Poor Microsoft. The company’s Surface Duo phone was supposed to be the company’s triumphant entry into the Android phone market, but instead, it will probably be remembered as one of the bigger flops in the industry. The latest chapter of Microsoft’s dual-screen disaster involves a new low price for the ongoing fire sale: Amazon’s Woot is selling the phone for $409, an incredible $990.99 off the $1399.99 MSRP. The one catch is that it’s locked to AT&T.
It definitely feels like we’ve seen this trajectory before. The phone debuted in September 2020 for $1399 with poor reviews and a questionable spec sheet. A month after launch, it had a $200 price drop to $1199, and seven months in, it saw a 50 percent price drop down to $699. Today, at 71 percent off, the Surface Duo can now join the ranks of other market failures that ended up in the bargain bin, like the Amazon Fire Phone, the Essential Phone, and the Google Pixel Slate.
The Surface Duo is (was?) a very unique dual-screen smartphone design. Microsoft equipped the phone with a left 5.6-inch touchscreen and a right 5.6-inch touchscreen, and the whole thing folded up like a small notebook. It was visually beautiful, with an extreme emphasis on thinness and nothing but a flat pane of glass on the inside and outside.
While the outside was gorgeous, the spec sheet made it seem like Microsoft was just really bad at building a phone. The company took the bizarre step of officially unveiling the device a full year ahead of release. It ended up shipping with a year-old SoC, and the phone was missing several standard features of Android flagships, like a high refresh rate display, NFC, wireless charging, and water resistance. It was also full of bugs, featuring things like a broken status bar, wonky gesture navigation, and buggy animations. We haven’t even mentioned the complications from the unique dual-screen design yet. Surprisingly, there are still rumors out there of a sequel device, so, if no executive shuts the project down after seeing what an incredible waste of money it has been, maybe Microsoft will be a little more competent on the second go-around.
Even if Microsoft executed everything correctly, it’s still questionable if a device like the Surface Duo is a good idea. The hardware—even when folded up into single-screen mode—is uncomfortably wide, which makes it hard to use one-handed or to cram into a pocket. And this isn’t the normal “phones are too big” complaints. At 93.3mm wide when folded, the Surface Duo is literally the widest smartphone of all time. There’s also the lack of an exterior screen, which makes checking notifications a pain. Flexible-display devices like the Galaxy Fold can do all the same side-by-side app features but with the added bonus of a big, continuous screen when you need it. That small tweak is much better for things like video, tablet apps, and desktop web pages.
The uncomfortable width of the Surface Duo would make me want to use literally any other device for day-to-day usage. And if you don’t want to carry the device with you and use it like a tablet, you’d still probably be happier with a tablet. But, for some reason, if you’re still interested in burning $400 on Microsoft’s weird experiment, Woot’s sale will last for the rest of the day. With a limit of 10 per customer (Woot usually does three), it does not sound like they’re worried about running out anytime soon.