First Look: Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 Includes Android 11 and Updated Hardware

A different way of folding: Can Microsoft’s second version on its dual-screen smartphone bring some needed shine to the Surface Duo?

In PCMag’s review of the original Surface Duo, we praised the hardware itself, as well as the concept’s ambition, but noted a litany of significant software bugs and an awkward layout. In its second crack in the design, Microsoft is hoping that the introduction of Android 11, along with a year of R&D, will improve the experience.

Along with several PC announcements at Microsoft’s Surface event, the tech giant unveiled a second iteration of its dual-screen Duo smartphone, the Surface Duo 2.

The Surface Duo 2: two colors, three lenses
We briefly reviewed the Surface Duo 2 at a preview event in New York after the company’s livestream on September 22, alongside the new Surface PCs, including the Surface Laptop Studio. I mainly review laptops for PCMag, but as a representative of the event you can find my impromptu impressions (including a brief video) below. Our mobile analysts will step in with much, much more to say in their full review when they receive a formal review sample.

A little background if you need it: For most phones, relying on iOS or Android solves the user experience problem, as Apple and Google have gotten pretty good at building operating systems. Their years and years of cumulative refinements are huge factors at this point. However, Android phone makers often use their own operating system skins on top of the “pure” version of Android, which often introduces new (and sometimes polarizing) UI elements or features above it. from Android itself. This is all expected in 2021, but that dynamic becomes much more complicated when you introduce unique form factors that the phone maker has to adapt the software to. First example: twin screens separated by a hinge.

Impressive hardware, but it all depends on the operating system
The main takeaway (as someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time with the original Surface Duo) is that the quality of the hardware and the new features Microsoft demonstrated made me hope that this time around the device will run successfully overall. The build quality of the Duo 2 is excellent and extremely attractive with its various brilliant color options. But a good smartphone relies heavily on its software, and discerning if it’s a smooth user experience takes longer than the very brief in-person slot we were allocated on September 22.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2
Surface Duo 2 in game and controller mode
The operating system should keep up and work in conjunction with the physical design, and as detailed in our review, the original Duo failed here. Between design and a buggy experience, it missed the mark, so the sequel definitely has something to prove.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2
The Duo 2 display hinge can also rotate in any direction to display one screen at a time, in classic smartphone style.
One thing to note: Since the original’s debut, the Surface Duo 2 has benefited from several other dual-screen and foldable-screen designs entering the market, and so Android has had to adapt.

Upgrades abound: new camera, notifications and screens
During my stay with the Duo 2, a Microsoft representative introduced me to several demos and talked about the capabilities of Android 11 to make it a better experience. The camera and photo app make smart use of both screens, and the picture quality (along with the upgraded triple lenses, giving you wide, telephoto, and ultra-wide) seemed solid, but it didn’t. there was not much of a chance to study them closely or take test photos. The rep also pointed out that the second screen can be used as a built-in kickstand or tripod, and with the wide lens, you can put the phone down and capture a full scene with yourself in it.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2
A close up of the lens system
The original Duo’s camera was one of our main points of criticism, so this new camera has a great chance of gaining points, and the new Matrix looks like an improvement, from what we’ve been able to see. sample photos on the screen. Of course, we’ll have to take many more photos ourselves, under controlled conditions of our choosing, before delivering any verdicts. In addition, there is a new notification system that can display calls and other information icons on the edge of the screen when the phone is closed. It looks very cool in practice, and it looks like the future. It’s not the first time we’ve seen something like this with a curved screen smartphone, but seeing it visible when the phone is closed is different. Plus, it partially hides your notifications from public view, if that kind of caution is important to you.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2
The Duo 2 notification board
Speaking of which, the two curved displays are new and larger than the original by 0.2 inches, at 5.8 inches diagonally each. They look very crisp and very spacious, and the curved design complements the fold and hinge, as the phone closes at a tighter angle. When a video was displayed on both screens, the hinge was an easy interruption to ignore, with only a small gap between the two panels. Microsoft Surface Duo 2
The twin screens of Duo 2 open their doors
Appearances were therefore strong. But that’s the problem when you take a quick glance at a smartphone alongside an assistant: a quick demo is very different from living with the device all day, not to mention its urgent use in it. many different places. Navigating smoothly through the operating system and checking for bugs will take longer than this demo event allows, although I was encouraged by what I saw.

Another thing that encouraged me, though: a quick response to typical on-screen actions. In addition to the new cameras, the Duo 2 will support 5G with a robust Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. (Another prominent foldable, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G, also uses the 888. Check out our review at the link for a idea of ​​its relative performance.) For a full rundown of the Duo 2’s specs, features, and additions, check out our original news stories. Microsoft Surface Duo 2
Since betting on the Duo 2 won’t cost a lot at $ 1,500, come back for the full verdict to see if Microsoft has succeeded on the usability of this highly anticipated second take.

Summary of the news:

  • First Look: Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 Includes Android 11 and Updated Hardware
  • Check out all the news and articles about the latest security updates.
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