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The 9 Best Conference Call Services – TechEye

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Conference calls are still the best choice for phone meetings and communication with multiple people. Conference calls are cheap, effective, and are a simple way to get people together and share information.

Pretty much every small business should have conference call capabilities, and every large business too. Being able to conference call greatly streamlines meetings and allows for more flexible scheduling as not everyone needs to be physically present.

There are free conference calling services, such as Skype and they can be perfectly functional. However, paid services give you access to more varied features, like recording, screen share, video calling, and more.

No matter what your budget is, there is a conference call solution that will work for you. So we put together this list of the best free conference call services and paid conference call services for your business. We put together this list based on each service’s overall capabilities, ease-of-use, support options, and overall price.

The 9 Best Conference Call Services (2020)

We will cover each of the conference call services below and talk about their features, pros, cons so you can compare and make a decision.

1. RingCentral

RingCentral offers modern VoIP solutions for modern businesses. RingCentral is more than just a conference call tool, but a full-blown business phone system that operates over the internet. So with RingCentral, you also get an entire business-wide phone network for any kind of communication need.

RingCentral offers a free plan that allows up to 100 participants, although it caps calls at 40 minutes. That is not too shabby compared to some other free plans and is a good choice for individual solo entrepreneurs. Upgrading to a larger plan is also easy and they start at $19.99, a perfectly affordable monthly rate.

RingCentral’s VoIP suite offers basically every call-feature you could want, including greetings, directories, hold music, extensions, voicemail, call forwarding, conference calls, conference lines, HD video conferencing, page/intercom systems, and more. It is a cloud-based service so there is no extra equipment and not maintenance required. All you need is an internet connection.

RingCentral is an excellent VoIP conferencing solution for enterprise-level businesses and can save you a lot of money compared to a traditional PBX business phone system.

RingCentral

RingCentral offers modern VoIP solutions for modern businesses. RingCentral is more than just a conference call tool, but a full-blown business phone system that operates over the internet.


2. GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting is a paid teleconferencing service that is possibly one of the best services on the market. GoToMeeting has a high-quality solution that is perfect for business owners of any size. GoToMeeting’s features are simple and to-the-point, not filled with distractions.

Unfortunately, GoToMeeting does NOT have a free basic plan. But, they do offer a free 15-day trial so you can try the software out.

There are 3 paid plans:

  • Pro – $12/month
  • Business – $16/month
  • Enterprise – Custom

The Pro and Business plans allow for up to 150 and 250 participants while the Enterprise plans have solutions for up to 3,000 people at once. All plans come with the following features:

  • HD video capabilities
  • Screen sharing
  • Dial-in lines
  • Unlimited meetings
  • Unlimited call duration
  • Private meeting rooms
  • Chat messaging
  • Mobile phone compatibility
  • App integrations (e.g. Slack)
  • Live customer support

GoToMeeting also has unlimited recording capabilities and automatic transcription features. It is an excellent choice if you have a large remote team.

Performance for GoToMeeting is strong. Many conference call services, even the paid ones, lack in audio quality. GoToMeeting has clear sound and the connection rarely jumps in and out. It may not be as impressive as BlueJeans, but it is still on the higher end of the spectrum.

A few flaws though: GoToMeeting does not have some other features that are considered standard. For example, you don’t have any hold music and no presentation/whiteboard tools, but what is there works extremely well. Conference call software can be really simple and still be good. GoToMeeting is also very affordable and has great value for its price.

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting is a paid teleconferencing service that is possibly one of the best services on the market.


3. BlueJeans

BlueJeans is another conference call service known for its excellent video and audio quality. Bluejeans can allow you to communicate with your team from virtually any device.

BlueJeans offers plans starting as low as $12.49 per month. The basic plan allows for 50 participants per call and has no duration limit on calls. The upgraded plan starts at $16.65 per month and allows up to 75 participants. The upgraded plan has recording and cloud storage features.

