for productivity? I am not even going to touch on that subject, then what is a computer for? I am only imaging how hard it is going to be for someone to do Skype conference or Microsoft Teams meetings on this device while pretending to be taking notes simultaneously. It is just my opinion, I could be totally wrong.

Let us put all the things I said earlier aside because I am about to sound like one giant hypocrite. I own a Surface. No, not the Duo or the Pro, it is a Surface Book 2 15”. It is one gorgeous machine with a great keyboard and trackpad, it is great for editing content or even gaming thanks to its beefy NVIDIA graphics card but it also doubles up as a tablet when I take a break to lie on the couch and watch a movie or surf the web. It was an expensive decision, however, considering that most of my computer purchases are long term, I thought why not give it a shot especially for all the function on offer.

I am not sure I can say the same thing about the Duo. Ignoring the fact that most of the initial sales is going to be driven by the Microsoft/Surface “fan boys”, at a price of US$1399.99, what I don’t really understand is where the company sees a market for this device beyond that. To me, it just looks like a sophisticated version of the Nintendo 3DS or maybe it is the 3DS users the company is targeting? I can totally picture wealthy narcissistic teenagers walking down the street with Duos in their hands texting and chatting with each other. Sick.

Seeing most smartphones manufacturers making the switch to bezel-less and high refresh-rate screens, the Duo is definitely at a bottom-end when it comes to specs. If Microsoft truly cared about addressing its users’ mobile productivity needs and put money where their mouth is, then where is the hardware encryption chip to protect confidential information? Where is that Windows Hello facial recognition system? Where is that Bit-Locker drive encryption? Perhaps some of that could be addressed over a software update. But the real question is, what are trying to solve with the introduction of this device? Is the Duo really a revolutionary device that addresses customers’ productivity needs or is it a stunt to grab their attention and drive stock prices amidst, the tech investment boom? You tell me.

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