Surface DuoSource: Windows Central

Microsoft has remained tight-lipped regarding most details around its dual-screen Surface Duo smartphone. So far, we know that Surface Duo has two 5.6-inch displays at a resolution of 1800x1350 each. We also know those displays support Surface Pen, and that the device itself is 4.8mm thin, but that's about it. Microsoft is yet to detail the SoC, storage and RAM options, or talk about things such as the camera sensor.

The Surface Duo is in take-home status at Microsoft internally, meaning employees from outside the Surface hardware division can request to test and use Surface Duo in the real world. This usually happens when a device is "almost ready" to launch, and I've been hearing for some time now that Microsoft is hoping to launch Surface Duo earlier than the original Holiday 2020 timeframe.

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The hardware specifications for Surface Duo are pretty much done and have been for quite some time. Microsoft has made small adjustments and additions here and there, but nothing that will make Surface Duo a different device at launch. Because of this, the specs that Microsoft employees are testing with Surface Duo today are the ones we can expect to see inside Surface Duo when it launches to the public later this year.

Surface Duo specs

Microsoft Surface DuoSource: Microsoft

According to my sources, Surface Duo will ship this year with a Snapdragon 855, 6GB RAM, and up to 256GB storage options. It will feature a single 11MP camera sensor above the right display that will be used for both front and rear-facing photos and videos. The displays themselves are AMOLED panels with a pixel density of 401.

I'm also told that Surface Duo will ship with a 3460mAh battery, which contacts have said is able to get Surface Duo through the day, but don't expect an endurance champ. It'll feature USB-C fast charging, but I hear that current test units do not have wireless charging or NFC capabilities. It also won't support 5G, maxing out at 4G LTE speeds instead.

Category Surface Duo
Operating System Android 10
Display 2x 5.6 inch, 4:3 aspect ratio, 1800x1350 (401 ppi) resolution, AMOLED
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Memory 6GB RAM
Storage 64GB
128GB
256GB
Expandable Storage None
Camera 11MP, ƒ/2.0 1.12um
Security Fingerprint
Ports 1x USB-C
nanoSIM slot
Battery 3460mAh
Pen Surface Pen

The device will be launching with Android 10, but I'm told it'll be updated to Android 11 relatively quickly. Microsoft is aiming to finalize the apps that will be preinstalled on Surface Duo by early June, and create a factory OS image that will ship on the hardware out of the box.

All of Microsoft's first-party apps that are preinstalled on Surface Duo will support spanning across both displays and have drag and drop capabilities between two different apps where applicable. Not all third-party apps on Android will support this functionality, as it will be up to developers to implement those capabilities.

Snapdragon 855 vs Snapdragon 865

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7cSource: Qualcomm

I'm sure many of you are wondering why Microsoft isn't using the latest Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm inside the Surface Duo, and the reason seems to be rooted in the fact that Qualcomm requires all smartphone makers to include a separate 5G chip with the Snapdragon 865. Surface Duo's internal design was finalized way before that requirement was known about, and therefore doesn't have room for the additional 5G chip that's required when using the Snapdragon 865.

If Microsoft were to use the Snapdragon 865 inside the Surface Duo, it would have to significantly redesign the hardware inside and out to accomodate the required chip, throwing out most of the work that Microsoft has put into Surface Duo V1. Critics have touted the Snapdragon 865 as a step backwards in smartphone design for this very reason, as it also uses more battery and increases the price of smartphones. This should change when Qualcomm builds a 5G modem into the System on a Chip (SoC.)

Either way, the use of last year's flagship processor shouldn't degrade the experience in any way. The Snapdragon 855 is still an excellent chip with great performance and efficiency. If anything, the use of an older component might allow Surface Duo to come in at a slightly lower price.

What we still don't know

Surface DuoSource: Microsoft

While we now know most of Surface Duo's internal specifications, we still don't know everything. We don't know if Surface Duo is IPXX rated, we don't know anything about its audio setup, or overall device dimensions. And although we know the on-paper specs for the camera, we still don't really know how well it performs in the real world. I'm told not to expect iPhone or Pixel level quality, but it should be good enough for most people.

We also don't know its price, which is going to be the deciding factor for many people. It's likely Surface Duo will be priced comfortably inside the "premium smartphone" segment of the market, but just how premium is something we'll have to wait and see about.

It's important to remember that Surface Duo isn't about raw specs; it's about form factor. Most of the innovation coming out of Surface Duo is in the 360-degree hinge and dual-display setup, which I'm told is unlike any other dual-screen phone we've seen before. That said, Microsoft needs to launch this device as soon as possible, because its use of last year's processor, paired with the large bezels, and lack of NFC or wireless charging, means this device will age faster than others launching in the second half of this year.

Hopefully Microsoft will detail its plans for Surface Duo soon. In the meantime, are you still looking forward to Microsoft's first dual-screen phone? Let us know in the comments.

Update July 2020: Added 128GB storage option.