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I want *to want* a Surface Duo 2, but Microsoft isn't making it easy

Surface Duo 2 Paired Apps Dual
Surface Duo 2 Paired Apps Dual (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Surface Duo 2 Vs Surface Duo1 Screens

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

I am sold on the idea of folding phones, that much is true. I've tried the Surface Duo 1, and I recently wrote about how, ironically, the Surface Duo 1 made me go out and grab a Samsung Galaxy Fold 3. Why? Because Microsoft has shown time, and time again, that it cannot execute software. This is a wild thing to write given the fact that Microsoft is very much known for its software.

Our executive editor Daniel Rubino recently put out our full Surface Duo 2 review, explaining that while it's a massive improvement on the original, it's still not quite there yet. I was very almost considering selling off my Galaxy Fold 3 to grab a Surface Duo 2, but the reviews ultimately swayed me otherwise.

After using the Galaxy Fold 3 for a few months now, it's apparent that the Duo 2 hardware may actually be preferable for me as a multi-tasking-oriented device. I think Microsoft (and Samsung, for that matter) are entirely on the right track with these devices. And sure, they may never be the mainstream form factor people want, but for certain types of users, they take the concept of a smartphone to the next level. The problem is, right now, I know that Samsung is able to deliver in those crucial places where Microsoft simply, well, can't.

Why is that? And can it ever be solved? Or are we once again at the precipice of another Windows Phone-style disaster scenario?

Where the Duo beats the Fold

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm a heavy phone user, spending several hours a day glued to this rectangular hell portal we call the internet. Judgments of my life choices aside, at the very least I can bring you an in-depth perspective of both devices put head to head.

The Duo 2 has Corning Gorilla Glass. The Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 has a plastic outer layer and a micro-thin flexible glass layer underneath. I shouldn't have to go deeper than that to explain which device is sturdier.

My Galaxy Fold 3 has picked up scuffs, bumps, and scrapes just from sharing a pocket with a loose coin. This phone is just so damn fragile, and it's annoying having to carry this phone around with a painstaking fear of it spontaneously combusting. I haven't had a phone this fragile, like, maybe ever. My friend's Nokia Lumia 920 survived a fall from a multi-story car park relatively unscathed. With the Galaxy Fold 3, I'm worried I'll shatter the screen if I look at it the wrong way.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There's also been plenty of criticism leveraged at the Surface Duo's multi-screen setup, with people calling it impractical or unintuitive. And sure, at first, it's a bit tough to adapt years of mental training for how phones work. It's harder still if you're not someone who would use those kinds of features often. I am, however, a chronic phone addict. Being able to side-by-side Reddit and Telegram is great for me, and it's something I do frequently on the Galaxy Fold. Ironically, though, the Duo 1 was arguably better at it.

The Duo software gives you more control over how and where links open. Since it knows and expects two specific regions of the phone where apps can open and interact with each other. The Fold 3 method is an extension of Samsung's built-in multitasking feature. The virtual screens work in silos, and can't interact with each other easily. If I open a link in Telegram, I want it to open up separately to the conversation I'm having. On the Fold 3, it opens in the same panel every time, which defeats the point of multi-tasking scenarios for me. On the Duo, it will try to more intelligently open links on the screen you're currently not using.

The problem is ... Microsoft removed this functionality on the Duo 2, which is maddeningly confusing. The Duo 1 even had a cool animation when you opened a link, shifting the content onto the unused screen. Is Microsoft even testing their own phones? And no, I won't leave a report in the Feedback Hub. How about testing your own devices, Mr. Trillion Dollar Company?

Does the Surface Duo have enough investment?

Surface Duo 2 Notification Shade New

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The thing that makes the Surface line so unreliable for me is the inconsistent support. We're still a year into the Surface Duo 1 not having the promised Android 11 update. The Surface Duo 2 shipped with weird animation bugs that Microsoft itself said would be fixed by launch, yet they are still broken. The Surface team doesn't communicate very well either, which is not a great way to build up a community around the devices. Your early adopters are your front line of marketing, and if you can't give them a good experience, how do you hope to entertain the masses?

