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Unboxing the Surface Duo: Hands-on with Microsoft's ambitious new phone

Surface Duo Hands On
Surface Duo Hands On (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Windows Central)

Whether you have plans to buy it or merely watch the hype unfold over the internet, the Surface Duo is undoubtedly one of the most interesting phones to be released in 2020. That it's coming so early in the year — it was originally slated for closer to Christmas — is one of the few gifts this otherwise terrible year has given us.

Most typical smartphone users are just growing used to the idea that foldables are real, that they're not as fallible as originally thought, and that, inevitably, they will be mainstream. Microsoft's take on the foldable avoids the foibles of flexible displays and breakable plastic overlays, relying instead on two distinct OLED screens and a sturdy, infinitely adjustable hinge that forms the, well, backbone of the Duo itself.

Surface Duo FAQ: Everything you need to know about Microsoft's dual-screen Surface

Surface Duo Hands On

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

While it's too early for me to show you the phone's software, I was lucky enough to be among the first people in the world to unbox the Surface Duo this week, and I'm going to walk you through that process now.

The reviewer's kit is a deliberate play on the Duo's extensible nature, unspooling horizontally to reveal a vertical flap inside that, underneath, houses the Surface Duo retail box as well as a pair of Surface Earbuds in a new Graphite color (opens in new tab) that should be available on September 10, the same day as the Duo itself.

Surface Duo Hands On

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

The box also houses a printed and embossed card from Panos Panay, Microsoft's Chief Product Officer, who says, "I hope you love using Surface Duo as much as we loved creating it." It's a nice touch.

Inside the Surface Duo's box, opened with a quick pull-tab, is the phone itself, an 18W USB-C charger, a USB C-to-USB C cable, and a bumper case that adheres to the edges of the ultra-thin Surface Duo. I don't see myself using the bumper — it makes an already-wide phone even wider — but it's great to have it included given that the unconventional design of the phone will limit third-party accessory options.

Surface Duo Hands On

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

And then there's the phone itself. Panay described it more than once as a smaller Surface, not necessarily an Android phone, and looking at it I can totally understand where he's coming from. This is the first phone I can remember using that doesn't have a rear camera. Aside from the Microsoft logo on the front there are no other embellishments.

The buttons, all adorned on the phone's right-screen edge when closed, are clicky and easy to identify. The capacitive fingerprint sensor is in a comfortable position for the thumb when the phone is open on either side. The USB-C port is unfortunately not centered.

Surface Duo Hands On

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

When the Duo is open, it absolutely feels like you're holding a tablet, albeit an ultrathin one. The hinge holds securely even when you're holding only one side. It's easy to place the phone down in a laptop-like orientation, and it's even easier to tent it to watch video content. Yes, the bezels above and below the two displays are large.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I can't say whether they are distracting while in use, but they do provide ample space to grasp the Duo anywhere on the open chassis without covering the display, which I'm sure is the point.

The phone closes with a soft, satisfying metallic thud, and it goes back to being an unassuming book-like thing that resembles nothing else on the market today.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

You'll have to wait a bit longer for a full review, but I hope this has been at least somewhat useful in understanding what the Duo looks like, how it feels, and what you can look forward to if you choose to buy one. I'll be hanging around in the comments to answer any questions you have, or hit me up on Twitter if you'd prefer.

Microsoft Surface Duo

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95 Comments
  • Awesome stuff! I'm glad to STILL be here to witness this actually "Surface Phone" (Surface Scribe😘) come to reality. From the days of Windows Phone Central, to our loved Lumia devices, to Windows Central, Surface, Windows 10, and now Surface Duo,, us fans have a lot to be thankful for... And, it is so much more rewarding being a fan here because it's an exciting ride, and we never know what to expect. We stuck through the ups and downs, and we're still here. Still celebrating terrific Microsoft products. The disappointments, failures, and let downs, etc.. Non of it matters after seeing that production Surface Duo in that box... Surface fans have always believed Microsoft would come back into the mobile game one day, and others had their doubts. We never had our doubts. Even if you don't like Duo, think it's going to fail, or don't believe foldables are sensible,, Surface Duo is here. And, it doesn't matter because the fact is that Surface Duo is in that box! Fans believed Duo would be here; they were right, and others were wrong... Because of this I speak for all critics, doubters, trolls, and all negative, overly biased Microsoft haters when I say WE TOLD YOU SO! 💯💯💯💯💯💯 Yep, totally immature of me, but totally justified, and it feels so good, so I have no shame. 🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️👌🏽👌🏽👌🏽😂😂😂
  • Did you not just put surface scribe? You must not be feeling well today, Rodney
  • Oh, let me go back and edit it. Thanks. 😍😍😍😍 There you go. 👌🏽
  • Your edited comment is hilarious!!!
    Looks like Rubino has some decisions to make; windows phone central is back? It's crazy how long I've frequent this site. Well before I became a member and commented
  • Lol. It's a amazing time for Windows Central.. This is not Black Berry. Daniel, Zak, and everyone involved including us stuck with it, and we aren't going anywhere... What Microsoft is doing is working, and this is just the beginning for Microsoft's mobile ambitions. I'm satisfied so far. I say we call it "Surface Phone Central". 🥳🥳🥳 (Totally not going to happen, but whatever🤷🏾‍♂️)
  • It's nothing wrong with having a bit of fun with speculation. Surface Central lol
  • I mean, if they could have a site dedicated to iPhones, Android devices, and Windows Phone devices, it's totally possible to have a Surface Central. As long as the amount of content supports it this is a possibility, and I'm sure Daniel would agree to some degree.
  • Realistically there would be no reason to since surface is adequately covered already here. Plus all of the mobile nations sites cover more news then just single devices but more of all consumer (and some business) of their parent/governing companies. That being said... Windows Android Phone Central 🤣😂
  • Holy Moly!! Lol. 😂
  • Yep, feels really good to see this! Can't wait for the 'real' hands-on!!
  • Rodney, I get the feeling you are happy. :-D
  • Yes finally! Have not commented ever since my HP Elite x3 died. But like TabletPCs, Microsoft has a vision and they just go for it even if its 20 years in the making. Yes I would say this is befitting the Surface Phone title but X 2! 😁 Will I buy this phone? Idk, I have the Vivo Nex 3 and am looking forward to Nex 4 with 5x optical zoom and 5axis ois. The price is eye watering as well. But who knows what will happen if I touch the phone and fall in love. Like I do with the Surface Pro.
  • It definitely looks more tablet to me than phone; even in single display mode. Seeing the device being held really shows that the 4:3 aspect ratio display really makes a difference; and I'm digging it. (I'm now thinking to myself: "I've been a good boy this year. I deserve something nice...")
  • don't quote me but I believe IPhones are 4:3 too so if you use that, you'll likely be familiar with the feel
  • No way iPhones are 4:3 aspect ratio
  • Maybe I'm thinking of ipads. Yea I'm confident it's ipads so iPad mini but admittedly I'm not as well versed with apple's products as Microsoft's.
  • iPhones were 16:9 until the X, and now they're a little bit taller.
  • I know zac is steaming right now! 😂 🤣
  • So when DO we get. A full review? Do we get it the 28th,when it arrives in stores for display? Do we have to wait until September 10th, the official release day? If the demo units in stores are functional to try out, then I really hope we get reviews at that time.
  • Because if you get them after, the reviews will mean less? You would want a product reviewed in less than 2 days of use? Why can't they do a few weeks of use in 2 days? Okay, Karen Wallace