We asked experts if Surface Duo 2 can compete with Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, and responses are mixed

Surface Duo 2 Notification Shade New
Surface Duo 2 Notification Shade New (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft's Surface Duo 2 is a special device in more ways than one. Not only does it sit in a corner of the market all by itself, detached from even its closest competition — such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 — but it's also the successor to a product that, to this day, remains a bit of an enigma for a great many people.

The original Surface Duo saw an onslaught of fire sales throughout 2021. It was a device that commanded a $1,400 MSRP in late 2020 and, not more than one year later, saw itself being put on sale for under $400. It is a device line that Windows Central readers rally around and applaud the concept of (even if they aren't going to buy it themselves), as well as one that non-enthusiasts often don't even know exists.

So, when the Surface Duo 2 released, there were questions: Could it right the wrongs of the Duo 1? Could it differentiate itself in the market enough to make the dent its predecessor couldn't? Was there hope for a Duo revolution?

Now that the sequel device has been out for a few weeks, answers are starting to shape. Though, depending on who you ask, those answers won't be the same. Here's what experts thought about the Surface Duo 2's prospects.

Surface Duo 2: On the surface, there's potential

Surface Duo 2 Hero

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

Surface Duo as a line, on a conceptual and execution level, has had no shortage of critics and skeptics. Specifically, many people see it as serving a niche that doesn't really exist, so long as there are alternatives such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 on the menu. We asked Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner Research Director, for her thoughts on whether the Duo 2 could stack up against the competition.

"It is less likely that Duo 2 will compete against Samsung Galaxy Z Fold," Kitagawa said. "The main buyer target of Duo 2 and Z Fold 3 is technology enthusiasts, but not average consumers. For enthusiasts, the folded screen of Z Fold is attractive as there are quite some engineering feats behind the product, but the Duo 2 just has two screens connected by hinges, which does not attract the enthusiasts."

Anshel Sag, Moor Insights & Strategy Principal Analyst, took an opposing stance to that claim, arguing that there was very much a reason to enjoy Microsoft's expensive Nintendo DS lookalike on its own terms.

"I think the Duo 2 does have a place in the market because it's a very different design and user experience from the Fold 3," he stated. "I have both devices and I like using them both for different reasons. I also find myself multi-tasking on the Duo 2 far more often than I do on the Fold simply because it's just easier to do."

When asked about the Duo 2's optics, Sag commented on a point that, for many, also remains one of the major pitfalls of the original Duo. "I think the Duo 2's biggest obstacles are long-term software support and initial launch software quality. The company has addressed most of my hardware concerns with the device, but it seems like the software isn't quite there yet."

Surface Duo 2: Nothing's guaranteed

Surface Duo 2 Jez 2021

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

It may be too early to tell whether Microsoft has remedied the long-term mistakes of Duo 1, but there's been enough time to at least get a vague idea of whether the Duo teams up in Redmond have ironed out the biggest kinks with their sequel device. When asked about whether the Duo 2 was adequately set up for a brighter future than its predecessor, Kitagawa outlined the big challenge still standing in the way of Microsoft's foldable.

"Adopting Android OS is the right direction instead of trying to get their own OS, but the challenge for Microsoft is to build the brand perception associated with a smartphone, which they don't have at the moment," she said. "For consumers, Microsoft is a brand for PCs, and adding brand perception will take a long time."

Microsoft ... smartphones ... something sounds familiar there. Almost like, oh, say, a Windows Phone, or some such concept. Imagine if Microsoft had a thing like that and let it fall to the wayside.

With that said, it's not impossible for Microsoft to double-down on Duo (like it already has) and make a serious, continued play for recognition in the sector it's had issues with. It's just going to be hard. But Microsoft is no stranger to throwing money at things until they work (check out the best Xbox Game Pass games, hint hint), so perhaps future software updates can amp up the Duo 2's reputation, or a Duo 3 can rewrite the rulebook from the ground up. Either way, the Duo isn't down and out yet, no matter what Samsung or the rest of the competition dare to duel it with.

