Hands on: Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 mostly fixes the problems of the original

Hands on: Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 mostly fixes the problems of the original

Microsoft announced the Surface Duo 2 the other day. It’s the second-generation model of Microsoft’s dual-screen smartphone. This time around, the firm fixed everything that was a pain point about the hardware in the original model.

The Redmond firm first announced the Surface Duo two years ago as part of a new initiative to build dual-screen devices. The other part of that equation, the Surface Neo, never shipped and probably never will. The Duo, on the other hand, arrived ahead of schedule. The only problem was that at $1,399, it was lacking a lot.

For example, the original Surface Duo packed a Snapdragon 855 when current flagships were using a Snapdragon 865, it was missing 5G, and it had an awful camera. The only camera was an 11MP f/2.0 sensor on the inside of the device, and it was so thin it just couldn’t get the job done properly.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 Specifications

SpecificationMicrosoft Surface Duo 2
Build
  • Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on displays
  • Corning Gorilla Glass on the outside surfaces
Dimensions & Weight
  • Closed: 145.2 x 92.1 x 11.0mm
  • Open: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5mm
  • 284g
Display
  • Dual PixelSense Fusion displays
    • 8.3-inch AMOLED, 2688 x 1892p
  • Single PixelSense screen:
    • 5.8-inch AMOLED, 1344 x 1892p
  • 401 PPI
  • HDR
  • 100% sRGB, DCI-P3
  • 90Hz adaptive refresh rate
  • 800nits peak brightness
SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM & Storage
  • 8GB LPDDR5  + 128GB
  • 8GB + 256GB
  • 8GB + 512GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4,449mAh dual battery
  • 23W fast charging support
  • Fast charger sold separately
SecurityFingerprint sensor with enterprise-grade security
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 12MP f/1.7, dual pixel PDAF, OIS
  • Telephoto: 12MP f/2.4, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom
  • Ultra-wide: 16MP f/2.2, 110° FoV with distortion correction
Front Camera(s)12MP f/2.0
Port(s)USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
Audio
  • Stereo speakers
  • Dual mic AI-based noise suppression and acoustic echo cancellation
Connectivity
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • 5G-NR NSA (mmWave) US only
  • 5G-NR NSA (Sub-6)
  • Gigabit LTE, 4×4 MIMO
  • GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BeiDou, QZSS
SoftwareMicrosoft Surface Duo 2 UI based on Android 11
Colors
  • Glacier
  • Obsidian

The Surface Duo 2 has a big camera bump, and a better camera

The Surface Duo 2 has both a Snapdragon 888 and 5G, but the biggest and most important change is the camera. The main sensor is 12MP f/1.7, the secondary one is a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens, and the third camera is a 12MP f/2.4 2x zoom lens.

The bad news is this setup is contained in a sizable camera bump, and for those that were worried about it, I have bad news. It’s just physics. The bigger a camera sensor is, the more light it can allow in, but depth is key too. If you want a better camera, it just has to be thicker. And for one thing, the device itself is thicker at 5.5mm instead of 4.8mm, but there’s still going to be a camera bump no matter how you slice it.

Surface Duo 2 open 360 degrees

The above picture is what the Surface Duo 2 looks like when it’s folded back. It’s not terrible, and I know a lot of people were concerned with how this would look when it can’t be folded completely flat. Well, there it is.

This is something that could be solved by putting a display on the outside, like we’ve seen from foldable devices such as Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. I don’t think that’s Microsoft’s plan though. The team likes the minimal design.

Surface Duo 2 closed with pen charging case

There’s a new pen cover for the Surface Duo 2, which I found to be interesting. It comes in a matte finish that matches either color you bought, but what’s fascinating is this isn’t built into the device. Seeing as the Surface Duo 2 is already significantly thicker and heavier than the original model, I’m guessing that Microsoft didn’t want to make even more compromises to build in the magnet and wireless charging it would need.

One thing you’ll notice however, is when folding the screen back, there’s a gap in which the Slim Pen 2 fits perfectly. That’s another one of those details the Surface team pays attention to. Things just tend to fit perfectly into the spaces they’re designed for.

Surface Duo 2 with Glance display lit up

While there’s no outer display you can interact with, the Surface Duo 2 does have what Microsoft calls a “Glance Bar”. This uses the curved edge of the main display to let you see notifications and such along the spine of the device when it’s folded.

To be clear, I’m not trying to bash the Surface Duo 2 for being thicker or heavier, or for having the big camera bump. I think that every single improvement on the Duo 2 was absolutely necessary to improve the user experience.

The Surface Duo 2 has new features and more

With the original Surface Duo, you had to fold the display all the way back to use the camera. That’s because the only camera was on the inside of the device. Since the Surface Duo 2 has a proper rear camera, you actually have to open the device completely to use it, and this allows for some extra features.

Surface Duo 2 with camera and gallery open

While it’s open, the first thing you’ll see is your photo gallery on the bottom screen.

Surface Duo 2 with camera and photo open

Then when you take a picture, the photo appears on that bottom screen. It’s pretty cool, and it would be even better if I had something more meaningful to take a picture of, like flowers or a pet or something.

Surface Duo 2 with photo and editing options open

Next up, if you hit the edit button, you’ll get photo editing controls on one screen, and the image on the other. Again, it’s pretty cool stuff.

Unfortunately, I had no way of actually testing out the camera. I wasn’t allowed to take the Surface Duo 2 out of the Microsoft Experience Center. Images looked beautiful on the dual AMOLED displays, but to be fair, everything looks beautiful on those screens.

Surface Duo 2 with OneNote and Edge open

By now, I’ve said a few times that my favorite product announced at the Surface event is the Slim Pen 2. As someone who’s used a lot of pens with a lot of products, I really think it’s a game-changer. The pen actually provides haptic feedback so it feels like you’re writing on paper.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the Surface Duo 2, at least at launch. It requires a supported device and supported software, but Microsoft says that haptic feedback through the Slim Pen 2 is coming soon.

Surface Duo 2 with Xbox controller

And then there’s gaming. Of course, Microsoft is hyping the Surface Duo 2 as a smartphone with gaming features, thanks to its Xbox Cloud Gaming service.

Surface Duo 2 with game controller on screen

Also, some games are optimized for the device, letting you use one screen for controls. These include Asphalt 9Dungeon Hunter, and Modern Combat 5.

Conclusion

From the brief amount of time that I got to spend with the Surface Duo 2, I became fairly smitten with it. For one thing, it’s one heck of a sexy device, especially in that new Obsidian color.

Surface Duo 2 in black with white background

Seriously though; we talk so much about new features that I feel like the new color is going under the radar. The Glacier color is beautiful, and maybe it’s because it’s new, but the Obsidian color really blows me away. I can’t remember the last time I said that about a black smartphone (sorry Samsung).

When Microsoft released the original Surface Duo with such a subpar camera, their defense was that it was a productivity device. Still, people are using this thing as their smartphone. I really don’t think many people were looking to carry around a smartphone to take pictures with and a Surface Duo.

So now, the Surface Duo 2 fixes those problems. It’s got a current-gen flagship chip, 5G, a proper camera, and even NFC. All of that comes in an even sexier package.

The Surface Duo 2 comes out on October 21st, but you can pre-order it now.

    Surface Duo 2
    The Surface Duo 2 has a Snapdragon 888 processor, an all-new camera, and two beautiful AMOLED displays to maximize productivity.

About author

Rich Woods
Rich Woods

Managing Editor for XDA Computing. I've been covering tech from smartphones to PCs since 2013. If you see me at a trade show, come say hi and let me ask you weird questions about why you use the tech you use.