Microsoft Surface Duo: Why It’ll Probably Be Awesome…

by | 17/07/2020 1:35 pm
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The Microsoft Surface Duo will get a release date later on in 2020, just in time for the holiday season. And it is easily one of the most exciting products we’ll see released inside 2020…


Microsoft has had plenty of flirtations with the mobile space over the years. We had Windows Mobile and Windows Phone, for instance, and we all know what happened with these platforms and the hardware that used them…

In 2020, however, Microsoft will once again look to shake-up the mobile industry with the release of a foldable Android-powered hybrid-phone-device called the Microsoft Surface Duo. And right now, I think this device is easily one of the most exciting things we’ll see during 2020.

And below, you’ll find out exactly how I came to this conclusion…

Microsoft Surface Duo Launch & Release Date?

I had a call with Microsoft yesterday. It was a briefing on the new Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 7, although I couldn’t resist asking about the Surface Duo.

As expected, they didn’t give anything away, other than to say, yes, it is coming later this year and, yes, it’s going to be a very interesting device. More recently, however, leaks have confirmed that the Microsoft Surface Duo could get a release date as early as late-July, early-August. If true, that could mean an official launch date in June.

And the reason? Apparently Microsoft is keen on getting the Surface Duo announced and released before the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold 2 which is expected to launch at Samsung’s Unpacked Event on August 5. Unpacked 2020 is also where the Galaxy Note 20 will launch too. 

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On the official Microsoft website, the Surface Duo is listed as hitting the market just in time for the holiday season in 2020 – that means it’ll be here just in time for Christmas, joining Apple’s new range of iPhone 12 handsets as the last major launches of the year.

Still, the million-dollar question is when will the Surface Duo get a launch and release date? As of right now, no one really knows – Microsoft is remaining tight-lipped about official details, other than the odd tease about an odd feature here and there, and then we have the whole COVID thing to consider.

Could the global COVID-19 crisis delay the Surface Duo launch and release? It’s possible. The downturn on the markets, and the rising unemployment, might have made Microsoft cagey about releasing a consumer product at this time – the markets have never been more volatile.

Still, Apple’s on course to release the iPhone 12 on schedule, so we have to assume that Microsoft is doing the same. The company is now apparently testing Android 10 for the Surface Duo, a process officially known as Google’s Compatibility Test Suite (CTS), which is mandatory for all products running Google’s OS.

The next clue the Surface Duo’s launch is fast approaching? Microsoft has begun shipping emulator software to developers, so they can get their apps working properly on the Surface Duo’s foldable display. This combined with the CTS process implies a launch date for the Surface Duo could happen at any time in the next couple of months.

Nothing concrete, but right now it’s the best we have…

Also, Microsoft isn’t keen on releasing a 4G product at a time when everybody will be getting digital boners about Apple’s 5G iPhone 12 range.

Spoiler alert: the Surface Duo WILL NOT have 5G.

This could mean a release later on in 2020, possibly just before Xmas or inside Q1 2021…

What Is The Microsoft Surface Duo?

The Surface Duo is a hybrid-mobile device. Part phone, part tablet, the Surface Duo isn’t, technically, a folding OLED phone. But it does fold, just not in the same manner as the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X. Instead, the Surface Duo is made up of two screens that fold in on themselves like a book. And the big idea here, of course, is productivity.

Microsoft Surface Duo Dimensions

The dimensions of the Microsoft Surface Duo are kind of tricky to pin down. The main reason for this is that it uses a hinge, a centrally mounted hinge, that splits the device’s two displays. But because the phone is not yet official, we do not have exact dimensions for the hinge itself or how thick the Surface Duo is, both when folded and when fully opened.

What we do know about the Microsoft Surface Duo’s dimensions is that it will be composed of two 5.6in displays, a 360 hinge, and, when fully opened, you’ll have a display that measures 8.3 inches from corner to corner. We don’t know anything about the Surface Duo’s display technology of its resolution, however, as Microsoft has yet to reveal this.

