While it might be technically easier to build a phone with two screens compared to having a single large foldable display, designing the user experience to support that form factor is actually harder. Unlike normal desktop operating systems, Android just wasn’t designed to span two screens, forcing LG to resort to tricks to make its Dual Screen case work. Microsoft will be taking a slightly different spin on that idea and if this video tour of the Surface Duo’s custom Android experience is any indication, it could actually work.
No Surface Duo dev kit has ever shipped but Microsoft has fortunately provided an emulator for app developers to test their apps on using Microsoft’s APIs. With a bit of tweaking, Windows Central’s Zac Bowden was able to get that emulator looking like Microsoft’s demos and make it behave like that as well. And the demonstration he gives of the user experience is admittedly impressive.
Despite running in an emulator, the UI feels smooth and fluid, save for a few hiccups here and there. It’s actually surprising how Microsoft was able to make the UI feel like an extension of regular Android, integrating the same gestures users would be familiar with since Android 9.0 Pie. Microsoft could have customized it completely like Samsung with its One UI but it’s reassuring it kept close to vanilla Android as much as it can.
Of course, vanilla Android doesn’t have dual screens and this is where Microsoft’s new UI shines brightest. Unfortunately, that only to its first-party apps, at least for now. From the Activity Feed to splitting Microsoft apps’ interfaces to take advantage of the real estate, it’s clear that Microsoft gave it a lot of thought and work.
Given how Microsoft’s apps give the best experience, the Surface Duo is pretty much the Microsoft Android phone (nope, the Nokia X doesn’t really count). Whether other app developers, especially the big ones, will be willing to do the work to offer the same dual-screen experience, we’ll have to see when the Duo does finally launch.