The Surface Duo represents Microsoft’s vision of the future of mobile computing. The company has made that clear on a number of occasions. So by that logic, this is just the beginning.
Personally, I’ve had positive experiences with the Surface Duo, but as is the nature of first-gen devices, there are areas to improve upon. So here is my wishlist of what I think those improvements should be.
I thought I’d start with what seems like the number 1 complaint reviewers had about the Surface Duo; its camera. The Surface Duo features an 11MP, f/2.0 camera that is “optimized with AI”. I’m not exactly sure what that last part means in terms of image quality, but camera performance isn’t great, especially in low-light conditions.
It seems like the camera was an afterthought on the Duo, as priority was placed on keeping the design thin and balanced, without any of the protruding camera bumps prevalent on pretty much every flagship device out there. So if Microsoft insists on keeping the device as thin as it is, I’m not sure how the company plans on squeezing in a larger sensor.
Currently, Microsoft isn’t targeting a mass market audience for the Duo, but should they decide to have successors appeal to a larger base, the camera needs improve.
The bezels on the Surface Duo range from incredibly thin – near the hinge – to unapologetically chonky on the top and bottom. It’s just unusual for any device in 2020 to have bezels this thick.
It would be great to have thinner bezels on the Surface Duo, and while this may be an unpopular opinion, I don’t think the top and bottom bezels should be as thin as the one on the sides, as that would result in a hole-punch camera, a hole-punch camera flash, and two hole-punch light sensors. That’s too many hole-punches for my liking. So thinner bezels, but not too thin, please. Maybe something like this?:
Generally speaking, the build quality of the Surface Duo is top notch. The thinness, the glass back and front, and the incredibly smooth yet solid hinge make for such a premium feeling device. There is, however, one thing I would like to see improved in this regard; the frame.
The sides of the current Surface Duo are made of plastic. While it’s not the cheap type of plastic that would make the device feel less premium, it’s still plastic, and that has two side effects.
The first is discoloration. I’ve been using my Surface Duo for about a month now, and I’ve already started to notice some very slight yellowing. I expect this to get worse over time if not cleaned regularly (which I’ve started to do).
The second side effect is structural integrity. Unfortunately, there have already been reports of the frame cracking near the hinges and around the USB-C charging port. The Surface Duo is so thin, the USB-C port just barely fits, and so the plastic on the top and bottom of the port is incredibly, incredibly thin. I’m not surprised this part is cracking considering how frequently the USB port needs to be used, given it’s the only way to charge the device.
Microsoft could replace the frame with a metal one, which would not only be stronger and easier to clean, but also add to the aesthetics in my opinion. I wouldn’t mind the slight addition in weight as a result.
PROCESSOR & RAM
The Snapdragon 855 used in the Surface Duo is generally fast and responsive, but I do expect Microsoft to include the latest-gen chip next time around. Not only for the improvement in performance, but also for the addition of 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and the efficiency gains from a newer manufacturing process.
Qualcomm is likely to release the Snapdragon 875 in December 2020 during its scheduled Snapdragon Tech Summit. The 875 is expected to be a 5nm chip and have 5G built into the SoC.
When it comes to the RAM, regardless of which storage capacity you choose, all current Surface Duo models come with 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM. 6GB should be more than enough for single-screen devices, but on a device that heavily encourages you to use two apps a time, I think it should have at least 8.
Using the Surface Duo is a generally smooth experience, but occasionally, if you have resource heavy apps open simultaneously, and more open in the background, the device will start to stutter. The combination of the Snapdragon 875, 8GB of RAM, and software optimizations should make for stutter-free experience.
In my review of the Surface Duo, I noted that the presence of only a single speaker on the device led to some weirdness when watching videos. So I would like to see stereo speakers added to the Duo 2.
Currently, there is a single speaker located above the left display, another could be added to the bottom to give you stereo sound when holding the device in Compose Mode.
As for watching videos in Book Mode, while I don’t use this posture for watching videos much, the speaker situation could be addressed by turning the earpiece on the right display into a loudspeaker and automatically disabling the bottom left speaker for more uniform audio output.
Besides the camera, the omission of NFC from the Surface Duo seems to have been a major deterrent to potential buyers, particular to those who rely on contactless payment services like Google Pay.
The built-in fingerprint sensor on the Surface Duo is fast and accurate, but I do find myself missing Face ID from my iPhone XR and Windows Hello facial recognition from my Surface Pro 7.
I hope facial recognition is added to the Surface Duo 2, making authentication effortless. Though I wonder what it would be called given that the Duo doesn’t run Windows. Microsoft Hello? Surface Hello? Let me know your thoughts on the name.
Using the Surface Pen is great on the Surface Duo. Since I also carry my Surface Pro 7 with me to work, I can use its Surface Pen on the Surface Duo to take handwritten notes on.
The only issue is that there is no way to store the pen on the Duo itself. The Surface Slim Pen does magnetically attach to exterior of the device, but only as a coincidence rather than a design choice. So the magnetic connection is weak and flimsy. I’d like to see this addressed on the Surface Duo 2.
Surface Duo currently comes in only one color; Glacier. It’s a nice color, reminiscent of the Platinum used on other Surface models. But more color options would be nice.
We already got a glimpse of prototype Surface Duo in black, and I can see myself opting for a Sandstone model – that looks incredible on the Surface Laptop 3. It would look even better should the plastic frame be replaced with a metal one.
Even though I’ve never been one to use phone cases, it’s nice that Microsoft included the Surface Bumper in the box with every Surface Duo. Third-parties have also been hard at work and made several cases available for the Duo since launch.
However, I would like to see more first-party cases from Microsoft. Imagine an Alcantara Signature Cover for the Surface Duo, that wraps around the exterior, making it feel like holding a tiny Moleskine notebook. I’d buy that.
One of the first things you’ll notice when handling the Surface Duo is just how incredibly thin the device is. When closed, it comes in at 9.9mm. When open, that number comes down to a ridiculous 4.8mm, of which only 3.7mm is left for internal components when subtracting the back and front cover glass.
Microsoft engineers claimed in a recent video that this obsession for thinness left them with “very little space” for anything else. Thinness was their first priority, and everything else was build around it, and so it’s safe to assume that there simply wasn’t room to include many of features listed in this article.
I can’t believe I’m saying this: I actually wouldn’t mind a slightly thicker Surface Duo 2, if it meant allowing for a bigger/better camera sensor, and sufficient space for NFC and even wireless charging components.
That’s my list. To me, it’s sort of a mix of needs and wants. I would settle for the first 5 items on this list. If implemented, that would be enough of an improvement for me to purchase the Surface Duo 2.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Assuming the price is kept the same at $1399. What improvements are you expecting to see in the Surface Duo 2? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.