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Microsoft has revealed some of the Surface Duo’s dimensions via its blog, though, these dimensions are listed in px – not cm, mm, or inches. You can see the images and dimensions listed in full below:

  • Screen Size: Large
  • Density Class: xxhdpiDensity
  • Factor: 2.5x
  • Ratio: Not long
  • Horizontal Density: 398.8 dpi
  • Vertical Density: 398.4 dpi
  • Full screen with Mask: 1114dp / 2,784px

Microsoft Surface Duo Specs: 

  • Display: Two 5.6-inch AMOLED 1800 x 1350 displays
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 64GB/256GB
  • Camera: 11MP, ƒ/2.0
  • Ports: USB-C (1), nanoSIM slot
  • Battery: 3,460 mAh
  • OS: Android 10

Two screens are better than one, right? It’s certainly true for desktop computers, but what about phones? Will a second display aid productivity? Microsoft reckons its will, especially when paired up with Microsoft’s core productivity apps – apps like Teams, Excel, and Word. Think about it. You could have a web browser open in one window and Word in the other. From here, you can make notes, prepare content, and do research on your phone without having to constantly swap between applications.

As someone that does A LOT of web research, having this ability on a phone would be amazing. I could actually write content on the move, just like I do on a laptop. Only here, I’d be using an Android-powered phone kitted out with a bunch of Microsoft apps. And it won’t just be Microsoft apps that work on the Surface Duo either. All Android apps will be able to work across both screens. Microsoft has confirmed it is working closely with Google to ensure this happens.

I know, I know – LG’s kind of already done this with its LG G8X ThinQ, but the Surface Duo is a lot different. For starters, the Duo is a completely different shape to the G8X. On top of this, the Duo will benefit from Microsoft’s core suite of applications. And if that wasn’t enough, Google and Microsoft are said to be working together to ensure that this form factor, as well as Google’s suite of apps (and hopefully Google Play apps) actually work properly on this form factor.

I’ll be very surprised if ALL apps work seamlessly across the two displays given how problematic running most Android apps on the Galaxy Fold is, but the fact that Google and Microsoft are both knocking heads on this makes me feel slightly more optimistic than before.

It’ll Have A Pretty Cool Stylus Too…

Apple and Samsung, as well as Microsoft, all make pretty decent stylus accessories for their respective products. But with the Surface Duo, Microsoft is aiming to up the ante considerably. Among its rumored tweaks, the Surface Duo’s stylus will apparently have zero latency and will also be able to draw across the Duo’s display as of it were one seamless panel (despite the fact it is two distinct panels separated by a hinge).

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Sounds cool, right? It is. But the developments don’t stop there; no, Microsoft has also dialed in a ton of useful shortcuts and gestures that will make using the Surface Duo stylus across the entire OS super intuitive – or, at least, that’s what is being planned. There are some limitations, however, namely that Android STILL doesn’t support tilt values which are handy for when you’re designing graphics and the like.

Either way, it is looking increasingly likely that Microsoft sees the stylus at the core of the Surface Duo’s UX experience. What’s more said stylus will be the already existent Surface Pen, a product you can already buy (albeit for an eye-watering £99.99). Still, the Surface Pen will work on ALL of Microsoft’s latest Surface machines, so if you have one of those and are planning on getting the Surface Duo as well, it’s likely a solid(ish) investment because there is NO WAY it will be bundled with the phone.

Why The Surface Duo is Cool…

Essentially, the Microsoft Surface Duo is a smaller, mobile version of Microsoft’s Surface Neo, a Windows 10-powered tablet-sized device that was launched in 2019. But unlike the Neo, the Microsoft Surface Duo is designed for mobile users; it runs Android not Windows and it is smaller (the two displays measure 5.6in each). And because the Surface Duo folds in on itself, you won’t need a screen protector for it either.

