The Surface Duo was one of the biggest hardware flops in recent memory, but Microsoft is still charging ahead with a sequel to the device, and now we have the first credible pictures of it. The story here is kind of weird. We’re not actually sure where the pictures are from (they’ve been uploaded to this random YouTube channel with other uncredited content), but Windows Central’s Zac Bowden says the images are legit, and since he has had an impeccable history of nailing Surface Duo rumors, his affirmation is good enough for us. Bowden calls the two devices shown off in the leak “near-final prototypes.”
The most obvious change in the pictures is a huge camera bump on the back of the device. The bump houses three cameras, along with what looks like an LED flash to the right and one more sensor, perhaps laser autofocus, just below the flash. The standalone fingerprint reader on the side is gone (Windows Central speculates it will be integrated into the power button), and the USB-C port on the bottom is now centered. Sadly, we don’t know what the inside looks like yet.
The Surface Duo 1 never had a good camera solution—in fact, it didn’t have a rear camera at all. Cameras are one of the biggest thickness demands on a phone body (hence the camera bumps), and the Surface Duo, being one of the thinnest phones ever made (at only 4.8 mm thick for each half), simply didn’t have room for a good camera. The device only got one low-quality front camera, and since the phone was foldable, it could pull double-duty as a rear camera, too.
Skipping out on a rear camera for the Duo 1 wasn’t the only solution Microsoft tried, though—early prototypes showed a rear camera with a corresponding divot on the other half of the device, allowing the proto-Duo to have a rear camera bump and still fold flat. This Duo 2 prototype has a big camera bump but no divot on the other side, so it looks like it won’t fold flat? A big selling point of the first Duo was the 360 hinge and the ability to use it in single-screen mode if you wanted, but it seems like that feature is being compromised.
Another problem with the Duo 1 was its weird and out-of-date spec sheet, but many of the device’s technical shortcomings will be fixed in the sequel. Windows Central says the phone will ship with a modern SoC—the Snapdragon 888—along with NFC, one of the more bizarre omissions of the Duo 1. The phone should ship sometime in September or October.
Is Microsoft changing enough?
The Surface Duo 1 was Microsoft’s first-ever self-branded Android phone and the company’s first swing at a smartphone since the Nokia Windows Phone days. By all accounts, the Duo 1 was a disaster. In our time with it, we experienced a ton of bugs and glaring software deficiencies, like its poor keyboard. But our big takeaway was that the form factor didn’t work. Even when folded up, the Duo 1 was significantly wider than any other device on the market, eclipsing even historically huge phones like the Nexus 6 by 10 mm, which made it uncomfortable to hold or shove into a pocket. Android doesn’t scale well to ultra-wide screens (tall is fine, wide is not), so the phone didn’t show much content.
The two-screen design also wasn’t that compelling. A tablet or foldable can offer similar side-by-side app action and also provide the flexibility of a single big screen for videos and tablet apps, which isn’t viable on the split-screen Duo. The Duo also didn’t have a front screen for notifications, which is a standard feature on every other foldable device like the Galaxy Fold and Flip, the Moto Razr, and the Xiaomi and Huawei foldables. When your phone beeps, you want to be able to glance at it to see the notification without having to use two hands to open and close the device. It does not seem like any of these issues will be addressed in the sequel.
The Surface Duo was a failure in the market, too, with discounts starting nearly immediately. Today, the sky-high $1,400 MSRP is down to almost $1,000 off. The hottest fire sale saw Duos being unloaded for $409, but today, these things are just sitting around in Amazon warehouses for $419, and they still aren’t selling out. You would think that a serious market flop like the Duo 1 would lead to dramatic changes in the sequel, but Microsoft does not seem deterred.
The company can at least fix some of the buggy software and out-of-date hardware it shipped with the Duo 1. But if you weren’t a fan of the concept before, the Duo 2 isn’t trying to do much to change your mind.