Let's Talk: 5 months on, Microsoft's Surface Duo 2 is actually good now

Surface Duo 2 Pen Onenote Inking
Surface Duo 2 Pen Onenote Inking (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

When Microsoft first revealed Surface Duo, it caught the tech world by surprise. While we anticipated a dual-screen Windows device (aka Surface Neo), a small Android-driven phone was a shocker.

Of course, Surface Duo launched a year later, and while people appreciated its hardware, the OS experience was messy. For Surface Duo 2, Microsoft thought it had its software woes figured out, but the second round of reviews may have been even worse.

Fast forward five months from its release, and Surface Duo 2 is an entirely different device, thanks to three substantial updates in December, January, and February. Improved performance, smooth animations, predictable behavior, it's all just … better.

Windows Central Executive Editor Daniel Rubino and Senior Windows Editor Zac Bowden have a conversation on Surface Duo 2 and Microsoft's progress.

Let's Talk: Surface Duo 2

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

Daniel Rubino: So, Zac, five months on, and we're both still using Surface Duo 2 as our primary phones. I applauded the hardware changes in my original review, but lamented ongoing touch sensitivity issues that drove me nuts, including swiping for notifications. But these last three software updates have made a huge difference. For me, Surface Duo 2 feels like a standard Android phone now, except for that extra display. That's perhaps a low bar for a premium device in 2022. Still, there is no denying that Microsoft has made considerable strides in updating this phone and, in general, is just getting better at updates. What do you think?

Zac Bowden

Zac Bowden (Image credit: Zac Bowden)

Zac Bowden: I think it's fair to say at this point that the Surface Duo 2 is finally where it should have been at launch. It launched in a much better state than the Surface Duo 1, but it still wasn't in a good enough position where I could recommend it to your average folk, and I think that showed in reviews at the time. Now, if you can wrap your head around the dual-screen aspect, the software will no longer get in the way. That's a huge deal. This conclusion even extends to Surface Duo 1, which I'd argue is basically at feature and stability parity with the Duo 2 at this point.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

Daniel Rubino: Yeah, the most significant shift for me has been Microsoft's consistency. The updates are coming at around the same time each month, they feature detailed changes, and those logs are posted instantly on the website (instead of two days later). The company also seems to be improving at addressing ongoing issues and adding polish to the overall user experience. Things are smoother, more coherent, and there are no show-stopping bugs. And that also applies to Surface Duo 1, which, despite the older hardware, is performing much better than I thought it would at this stage.

What about pricing? In the US and Canada, Microsoft recently dropped Surface Duo 2 from $1,500 to $1,250. That's not a fire sale, likely due to heavily controlled supply management, but it takes the sting out a bit. Is it enough to move the needle?

Zac Bowden

Zac Bowden (Image credit: Zac Bowden)

Zac Bowden: I don't think so. Unfortunately, those initial rounds of Duo 2 reviews sealed this device's fate. Even though both are no longer in that state, it will have this stigma of being a buggy mess like the first Duo. Many people will see the price being cut here and there and think it's because the device is failing, so retailers are dumping stock because this exact thing happened with the Surface Duo 1. But I don't think that's fair on the Surface Duo 2, which is just starting to see a small price cut. The Duo 1, at this point, was almost 50% off, but the Duo 2 is nowhere near that. I think that says a lot about how much better Microsoft has handled the production and rollout of Duo 2.

Now that the software works as intended, we can finally see if people prefer dual-screens over single-screen multitasking. Beforehand, I think many people couldn't get used to the dual-screen aspect because the software was rough and wasn't making it easy. But now, the software works as intended, this is the first time we're able to see how ordinary people take to the dual-screen nature of this device. Will they find it helps their productivity flow? I certainly think it helps mine, but not everyone is the same.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

Daniel Rubino: Yeah, I agree on the perception bit, and that's going to be a tough hill for Microsoft to overcome. I think so long as they keep at it with the software, including lighting up new features on occasion, the company will at least be in a much better position to launch Surface Duo 3.

What else should Microsoft do on Surface Duo 2? For me, it starts with Microsoft Launcher. Since 2020, Launcher on Duo has improved performance and animations, which is excellent. However, despite the regular Microsoft Launcher for Android having many of these abilities, we still cannot change icons or customize gestures, which is weird. I'd also like to see the Glance Bar get some more customization. What else do you think Microsoft needs to add to Surface Duo 2 for software and features?

Zac Bowden

Zac Bowden (Image credit: Zac Bowden)

Zac Bowden: Improvement to the Glance Bar is my most significant request. It's such a cool idea, but I never get to use it because I don't often get to use the few apps it supports. I communicate through Telegram, Skype, and Slack, not SMS or phone calls. Additionally, I'd also love to see Microsoft put more emphasis on pen integration; things like adding the ability to take notes and ink directly on the lockscreen instead of unlocking and opening OneNote first. It would also be nice if SwiftKey would adopt inking to write into text fields.

