Microsoft wants to launch Surface Duo sooner than holiday 2020

Surface Duo
Surface Duo (Image credit: Windows Central)

Holiday 2020 is when Microsoft said to expect the Surface Neo and Surface Duo, two new form-factor devices that Surface fans have been waiting for with bated breath. But what if I told you that one of those products was ahead of schedule, and may be available to buy much sooner than anticipated? This is what I've been hearing from multiple contacts over the last couple of months.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Microsoft is hoping to launch Surface Duo much earlier than originally announced. This is because both the hardware and software are pretty much done. Android 10 has been complete since August 2019, so Microsoft is currently focused on finalizing the top-level OS customizations and in-box app experiences specific to Surface Duo.

I'm told that Microsoft is hoping to have all the software done by early April, and that Surface Duo could start shipping in limited quantities in the summer if everything goes according to plan. I expect that this initial launch will be aimed primarily at developers and enthusiasts, with its availability announced in the spring alongside the Surface Go 2 and Surface Book 3.

Surface Duo specs

Surface Duo

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

I understand that Surface Duo will ship with a Snapdragon 855 inside, along with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage for the entry-level model. There will be variants with more RAM and storage, but the Snapdragon 855 will be universal across all Surface Duo tiers. This means that Surface Duo will be shipping with last year's flagship processor, but will miss out on 5G support.

Missing out on 5G support is a bigger deal than you might think. Although 5G doesn't seem to be all that important right now, 2020 is very much going to be the kick-off year for 5G as a whole. Most new flagship phones launching this year will include 5G capabilities in some capacity, and by the end of next year, 5G will be a much more widespread thing.

This is why Surface Duo needs to launch soon. If Surface Duo is releasing with a Snapdragon 855 and no 5G support, then this is a product that needs to launch before it's considered "too outdated" by the rest of the market. It's an unfortunate position for Surface Duo to be in, but not all that surprising if you're familiar with Surface Duo's development history.

A long development cycle

Surface Duo

Source: Marques Brownlee (Image credit: Source: Marques Brownlee)

Surface Duo has had a long, hard journey internally. Microsoft started working on it back in 2016 under the codename Andromeda, and the plan was for Surface Duo to be one of the first products to ship with Windows Core OS. Under those plans, the product was supposed to launch in 2018, but that changed when Microsoft dumped Windows for Android instead.

Because of this, the hardware has essentially been ready to go for two years, with only iterative changes being made to the device since. This might explain why Surface Duo doesn't have slim bezels or multiple camera sensors. These were only just starting to be a thing on smartphones launching in 2018. In 2020, thin bezels, 5G, and multiple cameras are pretty much the norm.

As always, plans can change, but this is definitely something that Microsoft is hoping to do this summer. The company recently announced that Surface might suffer from supply constraints in 2020 as factories in China are shut down due to COVID-19. If conditions don't improve, Microsoft may have no choice but to postpone or cancel these early launch plans for Surface Duo.

We'll continue to keep you updated on all things Surface, but in the meantime, what are you most looking forward to from Microsoft this year? 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.

