Microsoft Finally Upgrades Surface Duo … to Android 11

Posted on January 24, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android, Microsoft Surface with 35 Comments

Microsoft has quietly started upgrading the original Surface Duo to Android 11, which is not the most recent version of Android. The firm originally promised to do so by the end of 2021, which is when Android 12 shipped. Surface Duo originally arrived in 2020 with Android 10, which was at that time a year old.

If you have an unlocked first-generation Surface Duo and live in North America or Europe, you can check for updates and see if the January 24 Update is available. This includes the upgrade to Android 11, the January 2022 Android security patches, and the following updates and changes:

  • Enabled launching of OneNote when clicking the top button on Surface Slim Pen 2. It requires Surface Slim Pen 2 to be paired with Surface Duo.
  • Enabled in Surface Duo features, in Settings, to choose preference [sic] for answering phone calls when folded.
  • Enabled in Surface Duo features, in Settings, to choose specific apps to automatically span across both screens when you open them.
  • Optimized Quick Settings and notification width for portrait and landscape orientations.
  • Adjust media volume directly from Quick Settings in any device mode.
  • Use thumb mode in Microsoft SwiftKey now with all device modes and application states.
  • Updated app drawer and folder design with improved drag-and-drop support.
  • Refreshed Microsoft feed design with updated cards and new Microsoft Start widgets for News and Weather.
  • Photos by OneDrive: New dual-screen enhanced experience for viewing and editing photos in the OneDrive app.
  • Xbox Game Pass: Discovery and play games from the cloud with an on-screen controller. Some devices, accessories, and software [are] sold separately. Additional fees and/or subscriptions [are] required for some apps and features.
  • Send feedback to Microsoft by opening Settings, then tap About, then tap Give feedback to Microsoft.

I assume Microsoft will either provide Android 12 to Surface Duo users in 2023, after Android 13 ships, or not upgrade it again at all. I’m glad to see this upgrade finally arrive, but seriously. Too little, too late.

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Comments (35)

35 responses to “Microsoft Finally Upgrades Surface Duo … to Android 11”

  1. blue77star

    This is still a thing?

    • matsan

      Fanboyz and acolytes die hard.

      • John Craig

        Fanboy here :) I bought the Duo 2 about three months ago, fully expecting to play about with it for a couple of weeks and send it back when I got bored or frustrated.

        It was strange, but a few weeks in, and I stared to discover scenarios, almost by accident, where a duel screen made sense. Within a couple of months, my thinking had evolved to "why don't all phones have two screens?"

        Don't get me wrong, there are some glitches that Microsoft needs to address, but actually, this feels like it has a place in the future of handheld computing.

        • orbsitron

          Thank you for your perspective as an owner! Would you mind sharing some examples of the two screen scenarios that feel right to you on your Duo?

          • John Craig

            Hi. Yes, of course :)

            For personal/entertainment

            1) As a family, we use WhatsApp for group messages that contain links. It's very useful to have the messenger open on one screen, and either maps or the browser open on the other, and simply drag the info across.

            2) We do Wednesday night takeaway...little family tradition...and I have set up shortcuts where domino's/just eat and Deliveroo/uber eats open simultaneously, so people can choose from multiple sites at the same time.

            3) Pulling my fitness results from my gym group app into google fit, just by holding down the info and dragging it across the screens.

            4) The kindle app is an absolute joy. The Duo form factor is made for book reading.

            5) The Xbox cloud experience is...coming together. It runs brilliantly on 4 and 5G. They have a growing selection of touch-centric games, but I still find it a bit clumsy, and nothing really beats a big screen, keyboard and controller for gaming, but it's ok for a 10-minute distraction.

            6) Booking holidays, having the Tui / British Airways app open at the same time to price compare and plan journeys.

            7) Having life 360 open to track where my daughter is, with the trainline app open next to it to advise her of train times and book as she arrives at the station.

            8) tracking shares on yahoo finance and comparing against prices on my share purchase app.

            For business/professional use

            1) Paying bills using Dext and QuickBooks on separate screens

            2) Having two banking apps open. This is very, very helpful.

            3) Using LinkedIn and Outlook side by side to drag contact details from one to the other

            4) Running two browser searches side by side (edge on one, bing browser on can't open the same app twice, but can have multiple broswer apps). I do this a lot, checking business info on companies house while on the company website.

            5) Pulling info from word/excel to other office documents.

            6) Office app. Absolutely made for dual screen, plain and simple. There are a lot of moving parts in office (document scanning, note taking, voice notes, pdf conversion, etc) and Microsoft have clearly gone to lengths to ensure the app makes full use of the additional screen.