Robert Carnevale

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

  • I have the Duo and the Fold 3, they are both great devices... The Samsung eco system is great and the Fold 3 is a polished package... But when I travel on business I take my Duo, the dual screens and use case is unique... The hardware feels so premium too... Having owned both of these devices I will never go back to a single screen slab... Hope another Duo device will be available when support for my Duo comes to an end...
  • Seriously I don't know how you guys do. I had the Duo for several weeks and the software limitations and bugs make it a pain in the *** to use. Never tried the Fold tho, but Samsung is getting even worse as Microsoft hard-trying to push their own services.
  • Usually, this depends on the limitations and bugs you experience and how they impact you. I stuck with Windows phones until mid-2019. The sad app situation meant little to me because I have never been a heavy app user. Even now, there are only one or two apps I have taken to over the last 2.5 years that I would miss if I still used W10M. My sister says she doesn't want a Duo because it's too wide. For me, with much larger hands, I was surprised to pick up the Duo 2 at Best Buy and not really have an issue handling it. It's just a matter of who you are and what you do. I'm much more bothered by the absurdity of not including a means of charging the Slim Pen 2 in its box than software bugs, which I'm usually more than capable of navigating.
  • In briefly trying out the Duo 2 and Fold 3 at Best Buy, the former was definitely more pleasant as a multi-app solution. The Fold can bring forth more apps, but they felt cramped in side-by-side. That's how I most want to multi-task, and the Duo feels better for that. Despite that, the point of Microsoft's perception misses the mark for me. It isn't about their need to build a smartphone brand. Rather, it's that everything they do right now feels reliant on users to be at the level of Apple diehards to justify. No longer are they leading the charge and moving heaven and Earth to appeal to consumers. Microsoft is now seems determined to make adoption of their products as painful as possible. They show very little interest in doing necessary work. After a year of barely improving the Duo's software it's become apparent that they expect Google to finish A12L to make the Duo 2 a livable experience. More than a year on the market has shown no plan to improve the user experience. Their complete inaction on software is indefensible at $1,500. It's not a mobile issue though, it's the same things that dogged them with Band, Kinect, Cortana, Skype, and Xbox, the last of which has been glacial in releasing content over the past 3-5 years. For a company that has supposedly restructured for agility, Microsoft feels slower than ever to accomplish any task that isn't "raise the price and see if they'll still buy it."
  • its not meant to compete with fold Z, a foldable tablet. Duo brand doesnt try to be a foldable tablet, its 2 screen notebook style phone. stop this nonsense.
  • They can’t compare it to the regular Fold 3 because then they would have to admit it cannot compete at all.
  • I don't know what they are thinking about a dual panel smart phone for the purpose,
    I bought the Duo at early this year, price down to under $1000, unfortunately the battery expanding issue, I replace another one, then the same issue after a week, I finally refund.
    The big problem is the usage, switch in between panel or put one task on 2 panel as a big panel seems not easy, however,
    For the Duo2 my first impress is the camera module so big, and the touch pen still no place to store. hope they solve the poor battery quality problem, and find some real customers to try the usage,,,,
  • Yes the camera module is unfortunate. I've always hated those on classical smartphones as well. I can't understand how a designer is allowed to push this in a final product. For eg on the Pixel 6 they manage to provide us something stable (on a table): we like the design or not but it's functional. Honestly, how much people buying a Duo care about telephoto?
  • Camera was the worst problem on Duo 1. That's completely fixed on Duo 2. There's no other phone for me now, because nothing else as easy and fast to use to do work or better for gaming than Duo. Still flips around all the way open without much change relative to Duo 1. You can even still fit it a pocket in a pair of jeans folded open, so camera bump effect is negligible. Now if only they added Qi support...
  • The camera is still bad. They could have put a bad camera in it and not had the bump. My Pixel 3a has a better camera and almost no bump.
  • I was thinking if they made the camera bump design on Surface Duo 2 similar to Pixel 6 where it spans across the wisge of the device, it will provide symmetry and stability as well when placed on the table. Also can add extra grip as well. Having camera hump only on one corner will always have this shake when you use the device placed on the table, especially for note taking like Surface Duo is.
  • Take a look on my mock-up design https://www.reddit.com/r/surfaceduo/comments/qhjp4n/am_i_allowed_to_post...
  • Duo 1 is an amazing device at a really good price. Found myself using it more than my newer and more expensive slab phones for everything but photography. If duo 2 goes down in price allt, im gonna get one. Duo 1 works very well and not so doom and gloomy as some make it out to.
  • I agree the Duo1 is an amazing piece of hardware... The camera is the biggest weakness, but in good light the pictures are respectible...
