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9 months later, Surface Duo is cheaper than ever — and you still shouldn't buy one

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial
Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial (Image credit: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

The Surface Duo represents a ton of firsts for Microsoft. It's both the first dual-screen device and first Android phone to be released by Microsoft, and concludes a long hiatus following the cancelation of the unfortunately maligned Windows phones. At launch, the Surface Duo was an intriguing concept held back by unfinished software, strange hardware omissions, and a staggeringly high price tag. After nine months on the market, has buying the Surface Duo as a first-time customer become more palatable?

I've spent just over a month with a newly purchased Surface Duo, and have used Microsoft's experimental dual-screen device as my primary phone for just over a week. As a longtime phone and Surface enthusiast (read: nerd), I wanted to see whether the Surface Duo could feasibly become my only phone, as seen through the eyes of someone who hasn't owned the Duo since it launched nine months ago.

Where does the Surface Duo stand after nine months on the market, and should new customers still consider it?

The Surface Duo nine months after launch

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial

Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

Before I dive head-first into my personal experience with the Surface Duo, a quick recap on its life so far. If you're not intimately familiar with the experience Surface Duo promises, this is a not-so-traditional Android cellular device that combines two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays with a cleverly engineered 360-degree hinge and an impossibly thin design. Overall, Microsoft positions the Surface Duo and its unique blend of features and hardware as the "ultimate productivity device," rather than your average mobile smartphone.

The Surface Duo initially became available on Sept. 10, 2020, and has since expanded to new markets and been subjected to multiple price drops and discounts. It has, for the most part, held up Microsoft's promise of monthly software updates, culminating most recently with the May 2021 Surface Duo update. The Duo has also benefited from slowly increasing accessory support, like with our list of best Surface Duo accessories.

Nine months after its launch, the Surface Duo is undeniably in a far better position than it was at first, with improved availability, a superior price point, and (apparently) noticeably better software and stability. Still, many of the characteristics of the Duo that held it back nine months ago hold true today — and they're not so easy to fix.

Dual screens, the hinge, and good things

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial

Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

I can't profess to have had a perfect first experience with the Surface Duo since my first device was defective and unusable out of the box. Despite a bent hinge and damaged battery, however, I was still immediately struck by the alluring elegance of the Duo's overall hardware package, with the physics-distorting thin frames, satisfying hinge action, and confusing mix between "this is big" and "this is smaller than I expected." Fortunately, Microsoft was quick to help me get set up with a brand-new Duo, which has none of the critical hardware failures I saw in my first device.

Hardware

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial

Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

I was immediately struck by the alluring elegance of the Surface Duo's hardware.

After weeks of using the Duo as much as I can, some things haven't changed. The Duo is still comfortable and immensely satisfying to open and close, from the incredible hinge to the gentle "clack" when you snap it shut. Despite its unorthodox shape and size, and its slightly hefty weight, the Duo is also surprisingly easy to handle and even hold in one hand (although you'll practically need to use your other hand actually to use it).

While perhaps not as fancy as the top panels from Samsung and flagship devices from other companies, the screens are more than good enough for how I was using the Duo. I found that colors are plenty vivid and contrast is great, and I never thought the Duo's screens weren't "sharp" enough with their suitably high resolution. I do lament the lack of a high refresh rate or eye-scorching max brightness coming from my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but the Duo kept up enough that I didn't mind.

Another pleasant surprise was how the Duo's "outdated" spec sheet (don't worry, I'm not here to throw a bunch of numbers at you), featuring an aging two-year-old processor and a middling amount of RAM for multitasking compared to modern smartphones, managed to more than keep up with everything I threw at the Duo, including regularly running two apps at a time and quickly switching between different apps. Even without being a modern powerhouse flagship under the hood, the Duo still holds on to its title as "multitasking king."

Battery life joined performance by soundly destroying my expectations. The Surface Duo can't be considered an endurance champion by any stretch of the imagination, but a relatively smaller battery combined with two high-resolution screens meant I fully expected the Duo to struggle to last a full day. To my genuine surprise, I never worried about running out of juice, even with hours-long solitaire sessions, social media usage, and gaming. For me, at least, the Duo is a solid one-day phone that didn't have me constantly reaching for a charger.

Software

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial (Image credit: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy)

Source: Windows Central | Zachary Boddy

Surface Duo currently runs Android 10 with a very gentle coating of Microsoft layered on top and Microsoft Launcher as the default home screen. Launch-era Duo was plagued with a myriad of flaws, issues, and software-related bugs that detracted from the experience, and stability and consistency were real issues for early adapters. Since then, Microsoft has been fairly regularly about releasing patches and firmware updates, which have seemingly improved things considerably.