I think what I'm most hoping for is broader adoption of third-party apps taking advantage of the spanning capability on Duo. So far, only Microsoft's apps (and a handful of third-party apps) support this mode. That's fine, as not all apps need to support it, but I suspect with Android 12L coming to Duo later this year,, we'll start to see some app developers target those APIs and build apps that, at the very least, avoid the gap down the middle of the two halves.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

Daniel Rubino: Yeah, I agree with Android 12L and apps being updated. I'm more excited about the developer options than the OS itself. It means Google will presumably update all its inbox apps like Gmail, Gboard, YouTube, Maps, Messages, the Play Store, etc., to support its own recommended APIs. Same with more Surface Pen support, making Surface Duo stand out from nearly all other Android phones besides whatever Samsung releases.

I also echo your request for SwiftKey, which is still not as good as Gboard for typing, and it has had handwriting recognition support for years.

Overall, I think it's safe to say Microsoft has reached a stable platform for Surface Duo with the core features and functions behaving as they should. Now, we'll have to wait for continued refinements and occasional new "feature drops" to keep pushing the form factor. Microsoft's next big test: How long does it take them to push out Android 12L? We're certainly not expecting anything like the ridiculous one-year wait for Android 11, but how quickly can the company push out that OS will speak volumes about its overall progress.

Let's revisit this topic later this year and see where Surface Duo 2 stands!

