The Surface Duo, take two. Microsoft’s quirky two-screen device is back, and you can still run two apps side by side, fold the thing over for single-screen mode, or draw on it with a pen. The original device landed at the end of a messy, years-long journey that included a switch from Windows to Android and an official announcement that was a full year before the ship date. The Surface Duo 1 was a big flop and eventually hit the bargain bin for nearly $1,000 off the $1,399 MSRP (the device is still readily available for $412, by the way!). Microsoft seems undeterred by the original unit’s performance, though, and it has produced this sequel. So, what’s been improved?
First off, the specs look a lot better this year. Microsoft is turning in a modern device with a Snapdragon 888, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a much bigger 4449mAh battery. The original device had a Snapdragon 855 SoC, which was 18 months old when the Duo shipped, and so this is a big improvement. There’s also NFC this year, which was another odd quirk of the original device’s spec sheet. The OG Duo was the thinnest Android device ever, at 4.8 mm thick, but Microsoft found room to increase the 3577mAh battery by making the phone thicker, and now each half is 5.5 mm. It’s still one of the thinnest Android devices ever, and Microsoft even managed to cram mmWave support into the US version.
The phone still has two rigid, glass-covered screens that fold up like a moleskin notebook. This year the two OLED screens are a bit bigger, at 5.8-inches each, and Microsoft is again modernizing them with 90 Hz refresh rates. The resolution is close to the 4:3 aspect ratio of last year but not quite, with a weird measurement of 1892×1344. The reason for this seems to be the addition of a few extra pixels for a new spine display. The hinge-side of each display has a curve to it, just like the annoyingly curved sides of a flagship Android phone, allowing you to see a tiny sliver of the screen while the Duo 2 is closed. Microsoft is using this to display little notification chips for things like your number of missed calls or messages.
Microsoft’s spine display seems to be a small concession to the design of every other foldable out there, which often includes an exterior display. People check their smartphones dozens of times a day, and most foldable designs allow for glanceable information via a smaller front screen. If you have a foldable that always needs a cumbersome two-hand opening operation just to see why your phone beeped, like the Duo 1, it can quickly get very annoying. Now you’ll at least be able to see a notification icon while the device is folded, though every other major foldable on the market (the Z Flip, the Z Fold, the Moto Razr, the Mate X2) has a bigger exterior screen that can show things like message text.
Microsoft’s biggest focus for the sequel seems to be the camera. There is now a huge triple-camera bump on the back, which makes the awkward compromise of not allowing the phone to fold flat in single-screen mode. The original device had no rear camera, but now you have a 12MP main sensor, a 12MP 2x telephoto, and a 16MP ultrawide. There’s also a new pen, the Surface Slim Pen 2, which supports a ton of Surface devices.
Microsoft’s second swing at the Surface Duo device seems to be all about competence, since it’s now shipping modern, professional-smartphone-maker specs and a bigger battery. Plus, with a full year of development under its belt, the team hopefully got all the bugs worked out of Microsoft’s version of Android 11.
If you weren’t a fan of the overall Surface Duo concept, there probably won’t be much here to convert you, though. While it is a bit thicker, the other dimensions haven’t changed much, so this new edition is still significantly wider than a normal Android phone, at 92.1 mm for each half. We took a lot of issue with the width of the device last year, since it made the device difficult to hold or to put in a pocket, and the super-wide screens didn’t play well with Android’s app scaling. In practice, everything was really big with limited content space (other Android displays are tall and skinny, not short and fat, for a reason).
One area Microsoft is not backing down on is the price: the Surface Duo 2 starts at $1,499, or $100 more than the last version. The device is up for preorder now on Microsoft.com, and ships October 21, 2021.
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