  • Bring it on!
  • No 5G support at launch? Not quite DOA, but now I'm reconsidering until a 5G version is available.
    The dual screen LG phone is already available and has been on sale for a little while at a mere $750 at Sprint. While the Duo may command a premier price tag, it has to have 5G and beat out the competition is get us on board at launch. Having a premium priced phone that will be out phased in a year is not a good look.
  • If there's one thing about the Duo I WOULDN'T be worried about, it's 5G... You'll likely have no need for 5G speeds the next 5 years, and 5G won't be widespread outside city centers for at least two more years...
  • Agreed, I'm borderline happy it doesn't support 5G. I like the camera capabilities of the 865 snapdragon, but otherwise I'm pretty sure 5G is just a battery-suck with little to no benefits for the foreseeable future.
  • you're confusing camera with 865. 865 is by Qualcomm. the camera tech is up to the manufacturer. so most are using Sony cameras and others are using their own.
  • No, I'm not confusing anything. The Qualcomm 865 has an upgraded image signal processor that supports 2 gigapixel/second image processing, which is 40% faster than the 855. Yes each manufacturer does their own spin on camera tech/software, but all of them that use Qualcomm chips are building off of the core features and limitations of the ISP in the chip. That's why all of the sudden most of the new phones this year can shoot 8K and dozens of megapixels. The Galaxy S20 series (with 865's) can shoot 8K but the Z Flip (with an 855) can only shoot 4K.
  • Exactly. 5G was launched in Wuhan China and look what happened.
  • I am with Tmobile they were smart to do their 5g with Sub 6 first vs Millimeter Wave. So, I am ready now! Not, having an SD 865 and 5g is a mistake for a device that still has a future launch date!
  • I doubt 5G will every get up to the Scottish Highlands and Islands!
  • 5G support won't be good for awhile. Right now, it's a repeat of the old 3G/2.5G situation where the sub6 is the 2.5G generation while mmwave is 5G speed but not robust enough to be nationwide. There's another upcoming 5G technology that has 5G speeds but has better reach than mmwave, making mmwave an interim technology.
  • 5G doesn't work inside buildings. The Verizon 5G is wicked fast but it has very short range.
  • Oh Andromeda. Goodnight sweet prince. What could have been. At least the hardware is seeing the light of day, even if the beautiful OS won't (at least on the Duo). Edit: It's so wonderful to be able to comment from the UWP app again.
  • The UWP app works now? My gosh!
  • So happy for this! Finally got logged in in the UWP app for the first time in a year, yesterday. 😁
  • Give it a good price and I'm game. 5g is completely useless for the next decade anyway
  • Hi Zac, thank you for a nice article. What's your opinion on using last year's 855 cpu Snapdragon? Most tech reviewers are obsessed with the latest and greatest CPUs for their gadget and will most likely destroy the Duo on arrival. Also do you think the overall usability and dual screen flow are ready for release?? Thank you.
  • I think the Snapdragon 855 is a very capable processor. The Galaxy Z Flip just launched with an 855, and reviewers haven't slammed it. I think the overall usability will be ready for release.
  • Of course the 855 is more than capable. I'm still using a Snapdragon 835 in my phones, and I don't even notice. I think the average consumer does not even know what processor is in their phone, whether it's even a Snapdragon or Helios or Exynos, let alone the specific model number. Just like Intel desktop processors released within a range of years, the performance difference is hardly noticeable in regular usage. The 855 is fine for the 'normal' consumer. But for tech 'reviewers' looking for 12GB memory, triple camera sensors, 512GB storage, latest snapdragon etc. this is not their device
  • I've yet to see who this device really is for. Too big to be single hand use, too clunky to be on the go convenient, and dual screen doesn't solve any real problems for a big cohort of customers. It has a couple neat tricks but I fail to see how it justifies the plethora of usability issues it introduces to achieve them.
  • It's for people like me. Graphic and web designers. I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for this and the Neo. I use dual screens every single day and having this capability in a phone will be life changing .
  • LG has been manufacturing dual screen phones for a year now, starting as an accessory on the v50. Why not get one of those?
  • the aspect ratio on the LG phones are like recent Android phones: way too tall and narrow. the LG phones are also thick. the duo closed is thinner than just one of the LG halves. now imagine stacking the 2 LG halves when closed and that's a monster. LG hasn't done enough customization to take advantage of the two screens. it's basically one app on one screen and another app on the other screen.
  • “it's basically... "
    You mean kinda like ms said the focus of app usage will be for the duo!?
  • Yes, but will the Duo have a quad DAC, or the camera experience LG has. Or IP68 and Military rated shock protection. Two screens are only one thing. To deliver the full android UX they will need to pull a whole lot more off than tweaking the UI and having a hinge.
  • The LG will be compatible with the same apps as the Duo.
  • You do graphic design on the Android platform? That can't be fun...
  • Do you think it will be capable enough for them to build and deliver that world class camera they committed to do? I am curious what they really plan with this device, if they are trying to compete for consumer share or are they trying to just put their name on it? There is no market yet for dual screens or foldables, however if they go the dual screen route they better heavily undercut LG or outperform them because LG is the only mainstream Global OEM doing dual screens at the moment as far as I can tell. Unless like mentioned they are not aiming for the consumer drive crowd...
  • I would guess the first version of the “Duo” will have a Snapdragon 7c or 8c processor. It will be a way to position it as a PC for your pocket, not a phone.
  • I believe those processors were built for Win10 but honestly I hope you are right. If you are that would be a surprise on the Duo.
  • The only issue with your statement is that no matter what manufacturers are doing, consumer are keeping their devices longer and not upgrading every year like in the past due to the iterative changes not being significant, high device costs, functionality of the OS & is the same, and that thing called throttling that allegedly went away : / but it's now disguised as coverage issues. Cell carries can manipulate device preformance from the office when they're ready to make you upgrade due to poor preformance of your current device. I'm holding on to my GS8 for now and the Duo will be a triple step up from it and will work for me and many others of it doesn't get snubbed by articles like this that non techie people read and don't get the reality of the situation "an upgrade over whatever device you currently use is all you need even if it's not the newest one"!
