Several software updates and a price drop make the Duo 2 a far more compelling device now than at launch. But Microsoft still has work to do to convince people that this foldable form factor has a long-term future.
Updated August 2022: The Surface Duo 2 received several software updates and dropped in price since our original review, so we’ve updated it to reflect that. Much of the review remains unchanged, but there are key updates to the software, pricing and verdict sections, alongside anew score from 3/5 to 3.5/5.
When Microsoft revealed the Surface Duo 2 back in October 2021, it was arguably overshadowed by the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio that launched alongside it.
Those were devices that people would realistically consider buying, while the Duo 2 remained a niche device without mainstream appeal. For all the hardware improvements that Microsoft made, the software experience was still severely lacking.
That’s been the company’s priority in the months since, making the Duo 2 you buy today far more usable than it once was. There’s also been a big price drop, with seemingly no plans for it to return to full price.
But is that enough to make the Duo 2 worth buying in 2022? Following my original review, I spent another week with the device to find out.
Design & Build
Two 5.8in displays, total screen area 8.3in
New triple rear camera module
Premium design and build
Of course, the design of the Duo 2 hasn’t changed since launch. It has the same basic form factor as its predecessor, consisting of two displays attached via a strong hinge. Near-identical dimensions mask the fact that Microsoft has managed to increase the screen sizes here.
Both panels are now 5.8in, up from 5.6in on the original. That provides a total screen real estate of 8.3in, making it comparable to a small tablet. I’ll talk about the quality of these screens in more detail in the next section.
It’s easy to understand how Microsoft has managed to increase the display size without significant changes to the total footprint of the device. The Duo 2’s bezels are noticeably smaller than the original, making it feel more premium and futuristic than before.
They’re nowhere near as slim as you’ll find on modern smartphones, though – you still need room for a tough metal hinge above to connect the displays. It feels impressively robust, reinforced by aluminum that extends down the back of the phone where the screens meet. At no point throughout my testing did it feel anything but strong and sturdy – that’s a testament to Microsoft’s engineering.
Having a 360-degree hinge you can rely on makes the Duo 2 impressively versatile. Microsoft officially advertises five key modes: regular Book (both in portrait and landscape), Compose (with the bottom screen used as an on-screen keyboard), Single screen and Tent. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but it’s great to have so many potential use cases within one device.
Even when the Duo 2 is closed, you can still check key information. The inside of each display curves slightly at the edges, meaning it’s just about visible from the outside. Microsoft is calling this feature a “Glance Bar”, but there are two big caveats here.
Firstly, there’s no raise or move to wake functionality – you need to press the power button for it to show up. You’re also currently limited to incoming calls, messages, current volume and battery percentage. Support for other app notifications would make it much more useful.
One of the big upgrades on the Duo 2 is new triple rear cameras. They’re housed within a large module which protrudes significantly from the back of the phone. Without any rear cameras, this wasn’t an issue for the original Duo, but I’d much rather deal with this minor inconvenience.
Aside from a slight wobble when face down on a table, I had no other problems with it – as you’ll see from the camera section, both these and the 12Mp selfie camera were worth including.
However, the latter doesn’t support face unlock of any description. It means you’ll have to rely on the fingerprint sensor built into the power button, but this was fast and responsive throughout my testing.
This rear camera module is the defining feature on the back of the device. In fact, the glossy Microsoft logo on the other screen is the only other thing worth noting.
It tends to pick up fingerprint smudges, but that’s less of an issue elsewhere on the glass exterior – especially if you opt for the Glacier White model. Unlike the original, it’s also available in Obsidian Black.
However, even when closed, the Surface Duo 2 is still a bulky device. As well as being much wider and around twice as thick as regular smartphones, it also weighs in at a hefty 284g – that’s up from 250g on the original Duo. You could argue that you’re getting two screens for that, but it’s undoubtedly less portable. Storing the Duo 2 in your pocket is still possible, just less comfortable than a candybar phone.
The design of the device also makes it difficult to use as a regular smartphone at times. You can fold away one of the displays and use it as a single-screen device, you’ll have no access to the rear cameras. Using the latter feels awkward as a result, and you’ll probably miss out on time-sensitive shots.
Elsewhere, ports are kept to a minimum – there’s a single USB-C port, plus space for one SIM card and no expandable storage. A 3.5mm headphone jack would have been nice, but it’s far from a priority these days.
5.8in AMOLED displays
90Hz adaptive refresh rate
Great viewing experience
The design elements mentioned above are all important, but they’re ultimately a supporting cast to the main event – the display. As the name suggests, the Surface Duo 2 has two of them, although both are now 5.8in instead of 5.6in on the original.
When fully open, that gives you a total screen area of 8.3in – the same as you’ll find on the latest iPad mini.
Of course, being split across two screens makes for a very different user experience. You also get two key features you won’t find on Apple’s tablet – an AMOLED screen and 90Hz refresh rate.
