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Microsoft announces dual-screen Surface Neo, coming next holiday

More than 10 years after reports that Microsoft was working on a dual-screen device, the company has made it official. At its fall hardware keynote, the company unveiled the Surface Neo. It runs a new version of Windows called Windows 10X, but it won’t be available until “next holiday.” It’s real and it’s happening — unlike the 2008 Courier concept.

It’s definitely still just a prototype of some sort. Onstage, Panos Panay led the unveiling by saying “How do we show you our products before they’re finished?” (He also said he is “super pumped.”) He called it “a new product that I believe is the next category.”

The Surface Neo would have been the most surprising thing Microsoft announced, except it also announced a phone version, the Surface Duo. Find more information on that phone here.

We’re still awaiting more details from Microsoft, but just from looking at it, you can see that the new Surface clearly has two screens instead of a single one that folds. There is a noticeable gap between them, so presumably, Microsoft won’t be encouraging people to spread a single-window across both. Instead, it’s more likely that you’ll do different tasks on each screen.

Each screen is nine inches diagonally. Each side of the device is 5.6mm thick and weighs 655 grams. It uses Gorilla Glass and what Panay describes as the “thinnest LCD ever created.”

The device isn’t especially large. It looks like a large notebook when folded up. It has an Intel chip, surprisingly. Panay says it is a custom Intel Lakefield processor, what he called a “hybrid” processor, with an “11th Gen” graphics engine to control both screens.

It works with the new, thin Surface Pen, which attaches to the back. The keyboard looks really interesting, too. It’s a separate thing, but it magnetically attaches to the back. You can “fold” it out and set it on top of one of the screens. When you do, the screen shows other input options in the extra space where you can enter emoji or use it as a trackpad. You can also just use the keyboard separately, giving you a full view of both screens.

Microsoft loves making complicated hinges. They’re often the central design element on its computers. The Surface Neo appears to have a sturdy hinge that can rotate 360 degrees, so you could use the device in different configurations. One of those will be a laptop configuration, allowing you to type on one screen while the other is propped up if you don’t want to use the physical keyboard. Panay referred to them as “postures.”

As for Windows 10X, we can see it has a new kind of Start Menu and taskbar, but it looks a lot like regular Windows 10, otherwise. Carmen Zlateff, the lead engineer behind the software, explained onstage that apps launch on the screen where you “invoke” them by default. You can have one app on one screen and a second on the other. Apps automatically reflow when you rotate the device.
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Zlateff says it supports “all apps,” including Office. Rumors have indicated that it is going to use some sort of “container” technology to run Windows apps. Presumably, that refers to traditional Win32 apps, which are still vitally important to the Microsoft ecosystem even though the company has spent many years trying to move developers over to its newer app platform. If that turns out to be true, it could potentially be a problem, as containerized apps are generally less well-integrated into the overall OS than native ones.

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