The Galaxy Fold also has the benefit of a much larger team, already working with a far more mature OS. For what it lacks in good multitasking features, the Galaxy Fold 3 makes up for it with a wealth of expected features like wireless charging, a non-Google payment alternative system, its own app store, full theming, and skinning options, and much more. The Duo 2 barely reaches beyond stock Android. We do now have a non-Google photos app through a new OneDrive feature, and a more robust camera experience, but it's nowhere near enough.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The problem with the Surface Duo, as I've argued before, could be a lack of investment. For Samsung, Galaxy is its bread and butter, so you might expect it to get more serious backing. The Surface Duo feels like a side project, within a side project, which is not exactly reassuring. Sure, it's a multi-billion dollar side project, but when Microsoft can't even land the basics at launch, I'm left feeling how I felt when I unwrapped the Lumia 950 XL, with half-baked software, rammed with bugs and unfinished features. Unlike the Lumia 950 XL, though, the Surface Duo 2 is $1,500. 1,500. Dollars.

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You could argue that the price is so high to offset the costs of R&D. That hinge system is by no means simple, and would've been incredibly costly not only to develop but also manufacture. You could also argue that, because the Duo is pure hardware, with no software upsell like a Galaxy Store or a Google Play Store, Microsoft needs these types of prices to keep the dual-screen Duo even vaguely profitable.

Those are business considerations, though. As an end-user, even as a tech enthusiast and a frequent early adopter, I'm left wondering whether Microsoft is actually serious about the Duo line, or if it's some kind of vanity project that will die in the same drawer as Razer's ill-fated phone line.

Can Microsoft fix this?

Microsoft doesn't have a good history with phones, for various obvious reasons. They've also failed to make a good first, and now second impression with the Duo lineup, with many YouTubers and tech reviewers lining up to bash it. Even the heaviest Microsoft apologists likely have bad memories of Windows 10 Mobile fresh in their minds, left wondering if, indeed, Microsoft is serious this time around.

I desperately want to believe that like the Surface Pro, the third time may be the charm.

Folding phones may not be how the mainstream wants to use their devices, but dangit, it's how I want to use my devices. I want seamless multitasking. I want the boosted screen real estate. I want the big-screen media experience. And I want inking capabilities. I also just love the uniqueness of the thing. Phones used to be fun, and foldables make them fun once again for me, in a world of relentless iPhone copycats. The Duo fails to put the fun in fundamentals though, given that it misses the mark in far too many ways for a $1,500 handset. The battery life, camera performance, and software quality are nowhere near where it needs to be.

