Microsoft’s Surface Duo, released last year, was a bold move. The dual-screen folding phone was interesting, but that didn’t make it good. With the new Surface Duo 2, Microsoft is doubling down with better specs that aim to improve all the issues we had with the original.
The Surface Duo’s design was imperfect, but there was something elegant about its two ultra-thin screens separated by an innovative hinge with excellent balance. But it seems the original Surface Duo took so long to develop that by the time it came out, its specs and cameras were already outdated at launch.
With the Surface Duo 2, Microsoft has finally added the kind of flagship specs (mostly) that its dual-screen phone needs to make good on its vision—and to make that $1,500 price tag worth it. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip (up from the SD855 on last year’s model), 8GB of RAM (up from 6GB), and storage options that go from 128GB up to 512GB.
Microsoft also added NFC—which should really be a standard feature on all phones nowadays—along with support for 5G connectivity. The Surface Duo 2 measures just 0.21 inches thick when fully opened, and Microsoft claims it’s the thinnest 5G mobile device on the market.
The Duo 2 also gets a huge camera upgrade. Microsoft added a new 12-MP selfie camera on the inside along with a huge new triple-lens rear camera module in back with 12-MP main cam, a 16-MP ultra-wide cam, and a 12-MP telephoto cam with a 2x optical zoom. This gives the Duo 2 much more respectable photo chops compared to competing flagship handsets, though the size of the rear camera module does come with the downside of not being able to fully open the Duo 2 a full 360 degrees as you might on a 2-in-1 device.
The Duo 2 just feels like a more polished device. Microsoft has smoothed out some of the original’s sharp edges, which makes the Duo 2 a lot nicer to hold and open and close on a regular basis. The phone’s fingerprint sensor has also been baked into its lock button. And even though the Duo 2 is about the same overall size as its predecessor, Microsoft slimmed down its bezels and added slightly larger 5.8-inch 1344 x 1892 AMOLED touchscreens with 90Hz refresh rates on either side, so there’s even more screen real estate to enjoy.
Microsoft added a couple of small but clever touches, like a case with a magnet for attaching the new Surface Pen 2, and a new peek feature that allows you to check the time or see notifications by looking at the gap where the Duo 2's screens meet its hinge. Microsoft could have easily skipped the peek feature, because other foldables don’t include something like this, but it makes it so much easier to keep tabs on events without fully opening the Duo 2. It might be my favorite upgrade on the entire device.
There are a few things still missing on the Duo 2 that I wish Microsoft had included, like support for wireless charging and some kind of official rating for dust and water resistance.
But more importantly, even with all the Surface Duo 2's upgraded hardware, the success of Microsoft’s latest dual-screen phone will still ultimately hinge on its software. The Duo 2 is launching with Android 11 pre-installed, which is a good start, but because the devices I tested out were still running pre-release beta software, it remains to be seen how well Microsoft has been able to iron out some of the bugs people encountered on the original. Those ranged from general sluggishness and occasional difficulty dragging apps and files from one screen to another, to ghosting that caused elements of some apps to remain on the screen even when the app was closed.
Companies like Samsung could learn a lot from some of the gestures and functions Microsoft has created to move and manipulate apps across the Duo’s screens. But the Duo 2 is Microsoft’s second attempt to make dual-screen devices a thing, and people are going to be extra critical (rightly so) if there are still a lot of kinks or bugs in the Duo 2's software. But it seems the Duo 2 has the specs it needs to properly compete with phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 3, and after a year of development, hopefully the Duo’s software has taken a huge step forward, too.
The Surface Duo 2 is available for preorder starting today for $1,500, and starts shipping Oct. 21.
[Update 9/23] The official Microsoft Surface account recently tweeted out that technically the Surface Duo 2 features IPX1 water-resistance, which is good for protection against an occasional raindrop or two. It’s literally the lowest IP rating for water resistance you can get, so while it’s not much, at least it’s something.