Microsoft Surface Duo spotted in the wild with possible front-facing flash

Surface Duo
Surface Duo (Image credit: Israel Rodriguez)

What you need to know

  • Surface Duo devices are now in more Microsoft employee hands.
  • A prototype has been spotted on public transport.
  • It appears to reveal a new front-facing flash sensor next to the single camera lens.

Microsoft's Surface Duo is coming soon. In fact, I hear it might launch sooner than expected, and that Microsoft is now seeding Surface Duo devices to more employees internally at Microsoft, encouraging them to use and test the product. As a result, we're going to start seeing more people with Surface Duo's out in the wild, and our first device has already been spotted.

The photo appears to showcase what appears to be a new front-facing flash that wasn't there on the original prototype that was shown to the world in October. If it is a flash, this likely confirms that Surface Duo will not have a rear facing camera sensor, and that the single front-facing camera will be all that the Duo sports.

Why I don't care if the Surface Duo's camera is bad

We're yet to receive any details around the Surface Duo's camera sensor, but many are concerned that it won't be good enough in a market where most phones come with two, three, even four camera sensors. It's possible that the single sensor on the Surface Duo will be good enough, but it's unlikely to be up there with the likes of the iPhone or Pixel.

What are your thoughts on the Surface Duo's camera setup? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Its an incredibly sleek looking device.
  • Wouldn't the front cam be also the rear cam when the duo is folded outward?
  • My thoughts exactly. Having a rear facing camera could kinda butcher the essence of the design
  • I also agree. If you fold the phone backward then it is a rear-facing camera. Plus you can spend your camera budget on one sensor package. My Lumia 928 had a great camera. I don't see why you could not put that lens configuration in the SD. I just don't know the thickness of the sensor. We don't want the camera bump. The picture seems to indicate you have the complete top of the device on one side to mount one or more lenses.
  • I'd settle for a camera bump just to have the best camera. It really wouldn't be noticeable in your pocket.
  • how can you have a camera bump on the inside of a folding phone?
  • Nothing says you would have to have the bump on the lens side, you could push the bump on the outside so that the lens side is flush. But the way you could put in inside is to have a recess on the opposite side when you fold the device. Could even make it so it looks flushed on that side put has spring loaded recess.
  • It folds both ways...
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I like the feeling of a camera bump in my pocket.
  • That just sounds wierd haha
  • Yes, it would. I think people need to have it in hand to see how it wouldn't be necessary to have two cameras. You have a screen on either side and can just choose front facing or rear facing, like on any phone. I think people just feel like it would be too much work or somehow awkward. But, you are absolutely right.
  • The whole purpose of the front facing camera was to make taking selfies easier. You could see yourself and take better pics. A single camera is all you need when you can fold back the screen. The person in the pic will also get to see what they look like. Sounds like a functional enhancement.
  • All midrange to flagship phones have at least three cameras these days. One front facing and two or more rear facing. So on the Duo you drop the one front facing saving some money on the build. Invest that money into a quality dual camera that still works both front and back. Great camera, reduced costs. I hate that we are back to the idea that this is an enterprise device so it doesn't have to be top notch. Enterprise people are media/insta/netflix people after work! If it only has to be good enough for people forced to use it, it will be Microsoft's next failure. This android device has competition. If businesses want mediocre devices to force on their employees they will just buy a cheap $199 Samsung, loaded with the same Microsoft apps anyways. If Microsoft must do this cheapen-it-for-enterprise thing, why not introduce two or even three devices. An enterprise device with mediocre specs called the "forced upon me." Then release a top notch spec device called Duo for the "Prosumer small business worker" who will only buy a top notch device. You can do anything on a phone with top notch specs, even mediocre things, ergo more potential buyers. But you can only do mediocre things on a mediocre device.
  • I own a small business. And am also a normal consumer who is interested in Netflix and what not. I would love this device. For a bettrler keyboard space. An enhanced use of teams. And office apps and onedrive being much more useful. Plus it would be cool to watch Netflix and browse Facebook on this. Fscebook would be really nice. Especially if they took advantage of the dual pane usage. Maybe it could help me manage my page better while on the go.
  • My thoughts are: if version 1 doesn't deliver on a world class camera experience they better nail it on version 2... Some people (the same WP fans that said WP didn't need this, or that, and obviously still haven't learned thier lessons🙄) say SD doesn't need a top tier camera because it's a productivity device. I say Bull ****, because in order for SD to see version 2, 3, and so on, it must be relatively successful. We all know Apple, Samsung, and others, are coming with the same type devices, and we know those devices will have everything in a big way right off the bat. With SD running Android it really wouldn't have any huge advantage over other devices with dual screens, so it would definitely have to stand out, or at the very least keep up. With the camera being the main selling point of most devices in 2020 its just stupid talking about whether it needs to be better than good, or not. Lastly, I personally want a great camera on any device I buy because I don't want to carry multiple devices.. End of Got Damb Story! 👌🏽🐝👌🏽🐝👌🏽🐝
