The Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is the best foldable you're not going to buy

Surface Duo 2 Hero
Surface Duo 2 Hero (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Android Central)

Microsoft took the wraps off its 2021 lineup, and of course, that includes an Android phone — the Surface Duo 2. The introduction of the device was a slick affair and spent plenty of time telling potential customers why they might want to spend "foldable" money with Microsoft. The company did a good job conveying why the Surface Duo 2 is a great device but not enough when it comes to claiming the best foldable phone spot.

Technology for technology's sake serves no one.

What I think the company did exceptionally well was explain why the Duo 2 is great without telling us its predecessor wasn't. We didn't hear how much better version 2 is compared to version 1, just that it was fast and capable. We also heard no comparisons to the Duo's true competition, which of course is Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3. This, in my opinion, is where the mistakes started.

From what I've seen — I've never used a Fold or Flip 3 or even seen the Duo 2 — Microsoft has made a compelling product with zero sex appeal. Everything that needed to be addressed from the original Duo — from the newer, faster digitizer, the stronger aluminum frame, and cameras good enough to be in a high-end phone — is there. Microsoft also made some thoughtful additions like the glance bar built into the device hinge, giving an interesting way to see what might be going on inside the phone. This is exactly what Microsoft needed to do.

Where is the cool factor?

What the company also needed to do but couldn't pull off was make the device cool. I don't mean cool as in uber-functional and powerful; Microsoft gave us that. I mean cool as in fun with your friends doing things better than any other phone can do them. Foldables aren't your average phone, and average tactics aren't going to get anyone excited about buying one. Don't just tell me about the Xbox tie-in, Microsoft; Show me a small group of people enjoying it.

M64plus Fz Emulator Z Fold 3 Lifestyle Alt

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

One day, phones that fold or twist or grow somehow into large-screen devices may be the norm but right now they are a niche market filled with educated consumers. Normally these would be Microsoft's favorite type of buyer, people who know technology and understand why something like an actual glass display may be better than a glass and polymer composite display or can recognize the difficulty in pairing two completely digitizers spanning two separate displays. Tech nerds both love and hate Microsoft's products, but in the end, most will buy them. Phones are different, though, and Microsoft still isn't getting it.

Marketing is a powerful tool. More powerful than a spec sheet.

Most people buy a phone to be more than a tool. A phone is entertaining. A phone is fun. A phone is a way to bring people together. The Surface Duo 2 is almost certainly some or all of those things, yet Microsoft didn't show us how. We've all heard how marketing is a big part of a company's success and that's true. Apple and Samsung make great products. LG and Google also make (made) great products. Now compare which companies can sell tens of millions of smartphones year after year and you'll see that marketing matters. You know you're going to have fun with a Z Fold 3 because Samsung told you, then showed you the cool side of the product.

Surface Duo 2 Glance Bar Notifs

Source: Daniel Rubino / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Android Central)

None of this diminishes what the Duo 2 is capable of doing or how great of a foldable it may be. Like last year, if forced to buy a folding phone I would pick the Duo 2 because I think I'd get more use from two well-defined displays instead of a more fragile one-piece. Many tech-savvy consumers who pore through spec sheets may also find the Duo 2 a better buy.

Most people looking to buy a foldable already have a Samsung phone picked out.

But most people who want a foldable phone already have seen the one for them. The capable and cool Galaxy Z Fold 3 or the fun Z Flip 3. Likewise, customers looking for a reason to buy a folding phone are going to be enticed by Samsung's colors and brand awareness before they ever touch one.