            7) Dragging passwords from password manager to browser or app logins

            8) setting alarms and timers, or cross references time differences globally while booking appointments in calendar

            9) Using the calculator on one screen and the bill/receipt/invoice open on the other...super helpful.

            Those are the ones that immediately spring to mind.

            The Duo is a funny kind of look at it at first and think "Why? I've been using a single screen device for 15 years. Why do I need this?"

            So, initially, once you've worked through the initial curiosity stage, you use it like you would a single screen device.

            But soon, you start to find small ways in which using the second screen is a little bit helpful. So, you use it like that a bit more, and soon you're thinking "Ok, this is actually quite handy."

            After a few weeks, either through brain or muscle memory retraining, you suddenly find yourself using both screens without even thinking about it.

            For me, it all came together about two months in.

            We were booking a train into London while tracking tickets on Ticketmaster for the show at the same time, and I suddenly thought "this is seriously useful. Needful, if fact. Why haven't we always done it like this?"

            That was my click clunk moment. And I've had quite a few since then.

            I often think about the journey of wearables when I consider the Duo form factor.

            When wearables first landed, people were deeply sceptical. A great many still are. My personal view was: "Why? What's the point? It just does what my phone does, but not nearly as well, and on a much smaller, more awkward screen to boot. What is the actual point?" Both of my teenage daughters still think like that and refuse the offer of Apple Watches as gifts.

            These days, millions of people swear by their wearable and won't leave home without it. At some point, the device fulfilled a task. It done something that solved a problem or brought them joy, and they suddenly found it useful.

            They had a click clunk moment.

            That's what this device represents. An opportunity to find a new way to get stuff done. If it clicks and clunks, then you'll find yourself wondering how you done without it.

            Sorry...stupidly long post :)

            • jheredia

              Appreciate you sharing your thoughts! I know the Duo isn't for everyone, especially in its current iteration, but it's always appealed to me so I've been on the fence. Hearing the scenarios you found it useful reminded me of many of the ones I find myself in. Going to have to pull that trigger.

              • John Craig

                Hi jheredia, I hope you get as much use and enjoyment out of it as I have done, and find ever new and inventive ways to maximise on having two powerful screens in your pocket :)

            • matsan

              Cool - thanks for sharing. Many of cases I already do on the iPad, with the side-by-side in iOS 15. Since I have prioritized a small form-factor on the phones (currently using a iPhone 12 mini) I do the multi-tasking on the iPad.

              • John Craig

                Hi matsan, we're living in a time when we've never had so much choice :)

                I live by one rule when it comes to tech: Use what works for you.

                It doesn't really matter what the brand or the OS, if it's doing its job, you cannot ask for more.

                I pledge zero loyalty to tech brands. They don't deserve a fan base. None of them.

                Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, amazon...All super powerful, ultra-wealthy and lean heavily on smoke and mirrors to hide their near non-existent business ethics.

                They don't need me to be their cheerleader. Besides, I don't have the legs for it :)

            • kingbuzzo

              Thanks for the honest review John.

            • broxman

              Thanks for your very detailed and informative post. I bought a Duo when they first came out. I saw it as a pocketable small tablet - not as a phone. Unfortunately, I am so captive in the Apple ecosystem (except I use Windows instead of Mac), that I use iPads instead. Your suggestions may give me motivation to get back into using/trying the Duo more. I'd love to have Apple do a foldable iPad mini but I'm not holding my breath. Viewing the Duo as a tablet, I have no interest in the Duo 2.

        • ianbetteridge

          I’m much the same. I love mine - although it’s a second device, not only phone.

  2. wright_is

    Wouldn't it have made more sense to skip 11 and go straight to 12? They are now "only" 18 months behind the curve...

    • crunchyfrog

      Unfortunately, they are even more behind with the release of Android 12L which would be an even bigger asset for the device if I understand its usefulness fully.

    • navarac

      Unfortunately, I think that ALL smartphone vendors lag in terms of software updates. Then, of course, after 3 years (?) they stop to gouge another phone sale. Criminal in my view.

      • wright_is

        Yes, I found the 2-3 months waiting on my old Galaxy a pain, but that it takes a company like Microsoft so long that they are releasing the previous version after Google has had the current version on the market for a few months is inexcusable.

  3. ponsaelius

    The phone that isn't a phone for the audience that wanted a phone that was a phone. Running an operating system from another company despite Microsoft being a developer of an operating system. All priced at an amount most people won't pay.

  4. Matthew Santacroce (InnoTechLLC)

    I totally agree with many of the comments here about the Duo. But, I got to handle one at Best Buy and I was very impressed. I have to say if they continue to support it with Android 12, etc., I'd consider this device.

  5. dmclaurin

    Great news! I tried to get the update but I still get a no-go. My Duo is unlocked and in North America. Will keep checking daily.