The Surface Duo 2 like its predecessor is a vision of a truly amazing phone, gradually coming into focus. It reminds me of the Surface Pro line in a lot of ways. It wasn't until the Surface Pro 3 that Microsoft truly nailed that form factor and changed tablet computing forever along with it. I desperately want to believe that like the Surface Pro, the third time may be the charm.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Sums it up nicely.
  • I have the surface duo 1. For me the only criticism is Android not really being optimized for duel screen. I think Microsoft has done a good job to try to force a square peg into a round hole. Hopefully Android 12L will improve that and therefore improve the experience. I really think it is the OS that is really the limiting factor. The hardware in my opinion is amazing, and every where I go people actually stop and ask me about the phone. I don't believe this is a Windows Phone issue of the past. But let's see what happens after the update to Android 12L.
  • Well said. Android 12L looks truly built for dual screen. Time will tell.
  • Even if you are, at least in part, correct Android 11 would have been a step in the right direction...
  • I bought a Duo 1 for $400. It arrives later today. I'm going to use it as a wifi device and save me from having to carry my XPS 17 9700 around (I hope). We'll see how it goes.
  • Hey, sorry but I sleepily clicked on the "Report" button while trying to click on "Reply". Closed my eyes a bit for a moment. So sorry about that. I hope Daniel and the team see this apology and disregard the unintended reporting.....
  • The biggest problem I have with either the Duo 1 or 2 is that they are HUGELY inaccessible for anyone that either doesn't have AT&T (Duo 1) or doesn't have the cash to drop for it all at once. One of the biggest advantages that the Galaxy Folds have is that, even as expensive as they are, they are still around $50-$60/month for people through their carriers which makes it accessible for way more people than the Duos will ever reach. I wanted a Duo 2. I will never have one unless Microsoft gets off their ass and works with these carriers to carry these devices so more people can get them. For now, I'll continue to pay off devices I have currently and then just get the Z Fold 3 at $50/month through T-Mobile.
  • Microsoft offers financing options when you buy the device. It may or may not solve your problem, but it is available. Here is the landing page from the link right under the sale price on the Duo 2 product page:
  • You can get financing through Microsoft and through Best Buy though.
  • There’s no doubt Microsoft is all-in with “Duo 3.” I just wish they would explicitly say, ‘Duo 2 is only for hardcore enthusiasts with a lot of disposable income who don’t mind being beta testers.’ I think we would trust Microsoft a lot more if they were just honest.
  • Hysterical. No company has ever launched a product with such messaging. I thought it was common knowledge to never buy a Gen 1 or 2 product unless you are an early adopter. That goes for cars, appliances, whatever. You probably forget how bad the 1st iPhone was. MS definitely has its faults yet I think it's odd how MS is consistently held to different standards than other tech companies. All that being said, like Surface Pro 3, MS needs to deliver more on SD3 or just go another direction. 3 revs is enough. It's a nice product but it's odd that a software company consistently stalls on the software part.
  • No matter what they do in Version 3, at $1500 starting price point it's not going to sell. Lower the price and things will be completely different.
  • If I recall, they didnt do it for marketing specifically but the messages MS put out about the duo 1 implied this is for the fans, not the masses.
  • do you know this? They dropped the Kinect after its second attempt. They dropped the Surface RT after its second flop. Band got two attempts, then disappeared as quietly as it arrived. They basically did two half-hearted MS Mobile launches (830 and 950), then tossed the whole thing in the trash. MS has had quite a few "two-and-done" consumer products. There's no reason to believe this is different, particularly when they're doing SO LITTLE to provide support or communication that they care.
  • Keith, MS has indeed dropped a lot of products (and I personally resent that I can't talk to my Xbox Series X to turn it on and control my TV because they dropped Kinect and the HDMI-in port after describing the Xbox as the core of an entertainment system), but that does not apply to the Surface products. The Surface RT is what evolved into the Surface Pro X, so that didn't really die (but the software platform for RT did). In other words, I think it's important to distinguish between MS hardware as a whole and the Surface line, which is what's relevant here. They have an excellent, Apple-like commitment to the Surface hardware. Further, just recently, MS gave the Windows software team to Panay, merging it with the Surface line. I don't think we're seeing the full fruits of that yet. As a product intended to serve MS ecosystem users, I think there's reason for optimism that MS will deal well with the Duo over time. They just announced a big change for Launcher on Duo, changing it to be part of the monthly Duo updates so they can better integrate it into the experience. I take that as a very good sign.
