Much of Microsoft’s Surface event today talked about hardware we’ll be able to get our hands on yet this year. In a “one more thing” moment, though, Microsoft’s Panos Panay revealed the next generation of Surface devices. Next holiday season, Microsoft is planning to release a pair of dual-screen, folding Surface devices called the Surface Neo and Surface Duo.
It’s not a phone
— Microsoft Surface (@surface) October 2, 2019
The headliner of the two—and the device that Microsoft used to cap off its event—is the Surface Duo, a 2-in-1 pocket-sized Android device that can make phone calls but that they don’t want you to call a phone.
That’s right: this thing runs Android. Microsoft is partnering with Google to build a hybrid Android device. It looks and acts like Windows, but it runs all your Android apps, downloaded and installed through the Google Play store. It’s Microsoft admitting defeat in the mobile OS space and instead focusing on the parts they know how to do well: experience and hardware.
While these devices are foldable, but the screens aren’t. This looks more like the canceled Courier booklet device from years and years back. Microsoft has designed the entire experience of using these devices around the dual-screen form factor. You can use one or both screens in horizontal or vertical posture—posture is the word they’re using to describe the many positions these devices can be used in—and in any angle along the 360-degree hinge. The hinge uses a torque function to make sure that you can just fold the device into a given position and expect it to stay that way.
Despite looking very similar and having a similar form factor, the Duo and Neo have a few major differences.
Surface Duo and Neo: Twins not alike
The larger Neo runs a specialized version of Windows called Windows 10X, designed for this new dual-screen format. Microsoft says that all Windows apps will run on it, so this isn’t a repeat of Windows RT. An Intel chip powers the Surface Neo; the Duo, meanwhile, runs Android on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855.
The Neo can have a magnetic Surface Pen attached, of course, but the keyboard is where things get interesting for that device. You can attach a magnetic Bluetooth keyboard, which I assume will be sold separately, to the device. It grips onto the outside of the device but can be flipped into place onto one of the two screens to essentially turn the device into a small laptop. The keyboard only occupies part of the screen—about two-thirds—while the rest transforms depending on whether you put the keyboard at the top or bottom of that screen.
If you place it at the top, the bottom, exposed bit of screen works like a trackpad for a mouse cursor on the upper screen. If you place the keyboard at the bottom, the visible second screen turns into a “Wunderbar” that calls to mind Apple’s Touch Bar, but with enough room that I could see myself getting use out of it.
Where’s the camera?
One thing that stands out on the Duo is the choice not to include a rear-facing camera. If you want to take a picture with this thing, you need to flip it open, unlock it, and use the front-facing camera, which Panay told Wired isn’t a “bajillion-megapixel camera.”
The Neo features a pair of 5.6-mm screens with nine-inch diagonals, and the whole thing weighs 655g. Microsoft says the Neo has “the thinnest LCD ever created.” The Duo’s screens are 5.6-inch displays.
Microsoft is releasing these devices last next year. That means that specifics like that Snapdragon 855 processor and the lack of a rear-facing camera on the Surface Duo could change. We’re going to be keeping an eye on both the Neo and the Duo as we move into 2020.