If you have a larger business, you can contact BlueJeans and create a custom enterprise-level plan, though even these plans have a limit of 150 participants. BlueJeans has one of the smaller enterprise-level conferencing solutions we have covered on this list.

BlueJeans does have some street cred though. Big companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Zillow rely on BlueJeans to host conference calls, so that is a good sign it’s a reliable service.

BlueJeans exceptional audio quality is due to DolbyVoice that it uses on all its calls. DolbyVoice is designed to make it sound like participants are placed in the same room. This setup ensures that you can hear all sounds faithfully.

BlueJeans

BlueJeans is another conference call service known for its excellent video and audio quality.


4. UberConference

UberConference is a good place to start if you are looking for a simple and reliable conference call service. UberConference is easy-to-use and offers a wide range of calling options for businesses.

You can use UberConference for free for calls for up to 10 people. You can also make as many calls as you want with a 45-minute duration limit for individual calls. The free services even come with screen sharing capabilities, call recording, HD audio/video quality, and mobile app integration. That is a lot of features, absolutely for free.

If you need more services, then you can sign up for the paid tier plans. Paid plans start as low as $15/month On this plan, the call duration limit is raised to 5 hours and comes with some extra benefits, including:

  • Call numbers
  • Analytics
  • International conference dialing
  • Dial out channels
  • Hold music
  • Voice command capabilities
  • Management tools

You can also add a toll-free number for an extra $30 a month.

The best feature from UberConference is the mobile app. The mobile app is available on Android devices or iPhone and comes free with the standard edition so you don’t even need to pay to get access to the best feature. You can do everything on the app that you can do on the desktop version so you can make conference calls on the go. Participants can also drop in from virtually anywhere.

It is fast to start up too. You can start making calls as soon as you sign up. If you have technical issues, then there is a resource portal with training articles for troubleshooting issues.

One downside with UberConference is the audio conference quality. Sometimes calls can pick up static. It is not a huge deal though and does not ruin the quality of the call.

UberConference

UberConference is a good place to start if you are looking for a simple and reliable conference call service.


5. Zoom

Zoom has become extremely popular in the past few years and has made a name for itself by supplying efficient and sophisticated video conferencing options for businesses and organizations of all stripes

Here are a few quick facts about Zoom’s plans and pricing structure. Zoom offers 4 tiers.

Basic:

  • Free to use
  • 100 participants per call
  • 40-minute max duration limit
  • 1080p HD video calling capabilities
  • Group management tools

Pro:

  • Starts at $14.99/month
  • 100 participants
  • 24-hour max duration limit
  • Recording and cloud storage
  • Admin privileges
  • Analysis and reporting features

Business:

  • Starts at $19.99 per host (10 host minimum)
  • 300 participants
  • Live support options
  • Transcription services
  • Cloud storage
  • Whitelisting features
  • Email templates

Enterprise:

  • $19.99 per host (50 host minimum)
  • 1,000 participants
  • Unlimited storage
  • Priority support
  • Business review options for executives

Most businesses will be just fine with the Basic or Pro option as these are ideal for startups and smaller teams. If you have a slightly larger business, then the Business option is relatively easy to scale.

Zoom has been extremely well received due to its excellent video conferencing capabilities and ample cloud storage. It is also particularly useful if you need to share presentations and powerpoints during meetings.

Zoom is sort of the go-to standard at the enterprise level. Their top tier Enterprise plan is used by several large organizations like Uber, Ticketmaster, and GoDaddy. Many more large firms rely on Zoom for their conference call needs.

Lastly, Zoom has excellent support options. They have 24/7 live phone support and live training sessions. The only criticism we have is audio conferencing quality can fluctuate sometimes.

Zoom

Zoom has become extremely popular in the past few years and has made a name for itself by supplying efficient and sophisticated video conferencing options for businesses and organizations of all stripes


6. FreeConferenceCall.com

As you would expect from the name, FreeConferenceCall.com offers free conference calling software. People have made over 2 billion calls using FreeConferenceCall.com, meaning that it is probably the most popular free service in the world.