  • 5G is not ready in the US. Just marketing hype. More likely 2021.
  • That is weird. I can get 5g at my house. I wouldn't buy a phone right now without it. It is going to be standard for most all flagships this year.
  • Sure, at your house. But it will take a few years for the entire country to be covered by 5G. For most metro areas, much sooner. My 4G LTE reception at my house in Atlanta is not so great. Doubtful 5G reception will be any good. While I appreciate the utility of 5G in improving information services, the reality is it will simply take time for many locations be covered by a 5G network. I hope they release the Surface Duo in May. Sell it by the 1000's for 12 months and then release a new version in May of next year with a better processor and 5G and better cameras. My OnePlus will be closing in on 3 years old and I might buy a new phone. Plus 12 months of people using the Duo will get the market more familiar with the dual screen form factor. I don't like a 12 month upgrade cycle, but early adapters won't feel too jilted. Especially if the new version is a "big" step up in utility.
  • My house is in an urban area. It might not be much now, but I think 5G will be a big deal later this year, especially if the new iPhones have it.
  • The sooner, the better.
    Im fine with 4G until a second generation device in fall 2021.
  • D'oh. Been waiting for this, but shoving it out with an older processor and no 5g support for a phone/device I expect to use for the next ~5+ years is a killer.
  • 5G rollout is nowhere near as ubiquitous as necessary to become 'standard'. For the next 5 years, you will probably still be using 4G LTE quite commonly. Telecomm investments and rollout are extremely capital intensive, and especially in very vast land mass nations (like the US), it will be very slow to become the norm. Just keep going with 4G LTE.
  • Neither will have any impact on your usage of the device for the next 5 years.
  • Yup. That said, anyone banking on a gen 1 device from Microsoft being a 5 year supported device is kidding themselves. There is very low likelihood this will be a success.
  • Per the podcast, it also sounds like it won't have wireless charging.
  • You're going to use a first-gen device for 5+ years? And surely you know 80% of that time wouldn't be on 5G...
  • Your expectations for an Android based device are not in line with reality. Expect between 2-3 years of support, and only if you buy it on day one. Qualcomm does not support their CPU's longer than that, and no vender is willing/able to go the extra mile for support. Microsoft won't be the exception there.
  • You will get Play Services support for several years. Unlike with Windows phones, you won't lose app support even years down the line since Google has background updates through Play Services.
  • I can live without the 5G. Not only is coverage still fairly limited, I honestly can't find a reason for me to have it on a "smartphone." I can already stream video at 1080p. What sort of activity could I do enjoyably on a smartphone that would require more bandwidth? Until I'm given the user case, from a smartphone perspective, I still consider 5G all hype (however, it has obvious benefits in other use cases). As far as the device releasing sooner rather than later, I'm a fan of it. There's of course the obvious benefit of getting the use the device sooner. But there's another benefit. Between this, the Neo, and the Series X, my budget was looking to take quite the hit in Q4. Spreading it out makes it a little less painful.
  • How? That just means you aren't using basic budgeting strategies and surely can't afford both. If you can do it if the launches are separated then that means you'd have the money if they launched together by setting money aside along the way.
  • Not everyone runs their private economy like a business...
  • It's not a budgeting thing. Funds have been set aside already. It's more a perception thing. Despite budgeting, there's still something that happens in the mind. I recently paid cash for a house. I totally could swing it but there was still a little "ouch" in the back of my mind when my accounts dropped 6 figures collectively.
  • The hardware (in development for years) and OS are both mature, so I always thought it would arrive no later than Summer. Neo is the one that's a little more iffy.
  • Even if you don't need 5G, the problem is they are launching the phone with outdated hardware. Starting with a year old chipset for what is expected to be a high priced flagship phone is inexcusable. Microsoft could have had a great phone business, but they keep proving they have no idea of how the phone market works.
  • I can assure you that it's only the 'tech' community that cares about the chipset. Just ask anyone in your immediate environment about the hardware in any of their devices, you'll be surprised at the percentage that even have the faintest idea of the brand, let alone the particular model. The 855 is hardly an issue, I'd even argue that camera performance is a bigger challenge than the chipset.
  • maybe in your world. But all the people I know who are buying premium hardware are keenly aware of the technical specifications. Yes the people i know who are getting cheap phones, don't care that much.
  • Try the rest of the world; believe me, you and your friends are the exception...
  • One way to look at it is maybe the older chipset will allow them to hit a slightly lower price point.
  • Talk to the Hand because Satya ain't listening!
  • Maybe they will give them out at Microsoft Build? (if it doesn't get cancelled for coronavirus fears)
  • I'll be buying one, as soon as they come out!
  • Guess what! MS will launch only at 2020's holidays, with SD 855 - $1499
  • I think you're absolutely right. People are gonna flip a **** when the price is announced and the specs are revealed. There is no way to slice it: the device is either going to be ABSURDLY priced or just very expensive with middling specs
  • I'll be skipping gen 1 if it ships with last years processor. I shouldn't be giving the 855 a pass when I'm spending $1400+ on a phone.
  • If you think they will hit that price point with ONLY an uncompetitive chipset, you are in for a big surprise. The camera(s) and screen are also going to be a disappointment
  • Please name a phone in 2020 the nest galaxy note that had the newest processor? If it is released this year and 90+% of current devices also use the 855 chip, how's it inferior?
  • Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra
    Sony Xperia 1 II
    Black Shark 3
    Lenovo Legion Gaming Phone
    LG G9
    LG V60
    OnePlus 8 and 8T
    Moto Z5 (will probably have a different name)
    Asus Zenfone 7
    Samsung Galaxy Fold 2
    Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Plus
    Google Pi