Yesterday’s Apple product launch, where we saw the overhauled iPad Mini, made me think of Microsoft’s long-rumoured Surface Duo 2, which we may see at next week’s Surface event. The new Mini looks kind of like the original Duo when it’s folded in half backward, and now I can’t stop thinking about what I want from the Duo 2.
Let me back up for a minute: The Surface Duo was a unique Android phone with two displays separated by a hinge. It wasn’t a foldable phone with an external display that opened to reveal a giant flexible screen, but rather a book-like phone that opened to show two separate screens. It sounds weird, it was weird, and I think I have an idea why. The Duo 2 should be a tablet, not a smartphone.
Despite the failings of the original Duo, Microsoft might actually hit out of the park if it takes a few pages from Apple’s iPad playbook. Here’s what I really want from the Duo 2.
The Perfect Size
The iPad Mini 6 caught my eye because it seems like it’s the right size for a tablet you rely on day-to-day. It has an 8.3-inch OLED display with 500 nits of brightness so that you can see it out in the sunlight at the outdoor cafe. Apple did away with the dedicated home button with Touch ID at the bottom and moved the fingerprint sensor up to the side of the chassis to preserve screen space. It has smaller bezels, too, which gives you plenty of screen real estate, and there’s enough to hold on with your thumb if you’re cradling the tablet one-handed. The iPad Mini remains Apple’s smallest tablet, despite the increase in screen size.
The original Surface Duo is a bit more compact. When it’s splayed open like a tablet, the Duo has an 8.1-inch display measuring about 5.7 inches by 7.4 inches. It’s only slighter thicker than the iPad Mini. The Duo also has a built-in kickstand of sorts, so you’re not relying on a case to prop it up. When I saw the iPad Mini propped up, I thought of the Duo 2 and the built-in kickstand mode shown off in recent leaks, which means you don’t need to buy an extra accessory like you do with the iPad.
Tablets Need Good Cameras, Too
Apple improved the camera capabilities on the iPad Mini 6, so you can use it to take photos without pulling out your smartphone. The improvements made parents everywhere cheer in unison, and it’s a reminder of how many people use tablets for taking those candid shots. The big improvement is a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, which supports Apple’s Centre Stage feature for refocusing to fit people in the camera frame. After all, there’s nothing worse than a virtual family reunion without seeing all the folks who are present.
One of the downsides of using the original Surface Duo was its cumbersome, underperforming camera. Microsoft placed it in the corner of the device, just above the display on the right side, making it so you could use the device either horizontally or vertically to place a call. This would be ideal on the iPad, where the camera is still placed on the left side when used in portrait orientation (truly a horrible experience for video calls). But the Duo’s camera itself wasn’t worth using for pictures. You’d have to open the Camera app in selfie mode and then rotate the device to use the Duo’s middling 11-MP camera, which could barely capture anything in low light. Here’s to hoping the Surface Duo 2 is equipped with better lenses — rumours are pointing to an external triple-camera system with a telephoto and ultra-wide camera.
Better Productivity Features
Apple tweaked the Pad Mini 6 to make it a more capable device. It now has a USB-C port on the bottom, rather than the usual Lightning connector. The tablet can now charge faster than before and quickly connect with peripherals like cameras to do photo editing. But the reason why you might pick the Mini over something cheaper from an Android maker, is its support for the Apple Pencil. You can use Apple’s stylus in apps like Procreate to draw on the go on the iPad Mini, and you can use the iPad to charge your second-gen Apple Pencil when it’s not in use. The new iPad Mini also runs on Apple’s latest A15 Bionic chip, which paired with Apple’s iPadOS 15 should make it a powerful device optimised for multitasking.
The first-generation Surface Duo’s selling point was how much work you could get done with its dual screens. In Gizmodo’s review, we highlighted the multitasking features and gestures that made it a cinch to work between the two screens — despite Microsoft’s Windows-like take on the Android interface. This is where the Duo 2 could have a leg up, provided Microsoft and Google are still working together on app optimisation (the recent news of Microsoft killing Android app support for Chrome OS also makes us think otherwise, but you never know!).
Microsoft’s biggest mistake with the original Duo was positioning it as an Android phone and cutting corners to make it work as such. The Duo is not a Samsung Galaxy Fold rival, and I think Microsoft would see more success by positioning it as a tablet. I love the idea of a Duo 2 that can close like a book to protect itself, then open to two large screens for getting work done.
The Surface Duo 2 rumours suggest the next device will have a bigger screen than the iPad Mini 6. It could have dual 5.8-inch displays, which would make it the size of some pro-level tablets on the market when opened. And it doesn’t seem likely that the Duo 2 will be a tablet instead of a phone, with a trio of external cameras expected to add a camera bump to the body of the device. The second-gen Duo is rumoured to ship with Android 11, which is also disappointing, as Android 12 is just around the corner and who knows how long Microsoft will push the newest version of Android to its device.
We’ll see if the Duo 2 will be the Android tablet of my dreams — that can just happen to make phone calls — on Sept. 22.