Years and years after the death of the Windows Phone, Microsoft is back with a second shot. Today, at an event in New York City, it announced the Microsoft Surface Duo: a two-screen folding Android phone that’s coming next year, just in time for the 2020 holidays season.
Obviously, Microsoft was beat to this particular punch by Samsung’s Galaxy Fold (even after that model’s extensive delays), but the Surface Duo has an appeal all its own, and the most exciting parts about it are what it lacks.
Kitted out with two 5.6-inch screens on either side of its clamshell form, the Surface Duo does not have a folding screen. Instead, it has two distinct panels with a hinge down the middle. While it’s not nearly as flashy as an actual folding screen, it will almost certainly come with a few huge advantages — the first of which is durability. After its initial release in April, Galaxy Fold reviewers immediately experienced problems; while Samsung has made design changes to combat them, only time will tell how the new screen can hold up.
In addition to durability, Microsoft claims that its distinct two-screen design is also helpful for creating two discrete spaces for different activities, which could be a boon for inveterate multitaskers.
But perhaps the best bit of restraint on the Surface Duo is that, also unlike the Galaxy Fold, it has no outside screen. When its clamshell form is closed, not only are its various screens protected from damage, but you’re protected from seeing a notification and being sucked into email, Twitter or whatever your digital vice may be. Just like a laptop or many flip phones of the past, the Duo has a clear physical distinction between in-use and not — and moving from one state to the other requires a deliberate choice and more physical action than the press of a button. It’s a design decision that could make it mercifully easier to decide that you’re not going to use your phone for a bit.
The Surface Duo won’t be in the wild for over a year; Microsoft is likely teasing it early in hopes of trying to get as many developers to start preparing dual-screen software as early as possible. But its vision of a folding screen future is probably the most compelling one yet. Hopefully the actual phone can live up to that promise.
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