Microsoft Surface Neo: A cheat sheet

Microsoft's dual-display Windows tablet represents a significant reimagining of Windows tablets, and how task switching and productivity works on Windows. Here's why it matters for business.

Microsoft Surface Neo: 10 years after Courier, do dual-screen tablets make sense? Xbox team co-founder J Allard proposed a foldable tablet in 2009, which was cancelled in 2011. Despite attempts from Acer and ASUS, the dual-screen devices have not taken off. Will Microsoft succeed?

Microsoft is placing a big bet on foldable devices with the announcement of the Windows-powered Surface Neo tablet and the Android-powered Surface Duo phone at an event in New York on October 2, 2019. The Surface Neo and the Surface Duo are expected to be released in "Holiday 2020," making Microsoft's announcement one of the longest lead times for a product launch in the history of the company. 

The Surface Neo encompasses a variety of initiatives within Microsoft, including a Windows alternative to the MacBook Touch Bar, and the Windows 10 X variant built to accommodate the different modality provided by a folding-screen device.

TechRepublic's cheat sheet for the Surface Neo foldable tablet will be updated periodically as new information becomes available.

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What is the Microsoft Surface Neo?

The Surface Neo is Microsoft's first public attempt at a dual-screen tablet, a modality that has been the subject of research and development both inside and outside Microsoft for a decade. In 2009, a team led by Xbox team co-founder J Allard created the Microsoft Courier tablet, which opened like a book. The Courier tablet project was cancelled in 2011, though it was replaced by the (non-folding) first-generation Surface tablet in 2012, marking Microsoft's first foray into building computers.

Third-party attempts have not fared particularly well, with the dual-touchscreen Acer Iconia in 2011 and the ASUS Taichi in 2012, which bolted a screen to the top of a laptop lid. Latter-day examples include a folding Lenovo ThinkPad X1 prototype showed off in May 2019; the ThinkPad X1 uses a flexible 13" OLED screen.

The Surface Neo will use Intel's Lakefield architecture, a specialized processor designed with dual-screen devices in mind. Intel is touting Lakefield as enabling all-day battery life by requiring less power, something that Qualcomm has leaned on as a feature of Snapdragon-powered Ultrabooks sold by Samsung, HP, ASUS, and others.

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What makes the Microsoft Surface Neo unique?

The Surface Neo is the first Surface device to include two screens. The Surface Neo weighs 1.44 pounds, and it is built with "the thinnest LCD ever created," according to Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay. 

"Our goal is to fuel a new era of mobile productivity and creativity across two screens," Carmen Zlateff, leader of Surface Neo software experience, said at Microsoft's October 2019 event.

SEE: Mobile device security: Tips for IT pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

That said, Microsoft is also taking aim at marquee features of competing products. The Touch Bar on MacBook Pro systems has been iterated by PC OEMs including ASUS, which rolled out a ZenBook system in 2018 that packed in a second 5.5" 1080p display in place of the standard touchpad. When the Surface Neo Keyboard is placed on top of the lower screen (that is, the one resting on a flat surface), it invokes a smart toolbar display, which was demonstrated as an emoji selector during Microsoft's October 2019 presentation.

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What makes Windows 10 X different from the normal Windows 10?

Windows 10 X is a new "expression" of Windows 10 for dual-screen and foldable devices, though it retains support for all Windows applications, including Office, according to Zlateff.

Specialized handling for contiguous and folding screens not present in standard Windows 10 are the highlight of Windows 10 X. Application "spanning" allows apps to be stretched across two screens.

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When will the Microsoft Surface Neo be released?

Microsoft announced at its October 2019 event the company's intent to release the Surface Neo in "Holiday 2020" in order to entice developers into building integrations for it into their apps. 

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The potential exists that the Surface Neo could be vaporware, depending on developer interest and public reaction to the announcement.

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Image: CNET