We’re about seven months into the life of Microsoft’s first-ever self-branded Android phone, the Microsoft Surface Duo, and that means it’s time for fire sales! Microsoft’s dual-screen device is now selling for 50 percent off its original $1,400 sticker price at $699. The Surface Duo never projected itself as a strong seller—the device had a $200 price drop just one month after launch—but this is easily the lowest price ever for the device.
Microsoft tried something different with the Surface Duo and turned in an ultra-thin, dual-screen Android device that let you either use two apps side by side or flip the 360 hinge around into single-screen mode. The device was not reviewed well, though, thanks to its awkward form factor, buggy software, stratospheric price, and weird spec decisions.
The nicest thing you can say about the Surface Duo is that it’s an absolutely beautiful device. It’s probably the thinnest Android device of all time at only 4.8mm thick when open. Two perfectly flat, uninterrupted panes of glass make up the front and back of each half of the device, giving the whole thing a lovely minimalist notebook vibe.
The spec sheet is interesting. Inside, there are two 5.6-inch, 1800×1350 displays with an ultra-fat 4:3 aspect ratio. The Snapdragon 855 SoC was a year old at launch, and now it’s even older. 6GB of RAM for a two-apps-at-once device is also pretty suspect. The device lacks NFC, any kind of water resistance, and wireless charging. And those 5.6-inch displays both run at 60 Hz, a far cry from the ultra-smooth 120 Hz displays found in most phones in this price bracket (even counting this new, lower price bracket).
I’m not sure I’d want a Surface Duo for half-off
Even at 50 percent off, I can’t enthusiastically recommend a Surface Duo, which says a lot about Microsoft’s initial package. If you’ve been drooling over a Surface Duo for months, then sure, go for it. But for people who value practicality over novelty, the Duo has a lot of problems.
No matter what the price is, the Duo is just an awkward, uncomfortable device. When folded up into one-screen mode, the device is one of the widest Android phones ever, at 93.3 mm. The phone is not even close to the realm of “big” or “normal”—the next-closest high-profile device that was this wide was the Nexus 6, at 83 mm wide, and manufacturers quickly retreated from that width because it was so uncomfortable to hold or pocket. This device is a full 10 mm wider than a phone that was previously considered too wide.
Android apps scale by the display width, so every app on the Surface Duo is large and doesn’t display much content. Android is designed for super-tall phones, not extra-wide 4:3 displays, and it shows here. Rumor has it that the phone was originally designed for a canceled version of Windows, which explains why it seems so inappropriate for Android.
Microsoft wants the Surface Duo to be your primary device, but it’s terrible at quick, casual interactions, like checking a notification or replying to a text, which makes it a bad phone at any price. It’s almost impossible to use one-handed. The device lacks the exterior screen seen on many foldables; this feature lets users see notifications and messages without having to crack the phone open. With no exterior screen on the Surface Duo, you’ll need to use two hands any time you want to use the device, since you have to open the thing up to get started. Once it’s open, the Duo is still pretty much a two-handed affair, as the screen is so wide that you can’t hold the device and tap the screen at the same time.
Microsoft solved one major problem in November, at least, when the company finally released a split keyboard for the Surface Duo via a SwiftKey update. Previously, you couldn’t type with both hands in book mode. Presumably, some of the device’s bugs have been worked out by now, too. Microsoft has been doing a good job shipping monthly security updates, and an extremely slow update to Android 11 is supposedly arriving this summer. Microsoft promises three years of updates, so you have a lot of support runway if you want to dive into a half-off Duo.