The Surface Duo from Microsoft is ready to ship on September 10 and we’ve finally had the price confirmed – $1,400. That’s pretty steep, and it makes you want to start comparing it to other phones on the market. Our world is already filled with iPhones, Galaxies, and Pixels, so there are high expectations for the Surface Duo, especially with it being a dual-screen foldable. 

Those crafty folk at Microsoft do have some tricks for us. With a strong stable of apps and a tight connection with Google, you get some stuff on the Surface Duo that you’ll struggle to find in other handsets, Arif Bacchus notes for Digital Trends. 

Two screen multitasking

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The first nifty trick is the two-screen multitasking option, one of the best selling points that Microsoft is offering on the Surface Duo. Like what you can do on your laptop, you can group together apps, stack them on either of the two screens or have a single app cover both screens, helping with your productivity.

You just can’t achieve that on a single screen phone, and split-screen functions just are the same experience. Yet, even on other dual-screen phones, such as the LG G8X ThinQ or LG Velvet, your second screen gets treated as a separate space, or, a separate phone. Their dual-screen set-ups don’t have a flow; you can’t drag and drop your apps between screens unless you start using an awkward gesture.

In terms of other foldable phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold or the soon-to-hit-the-market Galaxy Z Fold 2, they do offer a seamless experience when you open apps across the fold. You get a floating window that is easily pulled from the phone’s side that lets you have up the three apps on the go, side-by-side. When you look at it closely, though, there is still some work to be done by Samsung and Google to get split-screen mechanics on point. Things just aren’t as natural as on true tablets or iPads. 

What’s clear from these attempts is that Android has systemic limitations. Through the Microsoft Launcher app on the Surface Duo, Microsoft has made adjustments that make the way it does multitasking unique. 

There’s not been a tester available yet, but the concept, at least, has become much easier. To open and drag apps look intuitive in demos and it’s a mix of Android, iPadOS, and other dual-screen phone experiences. 

To get into your emails whilst browsing, you do a simple pull up from the dock. You open the app on screen, pull up the dock on the other screen, and get your browser open. Want to switch apps between screens? Pull down and drag the window across the seam and on to the other screen, and if you want the app to span both screens, you just hold the app across the hinge. 

Optimized Microsoft apps

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At the start of the dual-screen and foldable trend, there was a rush and a struggle to get apps optimized for the new handsets they were making. Samsung and LG have had decent levels of success, but Microsoft is ahead here. There are lots of first-party apps on the Surface Duo that have been designed and optimized with dual-screens in mind.

A complete list of apps suitable for the Surface Duo can be found on the product listing page, but they include Office apps, the Edge browser, Teams, News, Bing, LinkedIn, and more. All of these can work across the two screens within the one app.

Take OneNote; it can span across both of the screens and give you a notebook on the left and space to write or type your notes opposite. On the other hand, OneDrive will show you an individual photo on the right and a list of all your photos on the left screen. Moving to outlook, the left of your phone will list your emails and you can write your reply on the right. Rotate the screen 90 degrees and the Duo becomes like a laptop, and you can reply to an email like that, too. 

Microsoft has really homed in on work and productivity, where you’d expect them to go with apps and a phone. There is still a reliance on third-party developers with the Surface Duo and hoping they make use of the two screens, but as soon as you get your hands on it, there’s going to be functionality that you can use. 

Link to Windows

Another cool feature is the option to Link to Windows. Any single-screen or dual-screen Android phone can already sync up to Windows 10 with the Your Phone app on Windows 10, for cross-platform photo, text, message, and notification sync. With the Surface Duo, that functionality is taken to the next level with a deeper phone to PC connection. 

You can get Link to Windows on a few chosen Samsung phones, inside the Duo hardware there’s a deeper Windows and Android integration going on. Because of this, there’s no need to download the Android Your Phone app to get the Duo to sync to your computer. From the notification panel, you just need to pull down, select Link to Windows, and sign in with your Microsoft Account. Once you’re on Windows, open up the Your Phone all and everything can be synced, like your photos, contacts, videos, messages, and other data.

It goes further than ease of access. There are functions for app mirroring, known as “Phone Screen” in Microsoft-speak. You don’t need to touch your phone to get your Android apps mirrored onto your computer. 

There’s another feature in the pipeline that’s being called “Your Phone Apps” which is intended to move your apps from your phone to Windows 10 as windows, and this should be supported on the Duo. Currently, it’s only available on specific Samsung phones. 

Shilpa Ranganathan, a Microsoft exec, demos the feature about 25 minutes in on this video. She gets access to both Duo screens on her PC and can do whatever the phone can do, but on the computer.  

Various modes of use

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To finish up, you get to access the Surface Duo in a range of modes. Other folding phones like the Galaxy Fold are supposed to be fully open when you’re using them, but the Duo is more akin to the LG ThinQ since it’s got a 360-degree hinge. 

As with the LG dual-screen handsets, you can make a tent with it when you fold it back. Besides that, you can use it in a laptop mode, having the virtual keyboard at the bottom. Like with the Galaxy Fold, you can also keep the screen open like a standard phone and just have one screen in use. 

The way the Surface Duo completes all its functions makes it stand out. The hinge is seamless, and this is a big plus point. You don’t get distracted and it allows for a range of uses. You can see the inspiration that’s come from the Surface Pro 2-in-1 and it definitely makes the Surface Duo a better phone.