Microsoft Surface Duo 2: Troubled by the past, how much will it evolve

Foldable smartphones have come of age in the last two years or so but when they started out, the first iterations of almost all makers fell flat on their faces. This is true to the first Surface Duo as well. It was Microsoft's premier in the Android market alright, but software integration was far from the biggest glitch. The hardware of the dual-screen phone, when it launched in 2020, was pretty dated; considering the pace with which smartphones update to the latest in hardware tech.

Now, with rumors floating, the next version of Microsoft's dual-screen phone is expected in the fall of 2021, it's time to understand what the company is trying to change. And to figure out how much of an impact the new phone – likely to be called the Surface Duo 2 – will make.

How much will it evolve?

By most standards, Surface Duo was a beautiful device with a different take on the concept of the foldable phone but the software and hardware disappointed frankly for its $1,400 price tag. The unacceptability of the Surface Duo can be gauged from the fact that in almost a year of launch, it is now retailing at sub $500.

The first images of what is reportedly the near-final prototype of the second-generation Surface Duo 2 have leaked recently. These images outrightly reveal a rear camera module with a triple lens setup. The lenses are housed in a visually apparent bump that is almost akin to how we see in flagship-level smartphones. Since Surface Duo lacked a rear camera array of any sort – it had only a single front camera – this is a pretty big change in itself for the Duo fans.

These images show the Surface Duo 2 in black and white colors and noticeable is the absence of the fingerprint sensor from the side. According to reports it has been repositioned and is now embedded into the power button. The USB-C port is relocated as well, it's now placed centrally at the bottom of the handset.

Other than this, there have been subtle rumors here and there. Rumors suggest this shall be a 5G-enabled device with Snapdragon 888 SoC under the hood – a real hardware upgrade if Microsoft does pull it off.

The Surface Duo did not have a small display on the outside, which the other OEMs have used to their advantage in foldable phones. It was a big miss in the first-generation Duo because you had no way to take a quick glance at the notification each time the phone beeped. Microsoft was expected to include a notification panel this time around. Going by the prototype images, there is no change. If it remains the same eventually, it is going to be a huge disappointment without considering what's on the inside.

The refined hardware

Software was arguably a sizable disadvantage for the Surface Duo's doom. However, it was the hardware that marred the success. When it was revealed last year, it was powered by an almost two-year-old Snapdragon 855. No denying the chipset had features and power to stack up with the competitors but then the price at which Microsoft threw this at us, it was unacceptable.

With the Surface Duo 2 on the horizon, there is an assurance – through rumors and the leaked images – that it will have improved hardware over its predecessor. The phone will be 5G capable and powered by Qualcomm's flagship for 2021, the Snapdragon 888.

Based on the information, in addition to the much-needed processor upgrade, the foldable phone will have provision for making wireless payments over NFC. NFC was absent in the first-gen Surface Duo. There is a likely possibility of the Surface Duo 2 updating memory configuration with the base model starting out at 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB storage since Surface Duo 2 will not support expandable storage.

Cameras - the biggest addition

In terms of optics, the Surface Duo was the biggest smartphone fail in recent memory. In order to achieve the miraculous thinness for a foldable phone, the Surface Duo left little hope for a camera bump, in the process it chose to do without a rear facing camera. It had a single low-res camera on the front pulling off double duty, but that was far from impressive.

For the next-generation Surface Duo, Microsoft is definitely coming out all guns blazing with a triple camera setup on the back. There is an adjacent LED flash and one more sensor underneath it. Since the cameras are biggest reason for the thickness of a handset, the images of the Surface Duo 2 reveal an obvious bump in the body (thinness compromised). The bump could mean the phone will not fold out flat for single-hand use but surely Microsoft will ultimately have a workaround.

The three cameras on the back are confirmed as wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle and a telephoto lens. There is no confirmation of the number of front cameras as the front of the Surface Duo is still a mystery.

Pricing and availability

According to the latest known information, Microsoft is likely to launch the Surface Duo 2 sometime in September or October this year. This is the same time when Google is expected to come out with a foldable Pixel phone. Samsung is slated to launch Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 foldable phones at the Unpacked event in August.

This all suggests the foldable smartphone market is going to be overcrowded and only the best package – of price and feature – will stand out. Will the Surface Duo stand a chance? If Microsoft is adamant about the price, there is no chance, but with the improved layout and innards, if the dual-screen handset also has a competitive price tag, there is still a chance.

The wrap up

If it weren't for the camera bump recently revealed, Surface Duo 2 looks almost the same phone like its predecessor. If these images – as claimed – are of a near-final prototype then not much in going to alter and this is what we will have to settle. Though we haven't seen the inner side, from how it appears from the back, the seam in between the two screens is going to be similarly wide – almost distinguishing the two screens as different displays (than one seamless tablet-esque form factor).

Considering Microsoft will execute subtle modernity to the screen, thinner bezels are expected on the top and the bottom. However, the flattened-out screen with a visible gap through the middle is not going to be easy for developers to create for. As compatible apps base increases with the launch of Surface Duo 2, most may end up being designed to treat each screen as separate instead of one solid real estate and then even the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 will be a half-baked experience.