Microsoft surprised onlookers with a pair of new dual-screen hardware devices it's planning to release next holiday: The Surface Neo laptop and the Duo smartphone, which runs Google's Android operating system rather than Microsoft Windows.
The announcements came at the end of Microsoft's annual hardware event, where it also introduced refreshed versions of its Surface tablets and laptops, and a new Surface that runs a Qualcomm low-powered chip based on a design from ARM — similar to those found in Apple's iPad and most smartphones — rather than the Intel-based processors that traditionally run Windows PCs. It's the third time Microsoft has unveiled an ARM-based tablet, but its past efforts failed at market because they could not efficiently run traditional Windows apps.
"With the Surface we focused on three distinct ambitions," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said. "We wanted to put people at the center of every device experience. We wanted to innovate across form and function, especially with a focus on how we can drive the next level of creation and productivity. That led to the first Surface Pro 2-in-1. Today we will share the next chapter of this journey," Nadella said. "We believe the next decade will be about creation and amplifying what we can do as humans."
Microsoft's event follows a flurry of hardware announcements from rivals like Apple, Amazon and Samsung. The launches allow the companies to get their products out in front of consumers before the upcoming holiday shopping season.
Here's a rundown of everything that was announced:
The biggest surprise was a small smartphone that can run two apps on two different screens. It's called the Microsoft Surface Duo and runs Android, and will be available in the 2020 holiday season.
It's the first return for Microsoft to the mobile space since it abandoned Windows Phone years ago. "Make no mistake, this product is a Surface," said Microsoft product chief Panos Panay, "because of how productive you can be on it. We know, scientifically, that you will be more productive on two screens."
It has a 360-degree hinge, two 5.6-inch displays and can completely fold up when you're not using it.
"We're partnering with Google to bring the absolute best of Android into one product," Panay said, noting it will support all Android apps. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which also folds, a hinge runs down the middle, which should prevent damage, since there's not a single screen across the entire inside.
Microsoft also teased the Surface Neo, a product that it will launch next holiday season. Panay admitted he was nervous to show it off to the press.
"Over the years, these technologies and this company has together as one to create unique and amazing products," Panay said. But as we think about the future of Microsoft, in a world that's more mobile, more cloud based, where the line blurs more between home, life and work, we wanted to make a product that felt smaller. Today, we wanted to introduce you to a product that I believe is the next category," he said.
The Surface Neo has two displays that fold together but also work independently of one another, so you can run an app in one screen and another app on the second display. Or, you can use one app across the entire screen. When you need to type, there's a hardware keyboard that pops out, complete with a trackpad, so you don't have to try to tap-type on a touchscreen display. When it's not in use, the keyboard sticks to the back of the tablet with magnets.
The whole device is 5.6mm thin and uses the thinnest LCD ever created, but is surrounded by Gorilla Glass to help keep it strong. Unlike the Galaxy Fold, the hinge in the middle splits the two displays, so there's a break in the screen, which some may find distracting.
The Surface Neo will run a new version of Windows designed for these types of devices, called Windows 10X, which can support two apps running on different screens, smartly bring up the keyboard when needed and support for writing on the screen with the Surface Pen.
The Neo runs on an Intel Lakefield processor, which helps allow Microsoft to keep the Neo thin. Microsoft expects devices like Neo to be the "next category," of devices Panay said. But Panay admitted he needs to get the devices into "developers hands as soon as possible" so that they can start to build apps and experiences that work on the unique form factor.
It looks a lot like a small book, but it's a full computer. It's probably the most compelling device Microsoft revealed on Wednesday, even if it was just a teaser for a product coming next year.
Microsoft also unveiled a new Qualcomm-powered Surface for its Windows on ARM platform, the Surface Pro X, which has a 13-inch screen and works like the Surface Pro, as a two-in-one, with a detachable keyboard.
The Surface Pro X is only 5.33mm thick at its thinnest point and is very light at 1.68 pounds. Despite this, there are still features pro-users look for, like a removable hard drive. A custom chip with AI adds fun features, like simulating eye contact during video calls, which is either a bit creepy or useful if you talk to people who don't always look at the camera. Microsoft also added a new Slim Surface Pen that charges in a small dock above the keyboard, too. This is big, since Microsoft hasn't updated the design of its pen in several years.
The Qualcomm chip provides 7W of power, far more than earlier ARM chipsets that only offered 2W of power. That has been a big issue traditionally for ARM computers, which feel slower than devices with Intel or AMD chips. Microsoft also promises better battery life. One issue Microsoft will need to address: support for older more traditional apps which weren't designed to work with ARM processors.
Surface Pro X preorders begin today for $999 and it ships Nov. 5.
Microsoft followed up the Surface Headphones from last year with new Surface Earbuds, which will compete with AirPods. They offer 24 hours of battery life and "work on any platform," according to Microsoft. Gesture controls let you play, pause, skip or change the volume.
They also work with Microsoft Office and support over 60 languages, so they can translate as you speak and input voice-to-text into documents and PowerPoint presentations, or when you talk to other people in real-time. They'll ship later this year for $249.
Alongside all the brand new products, Microsoft also unveiled updates to its traditional Surface products, which have developed a strong following as the standard reference products running the latest versions of Windows.
Panay kicked off the event by introducing the Surface Laptop 3, which will ship in 13.5-inch and 15-inch sizes.
That means, this year, Microsoft is going directly after the Apple MacBook Air and the larger MacBook Pro. The Surface Laptop 3 is made out of aluminum and has a soft touch area around the keyboard, but Microsoft will also sell a model without any soft touch area around the keyboard that doesn't have a soft-touch finish. Panay said Microsoft increased the size of the touchpad to help improve productivity.
The Surface Laptop 3 uses Intel's latest 10th generation processor, which Panay said is 2x faster than the chips in the Surface Laptop 2 from last year. Panay said it's 3x more powerful than a MacBook Air. AMD will offer graphics inside with a special AMD Ryzen Surface Edition graphics chip. "This is the most powerful mobile processor AMD has ever created," Panay said. "We co-engineered this entire platform alongside AMD, from the silicon to hardware and through Windows."
The laptop is also easy to repair, according to Panay.
Panay says you still get "all day battery life" and that fast charging will be included. The Surface Laptop 3 can charge up to 80% in less than an hour, he said, noting that fast charging will be available in all of the Surface products Microsoft will unveil today.
The 13-inch starts at $999 and the 15-inch starts at $1199. Both are available for pre-order now and they launch Oct.22.
There's also a new version of Microsoft's tablet/laptop hybrid, the Surface Pro 7. It looks an awful lot like last year's model. One big change this year: a new USB-C port, which users have been asking for since it can enable faster data transfers and works with modern devices, like phones, that also use the new standard. Like previous models, users can connect a "Type Cover" to the tablet to use it in a laptop form factor, with a kickstand in the back.
The Surface Pro 7 works with Microsoft's Surface Pen, which lets you edit documents, sketch on the screen and more. IT also now works with Excel for easier edits to spreadsheets. Microsoft improved the microphones on the Surface Pro 7 to work better with the Your Phone app, which means you can accept calls from your phone and talk to people right on your laptop. This is a Windows feature, however, so it's not just limited to the Surface Pro 7.
Preorders open today for $749 but Microsoft does not typically offer a keyboard in that price, or the Surface Pen, so expect to pay more if you want those.