iPad mini 6 and Surface Duo 2: Is it the right time for portable power?
Microsoft and Apple have both recently announced highly portable and powerful new devices, but could the timing be wrong?
Apple’s iPad mini 6 and Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 both strike a fantastic balance between portability and computing power. In a pre-Covid world, they were perfect for holidays and commutes. But even as the world begins to open up again, we have to wonder: have they lost some of their appeal?
In Microsoft’s advertisement for the Surface Duo 2, one of the main promises is that the device will “unlock the productivity of Microsoft 365” and provide “effortless multitasking”. But is portable productivity something users will pay the Duo 2’s huge £1349 price for when work, travel and live events are still quite limited? Even the much smaller cost of the iPad mini may be too much for many would-be buyers when the portability gap between a phone and a PC needs bridging less regularly right now. Both seem slightly oddly timed releases, whether or not they can stake a claim to be the best tablet or best smartphone out there.
That’s not to criticise the Surface Duo 2. The new handset responds to much of the criticism levelled at the original Surface Duo, including better speakers and cameras – wide, ultra-wide and telephoto lenses – and a ‘notification spine’ that lets users know if they have a call, message, or notification and displays the time.
Microsoft’s design is an interesting take on the foldables trend. It offers a larger display area without the engineering complications and inevitable crease that come with the screen itself folding (see our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review for more on this). There’s also less of a gap between the two screens on the Surface Duo 2, making the overall experience more similar to using a tablet than it was on the original. The two screens sat very slightly too far apart for some users’ liking. It’s possible to pre-order the Surface Duo 2 direct from Microsoft – from £1349.
One downfall of the Surface Duo 2 that is retained from the first iteration is that many apps just don’t look good splayed across both screens, which is limiting. Most non-Microsoft apps aren’t likely to be re-designed simply to fit the Duo 2 because its multi-screen form factor is a minority outlier. However, some Microsoft apps show the flip side of this, having had Duo-focused design tweaks. Outlook shows off just how smooth the Duo 2’s layout can make multitasking, with a calendar on one side and emails on the other, or any variety of page combinations you choose.
Conversely, during the device’s announcement, Apple flaunted the range of functions it sees the iPad mini 6 performing. Yes, there was a suited and booted, corporate looking figure, demonstrating the tablet’s uses as an organisational tool, but there was also a reminder that the mini is a favourite with pilots, kids and creators. Above all, Apple wanted to highlight the versatility of the mini.
It’s worth noting too that while the two devices are comparable in many ways, such as their display size and suitability for on-the-go working, photo editing and similar tasks, they’re very different as purchases. The iPad mini 6 costs £479, while the Surface Duo 2 will set you back a much more substantial sum when it’s released on October 21 – starting from £1349.
The iPad mini 6 is available to pre-order from the official Apple website and a variety of major retailers, including John Lewis, Currys and AO.
Of course, just because the Microsoft product is more productivity-targeted than the Apple one doesn’t mean that it will have limited uses, but the tone of the two company’s product reveals – and the track record of the brands – does suggest that the Surface Duo 2 will be a little more straight-laced and business-minded than the iPad mini, which itself may be more widely adopted by creators.
Both devices sit in a strange no-man’s-land between phone and tablet. The iPad mini 6 is a tablet, strictly speaking, but its 8.3-inch display means it’s reasonably pocketable, at least in a jacket. The Surface Duo 2 also has an 8.3-inch display when folded fully open and two 5.6-inch displays which can be used individually. It certainly edges closer to being a phone than the mini does, but Microsoft has always resisted referring to the Surface Duos as phones.
The combination of that slightly ambiguous product category (‘phablet’ anyone?) and the fact that these aren’t ideal times to sell a device that suits on-the-go productivity could be a worrying sign for both devices. When there’s less need for portability and the equivalent full-size iPad – or Surface tablet – has a better battery life, then why plump for the smaller device? Of course, many use-cases will still demand this, but less of them seem to apply right now, in the world of remote working.
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It’s going to be interesting to see how well-received both devices are and how well they sell. Is the need for portable power – with a larger display than a phone – too small a niche right now? Time will tell.
For more on the Duo 2, head over to our Microsoft Surface Duo 2 pre-order page. Likewise, for the latest on the iPad mini 6 – and to discover how to get your hands on one – take a look at our iPad mini 6 release date page, which will be updated regularly with all the info you need to buy Apple’s latest tablet.
Or, if you're looking for an ideal gift for a friend or relative, then take a look at our tech gifts guide.