Microsoft has announced a foldable smartphone that runs on Android, several years after it exited the market following the failure of its own Windows Mobile operating system.
The Surface Duo features two screens attached by a hinge that opens and closes like a book. While the firm might appear to be jumping on the folding-screen trend started this year with Samsung’s ill-fated Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate, unlike those handsets the screen on the Microsoft device isn’t flexible.
This device has two 5.6-inch screens that unfold to 8.3 inches. It runs a ‘reskinned’ version of Android, dubbed Windows 10X, which has been specifically designed for dual screens.
Microsoft demonstrated the device being used like a mini laptop, with one screen acting as a keyboard for documents. It also showed how this could be used for gaming, with the controls on one screen and the game itself appearing on the other.
It also unveiled Surface Neo, which is a similar concept but is much larger, featuring two 9-inch screens to make it more like a laptop and compatibility with external mice and keyboards.
The Surface Duo is the Seattle tech giant’s first smartphone since the Microsoft Lumia 650 in 2016, after which time the company appeared to largely give up on mobile due to the intense competition from Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
While the devices were shown for the first time by Microsoft yesterday, consumers won’t be able to pick one up until the latter part of next year, an unusually long pre-announcement period for devices of this type.
The firm is working with Google to bring Android apps to the device, coupled with Microsoft’s productivity experiences.
Speaking about the device, Panos Panay, chief product officer at Microsoft, said: “It has to fit in your pocket. You will be more productive on two screens. It’s the device that puts you at the centre and adapts to who you are. I showed you kind of early, but I can’t wait.”
Elsewhere, Microsoft revealed four major products due for release later this month, including an updated Surface Laptop 3, a Surface Pro 7 and the Surface Pro X, which are all said to feature greater performance and battery while being lighter and thinner.
The most powerful of the bunch, the Pro X, features a rechargeable slim pen that can slot into the type cover.
New Surface EarBuds also made an appearance, marking the latest audio-based product from the company since 2018’s Surface Headphones.
The EarBuds are able to pair up with Office apps and can add live captions during PowerPoint presentations, although this feature will only be available in the US to begin with.
Microsoft quietly closed shop on Windows Mobile at the tail end of 2017 following a period of declining development with fewer and fewer new devices being released featuring the operating system.
Earlier this week, Samsung finally released a version of its pioneering Galaxy Fold device – the first mainstream folding phone. The Fold was officially unveiled (again) in India. However, one of the first reviewers to actively use the device has already reported new technical issues.