  • Why isn't att carrying the surface duo 2
  • Low sales volume with SD1?
  • Probably due to the same old thing with Microsoft, no advertising
  • After reading a handful of reviews I may trade in my Duo 1 for the Google Pixel 6 Pro, then wait for maybe the Duo 3, if that ever comes to light? I like the folding phone / screen concept, but don't need it.
  • That doesn't make sense brotha. If you enjoy your Duo 1 you'll damn sure love the Duo 2. Come on now!
  • Where did he say he enjoyed his Duo 1? I did just that. Traded in the 1 for a Pixel 6 Pro. Didn't hate the Duo 1, just didn't solve any problem I had. Fun to play with for a year though.
  • Where did he say he didn't, Tito?
  • When he said he doesn't need the second screen and is considering moving to a Pixel until MS does a better job.
  • Yes this is what I meant. I already have plenty of devices on hand so the Duo is not / was not a necessity, but more of a novelty, plus I really wanted to like the Duo 1. I'm ok waiting. In the meantime I'll try out the Pixel 6 Pro just for the heck of it.
  • "I like the folding phone / screen concept"....
  • if you liked the duo 1 I just cant see going back to a single screen. I really like the duo 2. It is def not perfect. we had patches on day 1 and day 2. I see a couple issues but the camera is so much more friendly to use and a much higher quality
  • For work I am looking at dual screens all day. It's even harder going from 24 inch plus screens to the Duo 1. but doable and fun and productive when I'm not at home. I'm still open to getting the Duo, just not now and not at this price point for a device I am not certain of of its future, which I was really open to support.
  • Microsoft needs to put windows 11 on a phone... (Run windows apps and Android ones on a phone)... That would be my perfect phone!
  • No need for a full fledged Windows operating system on a phone brotha. Lol....
  • Never going to happen. Don't hold your breath.
  • The Ship has sailed though, no signs of Windows 11 even going to have a UI that is optimised and fits to a smartphone-sized displays. Not to mention they currently even have problem working with Android to work with Duo, let alone actually building new OS especially as bloated as Windows. They had Andromeda project, it was shelved/scrapped.
  • I know this has been mentioned but next duo should have windows 11. Even if the screen is 11 in I believe this will solve many of the problems this phone faced with Android. I wished even the first Duo got windows I am not sure Android 11 or 12 will solve the issues and if last year is any indication, yes it got better but there are still bugs. I love my duo 1 cant pay for the duo 2 but hope that the next one will be a windows device.
  • Microsoft couldn't even get Windows working on the Duo. Imagine the bugs if they ever released it with Windows! It would be a mess.
  • I think for the Duo to ever take off Microsoft has to trim the width a little so it's easier to hold as a phone. The current form factor is great for a small tablet, but not good at all for a combination device. If they can get the closed width to 80-82 mm instead of 92 that would go a long way in my opinion and they can maintain the same diagonal size by raising the height a little. Most people can't afford to buy this as a separate device and it just seems too awkward to use as a phone in it's current design. You might as well just keep your phone and buy an iPad mini for your small tablet if you're going to carry 2 devices.
  • No need for that. Just lower the freakiest starting price and things will be completely different.
  • No need to trim the width, it's easy enough to hold as it is. I have average size hands and have no issues. That extra few millimeters width makes a huge difference to usage.
  • As a Duo user, I would resent that change. One of the many things I LOVE about the Duo is the width of screen in single screen mode. To me, that distinction is what makes the keyboard easy to use in portrait mode (single or dual screen). I always grumble now when I have to briefly use anything other than a Duo. Other phones feel absurdly cramped, like working on the side of a pencil in comparison. While I usually talk on Bluetooth, I have never had a problem holding the Duo to my head to use as a hand-held phone. I don't think of myself as having particularly huge hands either.
  • “I want seamless multitasking. I want the boosted screen real estate. I want the big-screen media experience. And I want inking capabilities.” Get an iPad Mini. It does all of this AND is from company that is deeply committed to mobile computing. It is not a side project with flaky software. It has a real app store. It is 8.3” and does split screen with two 5.8” windows side by side. Sound familiar? With no distracting line down the middle when you want the big-screen media experience. For less than half the price of the Duo 2. It won’t drop to $300 six months from now due to lack of sales. “It wasn't until the Surface Pro 3 that Microsoft truly nailed that form factor and changed tablet computing forever along with it.” No, what changed was laptop computing. A laptop without a keyboard - running a desktop/server OS and apps - does not a tablet make. Windows is a horrible tablet experience. Again, get an iPad if you want a tablet.
