Fold fight! Can Surface Duo deliver more productivity than Galaxy Fold?

It looks like Microsoft may have just stalled some Galaxy Fold sales with the Duo announcement. The Duo brings two larger displays, pen support, and a more robust design, but it's not as functional as a phone.

Samsung Galaxy Fold: Glimpse of the smartphone world beyond glass slabs The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a major step forward in smartphone innovation and contrasts with today's typical glass sandwiches. ZDNet's Matt Miller has had a chance to test out the phone himself, and although it may not be perfect, it's clearly improved over the Fold Samsung released in April. Read more: https://zd.net/331a0Ol

Last week I purchased a Samsung Galaxy Fold and am blown away by the innovation and engineering in this device. Then today Microsoft reached out and told Samsung to hold its beer.

As ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley wrote, the Microsoft Surface Duo is an Android-powered dual-display device that is scheduled to launch in about a year. Two aspects similar between it and the Galaxy Fold are that it runs Android and folds up, but there are some major design differences to distinguish the two devices.

Also: Galaxy Fold first look: Prepare to be amazed by the future of smartphones

Design comparison

Microsoft hasn't yet provided much in terms of specifications since the Surface Duo is still more than a year away, which is a long time in the mobile space. The video embedded below from Microsoft shows how the two 5.6-inch displays are standard flat screens that fold up with a hinge to close like a book. There is no outer display like we see on the Fold, but the two screens can fold back on themselves so that the Surface Duo then looks a bit like the Huawei Mate X.

LG offers a similar dual-screen approach with Android with its V50 and G8X devices, but this new Surface Duo looks like a much more elegant solution than LG's accessory cover.

Stylus support is clearly shown on the Surface Duo, which is one of the first things people ask me about the Galaxy Fold when I show it off. We may eventually see Samsung release a Fold variant with S Pen support, but that is going to take a lot more engineering as we are just getting our first experiences with its unique folding display.

The Surface Duo may work well for field use when two large displays are valuable to view and enter data with a finger or stylus. However, the Galaxy Fold can transform into a more compact form factor and is better as a camera in this smaller form with access to three capable rear cameras.

Durability

Samsung includes a number of precautions with the Galaxy Fold, but after using it now for almost a week those may be partially driven by its failed launch of the Fold earlier this year. The updated version of the Fold should definitely be handled with care, but testing and design improvements lead me to believe it's not as fragile as most think.

Given that Microsoft has been making Surface devices for a few years now with superb hardware, I'm excited to see a well-constructed Surface Duo device. The two large displays will be protected in closed mode and there is no gap between the two when closed so there are fewer areas of concern with the Surface Duo as we see it in its initial form. However, those two 5.6 inch displays are also likely made of glass so a drop is likely to kill both the Galaxy Fold and Surface Duo.

Optimization for foldable use

While you can connect a wireless headset for calls, the Duo is clearly not a phone for one-handed use, regular calling with the phone in your hand, or messaging on the go. It harkens back to the day of the first Pocket PCs when the video shows the woman holding the large Surface Duo up to the side of her head for a phone call. It looks to be a productivity workhorse and may be one of the best Android tablets ever made.  

A major focus of the Surface Duo will be on the Microsoft software that will likely be optimized for its device. The video shows app use across the two displays while Samsung's foldable display just works seamlessly as a single display. Samsung has optimized software for the Fold as well with app continuity, ability to have three apps open on the inside large display at once, and ability to rotate the Fold and have key apps appear as tablet apps in landscape orientation.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Fold first look: in pictures

As we wait a year for its release, check out the Galaxy Fold's innovative folding display, cool narrow phone form factor, and more that is currently available now. The current Galaxy Fold is a niche device, but Samsung will get a year of real-world use experiences before we see the Surface Duo appear.