Skip to main content

Surface Duo one year later: Slow progress, mixed bag

Surface Duo 2020
Surface Duo 2020 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft's Surface Duo has been available to buy for one year today. Announced almost two years ago at an event in New York City, the Surface Duo has been a polarizing device for being both Microsoft's re-entry into the phone market and its first "foldable" device.

I've been using the Surface Duo as my only smartphone for an entire year, so I'm pretty familiar with it at this point. So, one year on, how is the Surface Duo today? Has Microsoft been good to its customers? Have all the issues been ironed out? Are dual-screens the future?

It's complicated.

Microsoft is right about dual-screens

Galaxy Fold 3 Surface Duo Vs

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

I was a Galaxy Fold user for about 10 months before I picked up my Surface Duo in September 2020. So, I've had ample time to experience both foldable screen and dual-screen form factors. When the Surface Duo was first announced, many criticized Microsoft for opting for a dual-screen setup instead of the technically superior foldable screen, but I think Microsoft was right in its decision.

After one year of using dual screens, I don't think I could ever go back to using a single-screen foldable, let alone a standard slab phone. The "defined real-estate," as Microsoft Surface chief Panos Panay put it, is no joke. It really does make a difference in your overall productivity and workflow. It's not something you notice when using the device, but this defined real-estate forces you to multitask in ways the Galaxy Fold doesn't.

For example, on the Surface Duo, I often open up both Telegram and Twitter. I'll be scrolling through my Twitter feed while checking my missed messages in group chats. If I need to type out a long paragraph, I just fold back one of the screens and begin typing. This experience on the Galaxy Fold is not so straight forward. I have to open Twitter, then manually initiate multitasking mode before I can even see Telegram next to it. It's a process that I have to think about first.

Surface Duo 2020

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

I don't have to think about that process on Surface Duo. It just happens. It's instinctive when you have an entire secondary display just sitting there waiting for you to interact with it. I don't deny that the Galaxy Fold can functionally do everything the Surface Duo can from a multitasking perspective, but the difference is the Duo makes it seamless; it makes it natural. This is not the case on a device like the Galaxy Fold.

But even when you do multitask on the Galaxy Fold, the apps become super cramped because of the Fold's aspect ratio. The benefit of the Surface Duo is that you have two full-sized phone screens that display phone apps perfectly. The displays on the Surface Duo are only 5.6-inches, but I've never once felt like they are too small. That's all thanks to their aspect ratio.

Surface Duo's displays are uniquely shaped, but never feel too small.

The Galaxy Fold's biggest issue for me was that most Android apps aren't really designed for tablet-sized screens, so many apps look weird or spread out when on the Galaxy Fold. There's no such problem on the Surface Duo, because you're only ever using 5.6-inch displays at any one time.

Some say the displays on the Surface Duo are too wide, and I can see where that idea might come from. Yes, it's too wide to comfortably hold and navigate with one hand, but the real-estate that the keyboard has when in single-screen mode really makes up for that when using both thumbs to type. I've never had a more comfortable typing experience than I have on Duo when in single-screen mode.

The hardware has been a mixed bag

Surface Duo 2020 Battery Status

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

Dual screens aside, other aspects of the Surface Duo have been a mixed bag. The overall design is contemporary, minimal, and super thin. It's beautiful to look at, and I admire the Surface team for being bold and omitting common smartphone features to achieve this design. That said, those omissions have gotten old really quickly, and I'm now at a point where I wish this device had things like NFC and a better camera system on the outside.

But there are issues with some of the materials that Microsoft has used on the Surface Duo. It became apparent pretty early on that the polycarbonate edges around the Duo aren't all that durable, and the color yellows quite significantly over time. After one year of use, my Surface Duo looks dirty, even though it isn't.

Duo 1 Yellowing

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

The edges also dent super easily. I have several minor scuff marks all around the device, and I've never dropped mine. The thinness of the device also means the plastic around the USB-C port cracks easily. Mine is cracked, and I've been very gentle with my USB-C port.

Another issue that I've noticed, though I've not seem many people talk about, is that the oleophobic coating on the inside and outside of the device wears off quickly. I've never had a phone that attracts fingerprints more than the Surface Duo does. White glass on the outside usually hides fingerprints pretty well, but this device picks up so many you can usually see them. This is amplified with the inside glass since those are black.