  • Thing is, Surface Duo 2 and Galaxy Z Fold 3 really caters different approach to the market differently, but at the same time they are both closest to be compared with. Thing is, if you need that able to expand app whole screen without any physical seam, get Galaxy Z Fold 3. If you really need that always to expand apps full screen into tablet but more into multi-tasking apps more regularly in a slimmer package, get the Duo 2. I think the consensus based on many comments and reaction about the Duo and Fold is that, more people seem to prefer just ability to use apps into tablet and having that whole screen canvas for single apps, but also able to multi-task at will when needed with the snapping feature. So I guess the form factor is simply more "mainstream" and easier to comprehend than a dual screen mobile device like Duo. Though we will see if Duo 2 or even with Duo 3 got a way better polished software experience and also pen UX that Fold 3 already got, see if there will be some change to the narrative. The issue mainly with Duo is the software experience, which is currently largely affects its perception, thus many people can't give it a fair chance. Hopefully Android 12L will bring the best potential of dual-screen device. For me I'm leaning to Fold 3 since the ability to full screen apps when needed and also able to multi-task when needed is quite more compelling. The "easier" multi-tasking for Duo is simply the fact its default behaviour always splits apps, so if you are more into those, that makes that action 1 less step to do. And ability for me to use pen full screen on Fold 3 seems a great concept. But the concern for me is the long term micro cracks with its screen. It doesn't too often, but there are still some people experiencing it even the device is only few weeks or months old. And for me that's just a concern for a device so expensive and will be a hassle to replace.
  • My position would no, the Duo 2 cannot compete with the Fold 3. For one thing, the Fold 3 is a third-generation device and has thus had longer to iron out the kinks. The Duo 3 may be better able to compete with the Fold 3 but it may have to compete with the Fold 4 by then. Secondly, even if Microsoft did go all out with promotion for the Duo 2, they would still not be able to get past Samsung's existing profile as the king of Android phones. Samsung are perceived as making the best Android phones, which may or may not be true, so people will assume that the Fold 3 is the best folding Android phone, whether or not it's true. Finally, though, I'm not sure exactly how much the two devices really are competing anyway. Given the prices, both are very niche devices right now. I suspect that most people who will buy one or the other are already fairly clear on what each can and can't do and which they want and will buy. I'm not going to buy either but, if I was to buy one, it would be the Duo. I've never had a Samsung phone and am not specifically enamoured of them, so the Fold being from Samsung is not a selling point. I don't like the dimensions on the Fold and, while I'd withhold judgement until having tested it, I'm not sure that I'd like the feel of the flexible screen as much either. For me, the Duo doesn't have to compete with the Fold because I've never wanted a Fold, but I do like what the Duo offers. I simply cannot justify the price, given my level of phone usage. Of course, that's just me. The situation may well be different for others.
  • I think that anyone who says that there isn't a market for what the Duo offers is simply an arrogant person who claims to speak for a far larger portion of the population than they do. There are undoubtedly people for whom the Duo doesn't solve any problems and some of those people assume that they are representative of far more people than they are. I expect that the Fold would be a great device for viewing web pages on. It might be good for watching videos too but I'm not sure because most videos fit pretty well on a regular phone screen so wouldn't a Fold screen just be mostly black? The fact that Android phones offer the ability to view two apps at the same time seems to suggest that that is something that at least some people want to do. I've done it before on my LG V40 and a V30 before that and it was of little value because you could see so little of each app that it was hard to do anything in either. Having a full screen for each app on the Duo would make having two apps open at the same truly useful, so the Duo would be a useful device for people who wanted that. The Fold would be useful for those who wanted to view one app on a big screen but for those who don't, the Fold would be less useful. If you're a person who specifically benefits from having two apps open at the same time but doesn't benefit from having one app open on a big screen then I would suggest that a dual-screen device is more useful to you than a single-screen foldable. If that's not you then the Duo is likely not the device for you but anyone who denies that those people exist is just an ass. We all know who I'm talking about, right?
  • For the rare times you need two apps open, the Fold does just fine. What if you need 3 apps or 1 large app? Duo doesn’t do that at all. It is an awkward device that doesn’t make up for it in the rare times you need dual apps.
  • Duo 2 and fold3 are completely different devices, even though they are classified as foldables. Duo 2 is for multitasking, and fold 3 is for having a tablet and being able to fold it into a phone. Its based on what your needs are. For me personally duo would be best because I love using both screens at the same time (email and google docs or sheets for instance) It just works. Also fold 3 since its a folding screen is more fragile and I have seen tears, scratches on those screens. Most used ones on ebay have screen tearing or even dark spots. That is why until this foldable glass gets better duo is more durable.
  • Brand perception is a big argument as is regular os yearly updates to the new version. On the back side of that.... App support for the form factor. At best its niche. But I'm betting we haven't seen the best app yet. That is yet to come.
  • Less than 50,000 sales of Duo 1 and reviews like this for Duo 2: Ultimately, the problem with the Surface Duo 2 doesn't come down to its feature set, its price or any of the specs that usually make or break a phone. The problem here is that the phone simply ignores the reason why people would want to turn to a device with more screen space. - Toms Hardware The Duo will be canceled early next year.