Microsoft is getting back into the phone business.
After years of talk of a "Surface Phone", Microsoft announced the Surface Duo in October 2019. Just under 9 years since the first Windows Phone was released in 2010, The Microsoft Surface Duo is set to be released in late 2020.
As a long-term user of a Windows Phone Operating System (Windows Phone OS), I have been closely monitoring the press for news of a new Microsoft phone. A few years ago, the dreaded 'app gap' caused Microsoft to abandon their own product line, and there has been seemingly limited movement on releases since.
In the past, Microsoft were unable to convince developers to make apps for their OS that were made in great numbers for Android and Apple's IOS. The good news is, Microsoft have now decided to bring their line of phones to where the users are...
Introducing the new Surface Duo.
In Microsofts words, the new Surface Duo is "The perfect balance of productivity and mobility. Surface Duo is a new dual-screen device that fits in your pocket. With two screens connected by a revolutionary 360° hinge, Surface Duo brings together the best of Microsoft and Android to re-imagine productivity on the go."
So, putting the hype of these phones aside, what are the key features of the new Microsoft Surface Duo?
1. The best of both worlds at your fingertips
The advantage Microsoft is selling with this upcoming device is you're getting the best of both worlds - a mobile device that's even better at being a mini-tablet than it is being a mobile phone, and wrapped up in the familiar look and feel of Windows.
If it all works, it could be a great pocket companion, as we use our mobiles less each day as phones, and more as tablets we can operate in one hand. Microsoft loves to integrate their software and hardware products, so you can expect great integration with desktop applications like Microsoft Office 365, along with service applications like OneDrive, Teams, Flow and their mega-cloud service Azure.
For executives and technophiles looking for something exciting and productivity-focused for late 2020 and early 2021, the Surface Duo may be the best alternative we've seen so far.
2. Dual Screen mobile phone
Microsoft wants you to think of the Surface Duo as more than being a mobile phone. The Duo is a dual screen mobile device, meaning it will have side by side displays with a hardware hinge between screens.
The release of the dual screen Samsung Fold mobile this year was problematic and caused Samsung to send stock back to manufacturers and update the hardware to solve a number of screen related issues
While reports of the newly-updated Samsung Fold from USA have been good on their second release, the cost of the phone and the risks of its plastic screen as opposed to the traditional toughened glass screen (Gorilla Glass) have kept sales modest.
Huawei's Mate X and Xiaomi's Mi Flex are two other folding phone competitors that have seen limited release this year. The Samsung Fold was released in Australia on the 30th of October, 2019.
2. Tougher than competitors
Microsoft's less ambitious approach, to make a dual screen phone that has a gap between the two screens is both an advantage and disadvantage.
The advantage is the device will be MUCH tougher than the Samsung Fold (not waterproof, plastic display is easily scratched/damaged). The disadvantage is fairly obvious - the Duo will have a noticeable gap between displays while the Fold has just a subtle crease in a single folding display.
If you are the type of person to drop a brand new $3000+ mobile phone soon after buying it (as I am), I'd be preferring a phone as tough as possible.
4. Windows Experience on Android
The Android distribution you will use on the Surface Duo will be Microsoft's own custom Android interface, and it's no surprise that the interface is much closer to the experience you get with any other Windows mobile device than a typical Android mobile phone. The Duo won't be running the Windows Phone OS. The Duo will run Android.
By making their own custom Android distribution Microsoft maintains the familiarity their desktop products give their users, and still meets the needs of mobile phone users by giving them access to the massive library of Google Play and its millions of apps.
Microsoft believes that by developing a special version of Android to take advantage of the dual-screen displays, they can provide improved functionality and productivity on the phone, enough to make this the dual-screen mobile device of choice.
While the release of this phone is still 12-13 months away, (and possibly longer in Australia) you can watch Microsoft's Duo preview on YouTube to see their Android distribution in action.
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Photo credit: Microsoft.com.au