Surface Duo 2 review: Microsoft’s folding phone is innovative, but impractical

    Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is sort of a Swiss Army knife. It can morph right into a digital e book, a small pill, a display I can prop up nearly wherever or a mini-laptop paying homage to the T-Mobile Sidekick. But it is not the one factor I would like it to be: a wonderful telephone.The Surface Duo 2 is Microsoft’s second-gen foldable system, and it launches on Oct. 21 beginning at $1,500 (£1,349, AU$2,319). The firm’s first try at a foldable system suffered from laggy efficiency and an absence of options you’d anticipate from a high-end telephone — two criticisms that Microsoft clearly took to coronary heart. The firm put a extra highly effective Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor within the Surface Duo 2, boosted the screens’ refresh charges and added beforehand lacking tech akin to a triple-lens digital camera and 5G assist.

    LikeEye-catching designFlexible hinge is nice for studying and taking part in video games90Hz refresh price makes scrolling really feel smoothOptimized apps really feel revolutionary and new

    Don’t LikeNot many apps are optimized for each screensSome software program glitches nonetheless existSize makes it really feel cumbersome as an on a regular basis telephoneCamera may very well be higher

    These adjustments make the Surface Duo 2 rather more succesful as a telephone than Microsoft’s first foldable. But the issue is {that a} system just like the Surface Duo 2 wants extra than simply sooner efficiency and higher cameras to make it well worth the worth. With its efficiency points (largely) mounted, I’m starting to see the enchantment of a tool with two screens that may fold in half. The greatest drawback is that the Surface Duo 2’s unconventional measurement requires you to sacrifice a number of the conveniences that at the moment’s normal-shaped smartphones supply. Plus, most apps aren’t optimized for the two-screen expertise simply but. Those are trade-offs I’m undecided many individuals are prepared to make for the worth. 

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    The Surface Duo 2’s limitations make it exhausting to suggest. But if this telephone is for anybody, it is for individuals who prioritize productiveness and leisure above all else. If having extra display area for studying books, working in Microsoft Office apps, and taking part in video video games is extra worthwhile to you in a telephone than comfort, you is likely to be pleased with the Surface Duo 2. But I’d nonetheless encourage you to attend till the dual-screen expertise feels extra polished. A design that shapeshifts into lots of issues, apart from an incredible telephoneThe Surface Duo 2 has two screens identical to its predecessor. 
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    Let’s begin with what places the Duo in Surface Duo 2: its dual-screen design. Like the unique, the Surface Duo 2 consists of two screens joined collectively by a hinge that runs down the middle of the system. It jogs my memory of a digital little black e book, or a Pokedex. There’s no denying that Microsoft’s new telephone is a dialog piece. The first time I used the Surface Duo 2 in entrance of a gaggle of pals, the questions got here rolling inside seconds of me taking it out of my purse. This hasn’t occurred because the early 2000s, once I owned the Samsung Juke. The Surface Duo 2 has the identical total form as its predecessor, however with some upgrades. Each AMOLED display is barely bigger at 5.8 inches in comparison with the 5.6-inch shows on the older mannequin. Combined, that offers the Surface Duo 2 a complete show space of 8.3 inches versus the unique’s 8.1 inches of display actual property. Both screens every have the next 90Hz refresh price, which makes scrolling really feel surprisingly gentle and easy. There are another bodily adjustments, too: The Surface Duo 2 is available in a brand new obsidian black shade, and it has a brand new triple-lens digital camera bump on the again (extra on that digital camera later).Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 can fold in half like a e book.
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    One of the most important updates is the brand new Glance Bar, which runs alongside the hinge when the system is closed. The concept is to supply a solution to see incoming calls, the time and notifications with out having to open the system. The Glance Bar was useful on a couple of events, largely when it alerted me that my telephone was ringing whereas on silent mode. But it is tough to see because it’s wedged contained in the hinge, so I do not discover myself utilizing it typically.That hinge offers the Surface Duo 2 (and first-gen Surface Duo) a superpower not discovered on different telephones: the power to take a number of varieties. You can open it like a e book, fold one aspect utterly backwards to make use of it extra like an everyday telephone, bend each shows backwards to prop up the telephone like a tent or open it midway in panorama mode form of like a Nintendo 3DS. Snapping the Surface Duo 2 closed whenever you’re completed with it feels satisfying, identical to closing a flip telephone to hold up on somebody.Holding the Surface Duo 2 in e book mode felt most pure, however I discovered myself folding the show all the best way again to make use of it with one hand most frequently. It’s bigger than I’m used to, however it seems like holding an e-reader or a small pill. The draw back is that the brand new digital camera bump stops you from folding the 2 sides utterly flat towards each other in one-handed mode. A fingerprint sensor is situated on the best aspect identical to final time, but it surely lacks facial recognition. The Surface Duo 2’s Glance Bar could be exhausting to see. 
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    There’s quite a bit to understand in terms of the Surface Duo 2’s design, however there’s additionally quite a bit to complain about. I’m lastly beginning to perceive why Microsoft did not wish to name it a telephone: It’s finest fitted to occasions whenever you wish to dive right into a e book, recreation or work, but it surely falls brief in portability and practicality.Quick actions like sending a textual content message whereas strolling down the road or taking a photograph earlier than my cat scurries away simply aren’t sensible on the Surface Duo 2. That may not sound like a giant deal, however take into consideration what number of occasions you are taking out your telephone every day. Using the Surface Duo 2 has made me really feel like I’ve been taking my compact iPhone 12 without any consideration. Reaching for my telephone when I’m on the go must be easy, not one thing I ought to have to consider. 
    Surface Duo 2 pictures: See Microsoft’s new foldable telephone in motion
    See all pictures

