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Microsoft Surface Duo Display review: Good for multi-tasking indoors

Reading Time: 5 min read
74
display

The Microsoft Surface Duo first appeared in August 2020 and attracted a lot of attention with its hinged two-screen design. Let’s take a close look at the kinds of results those screens achieved in our Display protocol tests.

Key display specifications:

  • OLED
  • Size: 2 screens, each 5.6 inches
  • Dimensions: Unfolded: 186.9 x 145.2 x 4.8 mm
    Folded: 145.2 x 93.3 x 9.9 mm
  • Resolution: 1350 x 1800 pixels per screen
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3, 401 ppi per screen
  • Refresh rate: 60 Hz

About DXOMARK Display tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone and other display reviews, DXOMARK engineers perform a variety of objective and perceptual tests under controlled lab and real-life conditions. This article highlights the most important results of our testing. Note that we evaluate display attributes using only the device’s built-in display hardware and its still image (gallery) and video apps at their default settings. (For in-depth information about how we evaluate smartphone and other displays, check out our articles, “How DXOMARK tests display quality” and “A closer look at DXOMARK Display testing.”)

Test summary

Microsoft Surface Duo
74
display

Pros

  • Readability is well suited for indoor use.
  • When viewed on angle, the device remains satisfactorily bright and color shift is barely noticeable.
  • The device shows almost no frame mismatches when watching videos or playing games.
  • The dual screen is well suited for multitasking.

Cons

  • The device is barely readable under sunlight.
  • The device lacks smoothness when scrolling in the gallery app, browsing the web, or playing games.
  • When watching HDR10 content, the device lacks details in dark tones.
  • The hinge hides content, making it hard to use certain apps when both screens are used as one in full-screen mode.

The Microsoft Surface Duo earned an overall score of 74, which is below average for devices tested thus far; a good score for motion and a decent score for color could not compensate sufficiently for mediocre results for readability and video. Its two screens perform similarly, with slight differences that do not affect the end-user experience. While the two screens make it well-suited for multitasking, any full-screen application used across the two screens will be impaired because of the hinge and space between the screens.

Analyses and comparisons

The DXOMARK Display overall score of 74 for the Microsoft Surface Duo is derived from its scores across six categories: readability, color, video, motion, touch, and artifacts. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these display quality sub-scores and explain what they mean for the user, and we will compare the Microsoft Surface Duo’s performance in several areas against two key competitors, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos).

Readability

Microsoft Surface Duo

55

76

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Best: Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (76)

DXOMARK uses the device’s gallery app to show static (still image) content when measuring the device’s display for brightness, contrast, gamma, and blue light impact, etc.

The Microsoft Surface Duo’s brightness in a low-light environment is somewhat dazzling and occasionally unstable, but indoor brightness is good overall.

Brightness vs Contrast comparison (0 Lux)
Brightness vs Contrast comparison (30 000 Lux)

The Microsoft device’s brightness is well adapted to indoor conditions:

Readability in indoor conditions, from left to right: Microsoft Surface Duo right screen, Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

Outside, however, the device is barely readable, especially under sunlight.

Readability outdoors in sunlight, from left to right: Microsoft Surface Duo right screen, Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

The Surface Duo shows noticeable steps, especially in falling transitions. However, though the device loses a bit of brightness and contrast when viewed at an angle, it remains readable.

The Microsoft device is not uniform, with a brightness gradient and visible darker lines on both screens.

Brightness and color uniformity, Microsoft Surface Duo (both screens)

Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

It is noticeably less uniform than the two comparison devices.

Brightness and color uniformity, from left to right: Microsoft Surface Duo right screen, Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

Brightness remains slightly too high when the Surface Duo’s blue light filter (BLF) is on.

Color

Microsoft Surface Duo

82

89

TCL 20 Pro 5G
Best: TCL 20 Pro 5G (89)

DXOMARK uses the device’s gallery app to show static (still image) content when measuring the device’s display for white point, gamut, uniformity, color fidelity, and blue light filter impact, etc. 