The Duo 2 will be more successful than the original when it comes to sales and the improvements will lead to more satisfied buyers. But Microsoft needs to do more in the presentation if it ever wants to move out of its niche in the market.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • since I don't live in an office environment (home or away) I still haven't figured out how I would use a foldable, though I'd probably gravitate toward MSFT if forced to choose
  • You unfold it and use it like an unfolded device. That's the secret trick with them.
    My Flip3 works like a 6.7" smartphone, but it folds up into a smaller size when I don't use it. Nothing more, nothing less. It's just made to be super convenient.
  • I hope this is better supported than the 1st phone.
  • Foldable phone or TABLET? $1,500? I'd be more interested in something between a 3.3" Palm and the 5.4" iPhone Mini. Otherwise I use a 10" Fire tablet (Fire Toolbox).
  • It's the best foldable that I am going to buy...
  • Gotta hand it to them, they handle their stylus much better than Samsung.
  • "One day, phones that fold or twist or grow somehow into large-screen devices may be the norm but right now they are a niche market filled with educated consumers." Well, I for one am proud to be part of the unwashed, "uneducated" masses of plebes with my midranger in tow. I'm sure the air up there in the rarified "foldables and twistables" markets is better...not for the likes of me...
  • Well we now have a comment from the "identity" delegation
  • Author is talking about sex appeal but with the ugly crease in the Z fold vs. 2 Gorilla Glass screens on the Duo i'm left confused. In terms of which device looks better, the Duo looks much better than anything that Samsung or Huawei has put out. (and that's coming from a Huawei Mate user).
    Functionality is another matter of which foldable is the preferred and more polished method.
  • Fold 3 owner here - "ugly crease" disappears when viewed straight on - there's no way to hide the gap in the Duo 2. That is a major defining point if you see the Fold 3 as a "tablet" (like the iPad Mini 6) or as a shrunken 2-in-1 mini laptop. I think you'll find many perspective Fold 3 owners want a tablet they can fold and put in their pocket, and oh by the way is a very good phone device as well.
  • Another ZF3 Owner here. Crease don't stop the flow of your content unlike Duo2. Also it disappears when looking straight on and I hope you do look straight 😀. And by the way you can just work on it like any other phone one handed when closed.
  • I've had the opportunity to use both a ZF3 and a Dúo, and the difference is very akin to the differences between an ultra wide monitor or using 2 displays. They are both roughly equivalent in purpose, but each have definite pros and cons in their respective approach.
  • My issue with the Duo is the focus on productivity, which is pretty much the only argument for two displays.
    Sure, gaming with built-in controls on the one display is cool, but how many games support this feature?
    Productivity is simply not something I (or anyone I know) need from my phone. I use it for work, sure, but only as far as the form factor and controls allow, and neither the foldable display of the Z Fold 3 nor the dual displays of the Duo offer anything I can't perform MUCH more effectively with a laptop.
    As it is, I'm considering the Fold, but not because of productivity; quite the opposite, actually, since the Fold presents many more productivity cons than pros (thick, heavy, fragile, not the best camera). I'm considering the Fold simply because of the potential for consumption, with its single large display seeming perfect for browsing. Something I don't see the Duo offering...
  • The Fold has Dex and wireless Dex so productivity goes through the roof with Dex you can connect to a monitor, to a Mac or Windows laptop, a TV. Been using the Fold before launch and I like it, I'm using my iPad Pro a lot less because I take all my notes on it now. for Pics I also use GCam on it and the Fold is more versatile than the Duo especially with Flex mode. I'm not getting the Duo because of portability, and the size when picking up a phone call.
  • Dex doesn't equal productivity for me; just a blown up version of Android, which is decidedly un-productive... Now, if the Duo had featured a finished version of Windows X, that would have been another matter entirely!!!
  • Hey, it's not meant to be for everyone, and that's OK. If you're big on using your phone for media consumption, like Netflix on a road trip or YouTube on a work break, the Fold is absolutely offering a better package for that experience. The Duo's ideal user base is a much greater niche because so many people DO use their phones as a major source of media consumption these days. Personally, I'm the opposite. I don't like watching videos on my phone, nor would I buy a device with that in mind. I don't watch a lot of anything, and when I do, I'd rather watch it on my PC or TV. As for "productivity," it takes a lot of shapes. Would I do my job on my phone a lot? No, but there are a few times where I get a call about something I can do quickly on my phone, and not interrupting whatever app I have open to answer a question is nice. Really, for me, it's about productivity in day-to-day tasks. I play Pokemon Go and sometimes communicate with other players in Discord to do raids. Having each app on a separate screen would be nice. I also do fantasy baseball/football and occasionally look at my team and want to look up a player at the same time, which the Duo makes easier. I had a friend message me today asking me about a baseball player, and having to leave Pokemon Go to answer him was a mild annoyance, while I opted to not do research on the go because I didn't want to leave my game for the 5-10 minutes it would take. While on the phone with someone, A few weeks back, I was on the phone with my dad while changing my car battery. Being able to send him photos and look up things on one screen while reading about something related to my car at the same time would be nice. There are a lot of little things that two screens offer me that would add up to a real benefit to how I use my phone better than a supersized screen in a less-elegant package.
