(Pocket-lint) - Microsoft has announced its second-gen Surface Duo, an update to the device that was originally announced in 2019.
The Surface Duo has had an interesting journey. Microsoft has always been keen to avoid calling it a phone, swerving the Surface Phone name that was circulating prior to launch.
Although announced in late-2019, it didn't become available in the US until September 2020, and February 2021 for other markets.
So what has Microsoft changed as it attempt to make the Surface Duo 2 more attractive to customers?
Price and availability
- Duo 2: $1,499.99 / £1,349
- Duo: $1,399.99 / £1,349
The original Surface Duo was announced in October 2019, with pre-orders opening August 2020 and shipping September 2020 in the US; it was December 2020 before it was confirmed for other markets and February 2021 before it went on sale.
The Surface Duo 2 was announced on 22 September 2021, and it will be available from 20 October 2021, with pre-orders now open.
The Surface Duo has had a significant price cut, however, so it's available for about half the price of the Surface Duo 2.
Design and build
- Duo 2: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5mm (open); 145.2 x 92.1 x 11mm (closed); 284g
- Duo: 145.2 x 186.9 x 4.8mm (open); 145.2 x 93.3 x 9.9mm (closed); 250g
- Corning Gorilla Glass exterior
The Surface Duo is a folding-type device with a central hinge allowing you to open up the device like a book. Unlike Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold, there's no external display, instead relying on you opening it up to use.
The device looks largely the same, with the Duo 2 slightly narrower, but not that you'd notice. The new model is also slightly thicker, the biggest physical change being a camera array on the rear, more like a traditional smartphone.
The new model comes in two colours - Glacier (white) or Obsidian (black) - while the original model is only available in Glacier. Both are finished in Corning Gorilla Glass to the exterior.
The form factor remain the same, with the ability to fold it back on itself so both screens are on the outside to use one-handed; on the Duo 2 the camera bump is angled and protected so it fits together with a gap, rather than flush like the original model.
One design point to note is that the Duo 2 has slight curves to the displays on the inner edge, meaning that when the device is closed, some of the display can be seen down the spine of the device. This can act as a notifications area.
The Duo 2 also offers stereo speakers over the Duo's mono speaker, so the audio is going to be better.
It's an evolution over the original Duo in terms of design, much the same, but cleverly adapted to accommodate the new camera array, while also shrinking the bezels around the displays for a better overall look.
- Duo 2: 2x 5.8in, 1344 x 1892 pixels, 401ppi; 8.3in, 2688 x 1892 pixels combined
- Duo: 2x 5.6in, 1350 x 1800 pixels, 401ppi; 8.1in, 2700 x 1800 pixels combined
There's a similar arrangement of displays on the Duo 2 and Duo, with both using AMOLED panels and both offering the same overall pixel density of 401ppi.
The Duo 2 has slightly larger displays, however, so there's a little more display space and the bezels have shrunk a little to accommodate this - while also offering that spine view we mentioned previously.
Both are covered with Corning Gorilla Glass, with Panos Panay, chief product officer, saying the Duo was covered in the hardest Gorilla Glass, which would be Victus.
The displays on both are designed to work independently, allowing side-by-side apps, but supporting enhanced apps across both displays to use the full screen. You can also use one display as a controller for games, for example when Xbox Cloud Gaming.
There's one big lift for the Duo 2, however and that's a 90Hz refresh rate. That will make scrolling just a little smoother over the older Duo, making the day-to-day use of the newer device a little more refined.
The Surface Duo 2 continues to support the Surface Pen, but you can magnetically attach the Surface Slim Pen which is a convenient solution.
Hardware and specs
- Duo 2: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G, 8GB RAM, 128/256/512GB storage, 4449mAh
- Duo: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM. 128/256GB storage, 3577mAh
There's a big change in the internal hardware, dealing with one of the problems that Qualcomm faced at launch. Launching with Snapdragon 888, the Duo 2 is using 2021 hardware, whereas the original Duo was using 2019 hardware when it became available in 2020.
The Snapdragon 888 has integrated 5G for faster connectivity, while offering a pretty big step forward in performance compared to SD855, as it's two generations more advanced.
There's a bump in RAM and an expansion of storage options up to 512GB on the Duo 2, although that brings with it increasing prices, and with that fast connectivity, you might prefer cloud storage instead.
The Duo 2 gets NFC, so you'll be able to use Google Pay, while there's a bigger battery too - so it may well offer better endurance. The charger for the Duo 2 will offer 23W charging, a minor jump over the 18W of the Duo.
In all areas, the Duo 2 should be a better performer than the original Duo model.
- Duo 2 triple rear camera:
- Main: 12MP, f/1.7, 1.4µm, OIS
- Tele: 12MP, f/2.4, 1.0µm, OIS
- Ultrawide: 16MP, f/2.2, 1.0µm
- Front: 12MP, f/2.0, 1.0µm
- Duo: 11MP, f/2.0, 1.0µm
There's a big change in the cameras for the Surface Duo. The original had a single camera on the inside, but the Duo 2 now has a triple camera array on the outside, as we mentioned in the design.
This brings a dedicated main, telephoto and ultrawide camera, supported by a time-of-flight sensor to boost focusing. There's optical image stabilisation available too.
Ultimately, this opens up a range of options, but you'll still have to literally open up the Duo 2 to use these cameras as you'll need to use the display on the inside as a viewfinder, so it's not going to be as convenient as a smartphone, or device with an external display, like the Galaxy Z Fold.
We don't know what the performance of these cameras is going to be like, but it's a big change from the original Duo and that’s likely to add appeal to those considering it as their main "phone", with a lot more camera features offered.
The Surface Duo 2 is a step forward over the original Duo, launching with newer hardware and boosted features to make it more appealing as a device - while also being better positioned to compete with some flagship devices.
Much will come down to how well the software works, both as an Android device, but also with the optimisations that Microsoft has included. That's going to include a lot of Microsoft apps, so the Surface Duo could be a great device for those working within a Microsoft 365 environment - and hopefully, a better experience over the previous version.
For those serious about the Surface Duo, the new model looks like the obvious choice - but with the older model slashed to half the price, you might just be tempted to pick it up and see what it offers.