It's notable that last year's Surface Duo was so horribly under-specced that its price point was a joke. Whereas this year at least you can see where your money has gone - the specifications below are more closely matched than you might have thought possible given Microsoft's track record.
Although both Android-powered smartphones 'fold', the philosophy and physics are very different:
- The Surface Duo 2 aims to be a dual-screened device, first and foremost, enabling you to - literally - do two things at once, with the occasional application spanning both displays for an expanded experience. Then, when you need it to be smaller, the second display wraps around the back, thanks to the double hinge, leaving a traditional portrait mode smartphone.
- The Galaxy Z Fold 3 aims to be two - literal - devices in one, somewhat wastefully using both a smaller outer display and a larger folding/flexible inner display. There's some continuity between what's on the outer display and what appears on the inner display when unfolded, plus the larger canvas inside enables multi-window functions.
As usual, just for fun and curiosity, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device. Any row where a winner would be totally subjective is left uncoloured. Or, where all devices are utterly excellent but in different ways, I've given each a 'green'(!)
[By the way, if you're viewing this feature on a phone then the table may well cause you problems. Try viewing in landscape mode? Failing that, go view this on a laptop or tablet!]
|Microsoft Surface Duo 2||Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3|
|Date first available||September 2021||August 2021|
|Current price, availability||from £1349 (UK price, including VAT)||£1599 (UK price, including VAT), significantly more expensive, but then if you can afford either of these phones then you probably don't care about the actual price(!)
|Dimensions, form factor, weight||Unfolded: 184 x 145 x 5 mm, Folded: 145 x 92 x 11mm, 284g
Obviously the unfolded size is very tablet like, and the curved inner screen edges do their best to present the interface as one continuous whole when browsing web pages, for example.
Also worth noting is the width in 'one-handed' mode, i.e. when holding the Duo 2 closed or 'open' (back half folded back) - 92mm is considerably wider than any 'phone' I've ever used. So even when closed/open, the form factor is unusual.
The entire Duo 2 experience is, it's not an exaggeration to say, unique in the smartphone industry.
|Unfolded: 158 x 128 x 6mm, Folded: 158 x 67 x 14mm, 271g
Although the tablet mode (unfolded) is significantly smaller than the Surface Duo's, in fairness the folded phone is also much narrower, comparable to a traditional smartphone.
In addition, the unfolded tablet mode is also one continuous surface that can be used more seamlessly by applications.
With both traditional phone and tablet screens and interfaces covered, the Z Fold 3 appears to be the best of both worlds, though at the cost of that extra outer display, both monetary and in (relative) weight. And, stopping it getting the win, the comparative waste of needing a whole extra cover display.
|Durability||IPX1, which is next to nothing, sadly - just tested for light rain coming down vertically. Though Gorilla Glass Victus on the main displays and Gorilla Glass 6 on the glass backs should see casual use avoid any damage. Although dust can no doubt get in via the hinges, the big killer here is water, with no possible obstructions to it getting to the motherboard(s). Expect a Duo 3 to have nano-coated electronics?
The original Duo had fragile plastic edges that were prone to cracking - we'll have to see what Microsoft has done for the Duo 2 in this regard, especially around the USB Type C port.
|IPX8 water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins), with no dust rating, significantly. And oddly, since you would have though that if water can't get in then neither can dust. The 'X' probably relates to the hinge section being physically unable to cope with extreme dust and dirt (though YouTube videos show it coping with casual abuse).
The display is plastic on top of 'ultra-thin glass', and is easily damaged by anything sharp, though careful users should be fine for the life of the device.
But I can't award a win here because both devices are fundamentally flawed - the Duo 2 can be ruined by water, the Fold 3 by a fingernail. Sigh.
|Operating system, interface||Android 11, with a custom version of Microsoft Launcher that knows all about the two screens, app spanning, switching, and so on. Lots of gestures to learn!||Android 11, with a tweaked version of One UI 3.1 to handle the tablet display inside and the various multi-window layouts. As with the Duo 2, there are some new gestures and techniques to learn.|
|Display||Twin 5.8" AMOLED 1344p displays, adding up to an effective 8.3" diagonal, at 90Hz refresh rate. Now with hinge-side curved edges so that the centre hinge bezel is very small, plus the curved edges give limited display space when the Duo 2 is closed, allowing for notifications and indicators (e.g. battery charge left).