  • Good answer! 👍 Not situations I would find myself in often, methinks, but good to see another angle...!
  • I find it funny that when I was a kid we made fun of the tiny 13" TV's our parents had to live with. Now, my teens watch shows on their tiny little phone screens while sitting on the couch right in front of our TV that is downright monstrous to what I had as a kid.
  • MS is positioning this as a business phone here in Australia so yeah their marketing is trash.
  • When I accepted that Microsoft is a business focused company and not a consumer focused company many of their decisions made a whole lot more sense. Jerry laments that they didn't show a group of people playing games. Jerry doesn't understand that the execs would see that kind of marketing as a turn off to their target market. For better or worse Microsoft sees their primary marketing target as suit and dress wearing working people. Not teens in high school.
  • Being an original Duo user when Panos originally proclaimed the this device's focus was on productivity I viewed that statement as an embellishment. However after using the device for nearly a year I don't see myself going back to a narrow single screen device (came from the Note 9.) Sure there were some sacrifices to be made (looking at you camera) but in my usage case it wasn't something that impeded me all that much. I will definitely be making the upgrade come the 21st because Duo 2 seemingly addresses my complaints with the device.
  • This article is total garbage. It doesn't give any example of what Samsung showed off as better "fun," other than having colors. That didn't move the needle on Moto Maker, nor have other OEMs that tried bolder designs been rewarded for it. That's not a good example. Instead, this just seems like a Fold fan waning to not actually discuss the Duo's showcase and provide meaningful insights. They showed using it with touch controls to support XCloud. They announced GameLoft titles that were being designed to support the Duo specifically. It showed off a curved display that had meaningful, functional value to add to the device, rather than being a needless gimmick (as Samsung's curved screens were for years). They showed the inking experience that seems to be well ahead of what the S-Pen offers. The Duo's got faults worth discussing, but this article does an atrocious job of having an intelligent conversation about the device's flaws, or even its strengths. It's just terrible and poorly defended.
  • i'm hurting because no ipx rating and nothing like samsung secure folder.
  • Um One Drive has Vault in it. What are you talking about?
  • "We also heard no comparisons to the Duo's true competition, which of course is Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3. This, in my opinion, is where the mistakes started."
    Seriously? Who highlights their competition in a product announcement? Even if you believe your sliced bread is better than the other guy's sliced bread, you don't remind people his exists.
  • I think the Duo 2 looks cool. I could careless what other people think. I'm using the Fold 3 right now and I'm thinking about trading it in for the Duo 2. If they can fix the software, that will convince me.
  • Surface Duo 2 is now a device you can own, software bugs aside, but... It's still more a concept than a real world device. For example, now it has cameras we're going to take photos with it but trying to use a two screen device to take actual photos will be so irritating. It must be used with two hands when often we take photos with one. I really feel I'd find two screens so useful, two apps side by side, but I'm getting a OnePlus 10 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. p.s. This said, it beats the Galaxy Z Fold with it's barely useable, I'm so thin, outer screen. Come on Samsung make that outside screen an actual phone screen.
  • Barely usable secondary display? It's HIGHLY usable for what it's intended to do; texting and other one-handed actions.
    I'm using a Gs20 Ultra, and I struggle to use it one-handed, even with the adjustable keyboard (which reverts to full width on its own every other day). The Fold gives you a one-handed AND a two-handed mode without you risking spraining your thumb...
  • Microsoft badly needs to do a OneUI and show they can do the software as well as the hardware. Just an odd statement who's conquered the world with software, not hardware. Samsung have grown since the Galaxy S10 because they also have a cohesive and really well engineered software front too. OneUI is a differentiating factor.
  • Surface Duo is a dual-screen device, NOT a "foldable"...
  • Semantics... It folds. It's a foldable.
  • Took the sim out of my Duo first gen after first week. Sucks as a phone. But i still use it all the time as a secondary device for Duo calls and viewing office files.
  • "if forced to buy a folding phone I would pick the Duo 2 because I think I'd get more use from two well-defined displays instead of a more fragile one-piece. Many tech-savvy consumers who pore through spec sheets may also find the Duo 2 a better buy."
    This is the thing that may end up working for Microsoft. Samsungs are good looking, but some of us are more interested in how it works. I'm not ready yet for a foldable, but when I am, I'm going for the one with the specs.
  • The fold is about turning your phone into a functional tablet. The duo is about multitasking and doing two things at once easier. I view them with different strengths and weaknesses. The fold is definitely going to appeal to more main stream users because of its strengths but there is value to Microsoft’s approach that will appeal to people with other priorities.
  • First, they haven't told us what carriers it will be compatible with (they made a dumb mistake tying the
    first Duo to AT&T) - IMHO the worst of the big three. And having a $1500 device that has no dust or water resistance is a big issue.
  • “the best foldable you're not going to buy”? Uh, speak for yourself, I tried the Samsung’s 3rd iteration of their so-called foldable phone, wasn’t impressed. The screen is very fragile. The Duo 2 seems to be a much better device which includes full versions of MS suite. It’s basically a mini-mini laptop.