As someone who didn't witness the Duo first-hand when it launched, I can't comment on exactly how far things have come. I can say the Duo has been mostly great on the software front, with good performance and only a handful of noticeable bugs (only a few more than my Note 20 Ultra, at least). The only issue I have is that occasionally you can't be fully certain that the phone will behave the way you think it will when you switch between screens, change postures, rotate, or move apps around.

Microsoft still has to iron out some issues with dual-screens and Android, which supposedly will improve with the arrival of Android 11 (hopefully arriving later this year).

The combination of Microsoft apps and Microsoft Launcher have made using the Duo a pleasure 99% of the time. As the Duo is now, it's perfectly usable as my daily driver with little-to-no qualms, even if the Duo rarely solidifies itself as a unique dual-screen device and sticks to, at least for now, barely modified Android.

Gaming

Surface Duo Xbox Cloud Gaming Editorial Live

Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

If anything truly came out of the left field, it's Xbox Cloud Gaming on the Duo. If you aren't aware of what Xbox Cloud Gaming is, it's Microsoft's game streaming platform that lets you play full-blown Xbox console games on your mobile device, tablet, or PC. Recently, Microsoft added official Xbox Cloud Gaming support for the Surface Duo, and the experience is genuinely impressive.

Xbox Cloud Gaming and Surface Duo make me see the untapped potential this form factor has.

Players can take one of the best Xbox controllers and prop up the Surface Duo like a tent or laptop for mobile Xbox gaming, or they can transform the Surface Duo into a ridiculously close rendition of the Nintendo 3DS with customizable and individually tailored touch controls positioned on the bottom display. I won't go too far into depth on this, as I've already discussed at length why Surface Duo and Xbox Cloud Gaming come close to the Xbox handheld dream.

What I will say, however, is this is the one use case for the Surface Duo, besides simply having two apps open at a time on the dual screens, that made me recognize the absolutely massive potential this form factor possesses. Even with hardware and software that both often feel "just good enough," Xbox Cloud Gaming and Surface Duo is a combination that could happen only because Microsoft built both of these products and brought them together in a unique way.

Software, unfulfilled potential, and bad things

Surface Duo Nine Months Editorial

Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

Many Surface Duo skeptics may expect the "bad things" section of this article to dwarf the rest of the article by a comical amount, but collecting my thoughts on the Surface Duo has made me realize that this simply isn't the case. During my time with my Duo, which I purchased myself, I've almost always enjoyed using the phone, often in ways that I don't when using traditional one-screen smartphones. The Duo has a lot of flaws and issues, but it didn't stop me from loving the experience it gives me.

That being said, after this article is published, I will most likely be returning to my Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Despite the Duo's actual strengths and the potential in its design and form factor, it's often underutilized in this first iteration.

Hardware omissions like the lack of 5G, no NFC, and (most critically for me) no Qi wireless charging are all features I enjoy and use on my Note 20 Ultra. The camera on the front of the Duo is usable (most of the time), but its quality is subpar at best and awful at its worst. Everything that makes the Duo's hardware and design exceptional also contributes to its fragility and durability concerns, like plastic frames that can lead to bending and cracked charging ports.

Software is arguably an even more important contributor to my decision to relegate the Duo to a secondary device. There's a surprising lack of Duo-only features in Microsoft's overlay, which often makes the Duo feel less like a complete package and more like a regular smartphone that happens to have a second screen. Software consistency still leaves some to be desired, with gestures, screens, and apps all interacting in different ways (and not always in the way you expect them to).

These hardware complaints are things that can be resolved only with future sequels to the Surface Duo. The software weaknesses, on the other hand, could potentially be fixed as the Duo continues to receive platform and security updates. I always believe it's best to buy a product for what it offers right now, instead of what it could be in the future, and the Duo still feels unfinished nine months after launch.

Is the Surface Duo worth it?

Surface Duo Xbox Cloud Gaming Editorial Live

Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Zachary Boddy | Windows Central)

I've used the Surface Duo for over a month now and carefully evaluated its worth as a productivity device and mobile smartphone. So, is it worth it?

