For the first time since the death of Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft will release a new smartphone. It's called Surface Duo and has a dual screen layout. The phone was originally scheduled to be released during the 2020 holiday season, but rumors suggest it could be released in the summer of 2020.
There is a lot to discover with the unique dual-screen functionality and Google's Android operating system under the hood. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Price and release date
At its Surface event in New York City in October 2019, Microsoft mentioned that the Surface Duo will be released on time for Christmas 2020. This usually means November or December. But things have changed in the months since then: the phone could come much earlier.
As Microsoft has stepped up its development efforts for the device, a working version of the Surface Duo was recently discovered in the hands of a Microsoft employee in the wild. The Windows Central blog also reports that the Surface Duo may be available this summer, which could mean you have one in your hand between July and August – as long as the coronavirus pandemic doesn't delay its release.
Regarding pricing, not much is currently known about how much the Surface Duo could cost you. Microsoft's last top smartphone, the Lumia 950XL, cost $ 650 when it was launched in 2015. The Surface Duo is expected to be offered at a similar price, but smartphones with folding or double screens are now in the $ 1,000 range. Judging by the price of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, we expect it to be in the same stadium.
Design: Two AMOLED screens, 360-degree hinge
Microsoft has not yet presented many aspects regarding the design, battery life or portability of the Surface Duo. However, what we do know is that the Surface Duo is different from a typical foldable smartphone.
The Surface Duo screen itself cannot be folded like the Galaxy Fold. Instead, it has two separate screens that are connected by a 360-degree hinge. The hinge is designed so that it doesn't get in your way. It is in a polished metal seam under the screen.
Elsewhere, the device is also equipped with the same magnesium material from the rest of the Surface range. In our original practical time, we found that this makes the device solid and slim, with no notches or buttons in the way when holding it.
Technically speaking, the Surface Duo has two 5.6-inch screens that can be folded out to a total of 11.2 inches. It was rumored that the resolution on each of the two displays was 1800 x 1350. It is also rumored that these are AMOLED panels. This has not been confirmed, but when it does, the displays get a pixel density of around 401 pixels per inch and good image quality.
It all comes up without sacrifice, as Microsoft also mentioned that Duo is only 0.19 inches thick. However, there are thick bezels on the top of the device. So don't expect this to correspond to the Samsung Galaxy phones without a frame.
Finally, the other ports of the device must be addressed. Not much is official in this area, but prototype versions of the Surface Duo have a fingerprint reader on the side of the device and a USB-C port that supports fast charging. However, there was no headphone jack. Rumor has it that there will be no wireless charging or NFC functions in the duo.
Camera: can it compete with smartphones?
Similar to many other technical aspects of the Surface Duo, we don't know much about the camera. Aside from Panos Panay, chief product officer of Microsoft Devices Group, Microsoft said at an event in Berlin in 2019 that the duo would have a "good camera," Microsoft didn't mention anything specific about it. The camera's megapixels and sensor type are not yet officially known to us, but Windows Central recently reported that it could be an 11-megapixel sensor with an aperture of 2.0.
Otherwise we got an insight into the image quality of the duo's camera. Panay recently posted a photo on his Instagram that he says was taken on his personal Surface Duo. In the picture we see a picture of his son studying. The lighting conditions and other factors that go into the photography are not known, but his son is well focused and the background looks particularly colorful and vivid. However, Instagram is known to compress the image quality, so the image may not really be what you get when the duo is released.
What we also know is that the Surface Duo doesn't seem to have a camera with a view of the world – at least from videos of the prototypes that were recently seen in public. This means that you won't find a camera outside of the duo like a typical smartphone. The duo will likely only have a front-facing selfie camera on the inside screen next to a flash. You need to "flip" the device to use the camera when needed.
The app and software experience
The duo uses Google's Android 10 operating system with a custom skin and dock or lock screen provided by the Microsoft Launcher app.
This is where the two screens and the hinge come into play. Microsoft advertises that this functionality offers many advantages in terms of portability and the completion of tasks on the go. You can stack apps side by side, drag apps from one screen to the next, and spread them across the screen and hinge. We saw most of it in action with an emulator and the Surface Duo SDK that Microsoft released in February 2020.
The hinge allows it to be folded down into four different modes, just like a modern Windows 2-in-1. The first of these is the "extended screen", in which apps extend over the hinge. The second page is "two pages" on which apps can be opened side by side. There are also "Dual" and "Companion Area" modes, which allow you to open the Android home screen and the app area side by side to select your apps.
Microsoft has also confirmed that apps have a single-screen view by default, but it can be spread across both screens when the device is placed in a two-portrait or landscape layout.
We have also recently seen some features on the dual screens that are used for notifications. For example, you can view your calls and notifications when you open the top screen of the device.
Performance and battery life: Snapdragon 855?
Like everything else on the Surface Duo, Microsoft has remained confidential with regard to the device's technical data. Not much is known and we will only get rid of unofficial rumors.
A report by Zac Bowden from Windows Central shows that the Surface Duo may be equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor. This is then paired with 6 GB RAM and 64 GB basic storage. It is said that there could be additional options with more RAM or memory, but this is not confirmed. Not yet a word about expandability or SD card support.
Based on reviews from other phones using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, the Surface Duo is still a good choice for multitasking and more. It's now a year old, but it has been found in other phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Fold, LG V50 ThinQ, and Sony Xperia X1. When we reviewed these phones, we were a big fan of the performance, so this is a good choice for the Surface Duo.
Choosing the Qualcomm processor also means that the Surface Duo is not a 5G compatible phone. If you buy the device, you will not be able to take advantage of new and future 5G networks.
Regarding battery life, Windows Central reports that the Duo battery could reach 3460 mAh. It's not official, but it would be pretty big, bigger than that on the iPhone 11 Pro with 3,110 mAh, but smaller than that with 3,969 mAh on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It's also smaller than the 4380mAh on the Galaxy Fold. You can expect the battery life to be similar to those of these phones, but take it with a fine grain of salt.
How it is compared to the Surface Neo
The Surface Duo is not the only dual-screen device from Microsoft. The company also plans to release the Surface Neo, a larger dual-screen PC. It was originally intended to be released along with the duo in 2020, but development efforts have changed and the device has been delayed since then.
However, this is completely different compared to the Surface Neo. The Neo will be far more powerful for several reasons.
First, the Neo runs a full version of Windows that is specifically designed for dual-screen devices called Windows 10X. This way you can run the full range of Windows apps, including Win32, Microsoft Store, Progressive Web Apps and Universal Windows Apps. It's a complete laptop replacement if you want it to. The Neo has a similar housing design as the Duo, but has two 9-inch screens that extend to a total of 13.1 inches of screen area.
The Neo also uses Intel Lakefield processors under the hood, which the duo should outperform a lot.