It’s been nearly a year since Panos Panay teased the future of Surface at Microsoft’s fall hardware event. Microsoft’s chief product officer showed off two folding Surface devices: a larger folding dual-screen device called the Surface Neo and the Surface Duo, a dual-screen folding phone.
And — surprise, surprise — the Surface Duo is up for preorder right now and lands on September 10. It starts at $1,399.99 unlocked for 128GB or $1,499.99 for 256GB. You can get it unlocked with support for a physical Nano SIM and an eSIM, or locked to AT&T with just the physical Nano SIM slot.
As Microsoft teased last October, the Surface Duo runs Android with full access to the Play Store, which gives you access to the mobile apps you need right away, and there isn’t concern about developer adoption.
It’s kind of like a Moleskine notebook on the outside with a seemingly Surface-like design. Microsoft opted for a Corning Gorilla Glass build all around in a Graphite Gray color that looks sleek. Think of it as a book. There’s a shiny Microsoft logo on the front, and it opens to reveal not one but two displays connected with a 360-degree hinge with bezels on the top, bottom and sides.
The Duo charges via USB-C port, and when opened, it’s super thin (4.8 millimeters). Microsoft says it’s the world’s thinnest foldable device. It also weighs just 250 grams, is 93.3 millimeters wide and 145 millimeters tall.
It comes with a bumper case in Glacier (a smooth white), a fast-charging 18-watt USB-C wall plug, a USB-C cable and a SIM ejector tool. All in all, for $1,399.99 or $1,499.99, it seems like a standard package with a nice bonus of a case.
But there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with the idea behind the Duo.
Phone from first glance, Surface when you linger
With Android on board, specifically Android 10, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with 6GB of RAM on the inside, it feels like a smartphone.
Well, it’s a Surface phone combined with the ethos of Microsoft. It’s all about keeping your flow and letting you accomplish what you need to do. Some of the user interface elements feel like Windows — apps are squares with rounded edges, and the pull-down quick settings gives us vibes from Windows 10. It looks quite modern.
And pushing that modernness are the dual screens. You get two 5.6-inch AMOLED Pixel Sense Displays, the same technology used on other Surface screens. These each measure in with a resolution of 1,800 by 1,350 with 401 pixels per inch set in a 4:3 aspect ratio. These form an 8.1-inch AMOLED Pixel Sense display with a combined 2,700-by-1,800 resolution in a 3:2 aspect ratio.
For content consumption, you can also place the Surface Duo in tent mode, since its 360-degree hinges allow you to move and freeze the Duo in almost any position. It reminds us of the multimode experience on Lenovo’s Yoga line of devices.
And Microsoft has worked hard to ensure a high-level experience with these dual displays. There’s a lot of tech to make this work. There are checks to ensure that pixels are aligned across the two displays, which ensures proper app switching and element dragging between the two. Even with a small seam in the middle, it should feel like a fluid experience. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 has customizations to support this dual-screen architecture.
All of the hardware that supports Duo is under the screen, including two battery cells — one on the left and one on the right — that equal a 3577mAh battery. Microsoft says this will provide all-day battery life with up to 15.5 hours of playback. There’s no wireless charging supported here, and the Duo supports fast charging from a wired connection.
The Duo features one camera that sits on the internal display and does double duty. It’s an 11-megapixel lens with an 84-degree view with an LED flash. It supports HDR capture, portrait photography, panorama and rapid succession (or burst shots), and it can record video at up to 4K at 30 frames per second with electronic stabilization.
Microsoft has done a good job with webcams, so this will be an interesting part of the Duo. We imagine it should perform well with Skype or team calls. For videos, it will tap into dual microphones with built-in noise suppression, which will also be used for phone calls. The Duo also has a mono speaker setup.
In terms of connectivity, it supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Google’s Cast standard and 4G LTE networks in the US. It should work on all major carriers, such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
Let’s talk software
For Surface fans, this will be a familiar experience, and at the center of the product is the ability to let you get work done faster. The Surface Duo was designed for productivity and not just a single route for it, but rather the ability to work on multiple items at once. With two screens, it feels like true multitasking, akin to using two monitors at a desk or even your laptop screen and one external monitor. With the Duo, you can have Messages open on the right screen, and when you tap a link to a web page, it can open on the left.
That’s neat, but imagine this for more high-powered tasks. You could be in Outlook writing an email on the left and need to open up OneDrive to pull in assets on the right. You can make a team call on the left and take notes on the right. Twitter on the right and Instagram on the left.
The possibilities are endless, and you can even save these as App Groups on your home screen. There’s also full support for navigating between both screens with the ability to drag assets between the two or even copy and paste. When you’re done with an app, just swipe up to close it.
You’re also not just limited to swiping with your finger or using a fingertip or two to type on your keyboard. The Surface Duo will support all forms of Pen, including the $78.99 Surface Pen, $111.14 Surface Slim Pen and the $169.99 Surface Hub 2 Pen. You can even use a Pen and touch at the same time.
There’s also plenty of Microsoft apps loaded on the device, which should be expected. You get the full Office suite, Outlook, Teams, OneDrive, Edge, OneNote, To-Do, News, Authenticator, Bing Search, InTune, LinkedIn (remember Microsoft owns this?), Surface Audio and the Solitaire Collection, which is a cool addition.
Many of these are optimized for Duo. Outlook, for instance, will house your inbox on the left side, plus the folders and fields that go along with it, while the selected message will be in a full view on the right side. A keyboard can even pop up for easy replies on the right side, which splits that display in two.
For a more comfortable typing experience, you may hold the Duo vertically with the email on the top screen and the keyboard at the bottom. You can, of course, move the hinge to a typing experience that is most comfortable for you.
You’ll find core Google apps as well, such as Drive, Phone, Messages, YouTube, Duo and Photos, among countless others. And Android is basically endless, especially with the Play Store. That means you’ll be able to download and use a wide-ranging list of apps that is ever growing. Android and access to the Play Store is a huge deal here, to make sure that isn’t understated.
And for those with a Surface laptop, tablet or 2-in-1, or really any Windows 10 device, the Duo will integrate just fine. You can take calls and respond to messages from your computer as well as mirror the screens and control the Duo itself. It’s notable that you can use two Android apps at once on your Windows PC. This all happens wirelessly and seems to go a step further than Apple’s Handoff feature, which connects iOS with macOS and vice versa.
Use cases need to bubble to the Surface
Keep in mind, we haven’t had the chance to go hands-on with Surface Duo, but from what we can tell and the intrigue that’s been building, the Duo is inherently a Surface. At $1,399.99, it’s not so much a premium price for a smartphone, but seems like it delivers big value for a Microsoft productivity wiz of an Android device.
The customizations by Microsoft highlight what multiple screens can do for your workflow. Microsoft has made an ideal use case and workflow example. You can be in a team meeting on the left while taking notes on the right. You don’t need to close out of an app to continue. When you want a classic phone experience, fold one of the screens so it’s flat. You get a 5.2-inch Android experience, and the device won’t be thicker than a normal phone.
It feels like the best of both worlds, and for Surface enthusiasts, this seems like an ideal device for both on-the-go and working around the house.
The Surface Duo is a new category for Microsoft, and some might argue a reentry into one.
But with support for Android, stellar design and flagship-level hardware, the Duo has a lot in its favor. If you’re sold, we recommend a preorder, and if you’re like us, you’re excited to see how these cases come to fruition once you can fold and unfold the Duo for yourself.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.