A Microsoft Surface Neo is displayed. Photo: AP  (AP)
A Microsoft Surface Neo is displayed. Photo: AP (AP)

Microsoft Surface event 2019: Updates, upgrades and a return to smartphones

  • The Neo and Duo are both devices Microsoft will start selling from next year
  • While the Neo and Duo will both come next year, what’s available (in global markets) soon is the Surface Pro X

At its yearly Surface event yesterday, Microsoft took the stage to revamp its entire lineup. But while its 2019 devices update older Surface laptops and tablets, the company also announced a return to the smartphone space -- and one that runs on Android. If you happened to miss Microsoft’s announcements, here’s what the company announced.

Dual-screen laptop and foldable smartphone

The Neo and Duo are both devices Microsoft will start selling from next year, but they were the most interesting from the event. The Surface Neo is a foldable, dual-screen laptop, while the Duo is Microsoft’s new Android smartphone, which looks like a smaller version of the Neo.

The Surface Neo is a take on dual-screen laptops that companies like Asus have been pushing. Microsoft’s device though seems much more compact and is only 5.6-mm thick. It also has a keyboard that attaches to the device magnetically and charges wirelessly. The company’s demo presentation on stage made the device seem quite versatile.

The Surface Neo allows users to split apps between the two screens, use two apps side-by-side, cover part of the touchscreen surface of the bottom screen to add the keyboard, use the Surface Pen with it and so on. It also runs on an Intel Lakefield processor.

On the other hand, the Duo tries to bring some of this versatility through an Android smartphone. It too has two screens and Wired reports that the phone runs on the Snapdragon 855 chipset from Qualcomm. There are two 5.6-inch screens side-by-side.

It’s worth noting that neither of these devices have foldable displays, instead choosing to use two different displays attached by a hinge.

An ARM-powered two-in-one

While the Neo and Duo will both come next year, what’s available (in global markets) soon is the Surface Pro X.

This is the company’s third attempt at making a laptop that runs on a processor based on Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) architecture. Microsoft’s earlier devices didn’t impress, but with Qualcomm putting some focus on personal computing, things are looking up, at least on paper.

Microsoft made it a point to mention that it worked with Qualcomm to provide more power on this machine. There’s a custom artificial intelligence (AI) chip inside the Surface Pro X, which offers features like automatically simulating eye contact during video calls.

While the $999 price tag on the Surface Pro sets it amongst premium devices, we’ll have to wait and find out whether the device actually makes sense. So far, users have found most Qualcomm-powered laptops to be significantly weaker than their PC alternatives. On the bright side, you can expect really long battery life and the device weighs only 700 grams, with 5.3-mm thickness.

A slimmer Surface Pen

2019 is also the year for a new Surface Pen. This one is meant for the Surface Pro X and charges wirelessly. It fits in a slot built inside the Pro X’s Type Cover case (Microsoft’s keyboard case for the Surface tablet) and charges wirelessly whenever it’s put in that slot.

True wireless earbuds from Microsoft

Microsoft isn’t known for making audio devices, but the company is making one anyway. The Microsoft Earbuds seem to take on the Apple Airpods and Google’s Pixel Buds. Microsoft didn’t speak about Cortana integration much, but did explain how the device tries to eliminate the need for screens by using a touch interface.

The company has also integrated Spotify to allow music operations on Android smartphones and the earbuds will ship later this year for $249.

An updated Surface Laptop and tablet

Last but not the least, the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro have been updated.

The Surface Laptop 3 seems to compete against the Macbook Air from Apple and is available in 13.5-inch and 15-inch screen sizes. It has a larger touchpad and Intel’s 10th generation processors this time, while Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) made a special Surface Edition Ryzen GPU (graphics processing unit) for this device. According to Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, the GPU is the fastest mobile processor AMD has ever created.

The Surface laptop and all other devices Microsoft announced yesterday include fast charging and USB Type-C ports.

On the other hand, the Surface Pro 7 seems to get a smaller update. The laptop now has improved microphones for taking phone calls but looks and feels pretty much the same.