While we keep waiting for Microsoft to release the Surface Neo, the company is already unveiling the second generation of its dual-screen Android phone. The Surface Duo 2 is a $ 1,500 device that is slightly thinner than its predecessor and brings some serious camera improvements. Specifically, it now has three sensors instead of the only 11-megapixel camera used in the last-generation setup. I had the chance to take a brief look at the Duo 2 during a (COVID-safe) demo in New York, and so far I have been cautiously impressed by its updates.
Microsoft’s demo area was not the best place to take memorable photos, but I tried the Duo 2’s triple lenses on an Xbox controller. I easily switched from the main camera to the ultra-wide and telephoto options, and I also tried the portrait mode. I still can not judge the quality of these photos, as I could only see them on the Duo 2’s screens, but I already feel that the discomfort I experienced with the original Surface Duo has mostly disappeared.
This is not surprising, because one of the biggest problems plaguing the Duo camera software was that it had only one camera above the screen. You had to turn the phone so that the right side was facing you when you wanted to take a selfie, and the camera side was facing outwards for other shots. This means that the device needs to know which screen to activate, based on how you hold it.
With the triple cameras on the back / exterior of the Duo 2 and a 12-megapixel camera on the front, you no longer have to figure it out. However, it’s a shame: there’s also no way to take photos without the Duo 2 being opened; if you are shooting with the rear cameras, you must use the device with both screens towards you.
The extensive camera collision also prevents you from turning one of the screens completely so that both screens can lie evenly from back to back. I never really cared to do this with the original Duo as it was too wide to use as a temporary phone, but it’s still disappointing that the Duo 2 with this change will actually be used mostly in book mode. It is no longer a hybrid for phone tablets.
I’m surprised by this functional shift, as one of the improvements Microsoft has made to the Duo 2 reduces the overall width of the device. Each panel now measures 5.8 inches instead of 5.6 inches on the original, for a combined 8.3 inch screen as opposed to an 8.1 inch canvas. But they are also longer, with resolutions of 1,344 x 1,892 instead of the older 1,350 x 1,800. This would have made the Duo 2 slightly more phone-like, but personally I honestly could not say that it has changed in size at all.
Speaking of which, Microsoft claims to be the thinnest 5G mobile device on the market. With a thickness of 5.5 mm (or 0.21 inches), the Duo 2 is definitely smooth. The company also introduced a slight curve on the inside of each screen – an effect reminiscent of pages in an open book. This can make it easier to drag programs across screens, which I was able to do quickly during my demo.
Another new feature that makes the Duo 2 feel faster than the original is the higher refresh rate. Both panels now run at 90Hz and should also be in line. I uploaded the Engadget website and expanded it across the two screens, frantically up and down on an article, and the two halves of the page did indeed keep pace with each other. I’m used to a 90Hz screen now, thanks to the prolonged use of the Pixel 5, but it’s definitely a good feature to see.
Microsoft has also added support for its new Slim Pen 2, which provides haptic feedback so that doodlers or artists can feel a vibration when putting the stylus on the screen. It also tries to mimic the feel and resistance of pen to paper, and I spent more time on this on the new Surface Laptop Studio than on the Duo 2.
In fact, the fact that I encountered so few problems with the Duo 2 surprised me. The original Duo was riddled with bugs, and even simple things like extending an app to cover both screens were difficult. During my preview, it went smoothly. I may not have spent much time with the Duo 2, so I’m still wary of the seemingly improved software, but Microsoft is indeed working to fix issues from the past.
This reaction can also be attributed to the sturdy Snapdragon 888 processor that drives the Duo 2, though we need to be sure to do the right test. We’ll also have to run our own battery test to see how long the Duo 2’s 4,449 mAh cell lasts, as well as how successful Microsoft was in correcting the original bugs. I’m curious to see if the new triple camera system and the problems it brings are a good benefit for the Duo series, but I’m now cautiously optimistic about the second Duo. You can now pre-order it from $ 1,500 in advance, and it will be available on October 21st. That said, I suggest you wait until we can review one before spending money on a device that is still so new.
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