2019 was supposed to be the year for foldable smartphones and though that hasn’t exactly been the case, we now have a new tech giant joining a rather exclusive team of foldable phone manufacturers – Microsoft.
Team Microsoft last night, took the wraps off the company’s first Android-powered dual-display device and named it Surface Duo. Microsoft’s not revealed a lot about this device yet but company did say that it won’t be ready to ship for another year.
Now, having seen the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Huawei Mate X and the Royale Flexpai, we do have a fair idea of what foldable phones are expected to look and work like, but the Surface Duo isn’t meant to be like any of these devices.
Two aspects similar between it and Samsung’s Galaxy Fold are that it runs Android and folds up, the two barely share anything in common. In fact, despite its seemingly pocketable size, Microsoft isn’t even comfortable calling this a phone just yet.
Microsoft, being a player in the PC market sees the Duo very differently and though the company hasn’t said much, the Surface Duo’s design speaks a lot about who this device will cater to when it’s ready to ship.
Microsoft Surface Duo vs Galaxy Fold: They Aren’t Competitors
Microsoft hasn’t provided much in terms of specifications since the Surface Duo is still just a prototype. The video advert from Microsoft though does show how the two 5.6-inch displays are standard flat screens that fold up with a hinge to close like a book. There is no outer display like we see on the Fold and there’s also no flexible plastic-based display in use here on the inside.
However, the two screens can fold back on themselves so that the Surface Duo does look a bit like the Huawei Mate X at times.
From a design standpoint, have we seen anything like this before? The answer to that is a yes and a no. LG, for example, offers a similar dual-screen approach with Android with its V50 and G8X devices, but this new Surface Duo looks like a much more elegant solution than LG’s slap-on cover like accessory.
The Surface Duo also features Stylus support, which the Galaxy Fold does not have. We may eventually see Samsung release a Fold variant with S Pen support, but that is going to take a lot more work as we are just getting our first experiences with its unique folding display.
The Surface Duo may work well for field use when two large displays are valuable to view and enter data with a finger or stylus. However, the Galaxy Fold can transform into a more compact form factor and is better as a camera in this smaller form with access to three capable rear cameras.
The Duo could also be great for gaming on the go with the second screen offering added features – the way ASUS’ bundled TwinView Dock works with the ROG Phone and ROG Phone 2.
Microsoft’s Surface Duo should be more durable than the Galaxy Fold: Here’s Why
While we haven’t had a hands-on experience with either device, the Surface Duo features a clamshell-like design which seems to be more durable in comparison. Samsung, on the other hand, includes a number of precautions with the Galaxy Fold, driven by its failed launch of the Fold earlier this year.
Given that Microsoft has been making Surface devices for a few years now with great hardware, it would be interesting to see how the Surface Duo fare among the rest of the fragile foldable smartphones.
Early hands-on videos of the Surface Duo reveal that the two large displays will be protected in closed mode and there is no gap between the two when closed so there are fewer areas of concern with the Surface Duo as we see it in its initial form. However, those two 5.6 inch displays are also likely made of glass so a drop is likely to kill both the Galaxy Fold and Surface Duo.
The Surface Duo isn’t meant to be a smartphone replacement
While the Surface Duo is much smaller than Microsoft’s tablet-sized Surface Neo, its clearly not a device for one-handed use. This means that Microsoft doesn’t want you to take calls with the Duo in your hand or swipe through Instagram while you’re on your commute. You can always connect a wireless headset for calls, but you get the drift.
An area of focus for Microsoft will be on software optimisation for a proper dual-screen experience. The video advert of the device shows that apps run differently acros the two displays; while Samsung’s foldable display just works seamlessly as a single display. Samsung has optimised software for the Fold as well with “App Continuity” to have three app open on the inside large display at once. You can also rotate the Fold and have key apps show up in landscape mode, as they would on a tablet.