Santa was kind this year and allowed me to get my hands on a Surface Duo 2. Before I drive into the formal review, I’d like to summarise by saying that Surface Duo 2, whilst very much similar and samey is much better and more refined better than the original Duo. Whilst a Dual Screen may not be for everyone, it’s different and is great once you to adapt to it.
IMO, having two screens available will (once you get used to it) leave you wondering how you ever made do with just one before. It’s a convenience and multitasking experience that once you get used to is hard to let go of.
The Duo certainly get’s attention and is simply an awesome blend of Surface and Android then this device is worth every penny or cent.
The original Surface Duo was released in 2020 and whilst a thing of beauty (it looked gorgeous, was pretty responsive and a real “wow piece”, it lacked (for most) some key things such as NFC, and decent cameras which stopped me for replacing my daily driver (a Samsung S20) for the Duo.
The Surface Duo 2
Surface Duo 2 is simply the most beautiful bit of mobile technology I have ever set eyes on. It is a work of art, the Picasso of devices, and you just want to touch it and use it. The original Duo only came in a white (Glacier) , but the Duo 2 adds another colour option of black (called Obsidian) which is also stunning.
As I said in the intro, having two screens available to you (once you get used to it) will leave you wondering how you ever made do with just one before. It’s a convenience and multitasking experience that once you get used to is hard to let go of.
Surface Duo 2 is simply the most beautiful bit of mobile technology I have ever set eyes on.
Under the hood, Microsoft have given us a flagship mobile chipset (the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888), 2 beautiful screens, NFC, fast charging, the latest Bluetooth, 8GB of RAM and updated cameras (both on the front and in a new 3-camera cluster on the rear). There’s also a glance bar on the sides to see notifications. These hardware improvements have enabled me to use the Surface Duo 2 as my day-to-day device, which the original Duo fell short of.
Yes it is bigger than my “old” Samsung S20 Ultra, but it does feel ok in my pocket (now that my Surface Bumpers have arrived). Unlike the original, the Surface Duo 2 arrived with Android 11 waiting to be installed which, combined with the updated guts makes it feel super fast and responsive with no noticeable lag.
One week in and I haven’t experienced any major quirks, and my only annoyance is that the battery is still not as good as I would have hoped (more on that later) but then I have been using it (ok, showing it off) a lot and of course the Duo has to power two screens.
Design and Feel
The Surface Duo 2 feels more polished than the Surface Duo does. It still looks every bit Surface Duo, Microsoft have clearly listened to feedback and made a number of key refinements over the first generation.
One of the most noticeable changes (you can’t miss it), is the camera bump on the back of the device. Microsoft have added a powerful triple-lens camera setup (there was no rear camera in the original Duo), which means the cameras do protrude from the back of the device (like with most phones). This was a slight concern to me when I first started using the device, mainly because it’s so noticeable compared to the original Duo! The cameras are surrounded with a tough plastic material, which extends beyond the glass back of the camera. This means that camera lenses are not in direct contact with the back of the left side of the device when it closes. Its does stick out though and you can’t help think “I hope I dont damage it”.
With Duo 2, Microsoft has also addressed one of the most annoying things about the original Duo which was that you had to open the device just to check the time or see if you had any notifications – a problem you don’t get with single screen phones. Surface Duo 2 has notification displays (called the Glance bar) that wraps around the edge of the device and are activated with a simple tap of the unlock button to show the time or a missed notification.
Like the original Surface Duo, the Duo 2’s selling point and USP is centred around the dual-screen design.
Two screens make every day tasks so much easier. Everything from reading an eBook across two screens feels more natural, whilst being on. Teams Call and making notes in OneNote on another is simple a fluid. Another great example is when you are reading and email or on a web page with links. With dual screens, clicking a link means these can open on the second screen to read later. As I have said a few times now, having two screens at your disposal massively changes the ways in which you can multitasking on your device.
The displays themselves are simply beautiful and clear. Like many other aspects of the Surface Duo 2, the screens have been upgraded too. The original Duo had two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays with a 1,350 x 1,800 resolution, which “combined” into an equivalent single 8.1 display with a 1,800 x 2,700 resolution.
With Surface Duo 2, there are two 5.8-inch displays, which open up to a “combined” 8.3 inch single screen. Each display gives 1,344 x 1,899, which with a combined resolution of 2,688 x 1,892.
Each display on the Duo 2 has a 90Hz refresh rate and up to 800 nits of brightness. Duo 2 can also deliver over 87% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut which is actually slightly better than the Surface Laptop Studio, a device designed specifically for art and graphics focussed tasks.
Gesture support for the Surface Duo 2 is unchanged from the original. This is good becuase it works well, allowing for example, for you to swipe up and drag towards the middle of the two displays to have an app span both screens. Additionally, most Microsoft apps (and a few third party ones), take full advantage of the dual displays on the Surface Duo. I find apps like Outlook most useful on a dual screen whereby you can have your email list and your current emails side by side which makes scanning through and responding to email much easier and similar to what you’d expect on a Windows/Mac desktop app.
Microsoft Teams is another app that leverages the full potential of the dual screen capability of the Surface Duo. With Teams on a Surface Duo, you can have chat open on one display, with your video call open on the other which makes the mobile Teams experience much more aligned to how we tend to use apps and multitask in a Teams meeting. The Amazon Kindle app is good example of a non Microsoft app that has also been optimised for dual screen devices.
The launcher screen (which is the home screen UI) even allows you to group and launch apps side by side as I have shown in the example below from my original Surface Duo device.
