How Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 compares with Samsung’s flagship foldable

It’s official: the troubled Surface Duo is now last-gen. Microsoft announced its successor, the Surface Duo 2, during its recent fall Surface event, capping off months of rumors and introducing the device alongside the Surface Pro 8, Surface Laptop Studio, and a bevy of new devices designed to take advantage of Windows 11.

The new Android-based smartphone starts at $1,499.99 — $100 less than the original — and launches on October 20th in multiple configurations. It retains the hinged design of its predecessor — only this time, it comes equipped with a more thought-out camera system, 5G support, and a modern processor that brings it more in line with flagships from Samsung, Xiaomi, and OnePlus. And while it’s not a foldable in the traditional sense — it’s outfitted with two screens, not one — it’s not in a class of its own, either. Blame the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

The Fold 3 recently set the bar for what foldable phones could achieve, bringing with it better multitasking, a water-resistant build, and a refined display that’s a notable step up from the original model released in 2019. But is Samsung’s premium foldable a match for the forthcoming Duo 2? After all, Samsung’s foldable is markedly different from Microsoft’s when it comes to design.

The Fold 3 features a smaller, 6.2-inch display that covers the entire front of the device. It also contains a flexible, 7.6-inch OLED on the inside, which unfurls as you open the phone with the aid of an aluminum hinge. There’s still a small gap between the two sides when closed, however, which is visible on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 as well. The latter phone — an entirely different device from the Fold 3 we’re comparing here — also features a foldable display, only the device is smaller, folds vertically, and retails for $700 less.

The Duo 2 doesn’t rely on a flexible display. Like its predecessor, it uses two separate, 5.8-inch OLED panels that amount to 8.3 inches when viewed together, with a large bezel running between them. The hinge connecting the two displays allows you to fold the phone in half with the displays on the outside so you can use the device one-handed, though the phone’s large camera bump means they’ll never close completely.

Spec-for-spec, in some ways
To put it mildly: the original Surface 2 had its shortcomings. The camera was atrocious, the software buggy, and Microsoft was still charging a starting price of $1,399 for just the device, a staggering number when you consider the faults. And while it was seemingly released premature, it was innovative, so much so The Verge’s Dieter Bohn hoped — like me — that we’d see a second iteration of the smartphone down the line.

Well, here it is.

On paper, the Surface Duo 2 looks to address many of the aforementioned problems. It’s equipped with the same high-end Snapdragon 888 processor found in the Galaxy Z Fold 3, which is Qualcomm’s latest chipset and the brains behind almost every Android flagship released this year, from the Samsung Galaxy S21 to the OnePlus 9. Like the Z Fold 3, the second-gen Duo will be available in both 128GB and 512GB storage configurations when it launches next month, as well as an additional 128GB variant. The Duo 2 only features 8GB of RAM, however, compared to the Fold 3’s 12GB. Software optimization will certainly play a role in how efficient the phone is at multitasking, but the Fold 3 has the upper hand spec-wise. Both phones also support 5G connectivity, Wi-Fi 6, and NFC for contactless payments — something the original Duo did not offer — along with either Bluetooth 5.0 or 5.1.

Battery capacity tells a similar story. The Fold 3 packs in a 4,400mAh battery, which, in our testing, lasted a full day with roughly four hours of screen time. The Duo 2 features dual batteries that add up to a capacity of 4,449mAh, and Samsung claims they should provide 15.5 hours of local video playback and 28 hours of talk time. Both models also support fast charging and USB-C; however, the Fold 3 additionally supports wireless charging, whereas the Duo 2 does not.

We’ll have a better sense of how far that battery capacity will get you once we’ve tested the device, but the increased capacity on this year’s Duo should help it compensate for the 90Hz display and added 5G support. The two batteries inside the original Duo only added up to a mere 3,577mAh, yet we routinely made it through a full day on a single charge. We’re hoping the same can be said of the Duo 2.

Displays on display
Like all foldables, the defining characteristic of the Duo 2 and Fold 3 are the displays, which afford each smartphone more screen real estate and allow them to function a bit more akin to a tablet when opened. On the inside, the Fold 3 features a bright, 7.6-inch OLED screen with 2208 x 1768 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling. It also sports a 6.2-inch display on the cover with 2268 x 832 resolution and, again, a 120Hz refresh rate. In our testing, we found both displays to be a vast improvement over earlier iterations, with the inner display showcasing an added level of durability thanks to Samsung’s custom aluminum alloy. The exterior display on the Fold 3 also means you don’t need to open the device in order to use it, which renders it a little closer to a traditional phone.

The Duo 2, however, takes a different approach. Inside, you’ll find two 5.8-inch OLED panels, each with 1344 x 1892 resolution and a 90Hz refresh rate. When opened, the dual panels create an 8.3-inch display with 2688 x 1892 resolution, with a bezel running between the two. The Duo 2 doesn’t offer an exterior cover like the Fold 3; however, the curved glass on the edges of the display does showcase the time and some notifications when the phone is closed, giving you some basic info at a glance. The 360-degree hinge also allows you to open the Duo 2 like a book or prop it up like a tent, providing an added level of flexibility.

The outward design of both models is as varied as their approach to the display. The Fold 3 is relatively tall and narrow when closed, weighing in at 271 grams. The hinge-reliant Duo 2 is slightly shorter and heavier at 284 grams, though; it’s also thinner — so thin, in fact, that Microsoft claims the Duo 2 is the thinnest 5G device on the market (it’s only 11 millimeters thick when closed). It’s not as thin as the original Duo, which measures 9.9 millimeters at the hinge, but it’s close.