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So why do I think the Surface Duo so cool? Pretty simple, really – productivity. Having two displays means you can run one or two apps on one display and another on the other. In my case, I could run WordPress in a browser and have that open on the left screen. On the right screen, I could have Word open or a photo editor, and I could work between the two (or three) applications seamlessly.

On top of this, I just really like the idea of having a second screen. The potential for applications here is immense. For instance, you could have widgets or apps that only show when you’re not doing anything with one of the displays – something like a calendar or your Teams/Slack account. I’m just spit-balling here but you get the idea. Lots and lots of potential, especially now that developers have their hands on the Surface Duo SDK.

How Much Will The Surface Duo Cost?

Well, the Surface Duo runs two AMOLED (I’m presuming) displays and a lot of quality specifications and camera modules. Billed as two phones in one, as well as a tablet replacement, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for the Microsoft Surface Duo when it lands. How much? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Surface Duo retailed for $1500-$1800 when it lands.

If Microsoft can somehow undercut Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, that’d be great. I just don’t see that happening.

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Microsoft doesn’t mess around when it comes to the pricing of its hardware – just look at the Surface Pro X. It costs as much as full-fat Windows 10 thin and light laptops, but it runs on ARM chips and is somewhat limited by comparison. But it still costs the same.

I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that the Surface Pro Duo will retail for just as much or possibly more than the Galaxy Fold. And that means if you want to pick one of these up once it launches, you’re going to need the best part of $2000/£2000. And remember: this is a first-gen device too, so there will almost certainly be issues.

Do You Want Some Phone With Your Bezels? 

As you can probably tell, I’m pretty sold on the Microsoft Surface Duo concept. But there are a couple of things that concern me; the first is the camera (more on that in a bit) and the other thing is the Surface Duo’s bezels – they’re pretty meaty.

In the images you can see throughout this post, you’ll notice that the Surface Duo, as a concept, does look very cool and unique. However, look a little closer and you’ll see that it has some of the chunkiest bezels I’ve seen on a phone in a good long while.

We’re talking 2008-grade bezels here, especially at the top and the bottom. And in a world where bezels are all-but-gone, the Surface Duo’s ungainly top and bottom bezels make for a rather jarring aesthetic. They’re fairly well hidden in the press shots, thanks to the use of black and dark images on the display, but they’re definitely there and they’ll look enormous with lighter backgrounds.

Thank goodness for Android 10’s Dark Mode!

What’s The Deal With The Microsoft Surface Duo Camera? 

How will the Surface Duo’s camera compare to the big guns from Google and Apple? As it stands, not much is known about what the Surface Duo’s camera will be like, although there are a few interesting patents circulating around that could potentially through some light on what we might be dealing with the Surface Duo eventually comes to market.

According to a recently filed Microsoft patent, the Surface Duo’s camera will be powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The idea here is to build a camera that can handle “computational photography” – whatever that means!? The ability to capture 3D images is also rumored too.

Again, I have no idea how this would work in practice, though. Or what any of it really means.

And if that wasn’t enough to confuse the pants off you, think about this: the Microsoft Surface Duo DOES NOT have a rear-facing camera (at least in the leaked press images we’ve seen). That means all you’ve got for imaging is the front-facing unit and that is very odd. Microsoft is trying to brand the Surface Duo as just another Surface device – not a phone. But it is a phone. It runs Android and you can make calls on it. It sounds like a phone, right?

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Surface lead Panos Panay did offer some insight onto what we can expect from the Surface Duo camera, although he doesn’t really give anything away either:

“These are our efforts for the past two and a half years, so there’s a balance to the number of details I can give, even with regards to the camera (…) The idea is, I want to help you become more creative and productive, that doesn’t mean a bajillion-megapixel camera on the back of the product. It means I get you into the flow, so you can create, you don’t have to switch out of context.”

