The Surface Duo is Microsoft’s first Android smartphone, which is also making a notable comeback in the mobile industry with this product. Equipped with two screens and focusing on productivity, it promises an unprecedented experience in using a telephone. But its price and its technical sheet do not necessarily work in its favor.
Microsoft is making a strong comeback in the smartphone market with an explosive device: the Duo Surface, a mobile equipped with two screens focusing on productivity and flexibility of use. A device running under Android rather than with a home mobile operating system. A real bet for the Redmond firm.
Microsoft has indicated that its Surface Duo will be marketed from September 10, 2020 … in the United States only. No information on its possible availability in Europe has yet been revealed, neither by the American company, nor by any leak.
Across the Atlantic, the smartphone is sold 1399 dollars with 128 GB of storage space and 1499 dollars in its 256 GB variant. A “trade-in” service allows you to lower the bill in exchange for a device in your possession (smartphone, tablet or laptop). An unlocked 128 GB iPhone 11, fully functional and with an original charger, is taken back for 550 dollars for example. Enough to finance part of the device, but as often with this kind of program, the value of the devices taken back is not very generous.
If the Surface Duo releases in France, it is likely that it will not be available for less than 1,399 euros including all taxes, but its price could even be higher.
Microsoft has yet to reveal all the technical specifications for its Surface Duo, but a lot of information is already available. In the table below, you can find elements officially communicated by Microsoft.
8.1 inches in tablet mode
2 x 5.6 inches in smartphone mode
401 pixels per inch
|Storage||128 or 256 GB UFS 3.0 (no SD card slot)|
|3.5mm jack port||No|
|Camera||11 MP f / 2.0 sensor, 1.0 µm, PDAF, 84 ° angle|
The Microsoft Surface Duo is a uniquely designed smartphone unlike any other. It will inevitably be compared to smartphones with foldable screens such as Galaxy Fold, or to what LG does with its dual screen mobiles through a special shell (V60 ThinQ 5G, G8X ThinQ), but it does not repeat the recipe. neither of one nor the other.
The design of the Surface Duo has been designed according to new needs. First, that of being able to equip yourself with a device that remains more or less compact and can be easily slipped into a pocket and manageable with one hand while being able to adopt a tablet format More comfortable. But also that of taking advantage of two separate screens thanks to a single device to better manage different tasks at the same time.
The dimensions of the device when folded are as follows: 145.2mm high by 93.3mm wide and 9.9mm thick. When opened, the width doubles and the thickness halves. We are then in the following configuration: 145.2 mm high, 186.9 mm wide and 4.8 mm thick. All for a weight of 250 grams.
A central hinge allows the smartphone to be opened and closed, with an extremely interesting feature: it is possible to completely fold the Surface Duo inwards (screens inside) or outwards (visible screens). There are then several possible intermediate positions, which allow the device to be held in different ways on a flat surface.
No borderless and even less “all screen” facade here, big borders surround the two panels of the smartphone, on the sides and particularly on the upper and lower parts. An impression of solidity and reliability emerges, compensating for a sober aesthetic, but without taking risks. The comparison with the thin bezels of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold 2 hurts. The Surface Duo’s unique photo sensor is integrated into the border above the right screen, which stands out with today’s standard of integrating modules into a more discreet notch or punch.
Unfolded, the Surface Duo offers a large 8.1-inch AMOLED display (called Dual PixelSense Fusion Displays in Microsoft jargon) with 2700 x 1800 pixel definition (401 pixels per inch) and 3: 2 aspect ratio. On the other hand, there is a problem with the presence of the central hinge in the middle, which is clearly visible and which prevents having a large, beautiful homogeneous screen. This is the weak point of this system compared to the screen technology that truly folds itself. This choice is however good news for the durability and resistance of the smartphone, which can benefit from the protection of Corning’s Gorilla Glass panel to make it less sensitive to drops and scratches.
When the smartphone is folded up on itself, we switch to two independent screens which both have the same characteristics (Single PixelSense Display): 5.6-inch AMOLED panel with definition 1800 x 1350 pixels and screen ratio 4: 3 for a resolution of 401 pixels per inch.
For biometric authentication, the device is equipped with a fingerprint reader positioned under the screen.
Performance and memory
Remember, Microsoft had formalized its Surface Duo on October 2, 2019 to everyone’s surprise. At the time, the mobile was advertised with a Snapdragon 855 SoC. Almost a year later, the American giant has chosen not to perform an upgrade on its premium smartphone, which is therefore released with this chip even if all premium mobiles of the moment have a new generation Snapdragon 865 SoC on board. Performance is of course still excellent, but this delay is still a regret when it comes to a smartphone at this price point. The device is also not 5G compatible.
On the question of memory, we are also not on the usual standards of an ultra high-end Android smartphone in 2020. The two-screen device is satisfied with 6 GB RAM, where the minimum is 8 GB and can go up to 12 GB in this segment. It remains to be seen the optimization work carried out to judge whether this amount of RAM is sufficient or not: Google has already proven with its Pixels that it is possible to be efficient in this area on Android without necessarily having available a volume of disproportionate RAM.
For storage, the Redmond firm is likely to cringe: two variants are planned, one with 128 GB of internal memory and the other with 256 GB. The problem is that the Surface Duo does not have a microSD card slot to expand this capacity.