    Two screens are (typically) higher than one By now you are most likely questioning: does my telephone want a second display? That’s a query Microsoft is on its solution to answering, however hasn’t nailed fairly but. There are two most important methods to make use of the Surface Duo 2’s two screens: Running two apps side-by-side, or extending one app throughout each screens. The first one is extra simple, and to me it makes extra sense for multitasking than utilizing split-screen mode on different Android telephones with massive screens. It’s simply exhausting to compete with having a devoted full display for every app. I typically discovered myself folding the Surface Duo 2’s second display again to make use of it with one hand. 
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    However, I’ll admit that I did not discover myself utilizing this performance fairly often. I’ve used it typically to ship a message in Slack whereas wanting up an e mail I wanted to reference, or to discover a login code despatched to my e mail whereas signing into an app. Launching my calendar on one display and WhatsApp on the opposite to examine my schedule whereas planning with pals was additionally helpful. You can even select to pin two apps collectively to launch them with a single faucet.But these eventualities did not come up as typically as I assumed they’d. I’m already used to opening one app at a time, and pondering of apps as pairs requires me to develop new habits round how I exploit my telephone. That can take time, and I think about most individuals most likely really feel the identical. The different manner you may put these two screens to work is through the use of a single app throughout each shows. The catch is that apps should be optimized to truly operate throughout two screens. It’s an attention-grabbing idea that I hope catches on extra broadly. Rather than simply making apps bigger, Surface Duo-optimized apps separate sure options between the 2 shows. When it really works, it feels such as you’re utilizing the app in a wholly new manner.Many of Microsoft’s personal apps are designed to work effectively on the Surface Duo 2. In Outlook, you may view your inbox on one show and a full e mail on one other. OneNote shows a pocket book on one display and a single web page on the opposite. The telephone’s digital camera app turns one display right into a digital camera viewfinder whereas displaying your picture gallery on the second show.The Surface Duo 2 nearly appears to be like like a mini-laptop when composing a message in Outlook. 
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    A handful of third-party apps have additionally been tailored for each screens. One of my favorites is the Amazon Kindle app, which provides every e book web page its personal devoted display and even shows a page-turn animation. The Kindle app was one of many first to be up to date for the Surface Duo because the first model of the telephone launched final yr, and it is nonetheless a shining instance of the advantages of getting two screens on a telephone. TikTok additionally shows the Discover tab on one display and the For You feed on the opposite. Gameloft has tailor-made Asphalt 9 so the racetrack is displayed on the highest display when held in panorama mode whereas the controls and a map are proven on the underside. Certain titles in Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass streaming service are additionally optimized for the Surface Duo 2 in the same manner. The Surface Duo 2’s form makes it nearly really feel nearly like a Nintendo DS, and it is one other nice instance of why I imagine the Surface Duo 2 has potential.I had lots of enjoyable taking part in Yakuza: Like A Dragon as a handheld recreation on the Surface Duo 2 by Game Pass. The backside display turns right into a digital gamepad that even shows the controls for every button — one thing an everyday controller cannot do. For instance, a speech bubble image seems subsequent to the Y button to remind you that pushing it permits you to work together with different characters and recreation components. However, utilizing touchscreen controls as a substitute of bodily buttons, in a recreation designed for a standard controller, took some getting used to. The Surface Duo 2 excels as a gaming system.
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    The drawback is that the overwhelming majority of apps I exploit each day aren’t optimized for the Surface Duo 2’s screens. These apps, which embody Facebook, WhatsApp, Seamless, Google Drive, Instagram, Adobe Lightroom, Slack, Netflix and YouTube, simply look unusual when spanned throughout each shows due to the hinge that joins each screens collectively. The crease on foldables just like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 appear almost invisible by comparability.That’s the large benefit Samsung’s folding telephone has over the Surface Duo 2. It basically serves as a pill when open and a telephone when closed. There is not as a lot optimization that has to occur behind the scenes to speak the advantage of merely having a bigger display.Apps that are not optimized for the Surface Duo 2 have a crease operating down the center. 
