Note: This article was first published on 7 October 2019.
Last week, Microsoft surprised everyone by announcing what is essentially a new Android phone.
Its new phone is called the Surface Duo and before you get too excited, it won't be available anytime soon. Microsoft says it will only be available in Holiday 2020, which is to say probably in a year's time or so.
What's interesting about the Surface Duo is that it's a foldable device with two displays. Each display is 5.6 inches in size and together they form a larger 8.3-inch display. According to Microsoft, the two displays will allow users to be more productive as it enables them to run apps side by side. What's really interesting, however, is that specification about display size. Because it means the Surface Duo will have a larger combined display that both Huawei's Mate X and Samsung’s Galaxy Fold.
More crucially, the Surface Duo achieves this by being considerably thinner than both devices. The Surface Duo, when folded, is just 9.6mm thick. The Mate X is 11mm and the Galaxy Fold is 17mm thick at its hinges.
|Model||Combined screen size||Thickness (when folded)|
|Microsoft Surface Duo||8.3 inches||9.6mm|
|Huawei Mate X||8 inches||11mm|
|Samsung Galaxy Fold||7.3 inches||17mm at hinges|
Furthermore, there’s no need to worry about delicate folding displays with the Surface Duo because it doesn’t have one. Instead, the Surface Duo relies on an elaborate 360-degree hinge to allow the Surface Duo to fold in multiple ways. I’m not saying that hinges are inherently more reliable, but at least we have had hinges for a very long time and you could say that, in some ways, hinges are tried-and-tested technology.
One could argue that it is unfair to compare the devices now because the Surface Duo is no way near ready for retail and that it is no more than a prototype, or concept even, in its current form. That’s certainly true. There’s no guarantee that the Surface Duo, in its final form, will look anything like it does now. And even if it does, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it. Like how many cameras it’s got and what kind of hardware it is running.
Nevertheless, the Surface Duo should make everyone sit up and consider if folding displays are the solution to getting larger displays in smartphones. As it is, there's a sense that we are trying too hard to get folding displays to work in smartphones. And that's clearly the case with the Galaxy Fold. When was the last time a smartphone manufacturer released a special video showing you how to care for your phone? Maybe what we really need is some clever design and engineering ― like what Microsoft has done with the Surface Duo.
Specifications are not everything. It's what you do with what you have that matters.