I'm going to be upfront about my thoughts on the Surface Duo. I adore this phone, and I really have been loving my time with it. It's clear that software updates have improved Microsoft's first foray into dual-screen phones, judging from initial reviews, and the hardware is still very impressive nine months on (even with a spec sheet that was arguably outdated at launch). Even better, the Surface Duo is considerably more affordable than it was at launch, with its wallet-crushing $1,400 price tag being reduced to less than half by repeated sales and discounts.

Despite its improvements and more palatable price, I can't recommend the Surface Duo.

Right now, you can pick up the Surface Duo from Microsoft for less than $750, or $800 for the 256GB version. If you don't mind a different source, the Surface Duo has been seen for as low as $550. These are far more attractive prices and can be tempting even to people who weren't necessarily looking at the Duo for their next phone.

And, yet, I still can't recommend the Surface Duo wholeheartedly. Despite its improvements and more palatable price tag, it's likely not worth it for most people. Much of what was said in our initial Surface Duo review still rings true, more or less — the Duo's hardware failings aren't going to be resolved at this point, and even the software isn't guaranteed to be improved in the future.

If you're truly interested in the Surface Duo and are a tech or phone enthusiast, like I am, you may find the Duo's recent price cuts to be too attractive to pass up. If that's you, then you'll probably really enjoy what the Duo has to offer. If you're looking for your next phone and are willing to wait, however, I recommend holding off to see what the Surface Duo 2 has to offer. We're expecting massively updated hardware with Duo's successor, and Android 11 is expected to bring much-needed enhancements to the software experience. Surface Duo 2 may break ground this September or October, so we also don't have long to wait.

Microsoft's long-awaited return to smartphones, the Surface Duo, packs unending potential that just isn't met in its first generation, even after nine months of updates.

Zachary Boddy
Zachary Boddy

Zachary Boddy is the Minecraft Expert and a News Writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life, and have been freelancing for Windows Central and its sister sites since 2019, with a focus on Xbox and PC gaming. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.