All you have to do is create a free account. You can do this in seconds and start making calls immediately.

Even though it is completely free, FreeConferenceCall.com has some of the highest limits for free services out there. You can have up to 1,000 participants per cal, which is absurdly high for a free web conferencing and webinar platform.

FreeConferenceCall.com also has real-time video meeting services in addition to audio calls. Here are some other nifty features that you can use:

  • Change presentations/presenters
  • Drawing tools
  • Presentation sharing
  • Private chat rooms
  • International dial
  • Screenshare

These are the kinds of features you would have to pay extra for with different services. With FreeConferenceCall.com, you get them for $0.

You can also access your call history and archived recordings from your account dashboard, which includes reports, notes, and details.

FreeConferenceCall.com does have some paid options. You can pick and choose features to make a custom plan for your business.

  • Custom greeting – $2 per months
  • Custom hold music – $2 per month
  • Storage – 40GB for $ per month

None of these options are really required to host conference calls, though some might get things like hold music or greetings to appear more professional. Storage might be useful, especially if you make a lot of conference calls and like to go over past calls.

FreeConferenceCall.com also offers a mobile app on Android devices and iOS that lets you create, manage, and join calls from your device. Some people prefer conference calling with their mobile devices so this is a good feature.

The main drawback of FreeConferenceCall.com is its limited storage capabilities. You can upgrade storage but you have to pay extra per month.

FreeConferenceCall.com

As you would expect from the name, FreeConferenceCall.com offers free conference calling software. People have made over 2 billion calls using FreeConferenceCall.com, meaning that it is probably the most popular free service in the world.


7. Webex

Webex is made by Cisco, a global leader in IT and networking solutions. So, right off the bat, Webex has a powerhouse technology company running its infrastructures so you know it is reliable and efficient. Webex is one of the better conference calling options in the business and offers both video and audio calls.

Free:

  • $0
  • 50 participants
  • 40-minute duration limit
  • 1 GB cloud storage

Starter:

  • $13.50/month
  • 50 participants
  • No duration limits for calls
  • 5 GB storage

Plus:

  • $17.95/month
  • 100 participants
  • No duration limits
  • Alternate host options
  • Live customer support

Business:

  • $26.95 per month
  • 200 participants
  • 10 GB storage
  • Whitelisting options

Webex does offer a free plan but it is fairly limited due to the low storage and call durations. All paid plans allow unlimited conference calls and ample storage. It is worth mentioning that the highest option plan only allows for 200 participants, compared to the 1,000 allowed by something like Zoom. If you want support, you also have to at least have the Plus plan.

Webex works well for businesses of any size and is a great option if many workers are remote. The video and audio technology is crisp, clear, and runs smoothly on a number of devices. The top-tier plan is small, so there is no genuine enterprise option. But what is available is some of the best quality conference call software you can buy.

Webex

Webex is made by Cisco, a global leader in IT and networking solutions. So, right off the bat, Webex has a powerhouse technology company running its infrastructures so you know it is reliable and efficient.


8. Vast Conference

Vast Conference offers conference call services for all-sized businesses. They offer a 14-day free trial which gives you full access to the instant conference call tools. They also offer operator-assisted calls.

Vast Conference offers 4 plans:

  • Essential – $11.99/month
  • Standard – $15.99/month
  • Pro – $31.99/month
  • Enterprise – Custom

The main difference between the 4 plans is how many participants are allowed on each call. The limits are 10, 100, 250, and 500, in that order. The first three plans come with unlimited cloud storage whereas the Enterprise plans only come with 1 GB of storage per user.

One of Vast Conference’s strongest features is its intuitive interface. Setting up and executing a call is very straightforward and navigating the interface is easy, even if you have 0 technical skills.

