RIP Surface Duo—Microsoft is reportedly giving up on the weird form factor

Enlarge / Surface Duo 2 runs Android 12L.


Windows Central’s Zac Bowden is the go-to reporter for all Microsoft Surface rumors and his latest report is that the Surface Duo 3 is dead, or at least a device in the same mold as the Surface Duo 1 and 2 has been cancelled. There may one day be a Microsoft device labeled “Surface Duo 3,” but the Surface Duo form factor — a dual-screen device with a 360-degree hinge — is dead. The report says that Microsoft is now working on a “more traditional foldable design with a 180-degree hinge, internal foldable screen and external cover screen” – i.e. in the same way as a Galaxy Fold.

The Surface Duo line created two of the most awkward Android devices on the market. Instead of the tall, thin screens that Android phones typically use, both Surface Duos used short, fat screens, making the Duo series the widest smartphones on the market. The original Surface Duo was planned to run the canceled “Windows 10x” OS, which would have taken advantage of the unique aspect ratio. When that OS was cancelled, the project was saved as an Android phone, but the short, fat screens led to a lot of bad Android app layouts, with the limited vertical screen space further reduced by Android’s large headers and tab bars. It looks like Microsoft wanted to land on the same basic outline as a Moleskine notebook, but Android apps just aren’t designed for that aspect ratio. Plus, even when folded, being dramatically wider than any other smartphone on the market also made it a literal pain to try to hold with one hand.

After two almost identical versions, it seemed that Microsoft had come around to the “too broad” thinking. The report says the canceled Surface Duo 3 would have had “narrower and taller edge-to-edge displays,” which would have put the phone in a more reasonable form factor.

The next Microsoft phone will be more like the Galaxy Fold with a large foldable screen.  This one even runs Excel!
Enlarge / The next Microsoft phone will be more like the Galaxy Fold with a large foldable screen. This one even runs Excel!


With those plans dead, what is “internally considered a third-generation Duo” will be a more normal foldable smartphone, and it’s not clear if it will be branded “Surface Duo 3” or not. As we have argued in our review of the original device, equipping the device with a continuous internal display would be a big improvement over the dual-screen design. With one large foldable screen, you can still get all the dual-screen functionality via Android’s software split-screen mode, but with the added benefit of also having one large screen for tablet apps, movies, games and websites.

Besides the Android-incompatible form factor, Microsoft’s Android phones have had a host of other issues that the company will need to address. The Surface Duos always felt like beta foldable devices, and that compromise might have worked if they weren’t the full price of a real foldable phone. The $1,400-$1,500 price tags weren’t competitive for what was basically two smartphones glued together, so you have to wonder what’s wrong with Microsoft’s supply chain. Microsoft’s Android software division has also been a hot mess, with the company outsourcing the Surface Duo 1 OS until two months before release and shipping a disastrously buggy build of Android as a result. Microsoft has since bought the team it outsourced its Android builds to, but so far Surface Duo customers have seen a worst in class Android update record.

The report describes Microsoft as wanting to make its Android phone work better with Windows through an internal program called “Perfect Together” that builds Apple-like integrations between the phone and laptops/desktops. Despite the failure of the Surface Duo, Bowden says Microsoft is “all in” with Android and “keen to expand its line of Android smartphone offerings” beyond the new foldable device. The report says Microsoft has drawn up several ideas for a “mainstream” slate-style Surface phone that might one day ship.

It sounds like we’ll be waiting a while for Microsoft’s next Android phone, with Bowden saying the foldable “no concrete shipping window for the device is in place yet, which means it’s unlikely to be ready in time for the fall.”

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