Microsoft has officially announced the Surface Duo 2, rectifying many major complaints that plagued the previous model. Reviewers and early adopters of its predecessor were critical of the software, cameras, and performance, but optimistic about changes future devices might bring. The Surface Duo 2 features improvements in all those areas, and extra features unique to dual-screen smartphones.
Now that the Surface Duo 2 is official, here’s everything you need to know.
Price and release date
Pricing for the Surface Duo 2 starts at $1,499 for the base model, which has 128GB of storage. The largest device isn’t available, perhaps due to the mobile phone chip shortage, but the listing says it has 512GB of storage and costs $1,799. The Surface Duo 2 is available for pre-order now and scheduled for release on October 20, 2021, just in time for the holiday season.
Design and displays
The Duo 2 looks similar to its predecessor, and it offers an additional color option. Rather than a bendable display like the Z Flip 3, the Duo 2 has two separate screens that meet at the hinge. In terms of footprint, it’s closer in size to the Z Fold 3, but again, it’s not bendable. You can keep it folded up, but the versatile design also allows it to be opened like a book for reading and held like a Nintendo DS for gaming, or laid flat so you can see your calendar on one screen while sending emails on the other.
The most exciting design change is actually the gap between the hinge which is an intentional design choice that allows you to see the screen. Microsoft calls this the “Glance Bar” and it indicates battery life and delivers notifications while the phone is closed. The notifications are color-coded, so you’ll be able to see what’s waiting for you and how many notifications there are.
Both screens stick to a 5.8-inch AMOLED display with a resolution that works out to 1344 x 1892. Unfolded, they open to an 8.3-inch panel that measures 2688×1892, but of course, there will be a bezel in between. The pixel density is good at 401 pixels per inch, it supports HDR and hits 800 nits at max brightness. The real selling point is the 90Hz refresh rate, which is a nice jump from the 60Hz that came with the first Duo, though not on par with the 120Hz Galaxy Z Fold 3.
The camera was a major source of complaints for reviewers of the Surface Duo. It was a single 11-megapixel front-facing camera, so unless you were taking a selfie, you had to turn the screen around to take a photo. Sometimes the software was buggy, to the ponit where the camera or screen wouldn’t activate.
The Duo 2 features a camera setup that should solve all these problems. The 12MP front-facing camera is capable of 4K video capture at 60 frames per second (fps) and 30 fps, 1080p at 30/60 fps, and slow-motion video at 120/240 fps. It will be great for selfies, and you don’t need to use it for anything else because the Duo 2 has a triple-lens rear-facing camera system. You get a 12-megapixel main sensor with optical image stabilization (OIS), a 16MP ultrawide camera with a 110-degree field of view, and a 12MP telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom and OIS. The real test will be how it fares in low light, but that will have to wait for our full review.
Specs and performance
One of the biggest criticisms of the original Surface Duo was the fact that it featured “last year’s” Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor under the hood. It also lacked many features like NFC, a rear-facing camera, and wireless charging. That’s mostly all changed for the better now.
True to rumors that the Surface Duo 2 would come with the “latest flagship from 2021,” the device features a Snapdragon 888 processor, which can be found in other phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Z Fold 3. That means the Duo also finally gets 5G support for faster connectivity to the internet and supports all the key 5G bands like mmWave and sub-6. It will also pick up support for NFC, allowing for contactless payments at subways, restaurants, and other places — a feature that is becoming common to use during the pandemic. Unfortunately, it’s still missing wireless charging even though it works with the Surface Slim Pen 2, which does charge when sitting on the device.
The Surface Duo features 6GB of RAM, as well as 128GB or 256GB of storage. Everyone was hoping for a bump in RAM, and they got it: The new models have 8GB of RAM, and the largest model offers more storage as well. That should make it fast enough to handle most tasks and games, including two apps side-by-side.
On the plus side, it does support fast charging, but you’ll need to purchase a 23-watt USB-C adapter separately. Microsoft says battery life on the 4,449mAh cell should be good at 15.5 hours of local (non-streaming) video playback and 28 hours of talk time. We’ll have to put it to testing to see how this translates in the real world.
According to the specs provided by Microsoft, the Duo 2 will ship with Android 11, which comes with improvements for dual-screen devices and foldables. Other dual-screen phones like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 have already gotten Android 11 updates, and Google is already working on beta testing Android 12 on Pixel phones. Android 11 will be a year old when the Duo 2 launches, but Microsoft did say it was committed to three years of updates for the original Duo, so the Duo 2 will probably get Android 12 as well.
The other big focus is on multitasking, with Microsoft trying to make the Duo 2 switch seamlessly between Book, Compose, and Tent mode. This is especially the case for game optimization, with the company claiming that 150 games are supported, allowing you to use the bottom screen for controls and the top for the gameplay itself, bringing to mind a Nintendo handheld. Again, this was the big shortfall in last year’s model, so it’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft has fixed it in our review.
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