Vast Conference is probably best suited for businesses that want personalized operator-assisted calls. Operator-assisted calls add a level of professionalism to your organization and the audio/video chat quality is top-notch.

Of course, Vast Conference is not perfect. The biggest flaw in our opinion is the mobile app. Mobile app calling is just not very good quality and calls are dropped and jump in and out frequently. That being said, you do not have to use the mobile feature and the desktop tools are very good. If mobile calling is that important to you then you probably should look elsewhere.

If you do choose Vast, you will get excellent customer service. Even the most basic plan comes with 24/7 customer support so you can get help whenever you need it.

Vast Conference

Vast Conference offers conference call services for all-sized businesses. They offer a 14-day free trial which gives you full access to the instant conference call tools.


9. Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is created by—you guessed it—Google, so you know that it is built on a solid and reliable architecture. Google Hangouts is completely free for anyone to use; all you need is a Gmail account (which is 100% free).

Hangouts automatically connects to your Gmail account so you can access it directly from your mail or from the Gsuite taskbar. It also automatically integrates with your contacts list and Google calendar as well. This makes it much easier to manage your contacts and set up rooms. You can set up a conference room using your desktop, phone, and chrome extension.

Google Hangouts is used most of the time for one-on-one meetings, but it can handle conference calls for up to 25 people. Participants can easily share their screen and the platform can handle video calls as well.

If you want to get the most out of Google Hangouts, then you will need a G Suite account. It costs $6 per month for an account and G Suite has a lot of other uses, so it’s worth the purchase.

The best part of Google Hangouts is how simple and straightforward it is. But, it does have a few drawbacks.

First off, Google Hangouts is not exactly designed for business-wide communications so the quality on some calls can be poor. Also, there is no customer support so you have to rely on FAQs and forums if you run into an issue. Lastly, there is no recording option so you won’t be able to go over old calls. This feature is pretty standard in other conference call software so it’s a letdown that Hangouts doesn’t offer it.

That being said, you can expect to use Google Hangouts frequently as it also has a good chat and messaging system. If you need a reliable free video conferencing service, then Google Hangouts is a good choice.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is created by—you guessed it—Google, so you know that it is built on a solid and reliable architecture. Google Hangouts is completely free for anyone to use; all you need is a Gmail account (which is 100% free).


How to Find the Best Conference Call Services

There are a lot of conference call services out there and not all are equal. You need to find the right service with the right features for your business. So, when shopping around for a conference call service, make sure to consider the following features.

Call Limits

One of the most important parts of a conference call service is how many people it can host at once. Many services put restrictions on the number of people that can be on a call at the same time and how long the call can last.

Some providers have a free option that will give you a limited number of people and time, like 10 people and 40 minutes per call. Paid services usually have much higher call limits and durations. Some services allow up to 1,000 atrendees and unlimited calls.

You don’t need to shell out for a big fancy service if you can handle a more restricted plan. If you are part of a small business with around 20 employees, you probably won’t have to purchase a service that can hold 1,000 people at a time.

We do recommend finding a service that allows unlimited duration calls. Cutting meetings short because of an imposed time limit is highly inefficient and hard to plan around, so try to find a service that allows for unlimited calls.

Call Recording

Call recording is another useful teleconference feature that has many benefits. Not every conference call service allows for call recording, though.

Conference call services can handle recording in different ways. Some will allow you to record the call then store it locally, either on a computer, smartphone, or other devices you are using. Other services may have cloud storage options for recorded calls. Regardless of which kind you choose, it is always useful to have recorded calls so you can go over notes from past meetings.

Also, make sure you check for recording storage limits. Some services will limit the number of calls you can store and require you to upgrade to higher-level plans to get more storage space. For example, a service might limit you to 1 GB of storage but will allow you to upgrade to 10 GB.

Also, some conference call plans allow for automatic call transcription. You can turn a call into a written document. This feature makes it much easier to go over past meetings without having to comb through the audio for important points.