26 Comments
  • Fair review, and I agree with all of the points. I've owned mine since launch and love it, but I'm still going to upgrade to Duo 2, assuming the hardware improves as much as expected. Buying the Duo now with the Duo 2 potentially 3-4 months away is something I'd only recommend to people with ample money to burn and a desire to see what the new form factor is like... and most of those people already did so months ago.
  • Thanks for reading! I think I'm one of the few exceptions, since I really wanted the Surface Duo, but couldn't swallow the launch-era price tag. Happy I bought mine and I'm keeping it, but unless you're me I don't suggest picking up a first-gen Duo right now, haha.
  • I'm interested in the Duo. One advantage to buying one now, is to prevent myself from wanting the Duo2 at launch, when the price is so high. I'll rely on my Duo 1 to keep me happy until the Duo 2 is a few months old, when it has significantly dropped in price. Not to mention that Microsoft will likely have a generous trade-in offer. (as they usually do with their new products) All the while benefiting from the software updates that the Duo2 will bring...
  • A perfectly reasonable plan, albeit one that comes with some hassle and a few (probable) ifs, haha.
  • I just purchased the 256 device for $700. I've been drooling over it since its debut. Your write up gave me a solid expectation so I can't wait to dive in and more importantly I can't wait for v2. Thanks,
  • Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy your Duo.
  • Prior device: Blackberry Key2 This device is amazing! The form factor is truly spectacular. After unboxing there were 5 or so mandatory (LONG) updates. Afterwards, installed a few apps to setup my space. Speed, navigation and gesture are natural. Perks of not being an early adopter. The only issues was figuring out which screen is primary when folding the device. I ran into a rotation issue where I couldn't get the screen right. Once I switch it to the other, it was fine. So there is a slight learning curve. This device seems to prefer right handed folks which, oddly enough, I am. I tend to use my left hand a lot of for phones and watches. It is heavier than most phones. But I'm a giant so I feels comfortable. I never used NFC or QI charging (don't think the BB Key2 supported it) so I don't miss it.
  • Update: After the weekend I still love this device! I finally used the camera and while the images are great it does take ~750ms for the picture to be taken. Whereas an iPhone can take a picture instantly. The learning curve on the screens is gone. Oh man, the apps that support both screens are B-E-A-UTIFUL! The nature of multitasking is amazing.
  • After owning this device since launch, and using it as my daily driver since then, I must agree with every point you made. This was a beautifully written review that pointed out the good and didn't hide the bad. While I love my Duo, the device does annoy me daily. It is never enough for me to switch to another daily device (in fact I sold my pervious LG V35 thinQ after a month of using the Duo). The durability seems to be lacking, but Microsoft is aware of this and replaced my 1st Duo when the back panel broke in my pocket. I've since dropped that replacement, and the glass on the bevel is broken, but with Microsoft Complete I'll have that one replaced shortly. I've had friends ask about it, and while I've always said I love this device, and will never go back to single screen, I have told them repeatedly, since day one, to not purchase one if they can't handle bugs and a poor camera. They, and my wife, will be waiting for Duo 2 to drop to purchase one.
  • It's a very fun device, but it's not a very good one right now, haha. I'm really excited about where the Duo line can go in the future. Particularly in just how much better Duo 2 will be. 👀
  • Zach, great writeup. Matches my opinion as a Duo owner closely, including really missing Qi. However, I stuck with the Duo over my Samsung (older Galaxy S10 in my case) in spite of the lack of Qi and poor camera. My additional comments on it after many months use: 1. My original Duo had problems that I thought were software issues (e.g., screen not always being responsive on open, keyboard not always appearing on the right screen), but MS suggested replacing it with a new one. Much to my surprise, this fixed all the problems I had. So for many who think it's just buggy, maybe you also have a defective device. Try getting a replacement and see if it fixes your problems. 2. The camera quality is not just poor in conditions other than sunlight (it's actually pretty good in bright light), but it's incredibly slow. It takes over 1 second to respond when you hit the shutter button. Good luck lining up any shot with a moving target. 3. It's nearly undroppable in a way that no other phone is: when using it while walking, you can use a single screen in landscape mode, with the other screen folded over the back of your hand. It basically holds on to you. This makes it incredibly safe to use with no case at all. 4. Lots of people talk about the multitasking with dual screens, but this is the one thing that I think is the hardest to explain or understand without actually experiencing it. It's that it happens automatically without your thinking about it, just like on Windows. You don't have to think, "OK, now I'm going to multitask. Let me minimize this window and switch to another." Like on Windows, you don't think about clicking another icon on your taskbar or opening a couple of windows on your desktop, you just do it. It's like that on the Duo and this is sooo much better than the crappy version of multitasking on all other phones. 5. Even with magnetic wired connectors everywhere, I really miss Qi. I hate having wires everywhere I'll have my Duo just to keep it charged. It's especially obnoxious needing to connect a wire in the car, because even being magnetic, I always need to find the end and it's never a 1-handed operation. I really hope version 2 adds Qi charging. This, along with the camera, are the 2 huge steps backward I feel like I've taken with the Duo. 6. I want at least a little bit of water resistance so I don't worry about having it with me if it starts raining and so I can place it on a shelf in the shower for music and radio (not right in the stream, but where it might get splashed a little). I don't really care so much about NFC myself, which I hear more about than Qi or water resistance, but that's certainly an expected feature in a modern smartphone.
  • NFC is a bigger feature in some places rather than others. My watch has NFC, so I'm not too concerned with it in the Duo but recognize it should be present. The lack of Qi was honestly one of the hardest parts about using the Duo as my primary phone. Especially with how fragile the charging port is known to be.