Additionally, both smartphones use Gorilla Glass Victus, which Corning claims can resist a six-foot drop while continuing to ward off scratches. The Fold 3, however, takes things further with IPX8 water resistance, meaning it can be fully submerged in up to half a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. We don’t anticipate most people will rush out to dunk their phones, but it’s nice to know it can handle an unforeseen spill or a little rain. The Duo 2 only offers an IPX1 rating, which, honestly, is effectively nothing.

Android 11 all around
Unsurprisingly, the Duo 2 and Z Fold 3 are also similar on the software front. Whereas the first-gen Duo launched with Android 10 has yet to receive Android 11 — Microsoft says it will arrive before the end of the year — the Duo 2 ships with a customized version of the latter designed for better multitasking. The Fold 3 also runs on Android 11, albeit with some small visual and interface tweaks courtesy of Samsung’s custom One UI 3 skin.

Last year, Samsung said recent Galaxy devices will receive support for three generations of Android updates, and as such, the Fold 3 is set to receive routine Android OS updates alongside monthly security patches for the next four years. Microsoft has promised timely updates for the Duo 2, but it’s still unclear as to what that looks like. A year after its debut, the original Duo remains buggy, despite Microsoft having shipped a number of updates to address multitasking and gesture issues. Samsung has a better track record when it comes to issuing software updates in a timely manner, a likely boon for the Fold 3.

Both smartphones are designed for multitasking and productivity, however, and their software reflects that. The Duo 2 can run two apps side by side or one app that can expand across both displays. The Duo 2 also boasts compatibility with Microsoft’s lineup of Surface Pens, including the Surface Slim Pen 2, which can magnetically dock and charge wirelessly when paired with the optional Surface Duo 2 Pen Cover ($65). The Fold 3 offers a similar set of functionality thanks to features like Flex mode and App Pair, as well as the Fold-specific S Pen, which is sold separately and also requires a special case for storage.

Camera components
Camera-wise, neither model is aimed at photography enthusiasts. Microsoft’s next foldable may be a massive step up from its first-gen counterpart and, on paper, a slight cut above the Fold 3, but it’s still more midrange than flagship. That said, both the Duo 2 and the Fold 3 feature a three-camera array on the rear, with 12-megapixel sensors for wide and telephoto. The Duo 2, however, also includes a higher-resolution ultrawide camera (16MP compared to the Fold 3’s 12MP sensor), as well as optical image stabilization on the wide and ultrawide.

Aperature, on the other hand, is nearly the same across both devices, with the wide-angle on the Duo 2 being slightly faster at f/1.7. We’ll have to wait until we can put the Duo 2 through its paces before we make a final judgment call, but if its three-camera array performs anything like that on the Fold 3, it’s still not going to compete with the likes of Apple’s iPhone 13 or the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

On the front, the Duo 2 sports a 12MP shooter with an f/2.0 aperture. The Fold 3 sports a 10MP selfie camera with an f/2.2 on the cover, along with a 4MP under-display camera on the interior, which is equal parts terrible and distracting given the distinct moire effect the experimental feature creates at certain viewing angles. Both devices can also capture 1080p and 4K video footage at 30 and 60fps, as well as slow-motion video at up to 240fps. The Fold 3 goes a bit further with support for 720p, slow-motion video at 960fps, and 4K hyperlapse videos at 30fps.

Sky-high pricing
Let’s face it: neither foldable is cheap — far from it. The 128GB base configuration of the Surface Duo 2 will run you $1,499.99, with the 256GB and 512GB models retailing for $1,599.99 and $1,799.99, respectively. Like the original model, Microsoft’s latest foldable will be available in glacier white, in addition to a new obsidian black colorway. Preorders are already underway, with shipments expected to go out before the phone’s launch on October 20th.

The Galaxy Fold 3 is even more expensive. The 256GB base model retails for $1,799.99 and is currently available in one of three colors: phantom green, phantom black, and phantom silver. The 512GB configuration runs $1,899.99; however, the larger model is only available in phantom black. Like the Duo 2, there are carrier deals, trade-in discounts, and payment plans available for the Fold 3; however, most kickbacks come in the form of credit.

While not the focal point of this comparison, there’s also the Galaxy Flip 3 to consider. The device’s internal display might be smaller, but the phone still features a Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a water-resistant build. It also starts at $1,000, meaning it retails for around the same price as many high-end, non-folding phones.

The bottom line
On paper, Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 shows a lot of promise, particularly when compared to its predecessor. It has a modern, high-end processor and upgraded camera system, along with a bigger battery, larger displays, and 5G support. These are welcome upgrades, but we won’t have a concrete idea as to how well they perform until we can do an in-depth review. There’s also the question of longevity and support — will Microsoft truly update the Duo 2 in a timely fashion, or will it go the way of the Duo and only receive the occasional software patch and security update?

The Galaxy Z Fold 3, meanwhile, is the best foldable you can buy right now. The base configuration of the Fold 3 is $300 more than the starting price of the Duo 2, but it comes equipped with similar specs, along with a 120Hz display, wireless charging, and a waterproof, IPX8-rated design. The latter two features are now more of the norm than the exception, and it’s a shame Microsoft didn’t incorporate either with the Duo 2. Still, if you see no need for a display with a higher refresh rate or any of the aforementioned perks that come with the Fold 3, Microsoft’s second-gen foldable might be worth the wait.

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