Touch response has been mixed too. Sometimes it's fine, but other times I notice the device trying to keep up with my tapping on the keyboard or swiping through apps. Everything else on the Duo has been a joy the use. The hinges are still perfect, and don't feel any less tight than they did on launch day. The displays are crisp and clear, though I do wish they had a higher refresh rate.

Microsoft is the problem with Surface Duo

Surface Duo March2021 Update

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

While I do think Microsoft is right about dual screens, that doesn't mean the Surface Duo is perfect, because it isn't. The device launched in a notoriously buggy state. While Microsoft has fixed many of those initial software quirks, it did so at a pace which I find unacceptable, and it still hasn't fixed all of them.

I paid $1,399 for my Surface Duo at launch, and 365 days later, it is still frustrating to use at times, all because of the software bugs that Microsoft still hasn't fixed. Everything from the device just locking up and not responding, to the Microsoft Launcher or App Switcher glitching out and refusing to go away when opening apps.

This device should have received multiple bug fix updates a month, but Microsoft has only shipped one update every month, and it's even had the cheek to stop shipping bug fixes for the last four months as it waits to ship Android 11. It's just unacceptable, and it's not helped by the fact that Microsoft refuses to talk to its customers about this.

There's still no way to submit bug reports on to Microsoft on Surface Duo, and there's so place to check on the progress of bug fixes or to find workarounds for issues I continue to encounter every single day. We still don't even know when Android 11 will launch for it. I've written about this a handful of times throughout the year, and absolutely nothing has changed.

And that's not even mentioning the fact that we've had very little new features or apps show up for Duo, and in the case of the Microsoft News app, actually remove functionality specific to the Surface Duo form factor.

Swiftkey Spanned Typing Surface Duo

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

It comes across as if Microsoft has abandoned this device, and that's not helped by the fact that it can now be had for over 50% off. It just looks liked a failed experiment that Microsoft doesn't want to talk about anymore. It is so Microsoft to ship a device and then refuse to communicate with customers about its roadmap for a year. I would've thought Microsoft would want to avoid this kind of behavior considering its shoddy track record with phones.

Luckily, we know from sources that Microsoft is committed to the Surface Duo. But, I shouldn't have to result to "sources" to find out that information. Microsoft should be open about when Android 11 is coming and what features it will bring. It should be open about upcoming fixes, and let us know ETAs or give explanations for why certain issues aren't fixed yet.

Surface Duo 2 has a lot to prove thanks to Microsoft's treatment of Duo 1.

If Surface Duo 2 launches in the same state as Surface Duo 1 did, I don't think I could handle another year of buggy software and no communication. It's been tough, and it's been frustrating. Many average users would've put this device down months ago, but I soldiered on.

At the very least, Microsoft should be more open with its customers and fans who own Surface Duo devices. Let us know when the next update is coming, give us a list of known issues and possible workarounds, just be more transparent with us. Convince us that this device is more than just a pet project, and that you care about it once it's shipped.

I should clarify that Microsoft has fixed bugs on the Surface Duo since launch. It's a much more stable experience today than it was 12 months ago. However, it's still not perfect. I still frequently encounter bugs that force me to reboot at least four times a week, which just shouldn't be the case 12 months later.

Will things improve with Surface Duo 2?

Surface duo 2 Leak

Source: YouTube: Tech Rat (Image credit: Source: YouTube: Tech Rat)

Overall, this year with the Surface Duo has convinced me that Microsoft is right about dual screens, and if it can nail the software and hardware with version two, I think the company will be on to a winner. But there's no denying it: progress on the Surface Duo has been slow. Too slow, in fact. For a device that's been on the market for a year, it is still unacceptably buggy.

If Microsoft can fix most of the software issues with Android 11, all will be forgiven. But the lack of communication with its customers is still an issue that it needs to solve before I can recommend any Duo device to a "normal" person.

Unfortunately, I think the high-price tag is going to continue being an issue for many people as well. If I were Microsoft, in 2022 I would try and figure out ways of bringing down that price tag. Make a mid-range model and try to get it out to a more mass-market audience. People need to use Surface Duo to realize its potential. Just being told about it isn't enough.