The latter is new to the Surface Duo, and it has the same effect as on a regular smartphone. Visuals are fluid and buttery-smooth, especially while scrolling social media or browsing the web.
This is an adaptive refresh rate, meaning it increases and decreases according to the situation. The most noticeable drop is when content is moving between the two displays, but it wasn’t too much of an issue.
Each screen has a 1344×1892 resolution and boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, making for a total display area of 1892×2688.
Both panels are crisp and detailed, equally capable of vivid colours and deep blacks. The Surface Duo 2 also gets impressively bright – I recorded a maximum brightness of 696 nits, meaning regular outdoor use shouldn’t be an issue.
For those occasions where you’d like to use just one screen, the Duo 2 will prioritise the right display. This feels the most natural, although double tapping on the left screen lets you switch if you toggle on the option in settings.
Specs & Performance
Snapdragon 888 processor (5G built-in)
Entry-level 128GB storage may not be enough
Some of the first-gen Surface Duo’s big problems were under the hood, but Microsoft has put that right with its successor. Qualcomm has released two flagship chips since the Snapdragon 888 that powers the Duo 2, but it still delivers the top-level performance you’d expect. It also has 5G built-in, something Microsoft wasn’t able to include on the original model.
Alongside the Adreno 660 GPU and 8GB of RAM across all configurations, performance is predictably very good. Basic use cases such as web browsing, instant messaging and social media aren’t a problem for the Duo 2, but it was the multitasking experience that particularly impressed me. Even demanding apps can run side-by-side without issue.
Solid performance extends to mobile gaming, where even the most in-depth titles on the Play Store run smoothly. I tested Call of Duty: Mobile, Asphalt 9 and FIFA Mobile with no noticeable slowdown or lag. The back of the Duo 2 soon becomes warm to the touch during these tasks and while charging, but it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
However, opening and closing apps can cause problems. That’s where I noticed hesitation and stuttering at times, while some apps crashed when trying to open them across both displays. But it didn’t feel hardware-related, just a case of software that’s not optimised to run on dual-screen devices. I discuss this in more detail in the following section.
Overall, the Surface Duo 2 delivers impressive performance in almost all areas. That’s reflected in the benchmarks below, which put it roughly in line with the best foldable phones available right now:
However, using the cheapest model I tested may cause issues with regard to internal storage. It offers just 128GB, with no option to expand with a microSD card. If you think that might be a problem, you’ll need to pay extra for 256GB or even 512GB.
It’s also worth highlighting the presence of NFC here, something which was missing from the original Duo. For most people, its main purpose will be contactless payments using Google Wallet.
Given the need for large bezels, there’s space for dual stereo speakers, in addition to the earpiece. This makes for great audio that’s far superior to what you’ll find on most smartphones, offering a rich sound with a decent amount of bass.
It also means the calling experience is impressive, even if you probably won’t be holding the Duo 2 up to your ear. Dual mics mean the person on the other end can hear you loud and clear, too.
Software & Apps
Microsoft’s skin over Android 11
Upgrade to Android 12L expected at some point
Software experience much better, but still not entirely optimised
The Duo is the only Surface device that doesn’t run Windows, with Microsoft opting for Android instead. This makes sense, given it’s designed to replace your smartphone.
However, the Duo 2 is still running Android 11 at the time of writing, with no word on when it’ll get the update to Android 12. That’s now two major versions out of date, with Android 13 now launched.
Microsoft committed to version and security updates for Duo 2 for at least three years, meaning it could get Android 14 eventually. Predicting when that’ll be is difficult with the device already lagging behind other phones.
But most people will be able to live with Android 11 for now. The bigger issue is Microsoft’s work to make an operating system that’s not designed for dual-screen devices work well on the Duo 2.
Using the Microsoft Launcher (or any alternative) felt clunky at launch, with frustrating bugs and only a few apps that could make the most of both displays. This has improved a lot since then, making the Duo a realistic option for the first time.
The list of apps that are optimised for the Duo 2 has grown significantly, and now includes versions of Twitter, Reddit and TikTok. All the Microsoft apps work seamlessly, while the experience reading e-books is excellent – Kindle, Google Play Books and Nook are all supported with two page mode where the two screens mimic a book.
As one of the few games optimised for the Duo 2, playing Asphalt 9 is a joy. It puts the controls on one screen and gameplay on the other, making it feel like a Nintendo DS.
Even on apps that aren’t designed for dual screens, being able to open two apps side-by-side transforms productivity for the better. When it comes to split-screen multitasking, no phone can match the Duo 2 – especially with the option to select preset pairings into one app icon to launch them simultaneously.
Microsoft has also done a good job of eliminating some of the device’s most annoying issues. App crashes are now rare, while moving through the UI feels much slicker and smoother.
However, I did still run into problems on a regular basis. Touch responsiveness has improved, but several taps are often required to open apps or select a specific option. To use the on-screen keyboard, you’ll have to either be limited to one display or stretch it awkwardly across both.