Additionally, if the service offers video calls, figure out if they allow video recording or only audio recording. Recorded videos can be even more useful than recorded audio calls.

Account and Call Setup

There are two main factors to look at when judging ease-of-use:

  1. Creating a new account
  2. Setting up a conference call

Some services let you create a new account and start making calls immediately. Setting up a call can take just a few seconds. For instance, if you have Gmail, then you can pull up Google Hangouts immediately and set up a reservationless call. Free and out-of-the-box conference calling software is designed with this simplicity and accessibility in mind.

If you need a custom or enterprise-level solution, the setup process is a bit more involved. This may be because you have to connect physical lines, install new software on office devices, or figure out networking details. Most likely, you’ll have to go directly through a sales agent, which takes more time.

Regardless of which route you go, starting a conference call with the service should be easy. You should be able to create calls, add participants, and schedule rooms simply and without hassle. There should also be robust customer support that you can contact if you face issues.

Video Conferencing

It is not always necessary, but we highly recommend getting a service with high-quality video conference capabilities. Video conference calls can make your meetings more effective by providing features like screen shares, presentations, and streamlined visual graphics. If you have many workers remote or do a lot of collaborations, then a video conferencing tool is practically essential. Video conference tools make online meetings more involved and let you pitch ideas and concepts more accurately than just over audio.

There are some services that specialize specifically in video conference options. If you have a large need for video services, then find a service that specializes in the tech.

Call Quality

Conference calls are much less effective if the audio of video quality is poor. Bad connections make online meetings much more inefficient because you have to keep stopping to address issues and reiterate points. This point is especially important if you need calls with a large number of attendees. The larger the group, the more bandwidth and call quality you’ll need.

The only real way to know a service’s quality is to try it yourself. If your provider has a free trial, take it so you can gauge the quality. The more you use it, the better judgment you can make.

Operator Assistance

Many conference call organizations aimed at enterprise-level businesses have to handle call participants in the thousands. So, they will include operator-assistance options. With this option, a live operator will assist with managing the conference event. Operator-assistance is useful as it will help manage large groups of participants and can streamline the process of getting things set up.

Generally, you will have to reserve an operator ahead of time and then schedule a call. The best reason to have an operator on hand is to ensure that nothing goes wrong. No corporation wants to waste time dealing with technical issues when they have hundreds of people listening on the other line.

Some services off an automated operator while others offer a boutique operator. The latter is normally more expensive than the former. Most businesses are not large enough to require operator services, but it is still something that is worth looking into.

Customer Support

As is the case with any product or service, customer support is an extremely important factor to consider when buying. This goes double for tech-related products and services that might require specialized knowledge. If something goes wrong during a call, you want a person you can call to get help.

Many services offer 24/7 support but some might only allow calls during normal business hours. Other services use a support ticket model, which can take very long to get a response. Others might have a “self-help” FAQ section in addition to any live support options they have.

In the worst-case scenario, if you can’t get a hold of a customer service rep, there should be a library of training and troubleshooting resources. It may not be a very common option, but live chat support is a new and highly favored troubleshooting model.

Price

You also need to figure out your budget. Conference call plans can range in price from totally free to $1,000s of dollar for enterprise-level solutions. However, based on our estimations, a viable solution for a small to medium-sized business optimally should cost about $20-$40 per month. $20-$40 a month should get you a decent amount of features, including but not limited to call recording, video conferencing, storage, and customer support options.

One more note: You can often get a discount on subscription costs if you sign up for an annual contract instead of a long-term one. You would be spying more all at once but over the course of a year would pay less than if you opted for month-to-month billing. Take advantage of any free trial, if you can.

