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Surface Duo confirmed to have unlockable bootloader, opening door to mods

Surface Duo Press Hands Horizontal
Surface Duo Press Hands Horizontal (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft has confirmed Surface Duo ships with an unlockable bootloader.
  • This allows developers to easily root and unlock the device to develop mods.
  • Surface Duo launches on September 10 and preorders are open now starting at $1,400 (opens in new tab).

Surface Duo is already set to be a pretty unique addition to the Android world, but it looks like developers will get a chance to make it even moreso. Microsoft recently confirmed to XDA Developers that Surface Duo will ship with an unlockable bootloader. That opens the door to a modding scene that could spawn some pretty interesting customizations.

An unlockable bootloader means that it's easier for developers to unlock and root a device, allowing them to make customizations to the core software experience. It also allows for whole custom ROMs to be flashed to the device, though that will require a ton of work on the developer side.

Already, XDA has highlighted one area that's ripe for modding — turning the earpiece into another speaker for stereo sound. Given its dual-screen setup, the community could come up with some pretty unique mods and custom ROMs for the Surface Duo.

There's also the possibility that we could see some even more exotic modifications. Should one want to put forth the effort, it may be possible to put something like Windows 10X on Surface Duo, making it like a miniature Surface Neo. It would take a lot of work, and it's not clear if this is even possible, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Surface Duo is set for a September 10 release. It's available to preorder now starting at $1,400 from Microsoft, Best Buy, and AT&T.

Microsoft Surface Duo

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Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

