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

MMicrosoft’s second attempt at its interesting dual-screen Android smartphone fixes some of the flaws of the original, but isn’t revolutionary due to a series of quirks created by its laptop-like physical form.

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

It opens like a book, with each half just 5.5mm thick and a hinge that allows it to fold down completely.

There’s no screen on the outside, but the time and some basic text and call alerts can be displayed on the hinge spine. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Inside are a pair of 90Hz OLED displays each measuring 5.8 inches on the diagonal. They can be used alone or combined into a single 8.3-inch screen, a size similar to that of an iPad mini. Both screens are covered in traditional scratch-resistant smartphone glass and have large old-fashioned bezels at the top and bottom.

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

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 Review
The screen gap is right in the middle of the combo display, making reading, scrolling, and watching videos in full screen distracting. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can use two different apps at the same time on both screens. The theory is good, but I’ve found few associations to be useful beyond simple messaging apps and a browser. More useful was to use one screen for a note-taking app and the other for a full keyboard like a mini laptop.

Some apps split across both screens, like Outlook, can show 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 the controls on one screen and the action on the other. But there are very few apps and games optimized for this setup.

microsoft surface duo 2 review
Both screens can be folded into different configurations, including a single screen, both combined into a single large screen, propped up like a tent, or opened up like a mini laptop. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Characteristics

  • Screens: two 5.8-inch 90Hz AMOLED displays

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

  • RAM: 8 GB RAM

  • Storage: 128, 256 or 512 GB

  • Operating system: Android 11

  • Cameras: 12MP wide, 16MP ultrawide, 12MP 2x telephoto; 12MP Self-Portrait

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

  • Water resistance: IPX1 (water drops)

  • Closed odds: 145.2 x 92.1 x 11.0mm

  • Open odds: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5mm

  • Weight: 284g

The best Android chip of 2021

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

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

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

Durability

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

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

The phone does not contain any recycled materials, but Microsoft runs recycling programs 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
Single screen mode is difficult to use with one hand and most Android apps and websites are designed for longer screens, not short and fat ones, so you end up having to scroll a lot more than you need to. 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 drop it on the space between screens to span it across both screens.

The software can sometimes be a little unpredictable, like opening an app’s keyboard or text box on another screen or hiding a second app from the screen when you try to type. But it’s generally a quick and responsive experience given how quirky 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 less than what rivals including Samsung and Apple are offering. Microsoft’s latest scheduled update for the Duo 2 will be October 21, 2024.

Camera

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
Since the camera is on the back of the device, it would be blocked if you fold one of the screens, which means you have to take pictures 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 screen.

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

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

Overall, the Duo 2’s camera system is solid, but it can’t compete with the best in the business.

Comments

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The camera bump on the back prevents the device from folding completely flat, creating a wedge shape when using a single screen. The glossy power button is also a fingerprint scanner, which was quite fast and reliable. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The Duo 2 supports Microsoft’s Slim Pen, 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, perfect for watching YouTube videos.

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

Price

The Surface Duo 2 costs £1,349 ($1,499 / AU$2,319) with 128GB, £1,429 ($1,599 / AU$2,469) with 256GB or £1,589 ($1,799 / AU$2,769 AU) with 512 GB 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 over its predecessor, but still a very odd proposition that’s neither a good phone nor a good tablet.

The individual screens are short and sturdy, forcing a lot of scrolling through apps when using it as a phone and making one-handed use very difficult. The gap at the hinge also makes it difficult to combine them into one large tablet screen.

Using two apps side by side works well, but few combinations have proven useful or faster than just quickly switching between two apps on one screen on a regular phone. There’s more potential in apps like Outlook that offer a multi-pane view, but few apps or games are optimized for the dual-screen system.

Microsoft only offers three disappointing years of software and security updates from the release of the Duo 2, which knocks it off a star.

Good to see Microsoft trying something different. But ultimately, the Duo 2’s dual screens just aren’t quite as good or useful as a single screen phone or larger folding screen yet, making it an expensive halfway house.

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

The inconvenients: screen gap, few optimized apps, average battery life, bulky camera, bulky in pocket, difficult to use with one hand, no real water resistance, only three years of updates software updates since release.

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

Other reviews

Comments are closed.