The Microsoft Surface Duo does not adapt its white point to the ambient lighting. Indoors, a slight yellow orange cast is often visible.

Color rendering indoors, from left to right: Microsoft Surface Duo, Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

Outdoors, a yellow green cast is visible.

Color rendering under sunlight, from left to right: Microsoft Surface Duo, Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

The charts below show the Microsoft Surface Duo’s color reproduction fidelity in pitch darkness (0 lux) and under 1000 lux lighting in the standard sRGB color space. The center of each circle is the target color; anything outside the circle represents a noticeable color difference. The further the tip of the arrow is outside of the circle, the more a user will notice the difference between the color on the display and the original color of the source material. The Surface Duo shows quite good color fidelity.

Microsoft Surface Duo, color fidelity in the sRGB color space at 0 lux
Microsoft Surface Duo, color fidelity in the sRGB color space at 1000 lux

A slight yellowish to greenish cast is noticeable when the device is viewed at an angle.

Microsoft Surface Duo, white point on angle
Microsoft Surface Duo, scatter, white point on angle

The Microsoft device has poor color uniformity, showing a visible color gradient from its edges to the center, as can be seen in the illustration of brightness uniformity in the preceding section.

When the BLF turns on, the device takes on a noticeable orange cast, but color remains acceptable.

Color with BLF turned on, from left to right: Microsoft Surface Duo, Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

Video

Microsoft Surface Duo

71

90

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Best: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos) (90)

DXOMARK uses the device’s video (or browser) app to show dynamic content when measuring the device’s display for brightness, contrast, gamma, and color. 

Brightness and contrast on midtones for HDR10 content are both slightly dim but acceptable on the Microsoft Surface Duo. However, dark tones are barely visible, which degrades the viewing experience. It is difficult to use the device in full-screen mode across the two screens because the hinge hides some content.

Video contrast, clockwise from left: Microsoft Surface Duo (right panel), Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

A yellow cast is visible in HDR10 content, altering the overall color rendering of videos, and turning skin tones an unnatural orange color.

Video color and skin tones, clockwise from left: Microsoft Surface Duo (right panel), Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Exynos)
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

The hinge hides some content when watching videos in full-screen mode across the two screens:

Watching a video in full-screen mode across both screens, Microsoft Surface Duo

Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

Motion

Microsoft Surface Duo

83

87

Huawei P40 Pro
Best: Huawei P40 Pro (87)

A good score for motion. The Microsoft Surface Duo shows only a couple of frame drops at 30 and 60 fps and when playing video games, and manages motion blur well. As with many other devices, the Surface Duo sometimes pauses before resuming video playback after moving forwards or backwards in the timeline.

Touch

Microsoft Surface Duo

56

83

OnePlus 9 Pro
Best: OnePlus 9 Pro (83)

The Microsoft Surface Duo is quite accurate when zooming in the gallery app, although the zoom is capped. Touch is accurate even in corners and along edges. Despite accuracy, however, the device lacks smoothness and does not offer a pleasant gaming experience, nor is it smooth when browsing the web or scrolling in the gallery.

Microsoft Surface Duo (right panel), touch accuracy

Artifacts

Microsoft Surface Duo

75

86

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Best: Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (86)

There is no notch on the Microsoft Surface Duo, but it has a significant bezel. Further, the hinge can hide content of apps used in full-screen mode across both displays.

No judder is visible at 24, 30, or 60 fps, nor did the display respond to ghost touches. As for flicker, it was measured at 240 Hz, same as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Apple iPhone 12.

Flicker comparison

Aliasing is quite visible when playing video games, and problems with screen orientation also adversely impact the gaming experience.

Microsoft Surface Duo (right panel), aliasing
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only
Microsoft Surface Duo (right panel), aliasing
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only
Microsoft Surface Duo (right panel), aliasing
Photo credit: DXOMARK; for illustration only

Conclusion

The Microsoft Surface Duo is not designed for gamers, as its good touch accuracy and rare frame drops are not enough to compensate for lack of smoothness and other issues. For other users, however, the device’s twin display offers decent color and good multitasking functionality.

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