I can't award a win here, because the approaches are so different - and interesting. So a joint win!
|7.6" Foldable Dynamic AMOLED, 1768p, 120Hz, HDR10+, has good colour and contrast, though with a visible crease down the middle (in fairness, no larger than the hinge 'gap' on the Duo 2)
Cover display is Dynamic AMOLED, 832p, 120Hz, 25:9 ratio, so tall and thin, but useable for most standard phone tasks and apps.
|Stylus support||All the various Surface Pens are supported, including a magnetic attachment for the Slim Pen onto one of the edges of the official Microsoft bumper case (yet to be tested/reviewed).||Samsung had to create new pens just for this device, the S Pen Fold Edition and S Pen Pro, both with retractable tips to stop users applying too much pressure to the fragile flexible surface.
Also, notably, these pens don't work with the cover display.
|Text input||Several touch keyboard options are available, including split-screen (i.e. one half of a QWERTY keyboard under each thumb's reach) and full width 'Communicator' style with the 'other'/top screen showing the input fields.||As with the Duo, there are several options, from split-QWERTY to full-width. Worth experimenting with, though to modern eyes and hands, none are as fast as a traditional two-thumbs-on-candy-bar system.|
|Connectivity||LTE, 5G, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac/6, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.1 (all uses), UWB (Ultra Wide Band).||LTE, 5G, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac/6e, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.2 (all uses), UWB (Ultra Wide Band).
Also supports Samsung DeX, for wired or wireless connection to a lapdock or external display system, and this gets it the win.
|Processor, performance||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G, 8GB RAM
||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G, 12GB RAM (though 8GB would have been enough, so this is moot)|
|Capacity||128/256/512GB storage||256/512GB storage|
|Imaging (stills)||12MP f/1.7 main camera with OIS
Time of flight depth sensor
12MP f/2.4 2x telephoto camera with OIS
16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera
12MP f/2.0 internal camera (mainly for selfies and video calls)
Comparable across the board to Samsung's set of cameras and equally well performing. Of note, mind you, is that you have to open the Duo 2 up in order to both free up the camera system AND have a screen free to act as viewfinder.
|12 MP, f/1.8, 1/1.76", Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
12 MP, f/2.4, 2x telephoto, 1/3.6", PDAF, OIS
12 MP, f/2.2, 123˚, ultrawide
4MP, f/1.8, under display selfie camera when unfolded
No shutter button, but you can use the cover display as a touchscreen viewfinder.
|Imaging (video)||Up to 4K/60fps, stereo audio capture.||Up to 4K/60fps, stereo audio capture.|
|Music and Multimedia
|Stereo speakers are present, at the top of each of the screens, so left and right are represented when watching media as-is, but will be 'wrong' (i.e. top and bottom) if you part fold the Duo 2 into a flex or tent mode.
We don't know about volume or fidelity yet, but don't hold your breath, Microsoft has a patchy record when it comes to phone audio!
|Very good stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, top and bottom, though they're not left and right as usual because of the form factor, unless you use the Flex mode to prop up one half of the internal screen for media watching.|
|No 3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+AptX Adaptive for Bluetooth||No 3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+AptX HD for Bluetooth|
|Battery, life||4450mAh battery with 23W Type C charging through a bottom-mounted Type C port (the original Duo's port was on the side and easily knocked)||4400mAh battery with 25W wired charging (through Type C) and 11W Qi wireless charging.
Also has 4.5W reverse wireless charging, for accessories.
|Biometrics||A capacitive fingerprint scanner is built into the power button. It should be instant, as on recent Sony phones.||A capacitive fingerprint scanner is built into the side power button, as with the Duo 2. And it works just fine.|
|Upgrades and future||Microsoft claims 'three years' of updates, including Android 12, 13 and 14. But the Duo original was beset by update delays, so take this with a slight pinch of salt.||Samsung claims 'three major OS updates', so Android 12, 13, and 14, plus an extra year (at least) of quarterly security updates after that. And gets the win here also because of Samsung's track record.|
Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives a narrow 6-4 win to the Samsung third generation folding concept, over the Microsoft second generation device. In truth though, they're both equivalent and yet very different. I do like the 'kitchen sink' approach from Samsung, where you get traditional and tablet form factors with top end internals. But the Microsoft Surface Duo almost matches it spec for spec, and without having to use a fragile folding display - or indeed a whole extra cover display, thanks to both the 360 degree hinge and the glance hinge bar.
My heart says that Microsoft's approach is the right one, the most elegant, especially now that the two screens almost meet in the middle, but what I'm really waiting for is the Surface Duo 3. Which will, I hope, add:
- smaller top/bottom bezels for twin 6.7" displays and almost a full 10" tablet diagonal
- basic water and dust-proofing
- Qi charging
- quad speakers (so that you get stereo whichever orientation you're in
- £200 cheaper
What do you think? Do I stand a chance of getting this Duo 3, in Autumn 2022?(!)
PS. Unlike 2020, Microsoft seems serious about the Surface Duo 2 and distribution this year. I have irons in fires, as they say, and I should be able to present a review shortly after the October 21st availability date.