Free and Paid Features

Conference calls offer additional solutions to convince people to sign up. Some of the more common features you will see include:

  • Live chat
  • Call reporting
  • Software integration
  • Toll-free numbers
  • Mobile apps
  • International conference calling
  • Custom greetings
  • File sharing and presentation tools
  • Management tools

And so on, and so on. Some features will be free but others you’ll have to pay for. There are a lot of choices, but the upshot is that you can find a genuine customer solution that is tailored specifically for your needs. You just need to figure out what you need and see which plan gives you the best value for your dollar.


Takeaway

Every business will need to make conference calls at some point; they are just an unavoidable part of today’s business environment. So, finding a good conference call service is important for virtually any enterprise. Increased demand and competition have led to a wide range of conference call services at competitive prices.

No matter if you are an individual or run a large business, conference call services are essential So do your research, and follow the tips you read in this guide, and you can find a service that works for you.




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California’s net neutrality law dodges Big Telecom bullet • The Register

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The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to block California’s net neutrality law (SB 822), affirming that state laws can regulate internet connectivity where federal law has gone silent.

The decision is a blow to the large internet service providers that challenged California’s regulations, which prohibit network practices that discriminate against lawful applications and online activities. SB 822, for example, forbids “zero-rating” programs that exempt favored services from customer data allotments, paid prioritization, and blocking or degrading service.

In 2017, under the leadership of then-chairman Ajit Pai, the US Federal Communications Commission tossed out America’s net neutrality rules, to the delight of the internet service providers that had to comply. Then in 2018, the FCC issued an order that redefined broadband internet services, treating them as “information services” under Title I of the Communications Act instead of more regulated “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act.

California lawmaker Scott Wiener (D) crafted SB 822 to implement the nixed 2015 Open Internet Order on a state level, in an effort to fill the vacuum left by the FCC’s abdication. SB 822, the “California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018,” was signed into law in September 2018 and promptly challenged.

In October 2018, a group of cable and telecom trade associations sued California to prevent SB 822 from being enforced. In February, 2021, Judge John Mendez of the United States District Court for Eastern California declined to grant the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to block the law. 

So the trade groups took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has now rejected their arguments. While federal laws can preempt state laws, the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband services has moved those services outside its authority and opened a gap that state regulators are now free to fill.

“We conclude the district court correctly denied the preliminary injunction,” the appellate ruling [PDF] says. “This is because only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority.

The FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services

“As the D.C. Circuit held in Mozilla, by classifying broadband internet services as information services, the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services. The agency, therefore, cannot preempt state action, like SB 822, that protects net neutrality.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported California in an amicus brief, celebrated the decision in a statement emailed to The Register.

“EFF is pleased that the Ninth Circuit has refused to bar enforcement of California’s pioneering net neutrality rules, recognizing a very simple principle: the federal government can’t simultaneously refuse to protect net neutrality and prevent anyone else from filling the gap,” a spokesperson said.

“Californians can breathe a sigh of relief that their state will be able to do its part to ensure fair access to the internet for all, at a time when we most need it.”

There’s still the possibility that the plaintiffs – ACA Connects, CTIA, NCTA and USTelecom – could appeal to the US Supreme Court.

In an emailed statement, the organizations told us, “We’re disappointed and will review our options. Once again, a piecemeal approach to this issue is untenable and Congress should codify national rules for an open Internet once and for all.” ®

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RCSI scientists find potential treatment for secondary breast cancer

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An existing drug called PARP inhibitor can be used to exploit a vulnerability in the way breast cancer cells repair their DNA, preventing spread to the brain.

For a long time, there have been limited treatment options for patients with breast cancer that has spread to the brain, sometimes leaving them with just months to live. But scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have found a potential treatment using existing drugs.

By tracking the development of tumours from diagnosis to their spread to the brain, a team of researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre found a previously unknown vulnerability in the way the tumours repair their DNA.

An existing kind of drug known as a PARP inhibitor, often used to treat heritable cancers, can prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA because of this vulnerability, culminating in the cells dying and the patient being rid of the cancer.