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

42 Comments
  • I'm definitely entertaining the idea of using my Duo 2 is my daily driver. If I can get my Verizon work phone number converted to an esim on the device and my AT&T physical sim both working on the Duo 2, that would be my trigger. There seems to be very little data on the net on how exactly to do this. But you're right, the Duo 2 is actually good now.
  • Excellent device for me! Works great. Hopefully more functionality for the pen coming. Look forward to Duo 3 and see what it will be capable of doing. By the way, your programs are very informative and fun to watch. Thanks and rock on!
  • I've been a fan of the idea the dual screen device, but decided to hold out until Duo 2. No regrets purchasing, despite some buggy behavior. As of now, I'm truly enjoying my device.
  • Did we just get another update??
  • The one for March has not rolled out yet. The ones we're talking about are Dec, Jan, and February.
  • I just got the March update like an hour or so ago and installed it.
  • Yup, but it's just a security patch. The story is up on the front page. Nice coincidence though.
  • Yes it was!! Lol
  • Oh yes security patch for March. Got off with our Verizon corp contact and they could not convert my physical SIM to eSIM for some reason, something about the device not being eSIM capable. Guess I'll have to try converting my AT&T number to eSIM and keep using the physical SIM for my Verizon. Might have better luck, we'll see.
  • yeah, eSIM def works and is awesome, should be fine with AT&T. Verizon is quite odd.
  • I just received one.
  • Returned my Duo 2 - Here is why.
    1.) Will not Wifi call on Verizon - personal problem, I live in a cell dead spot.
    2.) Notifications - Useless when on the go, inefficient. (need screen on outside, or make the pen have a screen...scrolling marque, ...make one screen slightly smaller so part of a screen is always exposed when closed....something better than some numbers on the spline...useless!)
    3.) Size - It is just a tad too wide to fit in a pocket.
    4.) Google Assistant - integration with MS apps is clunky - please bring back Cortona in general get rid of Google on my phone. I do not need Google for anything other than the apps in their store, and base OS.
    5.) Fragility - Get rid of the glass on the outside! (try kevlar, leather, AL....ect) Bottom line - any phone over $1k, better be "awesome", to be a market maker, the duo is "ok". A novelty item for gadget folks... not effective as business or soccer mom workhorse.
  • I'm mostly happy with my Duo, but support outside of its core functions is still lacking. The Glance Bar should function like most always-on displays, but in a different shape. I don't get why they couldn't make it less custom to support notifications in the way coventional devices already do. I actually would also like an always-on display option when the device it unfolded. I would like to keep my Duo in Tent Mode while using my PC and see an always-on screen like even my Lumia 920 had almost a decade ago. The other side of that support is accessories. I get the device in unconvential, bordering on awkward, but it's a double-edged disappointment now. The few accessories we get aren't all that impressive. On top of that, their niche status and lack of competition leaves them to be grossly overpriced. The Pen Cover at $65 is bleh. The barely useful bumper at $40 is a joke. The Otterbox at $90 is crazy. ProClip wants $95 for their mount, which they didn't even update to accommodate the change in charging port location from the first Duo to the second. All of that leaves a letdown of an ecosystem for a device that I think HAS to sell its ecosystem well to justify its price status. At $1,500 to start, treating accessories as "if you can afford $1,500, you can afford $40 for a nonfunctional case" is a no-go. Something good and unique (like the pen or ProClip mount) can get away with that some, but MS's own Duo accessories hold it back, IMO.
  • "... Surface Duo 1, which I'd argue is basically at feature and stability parity with the Duo 2 at this point." And now I want a Duo 1, even if just to play with.
  • Patiently waiting on 12L. The fact that MS seems to be actively supporting the Duos now is promising. And speaking of apps supporting dual displays, when can we expect Windows Central to do this? It would be nice to read through the news that way.
  • Biggest problem for me is the the Microsoft Sharepoint app does not work on my Surface Duo... I believe it also does not work on Surface Duo 2... Just bought an iPhone SE and it works great on that... Until this app works I am unable to use the Surface Duo as my daily driver... Would love to though... This is a first party app, so pretty poor from MS...
  • I'm using Surface Duo 2 as my daily driver (I skipped the Duo 1), and I am a fan of the flexibility of this form factor. It is profoundly useful! I am loving Duo 2! Slim Pen 2 is a must. It completes the package😉
  • I second that!
    The pen turns the Duo2 into something entirely different.
  • They need to fix the bug where the Duo 2 thinks it's on a different screen than it's displaying. Hit an app and it opens a different app (basically whatever's in that same position on the next page). It happens multiple times a week.
  • I here ya. Was a frequent nuisance along with unresponsive screen taps. May have been a MS Launcher issue as it's been updated numerous times since the Feb update. March update applied yesterday. Then got another launcher update. Too early to make a conclusion, but so far screen very responsive.
  • Spoke too soon... issue remains After March update. I think it has more to do with Launcher than the OS or hardware.
  • Agreed; I think it's a launcher bug. Hope it gets fixed soon!
  • Microsoft should be more careful when launching new products.
    They should not launch half baked products as first impression is the last impression for most people.
    They should now try to get their product more focused on the enterprise side than the consumer side
  • I've used the Duo1 as my daily driver for over a year. It was painful at times, but the 2 screen form factor and its productivity benefits made me deal with it.
    I held out on the Duo2 until a few weeks ago. Initial reviews, while acknowledging significantly better hardware, showed that on the software side of things it fell flat, again.
    Seeing the updates coming on my SD1 and how they improved the overall functionality finally made me upgrade and I'm glad I did.
    The SD2 will be my daily driver, just as my SD1 was. The big difference now is that the pain is gone.
    It works, it performs, it allows me to stay productive on the go.
    I started leaving my Surface Laptop Studio at home when I travel. The SD2 combined with Surface Go 3 with LTE is all I need to get the job done on my trips.
    I was desperately hoping for the Neo, but I think I found my perfect combination now.
    For professionals on the go, the Duo2 should be on the top of the short list.
  • Great details, thank you.
  • Fold would be even better. You have the choice of a single large screen for viewing documents and other productivity apps when needed while having superior multitasking as you can even open 3 apps at once. Duo has no reason to exist now that folding screens are available. Microsoft needs to cut the price in half to justify it.
  • If the internet is correct, the Surface Duo was launched on September 10, 2020. Is that 18 months ago? In about 6 months, Google will update Android to work specifically for dual screen devices. 6 months after that, we might have Surface Duo 3. I am willing to give MSFT the benefit of the doubt on their progress on this form factor. MSFT clearly has the cash to invest 10s of millions on hardware and software improvements. I also think MSFT will avoid the trashing of third-party development when they go to a new generation of devices, like they did with windows phones.
  • Google will update Android to work better on large screens, hence the "L" in 12L. Dual screens didn't get much, I don't think there are any features for dual screens, just some API support.
  • Bleached, you're again being very dishonest.
    "I don't think there are any features for dual screens"
    You either know this is false/trolling or you're just purposefully ignorant. New features in Android 12.1 (12L) for dual-screens and foldables: New taskbar (up to six apps) to quickly initiate split-screen New split-screen mode The Recents screen gets a grid view Two-column layout for the lockscreen and notifications Settings app (and other parts of Android) get tablet and foldable optimizations OOBE is now dual screen to see more info during device setup
    "Android to work better on large screens, hence the "L" in 12L. Dual screens didn't get much ..."
    Yeah, foldable and dual-screen devices are, by definition, LARGER DISPLAYS. Android sees Surface Duo as a single screen device with an occlusion in the middle. How do you not know this basic stuff yet? It's in our original Android 12L article, which you have 5 comments on, so, again, you're either a liar or have severe memory problems. You're such a continued disappointment here in these comments. You're either just trolling or can't even be bothered to read the documentation on Android 12L, which would be fine except you feel qualified enough to comment on it like you DO know something. You don't, but should. Get your act together.
  • I'm waiting to see SD3. I want to see more apps that take advantage of the dual screen form factor and better pen functionality esp for note taking/journal. At that point, this product actually differentiates itself rather than being a really big phone.
  • Just thinking about the glance bar. I would love for the charge indicator to remain on, while charging. At least give the option to do so.
  • I was able to pick up an open box Duo 1 on ebay for $260 and have been testing it for a few days now. Since I did not have to live through the first 18 months of pain that many have, I have a very positive outlook on the device - esp for the price I paid. The one glaring thing for me so far is the launcher. Yikes! No ability to do anything and for an Android device this is a bit startling. I'm not going to go down the long list of missing items but will say that App Dock is horrible. In the day it's a white blob and at night it's a black blob! It doubles the size of the already large chin. What a waste of real estate. At least let us make it transparent and/or just get rid of it. Who really nee