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Microsoft's Surface Duo is not the foldable phone you're looking for

A high price, lackluster hardware specs, and TBD productivity gains make the Microsoft Surface Duo a hard pass for even the most ardent believer in foldable phones.

Microsoft Surface Duo

Microsoft Surface Duo

Credit: Microsoft

Starting today, you can preorder a Microsoft Surface Duo, the dual-screen, Android phone unveiled at the company's Surface hardware event in October last year. The Duo is available for preorder at MicrosoftStore.com, AT&T, and BestBuy. You'll be able to buy it in store and online beginning September 10th.

However, I recommend you press the pause button on that purchase and put that credit card back in your digital wallet. The more we learn about the Duo, the more it seems like an overpriced, proof-of-concept device. This makes it a great gadget for tech journalists and industry analysts, but not so much the general public, business buyer or even early tech adopters looking for their first foldable phone.

Surface Duo is a generation behind Samsung's latest phones

For starters, the Duo is launching with outdated hardware.

For example, Samsung's Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 phones come with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 and 865+ processors, respectively. The Surface Duo has the older Snapdragon 855, although Microsoft says the version in the Duo is "optimized for dual-screen experience," whatever that means. The S20 and Note 20 come with either 8GB or 12GB of RAM. And if you really want to go all out, the S20 Ultra 5G goes up to 16GB. The Surface Duo comes with just 6GB of RAM.

Things get a bit better in the storage department, but not by much. You can buy the Surface Duo with either 128GB or 256GB of storage. Likewise, you can get the S20 and Note 20 with those same storage capacities, but you can also get 512GB versions and go all the way up 1TB thanks to a MicroSD slot, which you don't get on the Duo.

The S20 and Note 20 also beat the Duo when it comes to battery capacity, camera specifications, and wireless connectivity...as the Duo doesn't support 5G. There's also no Wi-Fi 6 support on the Duo.

To be fair, Panos Panay, chief product officer or Microsoft's Windows + Devices unit, admitted that the company's primary focus with the Duo wasn't cutting-edge hardware. "So, with Surface Duo, we didn't focus our energy on the places the industry is already advancing - processors and networks will get faster, and cameras will get better with or without us." Panay wrote in post about the Duo, "Instead, we went after something."

While it's true that not every new tech product needs to be packed with the most powerful hardware available, the Duo is a phone (despite Microsoft's objections to it being described that way), and new phones are judged against other phones on features like battery-life, camera quality, storage capacity, wireless connectivity, etc.

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Surface Duo productivity gains are TBD

When talking about the Duo in the preorder announcement, Panay emphasized two characteristics of the device that will help buyers be more productive...the dual screens and the combination of Android and Microsoft 365.

"We know dual-screen devices not only helped people complete complex tasks faster but also required less cognitive effort, making them universally preferred for productivity tasks," Panay wrote.

As a fan of foldable devices and a long-time user of ultra-wide PC monitors, I can't argue with his logic. More screen real estate is nearly always better. However, the proof is in the pudding as they say. I want to see how the screens work together and how apps can take advantage of two separate screens before giving the Duo a thumbs up.

As for the Android/Microsoft software mashup, users will have full access to the Google Play store and Microsoft 365 apps. Google Search, Gmail, Calendar, Chrome and Google Drive will all be available, as will Microsoft apps like Office, Outlook, OneDrive, Teams and Edge. Furthermore, Microsoft has said that the Duo will provide a "seamless cross-device experience with your Windows 10 PC." Using the Your Phone app you'll be able to get "notifications, texts, make and receive calls, share photos and even mirror the dual-screen experience of your Duo right on your Windows PC." Users will also be able to copy and paste content between their PC and the Duo.

Again, more integration between platforms is always good, and I need to see all this in action before I pass judgement. But, as with the Duo's underwhelming hardware, it seems like Microsoft is a bit late to the party here. There are plenty of options for sharing information across your PC and mobile device already on the market. In fact, just last week during its Unpacked event, Samsung announced greater integration between its Galaxy devices and Microsoft products. For example, the Samsung Note app is now integrated with Outlook and OneDrive.

Surface Duo is overpriced

The final and perhaps biggest reason I think the Duo is a hard pass right now, it has a starting price of $1,399! Let that sink in for a minute. That's more than the starting price for the Galaxy S20, Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Even the Galaxy Tab S7 ($649) and Tab S7+ ($849) tablets having lower starting prices. Only the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra starts at $1,399. But again, all the Samsung devices are sporting better hardware than the Duo.

I'm a huge believer in foldable devices and have even written about how foldable phones could finally push office workers away from the PC. I'm also an early tech adopter with a penchant for cracking open the latest gadgets. But despite, my enthusiasm for all things small and electrical, the Microsoft Surface Duo isn't a device I'd be rushing out to purchase on launch day if I wasn't using it purely for testing. And unless you're a serious Surface fan, I don't this this Duo is the one to buy...maybe the Duo 2 or the Duo 3, but not this one. Hold off for the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 or get an LG Velvet or LV V60.

As Larry Dignan wrote on ZDNet, we'll all "forget Surface Duo in a few years," just like we've forgotten the Microsoft Kin.

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