CES 2020 preview: Are dual-screen PCs about to have their big moment?

There’s never a shortage of laptops and PCs at CES. But at CES 2020, there’s the potential for a new type of device to take the spotlight: Dual-screen laptops.

The coming-out party for this new category happened earlier this year at Microsoft’s annual Surface event. The highly rumored Surface Neo was shown to the world, complete with two 9-inch screens, a 360-hinge, and a detachable keyboard.

But the Surface Neo wasn’t just a new device. It was meant to be the flagship of a new platform, like the Surface Pro was to the 2-in-1. CES 2020 could be the event where the rest of the industry reacts.

OK, who’s in?

The Surface Neo is set to launch during the 2020 holiday season. If Microsoft stays true to that release window, third-party manufacturers will want to get their products out around then too. That leaves CES 2020 as the perfect time to give us a preview of what these companies have in store.

It’s not all just hearsay and speculation. As the Neo made its debut, Dell also officially announced plans for some kind of a dual-screen PC. We’ve been following the patents on Dell’s plans for a dual-screen PC for years now, so Dell is officially in.

Other companies have already shown concepts for a dual-screen laptop in the flesh. Lenovo, for example, unveiled its own dual-screen concept, which featured a foldable display in the vein of the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Like the Surface Neo, it could be used as one long screen or two separate screens. You’re stuck using the on-screen Windows keyboard, though, unless you connect to a Bluetooth keyboard. This was a similar problem for Lenovo’s previous dual-screen laptops, such as the Yoga Book. No one wants to type on a digital keyboard all the time.

That’s perhaps why Asus has taken a different approach. Over the past year, the company has been experimenting with featuring a smaller second screen in various locations on the keyboard deck. The ZenBook Pro Duo added a 4K screen above the keyboard, while the ZenBook Pro 15 replaced its touchpad with a screen in 2018. HP took this same approach with its Omen 2X gaming laptop.

What does that all mean? Well, everyone from Dell to Asus has been investing heavily in dual-screen concepts over the past couple of years, so the fruits of those efforts should start appearing.

The unknowns are many

The Surface Neo was announced to standing applause to a crowd of people who’d been waiting for Microsoft to make this move for many years. It was the next logical step in the evolution of the 2-in-1 laptop. Finally, a device that might actually replace both your laptop and tablet.

CES 2020 could be the coming-out party for dual-screen devices, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be a rousing success. There’s a lot up in the air with both the Neo and the inevitable crowd of competitors — and a lot to prove.

We still don’t know much about the internals of these potential devices. We know the Surface Neo will use the mysterious Intel Lakefield chip, but that’s about it. We don’t know what two screens will do to battery life. We don’t know how well any of these keyboard solutions will work, and we still don’t know a lot about Windows 10X, the new iteration of Windows 10 made explicitly for dual screens.

Most importantly, we don’t know how people will react. Yes, dual-screen devices look futuristic. But will people really ditch their laptops and tablets for a device like this? That’s not clear at the moment.

The concepts and products we see at CES 2020 could very well set the tone — and the reaction to them could be a make-or-break moment.

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