Surface Neo: Everything you need to know about Microsoft’s first dual-screen PC

Microsoft has a new vision for the future of mobile computers, and the upcoming Surface Neo sits at the forefront of that. It’s unlike anything in the rest of the current Surface lineup, featuring two screens, an innovative keyboard, and a new flavor of Windows known as Windows 10X.

Here’s everything we know about it so far.

Price and release date

After many months of rumors, the Surface Neo was revealed by Microsoft during an October 2019 event. There, the company shared that the device would come out around a year later — just in time for Holiday 2020.

Since then, though, a report from the well-trusted Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet put that release date in question. She indicated the Surface Neo might be delayed until 2021. She reported that chief product officer Panos Panay informed his team internally that device and Windows 10X would not ship this calendar year. This isn’t surprising, considering disruptions in the supply chain due to coronavirus. But, it also means that you might not have Surface Neo and other dual-screen PCs until 2021.

Microsoft’s other dual-screen product, the Surface Duo isn’t impacted by that delay. It still has been suggested for an earlier than expected summer 2020 launch. In both cases, a solid launch date has not been officially confirmed by Microsoft.

Microsoft usually holds a fall hardware press event, and we’d expect to get more hands-on time with the Neo then, but the impact of the coronavirus and Microsoft switching all of its events to the digital format leaves that up in the air.

Microsoft has yet to discuss the official price for the device. Most of its Surface products are well within the $1,000 price range, so we expect the Surface Neo to come in at a similar range. We also can look at Lenovo’s own own dual-screen PC, the ThinkPad X1 Fold, for suggested pricing of the Surface Neo. That foldable PC is scheduled for release later this year and is priced at $2,499.

Design, screens, and portability

Surface Neo

When it comes to the overall design, the Surface Neo takes inspiration from some dual-screen PCs we’ve seen in the past such as the Lenovo Yoga Book C930. However, instead of having an e-ink display, the Surface Neo sports features two 9-inch touch screens that expand out to a total of 13.1 inches when folded up.

We do not currently know the resolution of the screens, but we do know it will be surrounded by some thicker bezels. The Surface Neo definitely won’t be the XPS 13 of foldable PCs.

The hinge on the Surface Neo is also quite unique. It is hidden inside a polished metal seam beneath the screen, allowing you to seamlessly drag your fingers from one screen to the next.

This seam sets the Neo apart from foldable phones such as the Galaxy Fold or PCs like the ThinkPad X1 Fold. The screen itself doesn’t fold, which means it can sidestep a lot of the durability issues those devices face.

The Neo sports the signature magnesium finish from other Surface devices like the Surface Pro. Microsoft has confirmed that the Neo will be 0.44 inches thick and weigh in at 1.4 pounds. When folded up, it’s not as thin or light as an iPad or Surface Pro X.

Elsewhere, judging from concepts we have seen images of, the Surface Neo will very few ports. There’s just a single USB-C port on the right side of the device, followed by volume rockers on the left side. Connectivity options include a Windows Hello IR webcam on the top screen for facial login and selfies.

An intuitive keyboard

We’ll also mention the special detachable Bluetooth keyboard on the Surface Neo. When you attach it to the top part of the bottom screen, you’ll be given an on-screen trackpad so you can use the Surface Neo like a traditional laptop. Of course, the virtual touchpad won’t physically be clickable or provide feedback, however, as the click will just be on a touch screen.

Moving the Bluetooth keyboard down to the bottom will also give the bottom screen some more use case. You’ll be given a feature known as the “Wonder Bar.” Its overall space is significantly taller and wider larger than the Touch Bar on the latest MacBook Pro laptops, but the functionality is the same in concept. You’ll be able to use the space to select emojis, GIFs, and much more. Unlike the Macbook, there even is an option for you to pop-out certain apps to the Wonder Bar, such as videos, or use it to display ambient information.

Microsoft showed all of this off when it revealed the Neo. It also how you’ll be able to attach the new Surface Slim Pen or the keyboard to the back of the device for storage when on the go.

Apps and Windows 10X

Microsoft has spent a lot of time talking about how the Surface Neo can help boost your productivity. This is largely in part thanks to the operating system powering the device, known as Windows 10X. In a similar fashion to how Apple’s iPadOS is specially designed for tablets, this new flavor of Windows 10 is made just for dual-screen PCs.

That all means that you’ll get some special experiences when buying the Surface Neo. For instance, you’ll be able to drag your apps from one screen to the next, tile apps on each screen, or span them across the hinge for a full-screen view. In a real-world scenario, this means you can span an email app across both screens to see your messages in a full-view. You also can put those emails side-by-side with a web-browsing session, and more easily share links.

Apps have been a problem for Microsoft with past mobile devices. That’s why Microsoft has ensured us that it is working with developers to ensure that all apps will properly on the Surface Neo. Developers currently have access to SDKs which will help them adjust apps to the dual-screen format of the Neo. This means that you’ll be able to enjoy the same apps from Windows 10, right on the Neo with Windows 10X. That includes Universal Windows Apps, Progressive Web Apps, Microsoft Store apps, as well as classic Win 32 apps, too.

Another important point to note is that Windows 10X and Surface Neo, Microsoft is looking to unite its hardware with its software. This means for some special experiences on the Surface Neo, that you can’t find in regular Windows 10 laptops.

As an example, we know the Start Menu is now cleaner and is more like a “launcher.” It has a search bar on the top and a list of most frequent apps and recommendations on the bottom. The Action Center is much more compact and has been redesigned so you’ll be able to get to your important quick settings for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at a quick glance. Microsoft has put a lot of thought into Windows 10X and even released an emulator for it so developers can code apps for the operating system.

Performance and battery life

As of right now, not much is known about the Surface Neo when it comes to overall performance, battery life, or configurations.

We do know what processor the Neo will use, though. It’ll be powered by Intel’s Lakefield processors, which are specifically designed for mobile devices such as these. These processors use a mobile/PC “hybrid x86” design, which features a primary 10nm core for heavier PC tasks and four “Tremont” cores to maximizes efficiency and battery life. All of this is then attached together using Intel’s Foveros 3D chip stacking technology.

This unique chip is designed especially for dual-screen devices, and Intel had its own concept to show off at CES 2020 that is powered by it, known as project “Horseshoe bend.”

Hopefully, this means both performance and battery life will be sufficient. Microsoft has confirmed that apps on the Neo will run in containers, meaning they’ll run virtualized in the background to ensure snappy performance.

What about the Surface Duo?

When the Surface Neo is released, it will pair up with Surface Duo, which means it isn’t Microsoft’s only dual-screen device. Both devices share a similar design, but when compared to each other, the Neo is really on its own league.

You’ll need to keep in mind that with its larger 13.3-inch size, and 9-inch screen when folded closed, the Surface Neo is meant to be more of a traditional Windows PC. The Duo, meanwhile, is meant to be a phone or companion device, with a smaller 11.2-inch screen when folded open. It is powered by Google’s Android operating system and will have larger access to apps through the Google Play Store. Neo will remain as a device to replace your PC.

Either way, when it eventually is able to come to market the Surface Neo won’t be alone as a dual-screen PC. We know that many of Microsoft’s partners are planning similar devices, including Dell and Lenovo.

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