Microsoft Surface Duo is the foldable Surface Phone we’ve been waiting for

Microsoft Surface Duo
(Image credit: Microsoft)

At the Microsoft 2019 event in NYC, the company unveiled its next generation of Surface devices coming in 2019 and 2020, including the dual-screen Surface Neo tablet. But they had one more surprise: the Microsoft Surface Duo, a smaller device that seems to be for all intents and purposes a new Microsoft foldable phone. And it's coming 'Holiday 2020'.

Whereas the Surface Neo is a larger tablet-sized device, the Duo is intentionally handheld, with two 5.6-inch displays split by a very visible center hinge that unfolds flat into an 8.3-inch (diagonal) split working surface.

In that sense, it isn't quite the seamless experience as the Huawei Mate X or the just-launched Samsung Galaxy Fold - but with Gorilla Glass screens, the Surface Duo might avoid the ways the Galaxy Fold's plastic display is still breaking, even after its refinements.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is partnering with Google to bring "the best of Android into one product," Panos Panay, chief product officer of Microsoft Corporation’s Microsoft Devices group, said at the NYC event. This means the Surface Duo will support every single app in the Android ecosystem.

But Microsoft was a little more coy about what operating system the Surface Duo will actually use. Given the larger Surface Neo is running a new version of Windows 10 called Windows 10X specifically optimized for dual-screen devices, the Duo could end up using that and run Android apps with its Google-partnered interoperability. 

"With Surface Duo we are building upon Android to marry cutting edge hardware with familiar software and services," Microsoft coyly explained in its Windows blog post.  "We’re excited to work with developers and the industry to create the next wave of dual-screen computing and unlock a new era of mobile creativity." 

Likewise, going on the named specs for the Surface Neo, the Duo could pack the same custom Intel Lakefield processor, which packs Intel Gen11 graphics. 

(Image credit: Microsoft)

That's about it for what we know - and heck, Microsoft wouldn't even call it a phone, referring to it as a "communications device." Interesting.

The Windows blog post explicitly says the Duo takes phone calls, though that doesn't tell us whether it will pack SIM cards and be sold by carriers as smartphone-categorized devices, so we'll have to wait and see how Microsoft further explains the Duo's role - and whether Windows phones are making a triumphant return.

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.