Rumors of a dual-screen Microsoft Surface device had been circulating ever since the Courier concept blew everyone away back in the fall of 2009. But it was still a bit surprising to see Microsoft take the stage last October and announce two folding, dual-screen devices in the Surface Neo and Surface Duo.
The Surface Duo, in particular, marked a reentry into the smartphone market a couple of years after the company finally acknowledged that Windows 10 Mobile was no longer in active development. (Microsoft doesn't want you calling the Duo a smartphone, though.)
The foldable, dual-screen Surface Duo will hit the market as foldables generate a lot of interest, but, due to high costs and disastrous durability for some early efforts, we have yet to see one of these devices succeed in the mainstream.
Can Microsoft, in its return to the mobile market, deliver the first foldable that is worth buying? Let's take a look at everything we know so far about the Surface Duo.
Microsoft Surface Duo price and release date
Pricing is one of the remaining mysteries of the Surface Duo. And while Microsoft is trying to position this device as a very different offering from anything currently on the market, we can at least make an educated guess on the price based on some other recent foldables.
The Surface Duo doesn't rely on an actual folding screen, so we don't anticipate the stratospheric pricing of $2,000 and beyond that we saw with the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei's Mate X. LG's somewhat similar dual-screened smartphone, the LG V60 ThinQ 5G, is projected to come in at under $1,000 when it ships this spring, with reasonably comparable internals to the Surface Duo.
We would assume a premium over that pricing, as Microsoft is in a stronger position than LG and the Surface Duo has both some unique features and, from what we can tell, superior fit and finish to the V60. With all of that said, a starting price of anywhere between $1,200 and $1,500 fits what we know so far.
When Microsoft announced the Surface Duo in October of last year, the company said the device would be "coming holiday 2020," and its official page for the Surface Duo still makes this claim. However, reports from Windows Central in February claimed that the device is ahead of schedule and could ship later this summer.
This would likely place the launch time frame around July or August, but it's possible the outbreak of the new coronavirus (causing the disease COVID-19) will push the device launch back to November.
Microsoft Surface Duo design and specs
While Microsoft is adamant that you should not call the Surface Duo a smartphone, doing so is hard to resist. The device appears to uses the same components as other modern smartphones, runs Android (albeit, a custom version of Android 10) and makes phone calls.
That said, the design of the Surface Duo is certainly unique. It has a powerful, 360-degree hinge that allows you to fix the device's twin, 5.6-inch OLED screens in any position. Unfolded, they form an 8.3-inch display (separated, of course, by the hinge) that can either display information independently on each screen or go full screen across the two of them. According to Zac Bowden of Windows Central, the resolution of each screen is 1350 x 1800, which should be sufficient for a device this size.
While Microsoft hasn't had a lot to say about the device since that first reveal, thanks to the Microsoft employees that are testing these devices in the wild now, we have now seen basically the entire specs list for the device.
Naturally, everything worked flawlessly in the promo video for the Surface Duo, but some video of a prerelease unit in the wild similarly impressed us with how easy it was to flip the device between its various modes. However, it certainly showed some software kinks that need to be worked out.
That same video showed off a flash to accompany the single camera that is found above the right screen. This is one area where Microsoft is definitely taking a different approach with the Surface Duo, as most smartphone buyers are accustomed to double- or triple-camera arrays (or more) in their devices these days.
Microsoft's Panos Panay boasted about the single-camera, calling it a "world-class" camera. Reports from the employees testing indicate that it is an 11-megapixel sensor, which given the 50 to 100-megapixel sensors in modern Android flagships isn't the most confidence instilling spec. However, we'll withhold judgment until we see photo samples from the device.
Reports from those that have handled prototypes indicate that the device is pocketable (for some pockets anyway), and another a shot of the Surface Duo parked on the Surface laptop of Microsoft's Frank Shaw lends credence to this claim. Whether Microsoft wants to call it a smartphone or not, it certainly is a device that you are going to want to carry with you at all times, so pocketability is crucial.
Each screen is just 4.8mm thick; the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, by comparison, is 8.8mm thick, making it just 0.8mm thinner than the Surface Duo in its folded mode.
The Surface Duo originally revealed at the Surface event in October of last year and the test units available now are running a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, which is a year old now, but Microsoft may stick with it to avoid the higher cost of the 5G-enabled Snapdragon 865.
The rest of the specs also resemble a 2019 Android flagship with 6GB of RAM and either 64 or 256GB of storage. A little more on both counts would have been nice to see, particularly in 2020 most flagships have moved to at least 8GB and 128GB as the base storage.
The Surface Duo will charge via USB-C and the test units do not support wireless charging, although it's possible that changes prior to launch, hopefully it supports fast charging as the 3,460mAh battery in the test units is pretty small by even single-screen Android smartphone standards.
A fingerprint reader sits on the right side of the Surface Duo. As far as we know, this is the only biometric unlocking method. Nothing in the promo materials has shown a facial recognition unlock.
5G is another feature that remains unknown at this point, but given what we know about the test units it seems unlikely that it will be included. Most users will probably be willing to accept that for the battery and cost savings as well as the still limited 5G reach in the U.S.
What we want from the Microsoft Surface Duo
Surface Pen supported and included: The Surface Duo will support the Surface Pen, which will be a nice pairing for a small, notebook-sized device. But we don't know whether it is included or just available as an add-on. We are also concerned with the extent of this support; Microsoft is going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and its predecessors, Android has had a distinct lack of stylus/pen-based devices.
Software upgrades: We want to see a stated duration for software support from Microsoft and a commitment to at least two major Android OS updates. The Surface Duo is going to launch with Android 10, but given the heavy modifications that Microsoft is baking in, we worry about long-term OS updates.
Durability: While the Surface Duo is avoiding the fragile screen tech behind many of the woes of early foldable smartphones, the 360 hinge is new for Microsoft. And we have no word yet on an IP rating to indicate whether the Surface Duo can handle getting a little wet. We would hope for at least an IP68 rating to put this device on par with most other flagship smartphones, and the durability of that hinge is going to be more of a long-term question.
Reasonable pricing: We said we would expect the Surface Duo to start somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500, but we hope the price is closer to the low end of that range. Of course, there is always the concern that it could go even higher. While the screen is one of the more expensive components on a smartphone, the lack of multiple cameras on this device should help offset costs. I also worry about the device being positioned as something more than a smartphone, as this could raise the price.