Bill Gates is right — don’t get a Surface Duo if you want a foldable

Bill Gates in 2019
(Image credit: Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)

Samsung got an endorsement from an unexpected place last week when Bill Gates gave the Galaxy Z Fold 3 the World's 4th Richest Person seal of approval. We currently rank that Samsung device as the best foldable phone you can buy, and Gates would clearly agree with that assessment.

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything (opens in new tab), Gates was asked what phone he uses, and after noting that he tries different mobile devices, Gates identified the Galaxy Z Fold 3 as his current phone of choice. "With this screen I can get by with a great portable PC and the phone and nothing else," the former CEO of Microsoft added.

im_bill_gates_cochair_of_the_bill_and_melinda from r/IAmA

Gates' Microsoft connection is noteworthy because his former company also makes a phone with an expandable screen — the Microsoft Surface Duo 2. And we can't help but imagine that the people who build that phone heard Gates' fulsome praise for the rival Galaxy Z Fold 3 and wondered, "What are we, chopped liver?"

To which anyone who's used the Surface Duo 2 would reply, "Yeah, pretty much."

OK, that's a little unfair to the Surface Duo 2, which can at least be described as better than its predecessor. The latest Surface Duo has a top-performing processor (at least it was when the phone came out), improved cameras and a nice thin design. But stack it up against Samsung's foldable, as we did in our Microsoft Surface Duo 2 vs. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 face-off, and it's very clear why even Microsoft's co-founder is going to turn to a competitor's product.

Microsoft surface duo 2 review

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 3 (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's worth pointing here that the Surface Duo 2 isn't a true foldable — it's more of a dual-screen device that opens up like a book to reveal matching 5.3-inch panels. In contrast, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 really does fold in two, allowing you to collapse the tablet-sized device into a phone that can more easily fit inside a pocket (though some stuffing and wiggling may be required).

The differences between how Microsoft and Samsung have approached their different phones helps explain why the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the better option. While the Surface Duo 2 offers more useable screen space — its two panels create a 8.3-inch full screen mode to the Galaxy Z Fold's 7.6-inch work area — it's not a total seamless experience. There's a gap between the two displays on Microsoft's phone and when you watch a video or try to use one app across both panels, it's very noticeable.

Microsoft surface duo 2 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy Z Fold 3's full-screen experience isn't perfect — there's a visible crease in the screen where the device folds in two — but at least there's a continuous display and not the gap in between the two panels. That's more ideal for note-taking, sketching or whatever other PC-like activities Gates wants to perform on the go.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 stands out in other ways. There's a 6.2-inch over display on the exterior of the phone, so you don't even have to open it up to get work done; the Surface Duo 2 has nothing comparable. Both Galaxy Z Fold 3 displays support 120Hz refresh rates, compared to 90Hz on the Surface Duo 2. Both devices support optional pens, but the S Pen on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a little bit easier to use than Microsoft's Surface Slim Pen 2, at least in my experience.

But the real differentiating factor between the two devices is how they handle multitasking. We've already mentioned the gap between the Surface Duo's two screens and how distracting that is for full-screen experiences, but Samsung has simply done a better job of supporting multitasking and using the Fold's form factor to add functionality. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 can showcase three apps at once compared to the side-by-side multitasking the Surface Duo supports. And Flex Mode on the Fold adds a clever way to divide the phone's screen into a viewing area and a control panel, at least on apps that support it.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's quite a contrast to working on the Surface Duo 2, where thick bezels around both panels make the screen feel cramped. The odd aspect ratio of the Surface Duo's screens also mean that apps aren't always taking full advantage of the available display.

I've used both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Surface Duo 2, so I can understand why Bill Gates is enamored with the former. (Believe me, I wish that we had even more in common, starting with our bank balances.) Perhaps a future version of the Surface Duo can convince the one-time Microsoft CEO to work that phone into his rotation, but for right now, if you want a foldable device, Samsung's pretty much your best bet.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.