Here’s everything you need to know about Microsoft’s new Surface Duo

Laurent Giret

Surface Duo

It’s been nearly a year since Microsoft unveiled its dual-screen Surface Duo, and the mobile device will finally launch in the US on September 10. The news came earlier today via an official blog post that was apparently published by mistake, but Microsoft’s Panos Panay has now shared more information about the Surface Duo ahead of its US debut next month.

First of all, the Surface Duo will be priced at $1,399 for the base model with 128GB of storage, and a 256GB version will also be available for $1,499. The dual-screen device will be available for pre-order starting today on the US Microsoft Store, Best Buy, and AT&T, though pre-order links are not available yet. Speaking with Windows Central, Microsoft said that “Initially, Surface Duo will be available in the US. We’ll share more information about market expansion at a later date.”

It’s a bit unfortunate that Surface Duo will be exclusive to the US at launch, but with a $1,399 launch price, Microsoft is probably well aware that this isn’t a device for the masses. In many ways, Microsoft is staying true to the original purpose of the Surface line, which is to create new form factors to empower us to achieve more. That doesn’t mean that Surface devices come with the latest and greatest specs, and Surface Duo is no exception.

Specs and design

Microsoft isn’t the first company to come up with a foldable mobile device, but unlike previous efforts from Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei, the Surface Duo uses two screens connected by a 360° hinge instead of a single foldable screen. The Duo’s two screens are 5.6-inch OLED panels with an 1800 x 1350 resolution and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Both screens are protected with Gorilla glass coating, and the two of them can form a bigger 8.1-inch screen (2700 x 1800) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The device weighs 250 grams is 9.9mm thick when closed.

Microsoft Surface Duo
The Surface Duo will come with a free bumper case.

On the camera front, there’s a single 11-megapixel f/2.0 sensor above the right screen, which will support various features including auto modes for low light, HDR multi-frame captures, and a “super zoom” up to 7x. This sensor will also support 4K and 1080p video recording at 30fps and 60fps with electronic image stabilization. Microsoft says that the Duo’s Camera is also optimized with AI, though we’ll have to wait a bit to see how it performs in the real world.

The rest of the specs of the Surface Duo are not exactly exciting: The device is powered by last year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, 6GB of RAM, and a 3577mAh battery supporting up to 15.5 hours of local video playback, up to 10 days of standby time, and up to 27 hours of talk time. Again, we’ll have to see how the device performs in the real world, but the choice of dual-OLED screens was definitely a good choice to preserve battery life.

Our colleagues over at CNET published some pictures of the Surface Duo’s internals, showing that the devices come with two different batteries that will drain and charge together.

Surface Duo Internals Cnet
Image credit: CNET.

On the connectivity front, the Surface Duo will support WiFi-5 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, and LTE on AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. 5G networks won’t be supported, though that’s not probably a big deal as the Duo’s LTE antennas will support up to 1.2Gb/s download speeds and up to 150Mb/s upload speeds. Surface Duo will also feature a nano-SIM tray coupled with an eSIM, and it will work on all the aforementioned networks. There’s just one exception for Surface Duo models sold by AT&T, which won’t have an e-SOM and will be carrier-locked.

Surface Duo will use a USB-C port for charging, and it will support fast charging with the included 18W charger. Wireless charging isn’t supported, nor is NFC. The device also won’t support external storage, and Microsoft only included a mono speaker instead of the stereo speakers available on most flagship smartphones these days. These are definitely strange omissions for a premium device, though Microsoft could address these shortcomings in a 2nd-gen Surface Duo. The biggest shortcoming is probably the lack of an external camera, which would make it much easier to take photos and videos without having to manually adjust the screen where the single front-facing camera is placed.

No more app gap thanks to Android

The lack of native apps is one of the main reasons why Windows Phone never managed to become the third mobile ecosystem that can compete with iOS and Android. Well, thanks to Android, the Surface Duo won’t have an app problem and it will support all apps from the Google Play Store at launch. The dual-screen device will ship with Android 10, though Microsoft is already working on Android 11 support.

Surface Duo owners will be able to use the two screens to run two apps side by side, but app developers will also be able to optimize their apps to make them span across two screens with an optimized layout. Microsoft has already done this work for its inbox apps such as Microsoft Teams, which will be able to display video calls on one screen and chat on the other.

Surface Duo Microsoft TEams Powerpoint Surface Pen

Amazon Kindle is another app that will be optimized for the Surface Duo at launch: In full-screen mode, book pages will appear on the two screens just like a real book, and readers will be able to use swipe gestures to turn pages. It remains to be seen if Microsoft can convince the biggest app developers to optimize their Android apps for the Surface Duo, but having two screens on a single device should allow them to explore new productivity scenarios. It’s worth noting that Surface Duo will also support Surface Pen input, though the Pen will need to be purchased separately.

Even if most apps won’t be immediately optimized for Surface Duo, the device will still be able to use AI to use the second screen to open relevant apps: As an example, when you have an email app open on the left screen and tap a link in an email, the link will open in a browser window on the second screen. The two screens will also make it easy to move images, text, and files between two apps opened side by side, just like you would on a PC connected to two monitors.

The Surface Duo will come preloaded with various Microsoft apps including the Office apps, Outlook, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, OneNote, Microsoft To Do, Microsoft SwiftKey, and Microsoft Edge. All Google apps required by Google for Android devices using the Google Play Store will also be pre-loaded, and the list includes Google Chrome, Google Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google’s Phone and Messages, and more.

7729ea4ac8f3567844dfe40a15b5aaa0 2048x1537

Microsoft has built a customized version of its Microsoft Launcher for the Surface Duo, which is optimized for dual-screen devices. It will be still possible to install other launchers on the Duo, but they may not work properly until developers to additional work to support dual-screen devices. The Surface Duo will also support Microsoft’s Your Phone app, and Windows Central is reporting that all the exclusive “Link to Windows” features available on premium Samsung Galaxy devices will make their way to the Surface Duo. That includes the ability to run multiple Android apps installed on the Duo on a Windows 10 PC.

“With Surface Duo, we want to help shape the dual-screen category by providing consistency in the way customers experience it and developers design apps. So as we unlock new experiences with Duo, we are working closely with Google to make additions to the Android operating system, paving the way for more apps to take advantage of the full productivity power of two screens,” said Chief Product Officer Panos Panay today.

The Surface Duo is Microsoft’s first Android device, and the company really deserves credit for pushing boundaries and doing some extra work to optimize Android for this new form factor. The Surface Duo’s specs may not set the world on fire, but this is already a solid foundation for what could be the future of smartphones and mobile devices. It’s unfortunate that the Surface Duo will be US-only at launch, but stay tuned to OnMSFT as we hope to get our hands on one as soon as possible.