  • Few things (especially since I know Jez): He'll never buy an iPad. He really does not like Apple. There's no chance. That may extreme, but there are people who just do not like Apple (same goes for Android/Google), so we must recognize that. I think adding a third device (PC, phone, and now tablet) to one's arsenal is not a trivial decision. Some people want the phone/tablet experience so they only have 2 devices to manage. This issue multiplies when you consider he'll have a Windows PC, Android phone, and Apple tablet, with little overlap in UI, apps, and UX. iPads don't fit in your pocket. There's value in having your phone being a tablet when you need it and always having it with you vs. an iPad, which suddenly needs a bag when you leave the house. Personally speaking now, I've always dabbled with iPads and adore the HW. But I just never found a way to work it into my workflow despite how "good" it is. Simply put, it's not for everyone.
  • There's only one major problem with the Duo 2 and it's the insanely high price. $1500 starting price point is ridiculous and Microsoft knows better. $999 would have been an incredible deal and alot more people would buy it.
  • Agreed, the price is what's holding me back for now. I've put the 256 GB in the Best Buy cart a couple of times but I get to the checkout and see $1799.99 total with tax and I just can't do it. And it'd be an expense through my business, too. I wouldn't consider it for a second at the current prices if I was personally paying for it.
  • It's not the only problem, but it's definitely a big factor. At $1K, I would have bought the first Duo immediately. I was ready to buy it at $1,200, to get a 256 GB model. When that came to $1,500, I was out. This time, I said "if they fix the problems and leave the price the same, I'll buy it." Instead, they raised the price $100, took out the wall charger and the bumper (nearly $75 to get back), and didn't fix everything (still no NFC, no improvements to the MS Launcher). They keep doing their best to chase people away for such small gains.
  • There is NFC though, but no Qi Wireless charging still and there is an improved camera, sacrificing the ability to completely flip 360 flat. But yeah, the buggy software at launch with uncertain commitment support and huge asking price is still a barrier for this device. Sure the form factor isn't for everybody, that's given, but other concerns like price and software makes it a hard to buy for enthusiast as well.
  • Yeah, that was a misstatement on my part about the NFC/Qi thing. I was thinking the latter, but said the former. The buggy software isn't what bothers me. I can live with it and watch the platform grow (I did it with Insider builds of WP8 and lived through W10M's launch just fine). Software can be improved, but the fact that Microsoft charges consumers a premium while treating the product like a second-rate device is what concerns me. Given the state of the first Duo after a year on the market, I feel no more certain that MS will improve the Duo 2 than I felt with their Windows phones. I'm all for the form factor. I'd buy it, if Microsoft showed any serious commitment. They've done nothing to prove they're serious.
  • Keith, I think they indicated they're serious by putting the Surface brand on it, something they never did with the Lumias, even when Panos Panay introduced the final round of them (and you could tell he didn't like them by the complete lack of passion -- felt like he he was doing a favor for a friend, but didn't want to be too committal). Also, what are the software problems with the Duo 2? Always room for improvement, of course, but seems just about perfect even now, right at release. If it improves half as much as the Duo 1 over the next year, that would be remarkable. And this is all before we see the benefits of the big recent announcement to move Launcher updates out of Google Play and into the monthly Duo updates. That implies a deeper integration into the device, which is excellent news.
  • For me, that will bother me alot especially if I going to use this as a primary smartphone device, replacing my old one. Having inconsistent and unpolished software experience will adds up and will makes me question spending more than a grand for a device that feels like it can be surpassed by something cheaper when it comes to software polish. Especially here in Australia, this will be even more expensive than it should be. But yeah, what is even more concerning is how Microsoft is treating Surface Duo project. Well in some way, I give them a bit of a slack due to being them unexperienced with Android, but on the other hand this is their second attempt and still having problem even on basic things is concerning. They don't even have to create from scratch with Android, but to customize it and optimize its experience for the form factor they created. Though I'm saying this with simplificati