Let’s see if Microsoft can get it right this time…..
Now let’s run through a bit of a history lesson. The Surface Duo is of course the Android-based little brother to Microsoft’s Surface Neo dual-screened Windows. And despite the device itself is novel and definitely has many people impressed by its foldable dual-screened nature, it’s not at all a new device for Microsoft. In fact, this device’s origins can be traced back as far as at least 2009, with the Microsoft Courier scrapped device. And while the Courier is likely whats becoming the Surface Neo, the Duo began development in 2016 as the then, Windows Phone based Andromeda device. Andromeda itself then went through a few changes, not in the list because of Windows Phone’s own failure, with keen Windows fans following every possible rumor possible rumor on its development as it seemed it was the last bit of a Windows-on-phone experience they could cling to. Three years later and some ups and downs in the rumor mill that could leave anyone exhausted, Microsoft and tech fans alike lost their mind when Microsoft unveiled both the Neo and Duo at last year’s fall Surface event, aiming for a October-December release window this year. It was a moment of triumph for Windows and Windows Phone fans, but now that the device is here, who it’s for and how well it will hold up in a very volatile and fickle smartphone market is what truly remains to be seen.
Now if you watch the hardware Deep dive video above (courtesy of CNET), you might notice the moment where Surface Team Chief Panos Panay state the Duo as simply a “Surface Device” and not necessarily a smartphone or tablet. This does make sense for what the device is (in a phrase, hard to pin down) but considering it runs Android and is competitively priced against smartphones, it’s the smartphone market that it will fit in and be competing against. And what’s the smartphone market like in 2020? Well it has lower mid-range phones at their most competitive with phones like the Pixel 4A and iPhone SE making you not need a flagship phone, while flagship phones start from around $700 going up to $1300 featuring all sorts of different feature sets that make you really shop for some according to specialty. Meanwhile Foldables have become all the rage, with the Galaxy fold having a terrible start, but getting refined and up to working order and spawning the Z Flip, Z Fold 2 and competitors such as the Motorola Razr and Huawei Mate X Fold and XS Fold. Simply put, expanding and folding screens are a thing now, and Microsoft is aiming the Duo right at them. And with it’s more unique, while questionable dual-screen approach, the company is leveraging one specific focus: productivity. If flashy flagships like the iPhone like the iPhone 11 are your cup of tea, the Duo isn’t for you. Neither are the similar but more luxury focused Galaxy Fold and Z fold 2. The Duo is a device that’s showing off workflows involving Microsoft Office apps and multitasking in its commercials. It’s clearly aimed at the types of users that have tried to do serious work on their phones, or bought a tablet to do the same. And While the iPad Pro or even Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7 can definitely come up and challenge this device in ways they can’t with Windows tablets, none of those devices can be made to fit in a pocket either. In fact, Microsoft isn’t aiming to replace laptops like these prior tablets do, rather it wants the Duo to fit into a professional or creative’s life in a way that the Duo currently seems at least partially uniquely suited to do.
But of course, that uniqueness comes into question, not just in the facet of how unique it is, but whether or not it’s not too unique as to alienate most customers who could potentially buy it either. After all the impressive parts of this device aren’t its internals, it’s using last year’s Snapdragon 855 processor, has no 5G and has up to only 256GB of storage. So from a power perspective, not exactly impressive. However, the Galaxy Z Flip comes with a similar spec sheet and has arguably been the best performing foldable device on the market. The Duo beats that device by being thinner(in fact it’s the thinnest foldable device on the market), more durable (arguably the most durable foldable on the market due to it’s glass build instead of plastic) and seemingly have more optimized software and of course stylus support(something no other foldable might be able to boast at the moment). If the Duo can promise on all it’s offering, it might actually become a standard setter for the foldable market, determining not only their form factor , but their focus to productivity too, similar to how the Surface Pro invigorated the focus on touch and stylus support for windows devices especially for creatives. And while the Duo definitely wants creatives too, it seems executive professionals are its first target consumer this time. Among the few people who have this device right now are Panos Panay himself, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, but also Android head Hiroshi Lockheimer has been using it as well. Hence anyone who considers themselves a pretty classy and productive professional should likely find themselves appreciating this device as well.
Of course, this will start being seen after September 10th, as obviously reviews, among other things, will sell the concept of whether or not this device is actually worthwhile. We definitely hope it is, as I’m definitely getting one the moment I can pocket USD $1400, but until then, I’ll just watch from the sidelines and see if this device can be the “Windows on phone” device that fans, consumers and Microsoft want it to be.