Surface Neo vs. Surface Duo: Microsoft’s dual-screen devices, compared

Microsoft has two new dual-screen devices. Which has the best chance of success?

Microsoft pioneered the 2-in-1 PC with the introduction of the Surface. But heading into the future, the company is taking its most famous brand in an entirely new direction. For holiday 2020, Microsoft will be releasing not one, but two, foldable devices: The Surface Neo and Surface Duo.

We went hands-on with prototypes of both devices during Microsoft’s October 2 event in New York City and came away impressed. Both devices share the same a similar design, but there’s still quite a lot of differences between the two. Although not much is officially known about the devices, in this side by side comparison, we’ll give you a look at the design, performance, and portability of the two.

Design

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As we’ve mentioned before, the Surface Neo and Surface Duo share one common design element — foldability. Both devices feature what Microsoft calls a “revolutionary” 360-degree hinge, tucked inside a polished metal seam beneath the screen. The devices even share the same magnesium material all around on the outside, as seen from the rest of the Surface lineup. We found that it adds up to make both devices feel solid and sleek, with no notches or buttons to get in the way when holding it.

It’s also important to note that the screen itself isn’t folding, like with the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Instead, on both devices, two screens are connected together by that 360-degree hinge. Allowing for the devices to be completely folded over, similar to a modern 2-in-1 PC.

But the similarities end there. The Surface Neo is a much larger device, featuring two 9-inch screens that expand out to 13.1 inches when combined. Surface Neo, meanwhile, is meant to be a bit more portable, as it sports two 5.6-inch screens, which fold out to a total of 11.2 inches. Microsoft mentioned that Duo is just 0.19 inches thick. In our hands-on time, we noticed that only a volume button and a power button sit on the left side of Neo, adding to the overall sleekness of the device.

Performance

surface neo vs duo

Moving on to performance, there’s quite a bit that separates Surface Neo and Surface Duo. With Surface Duo, the device is powered by Google’s Android operating system and a Snapdragon 855 processor. Surface Neo, meanwhile, is powered by Windows 10X and Intel’s Lakefield processors.

Before proceeding, a significant point worth mentioning is that Microsoft stopped short of calling Surface Duo a true phone. Yes, it can make phone calls, but the company is determined to refer to it as a “perfect balance of productivity and mobility.”

Specifically, the prototype Duo device we were hands-on with is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor. However, the software and Android OS wasn’t working for us to see. Instead, Microsoft demoed how apps like mail could be opened on both screens and dragged across or into split-screen across the hinges.

surface neo vs duo video folded

But, judging from photos of the device showcased during its reveal, it appears as though that Surface Duo is running a custom Android skin. Perhaps a bit similar to the current Microsoft Launcher app on Android, Microsoft looks to have developed its a special launcher for Duo. A dock spans across both screens of the device, showing icons for Edge, OneNote, Outlook, and messages. There is also a Google search bar on the left screen, and an icon for the Google Play Store, OneDrive, and other Microsoft apps on the left screen. Despite what Microsoft says, this shows that Duo can be a phone-like device, with its access to the millions of apps on the Google Play Store.

On the other side of the spectrum is the Surface Neo. This foldable device should perform a bit more like a traditional Windows 10 PC. Microsoft worked with Intel when designing the device, and under the hood of Surface, Neo is Intel’s upcoming Lakefield processor. The true performance is still unknown, but Intel promises that this processor is a hybrid CPU architecture. It combines power-efficient “Tremont” cores with a performance scalable “Sunny Cove” core. This means it should deliver computing performance and next-generation graphics at low power for long battery life in Surface Neo.

Neo is also powered by Windows 10X, a variant of Windows Core OS, a new modular operating system from Microsoft. Microsoft spent quite some time demoing some features of the operating system showing how apps could span across the two screens, or move into a split view mode. However, it is still Windows 10, so in addition to stock apps found in the Microsoft Store, you’ll be able to install traditional apps like Google Chrome, as well. There’s also a “Wonder Bar” as we discuss next.

Portability

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In terms of portability, the Surface Duo will naturally be a bit more portable than the Surface Neo. It’s the smaller of the two devices, and Microsoft’s teaser video for the device shows how it can easily be slid into a bag and be used to answer a phone call.

Surface Neo, meanwhile, is a bit larger and features room for some accessories. There’s a particular Bluetooth keyboard that can magnetically attach to the back or the front of the device. When folded over, it will enable a Wonder Bar on the bottom screen, which can be used as a secondary display, or as a trackpad. There’s also support for the new Surface Slim Pen, which magnetically attaches to the back of the device.

A final note on portability pertains to battery life, connectivity, and cameras. Microsoft has yet to mention battery life claims on either of the two devices. It’s also not clear what ports will be found on Surface Neo and Duo, but judging from photos, there does seem to be at least one USB-C port. Finally, Surface Chief Panos Panay recently hinted that the Surface Neo and Duo will not feature 5G connectivity at launch. He also confirmed that the devices will have a “good camera.”

Two experimental devices battling it out

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Credit: Microsoft

The Surface Neo and Surface Duo are very different takes on the dual-screen device. The Surface Duo has everything needed to replace your smartphone, while the Surface Neo is meant to take on both your traditional laptop and tablet. The two devices also seem to be used in conjunction with each other, the same way current Android phones can play nice with Windows 10 PCs through the Your Phone app.

Microsoft has a clear advantage with the Neo, though. The company’s experience with smartphones hasn’t worked out in the past, which will give many people pause before throwing out their iPhone. The Neo, however, fits more neatly into Microsoft’s vision for 2-in-1 computing, and could be a nice secondary PC for travel. For now, we’d put our money on the success of the Neo before the Duo.

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