Microsoft Surface Duo 3 redesign could be great news for foldable phones

Microsoft surface duo 2 review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Microsoft's next foldable phone could actually be... well, foldable. And that would be a big step forward if it wants to challenge Samsung's dominance of the best foldable phones.

According to a Windows Central report, Microsoft has apparently decided to go with a different approach for the Surface Duo 3, its latest attempt to break into the foldables market after 2021's Surface Duo 2 failed to capture a big enough audience. For this future phone, Microsoft is reportedly shifting to a design that features an internal foldable display, external cover screen and a 180-degree hinge. 

In other words, you're getting a phone that opens up like a book to reveal a single interior display. That's a contrast to the Surface Duo 2, which certainly opens up to a larger screen. But instead of a continuous panel that's folding in the middle, you really have two separate displays with a gap in between them.

Thus, it's more accurate to call a phone like the Microsoft Surface Duo 2 a dual screen device. And having reviewed that particular phone, I would argue that it's more accurate still to call the Surface Duo 2 a profound disappointment.

Microsoft's dual-screen dilemma

As I said shortly after reviewing that phone, the Surface Duo 2 misses the mark on the one compelling reason to get a foldable phone — you get more screen real estate. Open up a Galaxy Z Fold 4, for example, and you've got an uninterrupted 7.6-inch display at your disposal, giving you enough space to multitask or even spread out your work in one app across the entirety of the screen. That more than makes up for the extra bulk and higher price tag of a foldable phone.

Microsoft surface duo 2 review

The Surface Duo 2 (right) has a gap you won't find on Samsung's folding phones. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Surface Duo 2 doesn't really provide this continuity, with a pair of 5.3-inch panels stuck next to each other. Stretch an app to fill the full workspace, and you've still got to contend with a giant gap running in between the dual screens — something far more annoying than the Galaxy Z Fold's visible crease will ever be.

Even multitasking on the Surface Duo's separate displays isn't ideal, as Microsoft equipped the phone with some fairly chunky bezels. You're not getting the super-sized screen experience that foldables promise by any stretch of the imagination.

So it's understandable that Microsoft would go back to the drawing board even after reportedly finalizing a dual-screen design for the Surface Duo 2. Windows Central reports that version of the phone was supposed to be ready to ship before the end of 2023; presumably, the change in design direction pushes that release date back.

But a delay is preferable to putting out a flawed product and that's what the Surface Duo 3 would have been if it perpetuated a design that simply wasn't working. It's encouraging to hear reports that Microsoft is acknowledging what was apparent to those of us who used the Surface Duo 2 for any period of time.

Surface Duo 3 outlook

Even more encouraging is another element of the Windows Central report that claims Microsoft wants a better ecosystem experience between its Android phones and Windows PCs. Dubbed "Perfect Together," the initiative would presumably boost continuity between the different devices, with the article citing the way Apple's iPhones and Macs work together. 

If the goal is to make Microsoft mobile devices stand out from other Android handsets, that would certainly help. And in the case of future Surface Duo versions, it would add another reason to consider a foldable phone — a truly foldable phone in this case — beyond the super-sized screen.

The foldable phone market at the start of 2023 is pretty much the same as it was a year ago — we're just waiting for someone to come along with a product that can take on Samsung devices like the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4. With Microsoft rethinking how it approaches foldables, it doesn't sound like the Surface Duo 3 is going to be that device any time soon. But the longer-term picture is more encouraging than it's ever been.

Philip Michaels

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.

  • JimD-AZ
    For me, one of the biggest advantages to a Duo and Duo 2 is that it can be used in single screen mode, saving battery and other resources, but can easily be changed to dual screen mode by opening the device up. If something pops up in an email that I want to check, I can open the other screen and check it, without losing my place. Maybe foldable screen devices should have a third screen for use in single screen mode?