Prof Leonie Young, principal investigator of the RCSI study, said that breast cancer research focused on expanding treatment options for patients whose disease has spread to the brain is urgently needed to save the lives of those living with the disease.

“Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer,” she said of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Deaths caused by breast cancer are often a result of treatment relapses which lead to tumours spreading to other parts of the body, a condition known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. This kind of cancer is particularly aggressive and lethal when it spreads to the brain.

The study was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.

It was carried out as an international collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh in the US. Apart from Prof Young, the other RCSI researchers were Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija and Prof Arnold Hill.

“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said Dr Varešlija.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Surface Duo 2 review: Microsoft’s dual-screen Android needs work | Microsoft

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Microsoft’s second attempt at its interesting dual-screen Android smartphone corrects some mistakes of the original, but falls short of a revolution due to a series of oddities created by its physical laptop-like form.

Looking more like a tiny convertible computer than a phone, the Surface Duo 2 starts at £1,349 ($1,499/A$2,319), a lot for a regular smartphone but slightly cheaper than folding-screen rivals.

It opens like a book, with each half just 5.5mm thick, and a hinge that allows it to fold all the way over.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
There is no screen on the outside, but the time and some basic alerts for SMS and calls can be shown down the spine of the hinge. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Inside are a pair of 90Hz OLED screens each measuring 5.8in on the diagonal. They can be used on their own or combined as one display measuring 8.3in – a similar size to an iPad mini. Both screens are covered in traditional scratch-resistant smartphone glass and have large, old-fashioned bezels top and bottom.

Having two separate displays rather than one that folds in half creates a major drawback: a gap in the middle of the screen big enough that you can see through it, which is much harder to ignore than the crease in the middle of a flexible display as found on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The gap between the screens sits right in the middle of the combined display, which makes full-screen reading, scrolling and watching video awkward. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can use two different apps at the same time on the two screens. The theory is sound, but I found few pairings were useful beyond simple messaging apps and a browser. More useful was using one screen for a note-taking app and the other for a full keyboard like a mini laptop.

Some apps spanned across both displays, like Outlook, can put different information on each screen, such as your inbox on one side and an open message on the other. Some games, including Asphalt 9 and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass streaming service, put controls on one screen and the action on the other. But there are very few apps and games optimised for this setup.

microsoft surface duo 2 review
The two screens can be folded into various configurations, including just a single display, both combined into one large display, propped up like a tent or open like a mini laptop. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Screens: two 5.8in AMOLED 90Hz displays

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

  • RAM: 8GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128, 256 or 512GB

  • Operating system: Android 11

  • Cameras: 12MP wide, 16MP ultra-wide, 12MP 2x telephoto; 12MP selfie

  • Connectivity: 5G, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and location

  • Water resistance: IPX1 (dripping water)

  • Dimensions closed: 145.2 x 92.1 x 11.0mm

  • Dimensions open: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5mm

  • Weight: 284g

2021’s top Android chip

microsoft surface duo 2 review
It takes two hours 15 minutes to fully charge the Duo 2 hitting 50% in 45 minutes, using a 45W USB-C charger (not included), which is pretty slow compared to rivals. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo 2 has last year’s top Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip with 8GB of RAM, matching the performance of top-flight Android smartphones from 2021 and capable of running two apps running side-by-side without slowdown.

Battery life is more variable than a traditional phone. It lasts about 32 hours between charges, with both screens used for about four hours with a variety of messaging, browsing and work apps. It lasts about a third longer if you mostly use only one screen. That’s a considerably shorter battery life than a regular smartphone and behind the Z Fold 3.

Sustainability

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The camera sticks quite far out of the glass back stopping it from sitting flat on a desk. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Microsoft does not provide an expected lifespan for the Duo 2’s battery; those in similar devices typically maintain at least 80% of their original capacity for in excess of 500 full charge cycles. Microsoft charges an out-of-warranty service fee of £593.94 to repair devices and £568.44 to replace the battery. The previous generation Surface Duo scored only two out of 10 on iFixit’s repairability scale.