Battery, autonomy and recharging
This is one of the big questions about the smartphone: what about its autonomy when you have to power two screens? The capacity of the batteries (there are two) is in any case not reassuring: only 3577 mAh in total when we combine the two batteries, while the minimum accepted nowadays is 4000 mAh and many smartphones even blithely exceed this threshold. You can be really scared of the endurance of the Surface Duo, especially since it’s designed for multitasking, which is a feature that is bound to consume power. We can try to reassure ourselves by telling ourselves that the screens are limited to one 60Hz refresh rate and that their need for energy is therefore limited. Microsoft announces a battery life of up to 15.5 hours of video playback, up to 27 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of standby time. But that doesn’t mean much, and doesn’t correspond to normal daily use for most consumers. We will therefore wait for a complete test to judge its autonomy.
Surface Duo is not compatible with wireless charging. It is therefore necessary to reassemble its wired battery with the 18W charger supplied in the box. There are much faster on the market, but it should be more than enough to quickly recharge the smartphone given the capacity of the battery.
Due to the Surface Duo’s configuration, there is no need for a main camera and a front camera for selfies – the same device can take care of all the needs. For selfies, you can see the result on the screen since the photo module is positioned just above it. Folded up, we use the same sensor, and it’s the second screen that allows us to see what we’re taking a picture of.
You may have noticed, we use the singular when talking about “sensor” because there is only one. No ultra wide-angle, telephoto or sensor dedicated to the additional depth of field therefore. What to give doubts as to the fact that the Surface Duo is a formidable photophone with this only 11 MP, f / 2.0, 1.0 µm and PDAF camera.
Microsoft announces a portrait mode with adjustable depth control, a panorama mode, a super resolution zoom, a super zoom up to 7x, a low light mode and support for HDR. But without having the product in hand, that doesn’t mean much. Without a telephoto lens, the 7x zoom will not be able to compete with an optical zoom for example.
For video, the Surface Duo is capable of shoot in 4K or 1080p at 30 or 60 frames per second with digital stabilization. HEVC and H.264 codecs are supported for recording.
No 3.5mm jack port on the smartphone, you must therefore use a USB-C to jack adapter or USB-C headphones to consume wired multimedia. Otherwise, it is possible to turn to a wireless solution, the Surface Duo supports Bluetooth 5.0 (with the presence of Qualcomm’s aptX audio technology).
Do not expect miracles from the mono speaker, but Microsoft is confident in the quality of its two microphones, which are entitled to noise and echo cancellation.
Compatible audio formats are: 3GP, MP3, MP4, MKV, WAV, OGG, M4A, AAC, TS, AMR, FLAC, MID, MIDI, RTTL, RTX, OTA, IMY.
Software and Features
This is obviously where the Surface Duo is eagerly awaited. Does the software really take advantage of the fact that the smartphone has two separate screens or a large screen to choose from? For its return to the telephony market, Microsoft is betting on Android 10. As a reminder, its two-screen tablet, the Surface Neo, must have Windows 10X on board. The first good news is that the Redmond company has already promised three years of Android updates for its Surface Duo.
Android is beginning to natively manage certain dual-screen features in order to adapt to the changing market and the emergence of foldable smartphones. But to offer a real quality experience taking advantage of the specificities of the Surface Duo, Microsoft had to do a lot of software work, and even bought the company Movial for this purpose. Obviously, the Android overlay that Microsoft offers here gives pride of place to its software environment.
From launch, all Android apps are supported by the Surface Duo. Each publisher is then free to optimize their apps to make the most of the two screens and the design of the smartphone. Of course, Microsoft has developed versions of its own services (Office, OneDrive, etc.) which take advantage of the device’s original format to offer a boost in productivity to users (this device is intended primarily for professionals). Among the third-party developers who have already adapted, we can cite Amazon, whose Kindle app takes advantage of the two screens of the Surface Duo to offer a reading experience more like that of a book.
The possibilities offered by the Surface Duo are numerous. We can open an application on each screen, which allows you to watch a video without missing a beat while scrolling on social networks or typing a message for example. The user can also follow a presentation while performing another task or take notes. It is also possible to display a large keyboard over the entire surface of a screen for more comfort when writing, with the preview of the text then displayed on the second panel.
While the Surface Duo leaves the user free to choose how they want to use their two screens, it also incorporates some smart options that will automatically switch to and from operate the second screen. If you are on a browser or a messaging application for example and you want to open a link, it will be displayed directly on the second screen, so you do not need to go back or go through the tasks to find where you were before opening said link. Dragging and dropping content from one screen to another or creating app groups to quickly open two complementary apps on each screen according to their habits and needs are also handy features that are supported.
Microsoft has also thought about making the bridge between its Surface Duo running Android and the Windows ecosystem. With the Windows 10 Your Phone application, you can use your Android applications from your computer. An option available on only a few Samsung mobile models so far. Of course, the synchronization of calls, texts, and notifications is also part of the game.
As explained above, the Surface Duo relies on the productivity argument to convince. It is therefore logical that Microsoft thought of the stylus to enrich its experience. What makes it stand out since apart from the Samsung Galaxy Note, the choice is limited in this area on the smartphone market (Apple Pencil is only compatible with the iPad Pro, not the iPhone). The Surface Pen and Surface Slim Pen are therefore extending their utility to a new range of Surface products.
Otherwise, Surface Duo is compatible with other Surface accessories: headphones, earphones, adapter… all optimized to work with Surface devices. But the hardware of third-party manufacturers can obviously be associated normally with the Surface Duo.