  • Main thing for me is lack of a camera array. It would replace my phone so I need decent cameras. When I say decent Galaxy S10 or better quality. I don't need S21 Ultra quality. For me NFC is more important than wireless charging because watches make for poor contactless payment devices. They're attached to your wrist which is less than the most efficient place to have to reach your arm to tap. Wireless charging still just seems like a bit of a gimmick to me. Sure I can see limited value but not over plugged it in. I also think fast charging negates the need. Wireless charging works best when you're constantly charging your device but I prefer the OnePlus approach, 30 minutes, done.
  • The wireless charging might be more important here because of relatively the fragile charging port, though I personally prefer magnetic charging cable with phones (which probably also 'protect' the charging port more since you can just leave the magnetic usb thingy in the phone). Feel the same with the camera array though, I would like to see good midrange camera quality too and maybe 1 extra lens (would prefer a telelens but that might not be possible in a thin device like the Duo).
  • "Microsoft still has to iron out some issues with dual-screens and Android, which supposedly will improve with the arrival of Android 11 (hopefully arriving later this year)." Seriously what! A company Microsoft's size who exist because of software.
  • Agreed. Most companies complaints relate to software. Except from my reading, I think the true dual screen enhancements won't appear until Android 12. Why? Android 11 was done when Duo launched, that is its too late to help dual screen. Android 12, however, has added dual screen features. Lots of announcements about the hat recently. I hope I'm wrong, but I like think Android 11 won't help us with dual screen in any material way. So, I'll ask, does anyone know of how Android 11 will help dual screen?
  • With Android 10, Microsoft basically had to build in dual-screen support for the Duo from scratch. As far as I know, it's Android 11 that adds native dual-screen support for devices like the Duo. Android 12 builds on top of that with new APIs and tools for developers.
  • OK. So, "Android 11 adds dual screen support." But that means what? What different features and functions will we see on Duo. Do you know? Any links? And if such capabilities are on Android 11, why would Microsoft forego them for so long? I and everyone wants good news with Android 11 dual screens, but since it came out before Duo, how can that be? Android 11 is out for, what?, nine months. No secrets on its capabilities, right? Can't Android developers (or anyone with expertise) look at Android today and say it offers x, y, and z for Duo I just want to know.
  • I bought mine at the beginning of May and enjoyed it even despite the flaws. But one thing I hear people gripe about so often is the "low" quality camera and I honestly don't see the big deal. Yeah it's not the highest quality shooter around but it's also not as bad as people make it out to be. NFC is best used with a smart watch anyway. Lack of wireless charging is a fair point but I came from a OnePlus 7 Pro so never used it anyway. Not saying I wouldn't but if they left it out in the next version, I really couldn't care less. 5G is overrated. It's not any better than 4G LTE right now and won't be for at least another year or two. Even then, it's been proven that most people don't notice the differences in speed beyond like 35mbps so aside from the improvements in latency, etc most people really couldn't care less. Not trying to give Microsoft a pass here, though. Yes the software is buggy. Yes the bezels are big (but I'd argue necessary in this form factor to avoid mistakenly touching the screens when switching postures), and yes there could be improvements. But would I recommend the Duo to anyone? If they can get it on sale and need a device that multitasks better than any other Android device, yes definitely.
  • Hi I'm hard of hearing and accustomed to phones that play into my earing aids. Until the Duo supports this it will always be my spare phone which I take with me when travelling for the power of its Kindle support.. Microsoft is being stupid in overlooking this feature which is brilliant in Samsungs and Apple phones. Given what we early users are putting up with (I purchased mine from the States last autumn) I will be desperately disappointed if the Duo 2 deal does not include a trade-in discount for Duo 1's
    Roger Stenson
  • That this thing is now selling for less than half price - 9 months after being released - means that it is a failed product. Which is what rational people expected: another horrible failure from MS. I will be very surprised if a Duo 2 sees the light of day. LOTS of things have been hyped here as "Coming Soon". Windows Core OS. Windows 10X. Surface Neo. Andromeda. Another Windows Phone. The list goes on and on.
  • I wouldn't rule out Duo 2. I mean as Duo 1 doesn't make sense as a product (particular users might find it as OK, I am talking overall) and it was released you can't be too surprised if another product that doesn't make sense gets released. The problem is that it is really tough to explain what Microsoft wants. Let's say that the product even succeeds. Samsung will copy it in less than a year. It has a so big distribution and brand advantage in mobile phones that it will blow Microsoft next year. Add Apple to that, it could be that they would need two years but the blow would be even bigger. The only valid mobile strategy for Microsoft is to release to OEMs full ARM Windows that has some sort of small screen interface and Continuum support. Those devices would sell enough to keep them floating. Not that they would put a big dent in Android or iOS, but still they would be sustainable. And that would be a possible new start, not Duo that simply cannot become relevant in the market in any way.
  • "It has a so big distribution and brand advantage in mobile phones that it will blow Microsoft next year.", I do not think that would bother MS they may be even counting on it, as they work closely together with Samsung anyway for better integration between Windows and (Samsung's) Android (like with Windows laptops where MS shares optimizations and designs with laptop brands).
    And Apple probably does its own thing anyway.
  • "That this thing is now selling for less than half price - 9 months after being released - means that it is a failed product. ", so basically like every other Android phone out there?
  • I have had one for months and find it to be worth the small aggravations mentioned here. My only wish is for a native Win version. The merger of Android and Win isn't as smooth as a pure Windows product would be. That said, the benefits far outweigh the few issues and I plan to keep on the user path until round 2 comes alone.
  • As someone that doesn't use NFC, game, or need a great camera, the first gen Duo is still very tempting to me. One, because the price is well within reach at $550-$700. The next Duo might be great, leagues better even, but I'll be amazed if it's any less than $1400 bucks at launch. That's too much for me to pay for any phone, especially since I won't use the majority of the features. There are a few new Duos on eBay for around $600 and I must say that I am very tempted. I purposely passed up that Woot deal and now I feel like I made a mistake.