Amazon’s Echo Buds can’t compete on price anymore, Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is a well-built dual-screen device.
Amazon’s Echo Buds wireless earbuds are fine
When Amazon first released the Echo Buds wireless earbuds in the U.S., the appeal was that you could get all of the functionality that was offered by more expensive brands for a reduced price.
But six months later, as the earbuds get released in Canada, that’s no longer the case.
There’s lots to admire. The Echo Buds are light and comfortable. They are equipped with active noise cancelling (ANC) and are resistant to water and sweat. And while the microphones were adequate for making calls, I found the sound quality to be quite tinny unless I was listening to music with heavy bass, in which case I didn’t notice that.
What really sets the Echo Buds apart from other wireless earbuds is the Alexa digital assistant integration, which is great if you’re active in that ecosystem.
But the Echo Buds cost $155, $180 if you want to upgrade to a wireless charging case, and you can get other earbuds from other manufacturers that are either cheaper, sound better, or have better features for an extra $20.
It’s possible that Amazon will discount the Echo Buds as we get closer to Christmas, and if the price comes down these are a great wireless option.
Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is a great dual-screen mobile device
Microsoft famously abandoned the mobile phone business in 2016, but with the Surface Duo device, first released in September 2020, the company has returned to the mobile hardware game.
And having spent some time with the Surface Duo 2 I can tell you that the dual-screen handset is a solid and interesting device.
It really is solid. Microsoft product designers made the decision to go with two distinct screens, as opposed to a single folding screen. The two hinges have an industrial flavour and allow the Duo 2 to lay flat, or to fold 360 degrees.
The Surface Duo 2 has an 8.3-inch screen, up from the 8.1-inch screen in the original model, with a perfectly synced 90 Hz refresh. You can open it up all the way and use it as a single screen and you can select the screen you want to use, a nice touch for left-handed people.
The screens curve in the hinge area to minimize the space when the device is opened up. I found that after a bit of time I didn’t even notice the gap between the screens when I was doing something that used the entire real estate.
But in truth, more often I used the two screens independently. It’s great when you’re browsing the internet, for example, because you can have two different tabs open at the same time. Or you can have your email in one window while typing in the other.
Kindle, Spotify, and TikTok are all updating apps specifically for the Surface Duo 2.
It’s great for gaming, too. Game developers are configuring experiences to take advantage of the two screens, and three new games from Gameloft have been tuned this way: Asphalt 9 Legends, Dungeon Hunter 5, and Modern Combat 5.
You can also pair an Xbox controller to the device and play games on the cloud through the Xbox app.
The Surface Duo 2 is intended, Microsoft told me in a briefing, for productivity and collaboration. The price supports that notion, starting at $1,900 for 128 GB storage, and you can upgrade to 256 GB or 512 GB storage for a few hundred dollars more.
It runs Android 11, which better accommodates foldable devices, but the interface has been redesigned to resemble Windows 11.
When closed there’s a “glance bar”, an LED notification light that runs along the edge of the device to indicate whether you’re getting a phone call, or a message, or if your battery is running low.
It’s got a triple-lens camera system on the back that takes advantage of the two screens by giving you edit settings on one screen and a preview of your image on the other. The front-facing camera is ideal for video conferencing.
The Surface Pen is also supported, and with the Surface Duo 2 charging cover there’s a little nook for the stylus that can charge it.
Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is a premium handset with features that aren’t for everyone. But of the dual-screen devices available, it’s the one that feels like it’s been designed with a purpose, and not just to show it can be done.