  • Apple and Samsung won't release a dual screen device. Samsung already has a folding screen and the reviews are actually quite good. The only reason to get the Duo might be price, assuming Microsoft doesn't go astronomical. Apple will wait until folding screens fully mature. The time for dual screens has passed, they are merely a stopgap for folding screens.
  • "Time for dual screens past...?" Nope! Glass is Better than plastic. Until Glass Bends this is the most durable option!
  • One drop and your Duo is done, especially since cases and screen protectors are likely impossible. I prefer plastic, much more durable.
  • Maybe tempered glass screen protector on all sides?
  • Sorry to disappoint you but your preferences don't dictate the market. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is entitled to voice their opinion but nothing marks a ****** more clearly than stating their opinion as though it is objective fact. Prefer plastic all you want. That preference doesn't dictate the market for dual-screen devices. Apart from that, your preference for plastic is irrelevant if manufacturers of folding screens move to glass as well, which is undoubtedly the plan. Corning have already been working on folding Gorillas Glass for some time; probably several years by now.
  • Sorry, I usually try to not pass my preference as the markets. My bad.
  • Who cares what Bleached says... If it was made the way he is explaining he would just be saying the opposite. He obviously doesn't know that "end of story" means STFU. Lol🙄
  • @rodneyej "Who cares what Bleached says" What makes you think anyone cares what YOU think?
  • I have bought a few Moto Force phones. Throw a glass screen protector on and you don't have to worry about dropping your phone and it it still has the glass feel. I wish they still made them. The abuse they would take was impressive. The advantages of glass aren't worth it in my experience.
  • "especially since cases and screen protectors are likely impossible" Huh? What's preventing someone from designing and applying a clear, high-grade, adhesive screen protector to each screen? You don't prefer plastic...
  • The Duo fold looks and probably has to be very precise to work well and be that thin. I bet there isn't room for a pair of screen protectors, especially glass ones. The inner edges will hit each other first and prevent you from closing the device.
  • Have you even heard how non durable the folds screen is? You seriously need to do research before commenting. Just saying.
  • It isn't going to shatter if you drop it. Not being able to put a solid glass screen protector on the fold would be a bummer though.
  • My OnePlus phones have been pretty durable in my experience.
  • I drop my s10 all the time, no case on it ever. Other than a few small scratches it's great. I'm buying the surface duo and neo at launch and neither will get a case put on it to ruin the styling and asthetics.
  • I have seen a Moto Z Force take abuse that would make any other phone completely useless. It walks away with some scratches.
  • "The time for dual screens has passed" Bollocks. "they are merely a stopgap for folding screens." In the long run, probably. In the shorter term, it's quite possible that dual-screen devices will end up filling a mid-range price bracket while folding screens are the high end.
  • That shorter term is just about over. Dual screen device have been possible for several years now. There is a reason we haven't seen them, they don't make much sense in the real world.
  • No. Possible does not necessarily mean practical, as they would likely have been prohibitively expensive, even apart from the fact that a non-optimised OS would have made for a poor experience. Clearly many people disagree with you, as has pretty much never not been the case, that I've seen.
  • There are a few examples from the past, they weren't very expensive either. Android works fine with dual screens, there just really isn't a point. Phone multitasking doesn't seem to be very popular.
  • Those older tryouts were generally just badly implemented. To clumsy body, no software support (especially productivity) or no pen support etc. One could also argue that they were too soon, since just recently phones are starting to become more like tablets (and not only phablets) with the dual screen and folding device hype.
  • "One could also argue that they were too soon" Precisely. Rather than the time for dual screens having passed, one could make a good argument that the time for dual screens has only just arrived. The problem is that, with folding screen technology moving at a pace, the time for dual screens on high-end devices may be fairly short-lived.
  • Slightly polishing the hardware won't be enough. Even the Kyocera was effective in giving the user two screens in 2012. The Axon M was fairly polished, but it still didn't bring a compelling experience. You notice they didn't make another.
  • We didn't have touch screens everywhere in the beginning ether.. why? because the software and UI didn't provide a compelling reason for them until 2007. Dual Screens on a mobile device is new, and they're is not yet software to give the compelling reason, neither is it for foldable screens, and yet Dual screen devices continue to be updated and released with newer and better software with more meaningful experiences