The hinge mechanism on the Surface Duo 2 is the same as on the original Duo. It’s slick and smooth with just enough resistance to prevent it opening by accident and once open, it stays open and in place.
When you are paying this kind of money for a flagship phone, you expect decent cameras, and this was one area the original Surface Duo fell short. Whilst I’d day that Surface Duo is not really aimed at the average iPhone or Samsung S series customer, if you are going to use it as your primary device (whether that is work, personal or both), you don’t want to have to carry a second camera around just to be able to take good photos.
The Surface Duo 2 has two cameras, a 12MP front facing camera, and a triple-lens camera on the back which encompasses a 12MP wide lens, a 12 MP telephoto lens and a 16MP Ultra-Wide angle lens.
The camera bump does mean, however that you can no longer fold the device back completely but it’s a small price to pay for awesome cameras.
The image below is one I took while visiting Kew Gardens in London over the Xmas break.
If you’ve seen or used the original Duo, you will notice the photo quality is a huge improvement from the original and was one my biggest disappointments.
Specifications and Performance
With Surface Duo 2, Microsoft have put a decent flagship chipset inside. The original device, while an innovative bit of technology, struggled IMO to grab the attention needed because the chipset components used weren’t at the specification the device or the price-tag commanded.
This time, Microsoft have got it right – and includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, a leap ahead of the Snapdragon 855 which makes up the guts of the original model. RAM in the Surface Duo 2, has increased from 6GB to 8GB, but this is lower in comparison to what other vendors are heading for with their top end devices. Highend Samsung devices for example, now ship with 12GB.
Does it matter? Well, it may not be a RAM related thing, but I’ve read reviews from others seeing performance issues with Duo 2 where the phone gets “stuck” in a the camera app when taking lots of photos, or more precisely when switching from camera to another app and back again. I have not seen this myself yet but it’s something I’ll be on the look out for.
So far though, from my week of use, the Surface Duo 2 works and performs extremely well. I am comparing most of the day to day use with my previous daily device (the Samsung Galaxy S20) and it is at least on par with this, but far more fun to use.
Like all mobile phone makers, battery life gets close attention, and the published numbers are never (in true day-to-day life) accurate.
Microsoft claim “up to 15.5 hours of video playback and 28 hours of talk time”, which definitely sounds impressive. Here’s how the Duo 2 performed for me over Christmas Day and Boxing day….
Though out these two days, I took lots of photos and videos of the kids, family and friends, did a fair bit of web browsing, WhatsApp messaging and general “showing off” of the device, and it did fall short of Microsoft’s claims but faired better than I actually thought it would…
The Surface Duo 2 lasted 11.5hrs before the battery got to the critical 10% level. I didn’t try it with single screen only (why would I), but in essence I’d say it performed about as well as my 1 year old Samsung S20. I think I will still need to bring a battery charger with me for a full day out (fortunately the Duo 2 does support fast charging).
Another big use case of the Duo is gaming, after all this is a device made by the same company that built the Xbox and of course they have recently just released their Xbox Cloud Gaming service. With Surface Duo, You can play games using the second screen as a controller or you can stream console games using an Xbox controller.
Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is available to buy (at time of writing) from £1,349 – which gets you the base/standard configuration with the Snapdragon 888 chipset, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. For another £150 you can get the 256GB version and there’s also a version with 512GB RAM if you really need that much!
Unlike the original device, Surface Duo 2 doesn’t come with the Bumper case that is designed to protect it from falls and knocks – the first thing I did was spend another £38 on one in an attempt to keep it looking new and shiny. Many may not see this as a big deal, as the sides of the Surface Duo 2 are a more rugged plastic this time but its an expensive device so the bumper is the least it deserves to keep it looking pretty.
Yes, Surface Duo 2 is an expensive device, but it’s more competitive with the phones around it. As an example, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs £1,599, which is slightly more expensive than the same spec Surface Duo 2.
Just a few…
- The Microsoft Launcher needs updating. It’s far out of date compared to the Standalone version you can run on any other android phone and other a couple of dual app launching shortcuts, lacks features of the standalone launcher.
- The size of the camera bump (mainly its noticeable since the device is so thin) is overwhelming at first but when you use it you soon forget how good the cameras are (especially compared to the Duo 1).
- Touch response is an issue at times on the Surface Duo 2 as it was on the original and an area of the software that Microsoft really needs to work on. Hopefully the upcoming Android 12 update and promised updates will address this.
- Apps optimised for dual screens are few and far between. It’s a shame that not nearly enough app developers take advantage of the capabilities and flexibility of using dual screen technology effectively. This is not limited to Surface Duo of course – there simply aren’t that many of these type of devices in the market today.
Would I recommend?
In short Yes
Being a Surface Fan and Windows MVP, I am always going to say yes!!! but in all honestly, the Surface Duo 2 is a truly unique and beautiful device that delivers a really solid solution for IT professionals, senior managers or tech enthusiasts.
Surface Duo 2 addresses all the short comings of the original and is a device that allows you to replace your daily driver.
Just like the Surface line up for business, Surface Duo 2 hits the professional market spot well. If you are an IT enthusiast, love the Surface Brand and want a device that stands out from the crowd, delivers a powerful and unique experience over the run-of-the-mill iPhone or Samsung devices out there then this a device that will not disappoint.
2022 will celebrate 10 years of Surface
2022 will see Microsoft celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Surface. The first device launching in October 2012 with the Surface RT followed shortly after by the Surface Pro (I still have a working one in my office somewhere too).