29 Comments
  • Awesome.. Surface Duo is going to turn out to be a great device.
  • We have already seen a few dual screen phones. It isn't worth the hassle for the few times you want to run two apps at once. ZTE, Kyocera, and now LG have shown this. Dual screens aren't worth it. Wait until Microsoft switches to a single folding screen, that is the future, free of gaps!
  • This is a weird take. There's a reason why some people, on desktop, prefer one really wide display, while others prefer two (or even three) individual ones stacked side by side. Each has its pros and cons, and there is no objective reasoning why one is better than the toher (although MS would cite cognitive work load showing 2 screens is easier to work with compared to to one). Dan prediction August 2020: Surface Duo will NEVER EVER EVER be a foldable display. Ever.
  • I agree I don't think one foldable screen is automatically better than two separate ones. That being said, do you think Microsoft will eventually have both as an option: one like the fold and one for dual screens?
  • They may down the road. But they also have never done a full convertible laptop with rotating hinges, so 🤷‍♂️ Seems as if there would be a lot of overlap between the two, with the new one undercutting the theory of Duo.
  • Obviously because MS will keep the pen input and pen input on a flexible fragile plastic display isn't going to be possible any time soon. No matter what companies do unless they their software augments the whole experience the overall dual screen experience will not be good.
  • Desktop is a bit different than a mobile phone, but the biggest reason people have multiple monitors is price. Ultrawide displays are quite expensive and still tend to be smaller than dual or triple display setups. You don't have a space issue on most desks, but you certainly have a space issue in your pocket. You really think Microsoft won't switch to a foldable display in a few generations when they are mature and prices come down? That is a bold prediction. If they don't, it will be due to them giving up on Duo completely.
  • "You really think Microsoft won't switch to a foldable display in a few generations when they are mature and prices come down? That is a bold prediction."
    I don't. I'm 100% confident on this. The Duo is actually more expensive to engineer than a folding display. There's more going on with the OS too. They're not going to spend 5 years engineering this thing to change it out later. Same reason Surface Book won't get rotating hinges. If they wanted to do a foldable display, they'd do one. Lenovo X1 Fold is that and it supports pen/inking too. No, what Microsoft will do is what you see in this patent. They will curve the OLED display in the center, much like a book (again) and its binder and using software/image correction to remove any distortion. The result will effectively remove the seam, while also keep both displays separate. Surface Duo with a dual screen is the way forward for this device. It'll never change as it is the core theory behind how it works. The whole venture and concept is based on how two screen interact, not one that simply folds.
  • This seems like nitpicking, foldable screen or hinged screen where the hinge is invisible seems like something very similar functionally. Either way there is no way Microsoft doesn't get rid of the visible hinge, and I think that's what most of us mean when we say "foldable". Functionally that patent you link is really just one big screen.
  • If they don't switch to a foldable display instead of the current dual screen format...DOES NOT MEAN THEY HAVE GIVEN UP ON IT!
    Listen to Dan.
  • bleached you obviously have never worked in a tactical operational environment. Spending 20+ years in the military a can tell you two screens offer a better peripheral perspective that provides a higher level of job performance. You definitely seem to be someone who is always focused on a linear perspective.....yours without the notion that other aspects exist.
  • I don't think the desktop scenario carries very well to the pocket-able form factor. For instance, would you use two 12" monitors instead of one 27"? Do you know anyone who does? The smaller the screen gets the more I think people will yearn for one screen vs two. Of course this all must take into account use case and software optimization. I believe both form factors will be with us for possibly the next decade. It's like Edison and Tesla all over again. Who will win out? Stay tuned! Obviously very few people have tried two screen phones myself included so we might be surprised with this device that has software optimized to maximize the utility of two screens. On the other hand I think currently two screens and foldable screens are nearly equal with maybe two screens slightly ahead when the pros and cons are weighed at least for me and my use case. The choice really lies in your primary use cases. For instance, fold-able screens it can be argued are better for seamless, large screen media consumption. (though far from perfect I will admit) While two screen phones can accommodate pen input. Two screen phones are more rugged than fold-ables. I believe that if both form factors had all else equal (ruggedness, pen support, etc) people would prefer a single screen pocket-able device that can digitally split between two apps, rather than two screens with a gap if you wanted to go full screen over both. I think folding screens are in their infancy so at this point I would prefer a two screen over a folding screen, but as technology improves, folding screens may quite likely develop to be on par or even surpass slab, two screen devices. Unless you're implying Microsoft plans to call a future folding screen device something like the Surface Uno, your comment, "Surface Duo will NEVER EVER EVER be a foldable display." are like the video I watched in computer science class in Junior High that said, "Computers are powerful indeed, but don't ever expect them to balance your checkbook." We don't know what cool stuff hasn't been invented yet, so to say it will never be a folding screen takes a pretty healthy dose of hubris to say. I can see Microsoft making both when the technology for folding screens matures for the aforementioned use case preferences. I believe they could both be sold alongside each other for a good long time.
  • If Dan had said "there will never be a device with a folding screen" then your analogy would be apt and would have required a lot of hubris (by the poorly-informed person who might have said such a thing 10 years ago). But I think it takes a lot less hubris to refer to product plans in a particular category of a single company that Dan has made a career out of studying. This is not a baseless assertion based on hubris, this is an educated prediction from a very knowledgeable industry/company observer.
  • Whether Microsoft adopts/uses foldable screen technology in another device in the future is uncertain. I would never say "Microsoft will never use foldable display technology". I think they could. I am saying THIS device will not switch to it.
    "I don't think the desktop scenario carries very well to the pocket-able form factor. "
    We don't know yet, do we? We just know that for the last 4-5 years Microsoft has been researching and testing it. They have reached the conclusion this is a better way to work. None of us can confirm that simply by looking at some pics on a computer display vs actually using it like they have. Microsoft's famous Human Factors Group lab (B87), which I've been to, is filled with researchers conducting experiments on ergonomics, usage, and the perfect form factor for Xbox controllers, Surface display quality, audio tests (with the world's quietest anechoic chamber), and even electroencephalography (EEG) for neuro-cognitive load testing (which they did here for dual vs single screen vs foldable usage). None of this a hunch by the Surface team. They have the data to back up their theory. We still need to test that in the wild, but I just want to point out they have good ground for going with this design over a foldable display. If foldable screen tech wasn't ready, they would have (1) invented it, as they do (2) waited until it was ready.
  • Most people are consumers of media more than they are productivity focused. A single folding screen is ultimately a consumption device. The Samsung fold is a great example, try multitasking on it and you will get two very skinny apps with an input panel covering parts of both. The Duo with its unusual screen aspect (for a handheld) and separate screens is specifically designed with multitasking in mind.
  • I'll take that bet, the Duo will either be nixed or it will be foldable by v3. It's already behind in technology, but that's understandable seeing today's foldable screen's costs, fragility and lack of stylus input. By v3 of the Duo I would expect foldable screens to be much more mainstream, more durable, cheaper and if I know Samsung will have stylus capability. MS can be excused for using 3 year old technology (Axon M, yeah I know the Duo is thinner and has pen input) in 2020, I really can't see it being excused for using it in 2022 or 2023. Plus it doesn't hinder their strategy of getting their subs/services on dual windows (note I didn't say dual screen) devices.
  • "This is a weird take." That's an honest opening.
  • Bleached always playing devils advocate
  • Gtfoh, W10X Duo confirmed then!
  • I really want to see this device running Windows 10X.
  • Concur, that would be an interesting mod. Time will only tell
  • This is honestly refreshing to see from Microsoft. Of course, as long as you are willing to accept a voided warranty, users should be free to mod their devices as they see fit.
  • From what XDA reports, unlocking the bootloader and using it rarely voids the warranty.
  • If a lumia can run WoA, I really hope people can find a way to get it running on the Duo.
  • Maybe someone could install windows on arm on it?
  • Of course people will say the performance on a smartphone chip will be terrible, but the ability to have a desktop OS in your pocket, available at any time would be pretty amazing. If they can manage to get windows running in a container, similar to UserLAnd, but continuum style, THAT's the dream.
  • Possibly, or even Windows 10 X assuming it will have ARM variant as well in the near future. Having unlocked bootloader have alot of possibilities.
  • I just want windows or windows mobile on this phone. Hate android
  • From the way they have customised android for this device, seems to be completely different from the android you know, whatever version of it you know. Its silly to say that you "hate android" when it differs from device to device and the Microsoft version is completely optimised for dual screens and follows the Microsoft vision of what a dual screen OS should be. I loved windows phone but it is obvious to me that it would horrible on a dual screen device. This is painfully obvious