Opting for the latter means some keys will be obscured, a problem which affects most apps that are extended across both screens. When browsing social media or gaming, it’s best just to stick to one.
This is a direct consequence of the design and unlikely to be fixed in any software updates. But you’ll know that already if you’re considering buying one, and the other issues are no longer dealbreakers.
Rather than the regular Android 12, the Duo 2 (and original Duo) is expected to get Android 12L soon. This tweaked version is specifically designed for foldables and devices with larger displays, so it could be another big step for the Duo 2’s software.
New wide, ultrawide and telephoto rear cameras
Small upgrade to front camera
Decent photos, but not best-in-class
For some reason, the original Surface Duo didn’t have any rear cameras. Microsoft has emphatically put that right here, with a new triple camera system. A main 12Mp sensor is joined by 16Mp ultrawide and 12Mp telephoto lenses, mirroring what you’ll find on many modern smartphones.
Stills from the Duo 2 are nothing special, but offer decent dynamic range and an impressive amount of detail. The weather was cloudy when all my test shots were taken, but the device still did a good job of making colours really stand out. However, there are issues with exposure at times.
The telephoto lens offers 2x optical zoom, but there was a noticeable drop in quality compared to the main sensor. This was less apparent when taking wide-angle photos, and the extra versatility it offers is often useful.
Despite not having a dedicated macro lens, close-up shots were impressive. I was also pleased with the quality of portrait shots, although edge detection was often an issue.
The Surface Duo 2 also benefits from a software-based night mode. This turns on the flash by default, creating a much sharper and more detailed image than the regular shot. Other phones I’ve tested produce a more appealing low-light image, but it’s still a nice feature to have.
You still only get one front-facing camera, but it’s been upgraded slightly. The sensor is now 12Mp instead of 11Mp, and I was impressed with the detailed selfies it produces. It also avoids the common tendency to overexpose the background.
The Duo 2 has received several software updates since I first published this review, but the images it produces appear unchanged. Still, I’ve added a few new camera samples to the gallery below, which you may have to click on:
On the video side, the Duo 2 is capable of up to 4K footage at 60fps. A more common use case is 1080p at 30fps, where optical image stabilisation (OIS) on the main lens helped stabilise video with a lot of movement.
It’s worth noting two other camera experiences that are unique to the Duo and Duo 2. First is the dual-screen folding design, which makes taking photos quite awkward at times. However, having that second screen means you can preview the photo you’ve just taken without leaving the camera app, a feature I really enjoyed.
Battery Life & Charging
Solid battery life, but nothing special
Relatively slow charging
Microsoft has made battery life a priority on the Duo 2. It now has a 4,449mAh total capacity, up from 3,577mAh in its predecessor. That’s a big upgrade, but nothing remarkable in the world of Android phones – many have 5,000mAh cells.
I didn’t get a chance to test the original Duo so can’t provide a direct comparison, but battery life here held up fairly well. I recorded 7 hours and 7 minutes, then 6 hours and 41 minutes in PCMark’s battery test, which simulates real-world usage at 200 nits of brightness.
That might sound concerning, but in reality, most people will be able to last a full day with moderate usage. Impressive standby time certainly helps.
The Duo 2 supports 23W fast charging, but there’s no power brick included in the box. Via a 65W adapter at home, I recorded 28% in 15 minutes and 50% in 30 minutes from off. Even after an hour and a half, it had only reached 90%.
In a world where charging regularly hits 60W or more, this is very underwhelming. The frustration is amplified by the lack of wireless charging.
Price & Availability
At launch, the Duo 2’s starting price of $1,499/£1,349 was hard to justify. You could pay as much as $1,799.99/£1,589 for more storage, but Microsoft has put things right since then.
Almost all models are now available with a $500/£500 price drop, and there appears to be no plans for it to return to full price. Despite the different form factor, that puts it in direct competition with Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 4. The more expensive Z Fold 4 is also worth considering, although there’s really no device like the Surface Duo 2 (apart from the original).
If it’s going to be your main smartphone, paying $999/£849 is common these days. But if that won’t be the case, it’s still not good value for money.
Learn more in our separate guide to the best Surface Duo 2 deals.
Almost a year after it was first announced, the Surface Duo 2 is now in much better shape. The bug-filled software that plagued its launch has been significantly improved, and there are scenarios where it delivers a superior experience to regular phones.
That’s complemented by excellent hardware, despite the Snapdragon 888 now being three generations old. Triple rear cameras (and an improved selfie camera) both hit the mark, while using both 90Hz displays is a joy. You’re also now looking at a full day of battery life in most situations.
But for the vast majority, the Duo 2 won’t replace your smartphone – there are simply too many inconveniences. It’s not a great content consumption device either, so you’ll probably want to use it alongside a tablet or laptop.
Even with a price drop, that means the Surface Duo 2 still doesn’t have mainstream appeal. It’s an impressive device in many ways, but not one the average consumer should be considering unless they want to completely change how they approach their smartphone use. For others, it could be enticing.