    I am loving the device -even with its quirks- and I believe Android 12L will be a game changer. Got it at discount and I am very happy with it...but at over $1K I would not pay for any kind of phone.

    • Cosmocronos

      Unlocked is not the same as Unbranded: if your phone was originally AT&T branded the firmware will be different compared to the one of unbranded devices therefore you will be able to receive the update only when AT&T will release it. I do not know if the bootloader is locked or it is possible to change the firmware and install the unbranded one.

  6. F4IL

    This is undoubtedly an embarrassment for a premium Surface device.

  7. wolters

    I have the Duo 2 and I have used it for a solid month and I think it is a great if misunderstood device. I'm even a "camera snob" and it has been "good enough" for me.

  8. rob_segal

    I can't recommend a Surface Duo to anyone as their primary phone, but as a too-expensive alternative to an iPad or Android tablet, that's more intriguing. The more I think about Surface Duo, the more I think of it as a tablet alternative instead of a phone. Android on tablets is not a good experience. This could be better. I don't have one and would need to test it to see if the experience is better than an Android tablet. Price is the problem with this point of view. At full price, the Duo and especially the Duo 2 is way too expensive for an Android tablet competitor.

  9. rmlounsbury

    I'm glad that Microsoft finally followed through on this promise. It is still pretty staggering that it took this long to get here. I do hope that Microsoft brings Android 12L to the Duo. I am curious to see what 12L brings to the table for larger screen/multi-screen devices.

    I can see the vision that Microsoft has and have played around with the Duo. I have one that I got on a fire sale and tinker with it from time to time. Of course, having a device that has to be opened to interact with it (even folding it over to 1 screen it is still a broad device) makes it difficult to use in a lot of scenarios. The Duo could really use an external screen that you can have driving instructions on or basic media controls. They've already added a big camera bump; at this point why not make it a bit thicker to accommodate an external screen?

    It still fascinates me as a device. Like Paul has mentioned multiple times in the past on this site. There is an irrational fascination with a lot of what Microsoft does with Surface. They aren't necessarily the best technologically but they are such a well designed device. This keeps sucking me back into the Duo.

  10. sharpsone

    I have a duo and use it around the house for web/entertainment consumption. I found the device to be awkward to carry in my pocket, but to be fair I've grown tired of large smartphones altogether. Yes there is convienence to be had but I must be getting old because I grow frustrated with buying devices for huge sums of money so tech companies can use my plan to track, consume, and store my data for profit.

    As for the Duo I don't think MS is very far behind other Android device updates my Nvidia Shield TV just asked me to update to v. 11 two weeks ago.

  11. rm

    It would be nice if they just came out with the Uno with just a single screen, but just as thin (or almost as thin). No usb (because that would make it thicker). Maybe that is just too thin to be structurely strong enough.

    • SvenJ

      Don't understand the no USB. The current and original units have USB-C on the 'impossibly thin' single panel now. The OG had some issues with trim cracking around it, but I think that was more due to material choice. Thin plastic. Don't know if the DUO 2 fixed that, but it is a bit thicker.

      • district

        I had the original and now the Duo 2 - and yes, that cracking on the original by the usb port was not ideal. It cracked within about a month of usage. The Duo 2, by contrast, hasn't cracked at all after around 4 months of use.

  12. crunchyfrog

    I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that this will be the last full Android upgrade users can expect for the Duo. I'd be happy to be wrong on this though.

  13. mclark2112

    I'm still not even sure what to think of the Duo. As a recovering handheld hardware junkie, I have been watching it closely. But I just can't come up with a reason to own one, and it really doesn't look like a form factor that would be comfortable to use.

    Now the Neo was something I was actually ready to purchase. But that may have been a mistake too, unfortunately we'll probably never know.

    • navarac

      Sorry, but I think anything Microsoft is a mistake. I have been bitten too many times. My last was a Nokia Lumia 1020 phone and also a Surface Pro 3 (now running Linux well). Even Windows (10) now takes a back seat, and don't get me started on W11. Microsoft seems to have absolutely no staying power, always looking for the next gadget. Perhaps get rid of Panay might help - get serious and less of the gobbledegook hype.

    • crunchyfrog

      I had the first Duo and in my case the more I used it, the less useful it became. Just using it on a daily basis became a hassle. I think Microsoft missed an opportunity here by not having an external screen.

      • Cosmocronos

        Could not agree more: An external screen and the ability to write on the lockscreen as shown on the Andromeda prototype would be a no brainer.

  14. jboman32768

    I have been a happy Duo user since it came out, and maybe I've just been lucky, but I haven't had any issues with it.

    Has Paul ever used one? I have a search on my other screen for his Duo review but looks live he didn't bother :(