The phone contains no recycled materials, but Microsoft operates recycling schemes for old devices, publishes a company-wide sustainability report and a breakdown of each product’s environmental impact.

Android 11

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The single screen mode is hard to use one-handed and most Android apps and websites are designed for longer screens, not short and fat ones, so you end up having to do a lot more scrolling than you would on a regular phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo 2 runs Android 11 – not the latest Android 12 – and generally behaves like a standard Android smartphone or tablet with a few small additions that make it easier to use each screen separately. One of the best is the ability to drag the gesture bar at the bottom of an app to move it between screens or to drop it on to the gap between the screens to span it across both displays.

The software can be a bit unpredictable at times, such as opening the keyboard or text box of an app on another screen or hiding a second app from the screen when you try to type. But it is generally a fast and responsive experience given how unusual the device is.

The Duo 2 will receive three years of software updates from release, including monthly security patches, which is disappointingly at least a year short of what rivals, including Samsung and Apple, offer. Microsoft’s last planned update for the Duo 2 will be 21 October 2024.

Camera

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
Because the camera is on the back of the device, it would be blocked if you fold one of the screens over, meaning you have to shoot photos with both screens open – which is unwieldy. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo 2 has a triple camera on the back and a 12-megapixel selfie camera above the right-hand screen.

The rear main 12MP camera and 2x telephoto cameras are good, capable of producing detailed shots in a range of lighting conditions. The 16MP ultra-wide camera is reasonable, but a bit soft on detail and struggles with challenging scenes. The camera app has most of the features you’d expect, such as portrait mode, night mode and slow-mo video, and can shoot regular video at up to 4K at 60 frames a second.

The 12MP selfie camera is capable of shooting detailed photos even in middling light, and has access to the dedicated night mode when it gets dark.

Overall, the camera system on the Duo 2 is solid, but it can’t hold a candle to the best in the business.

Observations

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The camera lump on the back stops the device folding fully flat, creating a wedge shape when using one screen only. The shiny power button is also a fingerprint scanner, which was fairly fast and reliable. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The Duo 2 supports Microsoft’s Slim Pen stylus, which can be magnetically stored and charged on the back of the device when not in use.

  • The stereo speakers are decently loud but a bit tinny, fine for watching YouTube videos.

  • The width of the device makes it a challenge to fit into smaller pockets.

Price

The Surface Duo 2 costs £1,349 ($1,499/A$2,319) with 128GB, £1,429 ($1,599/A$2,469) with 256GB or £1,589 ($1,799/A$2,769) with 512GB of storage.

For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs £1,599 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 costs £949.

Verdict

The Surface Duo 2 is an improvement on its predecessor, but is still a very odd proposition that’s neither a good phone nor a good tablet.

The individual screens are short and stout, forcing lots of scrolling in apps when using it like a phone and making one-handed use very difficult. The gap at the hinge makes combining them into one big tablet screen awkward too.

Using two apps side-by-side works well, but few combinations proved useful or faster than just quick switching between two apps on one screen on a normal phone. There is more potential in apps like Outlook that provide a multi-pane view, but few apps or games are optimised for the dual-screen system.

Microsoft is only offering a disappointing three years of software and security updates from release for the Duo 2, too, losing it a star.

It is good to see Microsoft trying something different. But ultimately the Duo 2’s two screens are just not yet as good or useful as either a single phone screen or a bigger folding screen, making it an expensive halfway house.

Pros: two screens, two apps side-by-side, multiple modes, top performance, hardened glass screens, decent camera, head-turning design.

Cons: gap between screens, few optimised apps, average battery life, bulky camera lump, chunky in pocket, hard to use one-handed, no real water resistance, only three years of software updates from release.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The outside of the device is smooth glass front and back with quality-feeling plastic edges and a metal hinge. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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