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    I truly loved the Surface Duo 2’s versatile design greater than its second display. Most of the time, I watched movies in tent mode and used the second display as an costly built-in kickstand.The backside line: Having two screens could be helpful typically. But on a tool like this, it must be helpful on a regular basis. Better efficiency, however nonetheless some software program hiccupsPerformance was one of many unique Surface Duo’s greatest shortcomings. Thankfully, the Surface Duo 2 has gotten some vital {hardware} upgrades on this space, however software program efficiency nonetheless feels extra jittery than I’d like. First, the {hardware}. The system runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor with 8GB of RAM, whereas the older Surface Duo telephone ran on a weaker Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. The Surface Duo 2’s chip is identical one present in different high-end telephones just like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and OnePlus 9 Pro, however Samsung’s foldable comes with 12GB of RAM. This upgraded processor mixed with the Surface Duo 2’s 90Hz refresh price makes scrolling by information feeds and settings menus really feel snappy and clean. I not often discover the distinction when utilizing telephones or tablets with larger refresh charges, however the Surface Duo 2’s interface feels noticeably slick. The Surface Duo 2 nonetheless has some software program efficiency points. 
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET
    When it involves normal computing energy, the Surface Duo 2 is on par with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, in accordance with the Geekbench 5 benchmark. That check measures normal CPU efficiency for on a regular basis duties akin to checking e mail and taking part in music. The Surface Duo 2 scored a median of 1,101 on the single-core processing check and 3,420 on the multicore processing check. Samsung’s premium foldable, by comparability, scored 1,097 and 3,399 on the identical check. The $1,099 iPhone 13 Pro Max, then again, outperformed each telephones considerably with a rating of 1,741 and 4,856.In phrases of graphics benchmarks, the Surface Duo 2’s outcomes had been inconsistent and assorted relying on the system’s temperature. When it ran sizzling, the Surface Duo 2 would rating round 7,178 on common through the 3DMark Sling Shot Unlimited check. That’s only a bit larger than the iPhone 13 and Motorola Edge 5G UW, which scored 6,653 and 6,428 respectively. But once I positioned the Surface Duo 2 within the fridge to chill down earlier than operating the benchmark, it scored a median of 10,640, which is on par with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Ultra. Now for the software program. The Surface Duo 2 was capable of sustain with my actions as I switched between its numerous modes for essentially the most half, which is an enchancment on the unique. But it wasn’t excellent on a regular basis. There had been nonetheless some cases by which the show lagged when transferring from portrait to panorama mode, which made the system really feel jumpy and inconsistent in some circumstances. When utilizing the system in tent mode or one-handed mode, a message seems when transferring between the 2 screens to let you recognize which you can double faucet the opposite show to change to it. But this did not all the time work. And when it did, the Surface Duo 2 would typically shut the app I used to be utilizing or show it within the unsuitable orientation. While it is nice that Microsoft has made some progress, it is nonetheless disappointing to see efficiency points like this on the second-generation mannequin.A greater digital camera that is nonetheless removed from the most effectiveThe Surface Duo 2 has a brand new triple-camera system with three lenses: a 12-megapixel broad lens, 12-megapixel telephoto lens and a 16-megapixel ultrawide lens. It’s a giant improve from the only 11-megapixel lens on the earlier Surface Duo, however this actually is not a telephone for picture lovers. During my exams, the Surface Duo 2 produced pictures that had been clear and crisp, however in lots of instances weren’t as well-lit and colourful as these taken on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and iPhone 13 Pro Max. This is normally most noticeable when wanting on the sky within the background throughout out of doors pictures, which was typically a totally completely different shade in comparison with the telephones from Samsung and Apple. Photos taken with the Surface Duo 2’s zoom lens additionally weren’t sharp or vibrant sufficient, and the identical could be stated for photographs taken with its 12-megapixel selfie digital camera. Take a have a look at the photographs under.
    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

    Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

    Surface Duo 2 digital camera testing: See how Microsoft’s new foldable telephone takes pictures
    See all pictures

    The greater subject, nevertheless, is that Microsoft solved one drawback solely to create one other. Now that the Surface Duo 2 has three rear cameras, you could maintain the telephone open whereas snapping pictures so as to truly see what you are taking pictures. On the earlier mannequin, you could possibly fold the display all the best way again in order that you could possibly extra simply shoot with one hand. The entire expertise simply feels awkward and cumbersome.Yet there are upsides to having two screens. For one, you may see a picture immediately on the second display after taking an image. When modifying pictures, you may dedicate one whole display to the picture itself whereas the varied sliders and toggles are situated on the second display. Still, I think about most individuals would favor a telephone that is extra compact and simpler to govern. It feels almost unimaginable to seize a photograph with one hand utilizing the Surface Duo 2. Combine that with the time it takes to unfold the telephone, unlock it and launch the digital camera app, and you have most likely missed the second.Solid battery lifeThe Surface Duo 2 is designed with multitasking in thoughts, and it wants nice battery life to match. In my expertise to date, the Surface Duo 2’s battery life has been dependable however not mind-blowing. After a full day of heavy use, which included about 45 minutes of streaming video games through Game Pass and a half hour of taking pictures along with different every day duties, the Surface Duo 2 nonetheless had 33% of its battery left by the point I went to mattress. That suggests it ought to final a bit longer than a day even when performing taxing duties like recreation streaming. But battery life will all the time range relying on how you employ your system, so you may most likely get extra mileage out of it in case you’re largely simply checking e mail, looking social media feeds and studying. We have not had the possibility to run CNET’s official battery check but, however we’ll replace this assessment with these outcomes as soon as we have now them. A promising system that is not sensible as an on a regular basis telephone For all of its drawbacks, the Surface Duo 2 seems like a step in the best route. But it is simply that: one other step, not the vacation spot. It’s a mirrored image of how our relationship with cellular units has modified over the past decade as we have come to depend on them for every part from e mail, productiveness, gaming, video chatting, social media looking, picture modifying and banking. But I do not suppose the Surface Duo 2 strikes the best stability of portability, performance and practicality that most individuals need from their smartphone simply but. For a tool just like the Surface Duo 2 to be value it, the two-screened app expertise must be materially higher than the single-screen app expertise. That’s simply not true at the moment since there are nonetheless so many well-liked apps that are not optimized. The greater subject is likely to be that the Surface Duo 2 nonetheless feels too awkward to make use of as an on a regular basis telephone, which at finest ends in a studying curve and at worst feels usually inconvenient. On high of all that, some software program efficiency hiccups nonetheless exist.I can not say I did not take pleasure in utilizing the Surface Duo 2, particularly for enjoying video games and studying. But I felt some extent of reduction when switching again to an everyday, nonfolding, single-screen telephone.Microsoft Surface Duo 2 vs. Surface Duo

    Microsoft Surface Duo 2

    Microsoft Surface Duo

    Display measurement, decision,

    Dual 5.8-inch AMOLED; 1,344×1,892 pixels / Combined: 8.3-inch AMOLED; 2,688×1,892 pixels

    Dual 5.6-inch AMOLED; 1,800×1,350 pixels / Combined: 8.1-inch AMOLED; 2,700×1,800 pixels

    Pixel density



    Dimensions (Inches)

    Folded: 5.72 x 3.63 x 0.43 in / Unfolded: 5.72 x 7.26 x 0.22 in

    Folded: 5.72 x 3.67 x 0.399 in / Unfolded: 5.72 x 7.36 x 0.19 in

    Dimensions (Millimeters)

    Folded: 145.2 x 92.1 x 11 mm / Unfolded: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5 mm

    Folded: 145.2 x 93.3 x 9.9 mm / Unfolded: 145.2 x 186.9 x 4.8 mm

    Weight (Ounces, Grams)

    10 oz; 284g

    8.8 oz; 250g

    Mobile software program

    Android 11

    Android 10


    Triple lens with 12-megapixel broad, 12MP telephoto, and 16-megapixel ultrawide lenses


    Front-facing digital camera


    Uses most important digital camera

    Video seize




    Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G

    Qualcomm Snapdragon 855


    128GB, 256GB, 512GB

    128GB, 256GB




    Expandable storage




    4,449 mAh

    3,577 mAh

    Fingerprint sensor

    Right aspect

    Right aspect




    Headphone jack



    Special options

    Dual-screen show; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)

    Dual-screen show; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)

    Price off-contract (USD)



    Price (GBP)


    Converts to £1,020

    Price (AUD)


    Converts to AU$1,880

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