Surface Duo 2 Hands On: A Better First Impression

A Surface Duo 2 on a mat with the Review Geek logo
Josh Hendrickson

Last year I took the original Surface Duo out of the box and marveled at how it looked and felt in hand. And then ruined that impression by turning on. But it’s a new year, and now I have the Surface Duo 2 in my hands, and good news! It isn’t failing epically. At least not yet.

To be clear, I’ve only had my Surface Duo 2 for a few hours, so this won’t be a full review. A full review calls for more time spent with the phone, and the previous Surface Duo is proof of that fact. Though I adored the form factor and called it the phone made for me, I ended up sending my Duo back. Why? Because it literally started falling apart at the seams.

This is more of a first impressions overview. What stands out as different from the previous generation. And the good news? I see a lot of improvements. But some of those improvements introduce a few apparent issues.

A Much Better First Impression

A closed Surface Duo 2 on a mat with the Review Geek Logo
Josh Hendrickson

The original Surface Duo made a lousy first impression. Sure it looked great out of the box, but then nothing worked at first. It was literal hours of updates before the software finally started working mostly as intended. Nothing spanned, nothing went to split-screen, and it constantly froze during the process. Even after all those updates, the software never fully settled and I had frequent issues with touch not registering.

So here’s the good news: that didn’t happen this time. True, I still had to do a “day one update,” but that happened first and didn’t take long. After restoring my stuff from a backup, I was up and running in no time. And the software works as intended! Mostly.

I had hoped that the jump to Android 12 would help things. The original Duo is still on Android 11, though Microsoft says it will fix that soon. But the Duo 2 launched with Android 12 right out of the box. But I’m sorry to say I’m already seeing little quirks I grew accustomed to seeing on the original Duo. The entire OS locked up once, which isn’t great. But for the most part, it seems more stable.

At least I didn’t have to wait hours to get a phone that worked at all.

Some Noticeable Hardware Improvements…

The backside of a Surface Duo 2 showing a large camera bump.
Josh Hendrickson

But that’s not the only “first impression” that’s a noticeable improvement. Most of the hardware feels better because it IS better. Straight out of the box, it feels noticeably heavy. And I don’t mean heavier; I mean heavy. The Surface Duo 2 not only weighs more than the original, it actually weighs more than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Once you get used to the heft, it’s a reassuring thing. Especially when you understand the reasons behind all that extra weight. I sent back the first Duo because the frame cracked simply from plugging the phone in for its nightly charge. That came down to the plastic frame that just barely surrounded the port. The Duo 2 stepped up to an aluminum frame—stronger but heavier.

You also get better specs, like larger displays, NFC (yes, the original didn’t have NFC), and a bigger battery. All improvements that should make for a better phone, but all things that add weight. Still, I’m already used to it, and I don’t mind. And oh yeah, now the Surface Duo 2 has some proper cameras, also heavier, that should, in theory, take better pictures.

Anything, and I mean just about anything, should take better pictures than the original. That’s a bar so low you could trip over it. But better doesn’t mean good. I’ll need to test to get a sense of the new camera’s capabilities. But early results would suggest you can expect washed-out colors indoors. And unfortunately, those cameras come with a downside.

… That Introduce Some Issues

 

The Surface Duo 2 folded up with an unsightly bulge from the camera bump.
Josh Hendrickson

I’m not sure I blame Microsoft, nor am I sure what the better solution is here, but some of the improvements detract from the form factor the company is going for here. The Surface Duo 2 is essentially two displays slapped together on a hinge. That should make for a chonky unwieldy phone, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to carry around the original. But it was so thin it worked out just fine.

The Duo 2 is still incredibly thin, but it’s also somewhat wider thanks to those bigger displays. And the original was already a pretty wide phone. I can tell right now that using this thing with one hand on the go will be a struggle. Even if I’m using it folded up—partly because it doesn’t fold flat anymore.

You see, the phone IS thin, except for the camera bump. Smartphones with camera bumps aren’t anything new, of course, but this one introduces a wrinkle. You’re supposed to fold the screens around, so the backs touch each other. Since the original only had a terrible front-facing camera, it folded up flat.

The Duo 2 doesn’t fold up flat anymore. The new camera bump gets in the way, leaving the two halves at a sort of tilt. The Duo 2 folds into a triangle now, and it does not feel good. You hear and feel the back from one display clack into the camera, and at least for me, that induces a mild panic that I’ve wrecked the lens. It’s probably fine, but it doesn’t “feel” okay. And that’s half the battle sometimes. I do appreciate how the camera bump “tilts” slightly so it lines up with the angle of the dispaly.

Hopefully, It’s Enough

A Surface Duo 2 in tent mode
Josh Hendrickson

On paper, the Surface Duo is undoubtedly better than the original. This time, it has proper specs, including a bigger battery, better camera hardware, and a processor that isn’t out of date on day one. But “on paper” often doesn’t translate to real life.

It’s too soon to say if the Surface Duo 2 is just “better on paper” or if that translates to real life. I do know this; I missed having its multi-tasking capabilities. I’m looking forward to having a “desktop in my pocket” again. We’ll have to see if it stays in my pocket … or if I’ll return it again.

A Second Try

Surface Duo 2

Microsoft's Surface Duo 2 promises to fix everything that went wrong with the first, starting with the cameras.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor and Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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