For now, however, I will be buying the Surface Duo 2 when it launches next month. If I was able to survive an entire year with the first Surface Duo, I think using the Surface Duo 2 is going to be a cake walk. Surface Duo achieved its goal of convincing me that the dual-screen form factor is a viable option, and that's a win for Microsoft.

Now it just needs to work on making the OS as stable as possible, adding new features that differentiates the Duo from other devices further, and improve its communication skills.

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.

161 Comments
  • Zac, would it even be possible to make a mid-range Surface Duo? What do you think Microsoft could cut? Screen and camera resolution? How low could they go with a CPU without hurting the experience too much?
  • I think the Duo 1 could be that midrange device if they manage to fix it up and keep it around.
    While the hardware is admittedly dated, it still performs on levels surpassing many mid range phones.
    Fix the cracking charging port, make the SW really stable and sell it for around 600 to 700 bucks. That's more than it is being sold now.
    That could be the solid mid range option to get people familiar with the form factor and then maybe move up to the Duo 2 or whatever comes next and where they might be willing to pay the premium for the best in class specs.
  • Sell it as a Mobile TEAMS appliance.
  • It's very possible when you look at Surface Duo 2 (not v1). Drop from 3 rear cameras to 1 Drop processor from 888 to 768 Drop high-refresh display for normal 60Hz Reduce RAM from 8GB to 6GB Remove NFC Remove [announced feature that we haven't seen yet for the display] etc.
  • Interesting. So there's an unannounced feature with the display? Like, an under screen camera or something? I have been thinking it's weird with all these pictures leaks they've always hidden the screen on Duo 2...
  • @OcupiedLeach it is probably the wrap around/curved screen so when it is folded closed you will be able to see notifications.
  • Might work on the hinge side, but on the outside that would preclude any sort of case/bumper.
  • Yeah these things could be ommited and especially SoC to make it midrange. Though I don't agree with NFC removal, that feature has becoming a necessity from mobile payment, device pairing to public transport. I think every smartphone devices should have that hardware feature. I'm sad that we are at this 202X and NFC is still missing on many new smartphone models. It kinda feels like early 2000's not having such feature now.
  • I think that depends a lot on where you are, in the US or the world. Middle US I don't see people using phones or watches for NFC payments much. I do understand many places it is ubiquitous, but those may not be the places MS was initially targeting.
  • Home Depot does not do NFC for Android. It works only with Samsung Pay (for some reason). The US has big retailers (read 1,000 plus stores), and I don't think they can justify replacing all their card readers to institute Tap and Pay/touchless until they depreciate their current hardware.
  • "Remove [announced feature that we haven't seen yet for the display]" Surely they showed you the edge display notification panel, right?
  • I bought a OnePlus for like $600 three years ago. One year ago it fell off my bumper and got crushed by a car (interestingly, it would still connect to my Bluetooth hearing aids and I could accept a call. So I spent $220 bucks on a moto phone. Lost that one last week, so I bought a new moto phone for $160. Why should I buy a $1,000 phone if I know I will lose it or break it within 12 months? Could I afford $1500? Easily but I would rather spend my $1500 on something I won't break or lose.
  • Sounds like a personal problem ;)
  • Duo 1 is basically on the high mid-range. and theyre on sale.
  • Agreed on all fronts, and from the hints you and Dan have dropped, I assume there *will* be a Duo 2 -lite maybe coming next year. I'm not happy about the reputed camera bump for Duo 2 (I don't use a bumper on Duo 1 because it ruins the elegance of the device, so pointing out the camera bump's not much worse than the bumper is not a winning argument), but I'll see how it goes when they announce it in a few weeks.
  • They can barely justify 1 model. Asking for 2 is a bit of a stretch. That's not going to happen this time around.
  • They could justify it off the form factor didn't suck.
  • My name is Bleached.
    I just came to say the opposite of people & to type letters & numbers like a big boy (damn I hope they don't realize I'm 12)
  • I have been on this site for nearly 12 years, or maybe more?! The Duo form factor just isn't good. There is a reason no one else is pursuing it. There is a reason ZTE only made one Axon M, that the Kyocera didn't catch on, and LG's dual screen failed. Why didn't Samsung make one years ago when they were trying everything? You know they had prototypes. It just isn't worth having dual screens for all the trade-offs. The benefits are far outweighed by the weaknesses.
