Microsoft is avoiding calling the Microsoft Surface Duo a smartphone, going so far as to call it a “communication device” when it revealed the device in late 2019. However, it’s shaping up to look like the first new Microsoft-branded phone in years – and an impressive one at that.
Judging from what we’ve seen of the device since its unveiling at the October 2019 Surface event and in the emulator reportedly sent to developers preparing Duo software, it certainly sounds like a phone, considering its function, features, and form factor. Two phablet-sized screens connected by a hinge and connected to LTE? Sounds like a phone to us.
And a phone that's coming soon: Microsoft has now revealed a Surface Duo release date of September 10, along with a price: $1,399 (about £1,070, AU$1,960). While that's certainly costlier than flagship smartphones, it's notably cheaper than foldable phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold broadly similar formats.
How is it a phone? The Microsoft Surface Duo can make calls and be folded up to a size that fits comfortably in one hand and in your pants pocket. Plus, it runs on Android, per Wired. Microsoft has been working with Google to create a version that runs seamlessly on a dual screen device. And, it seems that the company is really getting behind it, with Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of Android, Chrome, Chrome OS, Photos and communication products, tweeting an image of it.
However, it’s likely that Microsoft has a few surprises left to reveal about the device that could disqualify it from being considered a proper phone. There’s already more to the Surface Duo than simple phone functionality: it boasts dual 5.6-inch screens, but when unfolded, it can be used as an 8.3-inch tablet-like device. It can also be bent farther than flat - the full 360 degrees – for a front-to-back viewing mode.
In fact, the Surface Duo strongly resembles another new device introduced during the October 2019 event – the Microsoft Surface Neo, a larger dual-screen tablet that runs a version of Windows 10 optimized for the two-display setup.
From the rumors and sneak peeks we've heard, the Microsoft Duo already sounds like an ambitious device. In fact, Brian Sozzi, Editor-at-Large of Yahoo Finance, called it a “darn slick device” after he recently spotted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella using an early version. Here’s all we know about the smaller smartphone thus far, which we’ll be refining as information comes in over the next 12 months.
Microsoft Surface Duo key facts
- What is it? The new foldable smartphone from Microsoft
- When is it out? September 10, 2020
- What will it cost? $1,399 (about £1,070, AU$1,960).
Microsoft Surface Duo price and release date
The Microsoft Surface Duo release date is Thursday, September 10. Microsoft also announced a price, and, as we suspected for a dual-screen device, it's pretty expensive: $1,399 (about £1,070, AU$1,960).
However, we don’t know if it will be sold by carriers on contract. This might be contingent on whether the device is considered a phone at all, and fit in that product category – in other words, it's unclear whether or not he Surface Duo could replace consumers' current phones as a primary communication and app device.
Microsoft Surface Duo design, display and features
The Microsoft Surface Duo looks exactly like a shrunken version of the Microsoft Surface Neo, a dual-screen tablet also introduced at Microsoft’s October 2019 event. But as a smaller handheld device that allows users to make calls, the Surface Duo is arguably a foldable phone.
The Surface Duo has two 5.6-inch screens, but unlike other foldables, its displays are made of Gorilla Glass – just split by a very visible hinge that the design isn't trying to hide. While that means it isn't quite as seamless an experience as the Samsung Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate Xs, the Surface Duo's tried-and-tested durable glass might save the device from suffering issues seen in early foldables, like the Galaxy Fold's display still breaking even after it was delayed for six months for refinements.
Unfolded, the Duo stretches to 8.3 inches – which is just larger than the iPad Mini 5 with its 7.9-inch display. It can be bent beyond a flat 180 degrees, the maximum for other foldable phones, to a full 360 degrees, which allows a front-to-back glass experience. The opposite is true, too, as the Duo can be folded shut, with no exterior screen – making it the first handheld device in a long time that doesn't need a cover to protect its screens.
The Duo will presumably launch with Android 10, given that Android 11 won't be out by its September 10 release date. Microsoft said on stage that the Duo would be compatible with all Android apps, and it’s currently working closely with Google to make Android apps that are better suited to the dual screen setup.
An emulator has already gone out to developers to simulate the dual screen functionality of The Duo. Thanks to a hands-on look from Neowin, we’ve already gotten a sneak peek at what the UI might look like, along with an idea of how some of the Microsoft and Google apps and multitasking will work. Hopefully this means there will be plenty of dual-screen apps ready to populate The Duo once it’s released.
Running Android sets the Duo apart from the larger Surface Neo, which will run Windows 10X – a forked version optimized for dual-screen activity. Whether there will be crossover software is unclear, but we wouldn't put it past Microsoft.
We also now know that the Surface Duo will come with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, and 6GB of memory, which is a bit disappointing for a flagship 2020 device, to be honest. Foldables already on the market have higher specs, like the Samsung Galaxy Fold with its 12GB of RAM.
As future-proofed as it appears, the Duo won't be a 5G phone. Microsoft confirmed to us that it will be a 4G-only device – so 5G speeds are currently out of the question, which will disappoint anyone hoping for the latest and fastest mobile connectivity.
Surface Duo is poised to be cutting-edge, and at the same time, we’re worried that it has been in development for too long, all while mobile hardware has advanced past beyond Microsoft’s specs. It has the functionality of something wholly futuristic – but beyond oohs and ahhs for its foldable innovation, will you want to buy it?