Do We Actually Need A Microsoft Phone Again?

Just be happy it isn’t another Windows Phone.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Microsoft is making phones again. That’s a pretty stark reversal, considering how the company threw in the towel two years ago and conceded that Windows phones were never going to beat Android or iOS. Fortunately, the Surface Duo isn’t another Windows phone. It runs Android, so Microsoft hasn’t suddenly changed its mind about whether or not Windows can succeed on mobile. And as is typical for Microsoft, it’s all about helping people be more productive.

The Surface Duo is a dual-screen device with two 5.6-inch displays that can unfold to make an 8.3-inch split-screen display. After swearing off phones, Microsoft is suddenly back with a dual-screen model in a similar vein as the Galaxy Fold. It’s leapt right to the supposed cuttingedge of phone form factors, and it’s all part of Microsoft’s efforts to help advance the category of dual-screen computing.

In comparison to the Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X though, the Surface Duo is a bit more conservative. Instead of utilising a flexible OLED display, the Surface Duo has a good old hinge that divides two individual displays. It runs the risk of looking a little dated, but someone who buys a device for work probably doesn’t want to deal with all the issues that come with a foldable display anyway.

As part of its focus on dual-screen devices and new form factors, Microsoft also has a new variant of Windows 10 waiting in the wings. Codenamed Santorini, Windows 10X is an ambitious effort to build a version of Windows that can live on dual-screen devices or other new and novel form factors that don’t even exist yet. It will arrive in 2020 on the Surface Neo, Microsoft’s dual-screen take on a laptop.

That’s where things become slightly awkward for the Surface Duo. It runs Android, so it doesn’t quite fit into Microsoft’s sprawling vision for a new generation of computing devices that are exciting and different. Furthermore, Microsoft is basically a party of one when it comes to the Surface Neo, but it already has partners like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and ASUS working on dual-screen or foldable devices that will run Windows 10X.

Furthermore, the Surface Duo isn’t slated for release until late in 2020. Granted, the Surface Neo and other OEM devices won’t go on sale till then as well, but at this point, it just seems like a better fieshed-out effort with multiple partners than anything the Surface Duo could ever be. What’s more, there will probably be a second-generation Galaxy Fold from Samsung by then, along with an upgraded Huawei Mate X. Others such as Xiaomi and Oppo may have joined in as well, which means that Microsoft could face some stiff competition for consumer attention.

With a focus on productivity being shared across both devices, the Surface Neo also appears better suited to the task, with support for a magnetic keyboard and more powerful Intel Lakefield 10nm processor. More importantly, the Surface Neo will run Windows, which makes it a more versatile and able device for work than most Android phones. Both 9-inch screens also open up to give you a full 13inch display – the same size as many Ultrabooks today.

In other words, the Surface Neo feels familiar enough, while at the same time pushing the envelope to get people excited about what their laptops could look like in the future. It’s Microsoft’s Courier concept revived, but with updates for the modern age. On the other hand, the Surface Duo is, well, just another dual-screen smartphone.

People are holding on to their smartphones for longer now, and brands are taking that as a sign that they need to come up with something new and more exciting to entice folks to upgrade. I’m just not sure that the answer is a dualscreen smartphone of any kind. What’s more, people may be more likely to accept something different with a laptop, since you’ll usually have more time to get it set up when settling down to work. Conversely, a phone is supposed to be something you just pull out when you want to make a call or text. Do you really want your daily smartphone to be some fiddly device that’s too large for your pocket and has moving bits?

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"Surface Neo feels familiar enough, while at the same time pushing the envelope to get people excited about what their laptops could look like in the future."