  • u dont own a duo. pls stop talking.
  • I have used one. The form factor is awkward and useless the majority of the time.
  • So, you played with one in a store?
    Sorry, but that's not using one.
  • 12 years? I've only been on this site for roughly 4 years and I'm aware of your reputation for always being negative about anything Microsoft does.
  • Is bleached wrong here? I get what Zac is saying, but fundamentally fold can support every duo use case and then some. If Samsung made a software switch that would treat the folding display as separate virtual displays Zac’s arguments re software would end. Microsoft can’t make w separate displays act as one. Duo can have a future as the discount foldable if ms wants it, but otherwise I think it will die.
  • I am not negative about everything, but it is hard to be positive about their consumer products since I am a consumer. Can you find anyone happy with their consumer offerings?
  • The dude has serious sociological issues.. I mean, who would complain this much about a device they aren't forced to buy? His mind is seriously warped.
  • I have been following Microsoft for 20+ years and will continue. I wish they would stop making dumb decisions and wasting time with stuff like the Duo. Just make something practical. Dual screens have been done before a few times. They don't work and there is nothing you can do to fix it. It doesn't matter how nice the hardware is, dual screens are just awkward.
  • Yea, imagine where MS could be today if they stopped making dumb decisions.
  • I have to agree with bleached on this one and take it a step further. The foldable device is a product trying to fill a gap that doesn't exist. I want to be productive I use my laptop / surface or desktop. I want to make calls, message or take a happy snap use my mobile. There is simply no reason to want your mobile phone to be a productive tool. I can use it if i must for a quick work email etc. Obviously the above is my opinion as I try to separate my work time from my free time. I detach myself from work once the day is done. Laptop is off work is over.
  • I'd go with what xsikal said, rodneyej.
  • Well, sounds like yall know something. I'm a believer now. The question is when? Generation 3?
  • Version 2 can't afford such slow progress on the software side. Besides the camera, the hardware on version 1 has been just fine. The overall experience has been good. But, SDV2 has to have a much better software experience. We'll see. I've been using Duo for my everyday device for a year now, and it's been a good proof of concept. Just needs some tweaking and more features. My Note9 is never lacking features, and Duo is pretty much stock android compared to it. Nevertheless, the experience is never cluttered like Samsung products, and I'd hate to see it go there. Middle of the road would be nice. The camera experience on SDV1 has been a total nightmare. Looks to be fixed with version 2, though. Based on my year using SDV1 SDV2 is definitely worth a try.
  • I agree with everything you said. They have no excuses for the software and where is the promised Android 11? They are horribly and woefully behind.
  • Do you use Duo? I don't really think they are behind much as far as the software experience goes, it's just bugs.. From my experience with my Note9, Android just became really good with version 10. From a polished standpoint, and using iOS, and WP8.1 on a daily basis, Android is what's really behind. I think that's why Microsoft needs to just make their version of Android more stable and add more exclusive features. But, the lack of clutter has been nice. Did I mention that the camera experience has been a nightmare? I can't say it enough times. Lol
  • Why would you continue using a device you call a nightmare? There are so many good ones out there. Fold 3 blows Duo out of the water.
  • Did I call the device a nightmare? 🤔 🤔 🤔 Of course the Fold blows Duo out of the water. Why wouldn't it? 🤔 And, besides the fact that you can't afford better, why do you use the bottom of the barrel device you use? There's better options out there. 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔
  • There is nothing about my iPhone 12 Pro Max that I would call a nightmare, although I wouldn't mind a consistent back button and better notifications. I guess next week the new iPhone 13 Pro Max will be better, or maybe the Pixel 6. We will see.
  • Nobody here believes you even have a phone period. I really should be saying 15 year old low end PC.
  • I have a Surface Pro 4, gaming PC with a RTX 3070 and 3700X, and an iPhone 12 Pro Max. This is my first iPhone and I have been liking the experience. The hardware is unbeatable, but I kinda wish it was Android. Not sure why you would attack me there? Nothing else to say?
  • this guy gets a whiff of adrenaline being a troll here. i dont understand WPC has kept him aroudn this long. Annoying ****. he doesnt even own a Duo. LOL
  • Can you imagine what people in real life who hav