  • They make it ton of sense in the real world because tons of office workers including myself use multiple screens. You kind of have to remove yourself from the consumer only mindset, and look at the business aspect. People like to beat on MS for not paying all attention to consumer market... but it's the business market that made them a 1 trillion dollar business. Dual screens will have a segment, just like the note created a segment for the big screen smart phone. Do we need a 6 inch phone? no, but did people and the market find a use for it? yes
  • I doubt there is much opportunity when it comes to apps. Dual screens are popular on desktop, but you don't see any apps designed with dual screens in mind. You just have a different app on each screen. Smartphones are a bit different, but all you are doing is making a line down the middle of your experience not seem as annoying.
  • well.. long before touch ID and 7plus introduced biometric sensor and dual camera, HTC already did both, and manufacturers only started to follow up after apple popularized it.
    in this occasion, i think microsoft have the chance to popularize the form factor where ZTE and LG failed. so this attempt make sense, at least for me
  • uhh... reviews good for the Galaxy Fold? "mixed reviews" is the better term. And $2000 is hard to stomach. and the only reason why Samsung is using a folding screen is because they created a flexible screen in 2013 and had no takers. They even brought out a Microsoft representative showing a Windows Phone model using the flexible screen at CES.
  • I have seen some reviews that were quite good. When folding screens mature, they will be everywhere.
  • Welcome back. Was worried about you. People were seriously asking where you have been
  • Microsoft leaking this “in the wild” photo leads me to believe we might see something very soon. I hope so. It has been a long time coming.
  • Who says Microsoft leaked it? It looks like someone using it on a train or bus and another passenger who realised what it was took the photo.
  • John, you are correct. We simply don't know the maturity of the hardware or the OS and foundation apps. Plus we don't know the user. Is the user a MSFT employee or a developer? Is he trying to see how it works in the subway? Who knows. What we do know is the CEO was playing with the device in front of the media. We also know MSFT revealed this device to MSFT employees months ago. We also know that MSFT is working with Google and developers to allow them time to develop the UI and apps. The consumer will be the last to know.
  • I use an HP x2 slate and it has front and rear cameras like the Surface Pro. It has an LED light on the front that lights up whenever any of the cameras are on. This may be much ado about nothing.
  • I think the camera will be fine. The continuing question is what type of alert features will they incorporate into the device when it's closed? I'm holding off on buying a new phone for this one but if it doesn't have any features to alert you when the device is closed, that will be disappointing.
  • At the very least you have the choice of smartwatches and/or headphones. It will be compatible with them all.
  • I wear hearing aids and they don't really sync well with my phone. I can pick up calls etc. just fine. But if I am not holding my phone, I dont really know if someone texted. I know someone is calling. My old windows phones had better alerts than my one plus. Maybe I don't really know how to activate these notifications. Maybe all these user prompts (different colored led lights, icons on the screen, noises etc.) are part of the UI development.
  • I hope Microsoft understands that most people will want this to be their everyday device. In addition, many early adopters and vocal advocates of the product are techies like many of us, who get excited over hardware specs and features. Because nobody wants to carry a second device, it's imperative to have features that people want in their everyday devices, such as a great camera and wireless charging.
  • What?! No complaints about the bezels? I loved all the comments at the reveal about how the Duo better have a great camera and that the bezels were too big. Where exactly do people think the camera sensors go? Spare me any Apple innovations like notches, please. I do want a competent camera, but that can come down to the software as much as the number and size of sensors.
  • The notch is the best way to do it right now. Maximizing screen size without sacrificing the camera and sensors. The only argument against it is aesthetics, which is funny coming from a Windows guy towards Apple.
  • Ah, the Apple defender even defends the notch. Another sign that Apple's era of innovation has ended, the notch is actually an admission that they have no ideas. What did others try? Samsung came up with the teardrop which is significantly less obtrusive and actually looks like they gave some thought to the problem. One Plus has the pop up camera. I've used the 7 Pro since release and the pop up camera is reliable and every one who sees it loves it. As for Windows and aesthetics, the Pro X and Neo are both beautiful devices. Pro 3 and beyond were amazing in their day but are due for a refresh. And I notice Apple doesn't talk about toaster fridges anymore since they came up with that crappy keyboard cover/stand in order to have the iPad Pro be a tablet and a PC.
