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Double screening

With its Surface Duo smartphone, Microsoft is aiming to bring the productivity benefits of dual screens to workers on the go

Office workers have become used to the productivity benefits of working with two screens. In fact, in the Understanding Sound Experiences 2021 Report from headset manufacturer EPOS, a second screen was the most common item requested by employees working from home after adjustable desks/ chairs. 


If workers value working with two screens when in the office and at home, then it surely makes sense for them to have the same functionality when working on a train, in a coffee shop, at a client’s premises, or anywhere else for that matter. After all, isn’t hybrid working all about giving employees access to the same tools, functionality and content wherever they happen to be. 

Cue Surface Duo. A new addition to Microsoft’s expanding range of end user hardware devices, this dual-screen smartphone aims to remove barriers to on-the-go productivity that explain why three out of four people surveyed by Microsoft and the CIPD struggle to complete tasks when away from their main computer. 

Multi-tasking made easy 

On its own, the addition of a second screen is helpful, as it makes it possible for users to open separate apps on each screen, allowing a multi-tasker to view email on one screen, say, and compose and review documents on the other, without having to toggle between the two. In other words, it lets people work just as they would on the dual monitors they have in their office/home office. 

made easy
made easy

This has clear productivity benefits, even if the 5-inch screens are on the small side, fine for short bursts of activity, such as interacting with apps or monitoring email, but not great for longer lasting tasks that require deep concentration and would benefit from a broader canvas.

Microsoft’s answer to this problem is Canvas mode, which joins together both screens, creating an 8.1in canvas across which a single app could be displayed. With Outlook, for example, you could have emails on the left side and a reading pane on the right for viewing individual messages and composing replies using the resizeable on-screen keyboard or Surface pen. 

Other operating modes enabled by the Duo’s 360-degree hinge include a landscape, laptop-like arrangement, where the top screen can be set at any angle; a portrait Book mode, where the Duo can be held and read like a book, with the ability to fold the screens right back on themselves (like a paperback) so that there is a screen on either side; and a Tent mode that lets two users facing each other view different content on either screen. 

Another useful feature is the ability to group or link two applications together so that they can be launched together and displayed side by side, with the ability to copy and paste information from one to the other. A business user, for example, might group Teams and Power BI, so that they could be on a call to the CFO on one screen, while viewing business performance data from Power BI on the other. 

New addition to the family 

In designing the Surface Duo, Microsoft says it was not innovating purely for the sake of innovation but instead attempting to create a new productivity device offering a simpler way for users to get things done, as it has done before with the Surface Pro 2-in-1 device, the Surface Studio fulcrum hinge and, for meetings, the Surface Hub. 

Group or link two applications together
Group or link two applications together

By addressing emerging workstyles, the need for no-compromise performance and a computing experience that satisfies individual requirements, the Microsoft Duo clearly conforms to the tenets of the Surface family. 

Is it for me? Probably not. Or at least, not yet. I loved being able to look at two websites side by side when researching purchases and comparing prices – and the design is fabulous. But that ‘on the move’ connectedness isn’t something I feel I lack right now, so much of Duo’s functionality was wasted on me. 

Ultimately, the question is irrelevant. The whole point of the Surface family is to provide a range of devices catering to diverse needs. The Surface Duo might be too sophisticated for me, but I can think of plenty of people with different and arguably more productive ways of working who would love Duo’s second screen and clever functionality, especially now that Microsoft is addressing early complaints about pricing, software glitches and the quality of some hardware components. 

Duo is a welcome addition to the Surface family that is likely to get better and better and ever more relevant to the way we work now.

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