Here’s a shot Panay took with the Surface Duo:

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As I said, it doesn’t really give much away. Another possibility is that Microsoft will release dedicated camera units that can be attached to the Surface Duo. This would solve the issue of not having a rear-facing camera and it would explain why some prototype Surface Duo devices appear to have a cut out for where a camera module would usually be. Either way, it’s all very mysterious right now.

Who’s The Surface Duo Designed For?

The majority of people that will go for this phone will be Microsoft fans, those still reeling from Windows Phone’s death, perhaps. Either way, this is a totally new concept device, so the vast majority of early orders and sales will almost certainly be made up by early-adopters – the guys and gals that always buy new concept devices, regardless of whether they actually work properly or not.

Another interesting potential for the Surface Duo, however, is Microsoft’s legion of enterprise users. Microsoft has a great opportunity for selling the Surface Duo into thousands of companies in the USA. Packed with its core suite of applications and tools, the Surface Duo could be a very appealing device to many SMEs and start-ups, providing they’re already pretty engaged inside Microsoft’s ecosystem.

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Out of all the foldable phones I’ve read about and seen, the Surface Duo is one of the most interesting concepts. Microsoft’s industrial design has come on leaps and bounds over the past several years, and the Surface Duo is a testament to this trend. I think it looks totally unique and totally awesome. I can also tell by looking at it that its design would actually be useful to my style of usage.

Now, all of the above will 100% hinge on Microsoft ensuring that Android actually works properly on the device. It has to manage two displays in a meaningful way that works. And on top of this, it has to ensure that core Google and third-party apps work seamlessly with the Surface Duo’s UX. The potential is clearly there but Microsoft cannot afford to have an eye-catching design let down by poor software integration.

Android + Microsoft Apps = Better Times For Productivity?

Productivity on Android is OK – but it could always be improved. And this is where Microsoft’s suite of apps come into play. Imagine a device that runs core Microsoft apps out the box, has two displays, will work with a bunch of Microsoft accessories, but runs Android at its core. It sounds amazing, right? Well, that’s basically the premise of the Surface Duo…

The reality could turn out to be a lot different, however, as is often the case (especially with Microsoft’s mobile-facing endeavors). We always wanted a proper Surface phone, have done for years. And the Surface Duo is that device. And given its past record, I think Microsoft has thought long and hard about this device. It’s not just an iPhone competitor or an alternative to a Samsung phone. It is, on the surface, excuse the pun, something a lot more original and unique.

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First and foremost, the Surface Duo has been designed as a conduit for Microsoft apps, a mobile-facing medium through which to use, create, and produce using familiar, cloud-connected, enterprise-grade applications and tools. If Microsoft nails the UX and the functionality, this phone could do for Microsoft what the iPad did for Apple. It’s a big ask, but I can’t help but get excited about the prospect of this phone.

Think about it: the Surface Duo is both a phone and a tablet. It has been designed with Microsoft apps in mind. But it also runs Android. And you know it will work with Microsoft accessories too. From this perspective, it sounds almost too good to be true. And while the skeptic in me thinks this will most likely turn out to be the case, I am feeling very pumped about this device.

And it’s all down to what you could potentially do with it, thanks to its marriage of Android and Microsoft, rather than arbitrary specs and design gimmicks.

What About The Surface Duo’s Specs?

Nothing official is known about the Surface Duo’s specs just yet. But there does appear to be some basic agreement on a few, select elements that will be found inside the device. And they are as follows:

  • Display: Two 5.6-inch AMOLED 1800 x 1350 displays
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 64GB/256GB
  • Camera: 11MP, ƒ/2.0
  • Ports: USB-C (1), nanoSIM slot
  • Battery: 3,460 mAh
  • OS: Android 10

The other big question is whether the Surface Duo will run Android 10 or Android 11, which launches later on inside 2020. Given than Android 11 won’t be arriving until around the time the Surface Duo goes on sale, I’d be willing to bet it will launch with Android 10 and then get an update to Android 11 sometime in Q1 2021.

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