  • I use the 6T and will probably upgrade to the 8 Pro when it is released or maybe the 7T Pro if I find a good deal. The notch is fine. Apple and Google's are a bit bigger than I prefer though. Can't wait to get the Pro, but worried about losing face unlock. It is so good on the 6T.
  • Samsung did not come up with the teardrop. That was essential
  • No it isn't, Oppo has the best front facing camera system (maybe Huawei does it as well, I'm not sure) in a retractable camera. THAT is hands down the best way to get the most screen with little to no compromise.
  • Yeah, moving parts are a compromise and you lose quick access to face unlock. I am waiting for the OP8 to make a decision, but am considering the 7T Pro. I will definitely miss face unlock, it is amazing on the 6T.
  • Looks to me like it has a cracked screen.
  • That is not a cracked screen. It is a wallpaper of a rocketship launching into space.
  • I thought it was a cracked screen too, thanks for the clarification
  • Having a single sensor or set of sensors makes sense and this is actually what I expected to see. The only reason there are front facing cameras on slabs is so one can see the screen while pointing a camera towards themselves. If they could use the back camera, they would. With the Duo's 360 degree hinge, the dynamics change. If the Duo uses one set of sensors instead of front and back sensors, that means all of the accoutrements that come with the back set of sensors (a flash) will need to be present on the single set of sensors. However, I would advise against assuming this is final design. It might be. But the Duo is a really interesting device in regards to what we know when. With devices like the next iPhone, the public reveal is a couple weeks before the release. With the Duo, it was, unless timing changes, about a year before release. So there's probably not as much secrecy around it. Why keep the device hidden? People already know about it. This means various iterations of the device as it's being developed can be used in public. For all we know, this particular device is two revisions ago.
  • My gosh I really want one of these.
  • Camera: if your intended use is a business productivity communicator, and not a smartphone, "good enough" is good enough. I don't think this device exists for the Instagram selfie generation. If I can video conference with co-workers or family/friends, while still taking handwritten notes on Screen 2 - a REAL boon. Dual Screens: same concept as the camera - this is a productivity focused device, so you don't need the ability to binge watch The Office or Seinfeld across an 8" screen. Wishes: smaller bezels and full day battery life...
  • You (and Microsoft in the past) forget that office workers become "instagram selfie generation" after work. Nobody wants to carry two devices. This is why Samsung is top and Microsoft failed. Samsung includes every single possible new feature into their phones. That way they cater to everyone, even if half the features are never used or appreciated. Microsoft said good enough for people forced to use them by their corporation and completely failed those who had a choice. For media watching, I would still pick the Duo over the current crop of foldables. The galaxy fold opens to a 4:3 screen ratio. Watching wide screen media on the Fold will be negligibly bigger than on one screen of the Duo and have huge letterbox top and bottom. A minor gripe the crease in the middle. While the Duo can hold itself up while you watch on one screen with negligible letterbox. Imagine the games you could play with a friend in tent mode on the Duo.
  • Camera: Well "good enough" is rather subjective. Though if the camera meets certain criteria and able to perform well, not necessary excellent but not bad.
    Thing is this camera needs to be at least good low-light capability, so you can use Surface Duo to take a photo of site even in unfavourable low-light conditions, also less likely to have blurred image. Though flash can help, but may not be ideal on all cases. Sharpness, well nobody wants a photo that looks blurred or not sharp, especially when taking a photo that contain text or requiring details of an object. Color, well this can be subjective, but as long as it produce accurate enough colours, that is good enough to at least able tk capture more accurate looking image than more consumer-oriented vivid colours. Processing time, this needs to be fast since nobody has patience to wait. I think with these criteria, it just needs to perform well, not necessarily to be excellent. Failing one of these can compromise even the potential usability of the camera for productive use. Unless you only care about video call and taking photo of that whiteboard or document. I want to add, if they can put ultrawide lens. That would be useful for field works who can take a wide photo of the site, especially if you don't even have space to move back. Dual-Screen: well since flexible display is still in its early stages. It's good to have two solid screen for many reasons including durability, cost, pen-input, and ability for device to fully fold back.
    For media consumption, this is indeed a downside, I think only for games. Watching video on 3:2 screen does not make video more immersive because of letterboxing. At least you can simply have playback control and basic video info on other screen while the other screen can have full screen video.
  • How much sooner than expected?
    Any chance they bundle it up with the earbuds?
    I really like this device and I am totally cool with how the camera is positioned.
    Doesn't have to be a super high end camera either.
    If it is good enough to snap receipts and whiteboards and produces photos sharp enough to use in Sway, PowerPoint or email, this is the perfect device for me.