Hands-on first impressions of Microsoft's Surface Duo 2, Surface Laptop Studio, and more

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Microsoft held its now annual hardware event this week. It unveiled one of its most extensive updates to the Surface line since 2015 — Surface Duo 2, Surface Pro 8, Surface Go 3, updates to Surface Pro X, and the star of the show, Surface Laptop Studio.

Media got a bit of a hands-on with the new devices this week, and I was able to talk to the people who worked on the products about what's new, how they did things, and lots of other little interesting tidbits. While we'll all undoubtedly learn more in the coming weeks — especially with full reviews likely around release time — here's a good primer of things that were not in the press release.

Surface Duo 2: A whole new device

Microsoft's original Surface Duo is intriguing and frustrating, as our Senior Windows Editor Zac Bowden recently opined.

Surface Duo 2 is a whole new beast, a fact that the announcement revealed. It has been redesigned from the ground up with 2021-era smartphone features in mind instead of the original concept behind Surface Duo, which was a pocketable Surface with Windows.

The hardware feels much more substantial now and not nearly as delicate as the first version, which I think required the bumper case to feel secure in your hand. I didn't feel that way with Surface Duo 2, likely because it's slightly thicker now (5.5mm opened instead of 4.8mm). But the hinge is also redesigned. It's a bit stiffer and feels … better. It's hard to describe.

Check out the 20-image gallery below:

Microsoft wasn't shy about showing off the new cameras. From what we have heard, the company outsourced some of the computational algorithms for the camera to a Japanese company which is why it can do well in low-light situations. We'll have to test it, of course, but so far, it easily looks to be upper mid-tier in 2021.

Fun things I learned:

The snap-on case is like a hard shell with some texture (not a rubber TPU like the bumper). It felt fantastic.You don't need that case to stick the Surface Slim Pen to the front cover; you just need it to charge the pen wirelessly.The Slim pen really sticks to Surface Duo 2 hard, which is what I was hoping for. It's like a rubber fridge magnet strong, so you'll have to really pull it to get it off. That means, yeah, it should be fine in your pocket.Top bezels are still a bit thick but razor-thin on the sides, and the curved inner display is a beautiful effect.Microsoft Start (its new News app) now spans, thank God.Gameloft optimized three games for on-screen controls, including Asphalt 9. Microsoft is pushing gaming on this thing with Game Pass (they demoed Sea of Thieves on it).On the right is your live image, on the left is your camera roll.The new camera app spans and is really lovely. Editing is also dual-screen with tons of features, sliders, inking abilities, and more. It's well thought out and purposeful. Yes, Microsoft reinforced the entire chassis, so the Type-C port should not crack. And with Gorilla Glass Invictus and that hardcover, Surface Duo 2 feels very sturdy. Using Surface Duo 2 one-handed is fiiiiiiine. Yes, it's not entirely flat (it wasn't either on Surface Duo 1 with the bumper), but it felt perfectly OK. Microsoft insists it's very strong, durable. The cover never hits the camera lenses, either.Even with the Surface Slim Pen, cover case, and reverse folded, it's thick, but it was easy to handle. Microsoft Launcher is updated. The news/widget feed resembles Windows 11 now. The notification panel has sliders for volume and brightness, so you can adjust them in any posture where the buttons may be blocked. It's also wider now and looks much better. The new black colorway looks excellent.Screen rotation is very fast, as is the device's overall performance thanks to that Snapdragon 888.It has a new digitizer, so touch input/response should be better this time.Android 12 should come much quicker than Android 11 for Surface Duo 1.The Glance Bar is very cool to see in action.

Look, we need to properly test Surface Duo 2 to know how good it is. Still, between NFC, the new cameras, the processor, new screen materials, 90Hz refresh, curved inner display, and support for Surface Slim Pen, I (along with other present media) was impressed.

Cons: It's still crazy expensive and has an uphill battle to win converts. But this is a massive step in the right direction.

Surface Laptop Studio: "The most powerful Surface ever"

As we told you, Microsoft did make a bring-it-forward design for an all-new device: Surface Laptop Studio, which was just announced.

In my review of the HP Elite Folio, I said that design is the way 2-in-1 laptops should go — not the 360-hinge stuff. Microsoft thought the same as this is a very similar design, but it is executed entirely differently from HP.

At first glance? It's like you merged Surface Pro 8 with Surface Laptop 4 and then added a weird bottom to it. It's both familiar and different, redefining what a laptop could be, which I love.

Some takeaways:

The hinge design is not the same as the patent from this summer, but maybe they'll do that in a few years. Microsoft uses cloth on the inside to hide the wires. It doesn't stretch, is super strong, and goes into the display when you switch postures. Even the cables behind the display move as you switch postures. It's so overly mind-blowingly complicated on the inside but clean and simple on the outside: Pure Microsoft "hinge-engineering!"Why not … 6- or 8-core CPU, or AMD, or higher resolution display, or …? No good answers besides balancing price, device and audience intention, thermals, and attaining good battery life.The display is default 60Hz. Users can manually put it to 120Hz. A later update will enable Dynamic Refresh Rate in Windows 11. Haptic trackpad! I've been pushing this tech hard in 2021, and Microsoft delivered. Microsoft made this one itself, although there may be more to this story: Stay tuned. It felt great, and it even has an adjustable slider for intensity. Loved it. RIP Surface Book as Surface Laptop Studio replaces it.

Surface Laptop Studio looks like a killer laptop. The display is excellent, and the camera, GPU, and that design make it unique right now.

Cons? Microsoft is still not using anti-reflective displays.

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