Microsoft’s bringing the Surface Duo to market Sept. 10, with preorders starting yesterday. The $1,399 Surface Duo, powered by a modified version of Google’s Android software, puts a different spin on the foldable phone trend, joining Samsung’s recently announced Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Galaxy Z Flip and last year’s Motorola Razr reboot. The Surface Duo’s hinge is the key difference, bringing together two 5.6-inch screens instead of relying on one massive display that can be folded. Microsoft created the Surface Duo over five years, developing the hinge in a way that’s easy to open but hard to accidentally close. The hinge allows the super-thin screens to rotate 360 degrees. Microsoft doesn’t want to call the dual-screen Surface Duo a phone, per se. Instead, it wants us to think of this as a new type of product.
“When we designed it, the intent was, ‘How do you make something so thin, beautiful, light and super elegant that when people pick it up they can feel that emotion in the product,” Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer and head of Surface devices, said in an exclusive interview.
The device brings new ideas to the mobile world, including software Microsoft wrote to make the two screens interact. You can drag a photo from one screen to the other and it works thanks to a mix of computer programming that follows your finger across the screens. There’s also an array of sensors that track where the displays are relative to each other, including if they’re open, closed or somewhere in between.
While CNET Editor at Large Scott Stein — a noted dual-screen skeptic — says the device felt good in his hands, he says $1,399 is a lot of money to ask of people on a normal day, let alone in the middle of an economic downturn fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Microsoft invited us to talk with its engineers about how the Surface Duo was conceived, the technology invented to make it possible and how it’ll work when we get it in the mail (watch out for CNET’s review in the next few weeks).
In I’m already folding in love with the feel of Microsoft’s Surface Duo, Stein shares what it was like to hold a Surface Duo prototype. Microsoft shipped us a near-production prototype device with the screens replaced by clear glass so we can see the inner working and learn how it works. Stein also talks about why he hasn’t like dual-screen devices before, and why the Surface Duo may be the device to change his mind.
Microsoft is charging $1,399 for the 128GB version of the Surface Duo. There will be a 256GB version as well.
Is the Surface Duo a phone?
That question is one of the things that’s surrounded this devices since it was announced last year. Wired’s take back then summed the situation up well: “It folds, but the screen isn’t foldable. It sort of fits in your pocket. It has a camera. And it makes phone calls-but don’t you dare call it a phone.”
Ultimately, if your definition of “phone” is it takes and receives calls, then yes it is one. But so is your PC, tablet and potentially your game console too.
So, maybe “phone” is more a state of mind than a label.
Is the Surface Duo an Android?
This is easier than asking whether the Surface Duo is a phone. This device is an Android, in that it runs Google’s mobile software for tablets and phones, and it is designed to run pretty much all the apps you can use on a standard non-Apple device.
In fact, Microsoft said it chose to build the Surface Duo using Android instead of its Windows software because of the large base of hundreds of thousands of apps that already exist in the Android store. Why reinvent the wheel?
The Surface Duo, on the other hand, will work with 4G networks. Microsoft said the reason comes down to tradeoffs — the company chose to stick with the previous generation wireless tech to allow for better battery life and a thinner device.
If the $1,399 starting price is too steep for you, Microsoft said it’ll offer a 0%, 24-month payment plan through Dell financing. AT&T similarly will allow you to pay in installments through its Next Up program.
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How well do apps run in the phone?
Microsoft made a point of showing us that standard Android apps run on the device just fine, thanks to its two screens being the equivalent of two standard phone displays. For apps built with the second screen in mind, they can be designed to “span” across the two screens, meaning an email app could have your inbox on the left and opened messages on the right. They could also be programmed to open new links or companion apps in the opposite screen you’re looking at.
Microsoft demonstrated Amazon’s Kindle book reading app, which was designed to look like a book with text on the left and right. When you swipe your finger across the screen, an animated page follows along.
At launch, it appears Microsoft’s apps will primarily be the ones built with the Surface Duo in mind. Those include Microsoft Office, Outlook, Teams, OneNote and Authenticator. Oh, and you can’t forget Microsoft Solitaire Collection too.
The company said that it’s working with Google to integrate some of the software it developed for the Surface Duo back into Android so other two-screen devices in the future will benefit from Microsoft’s work. That also means more apps may eventually be programmed for the Surface Duo as a result.
Will the Surface Duo run Windows apps like my PC?
The Surface Duo runs Microsoft apps, including Office, Teams and Outlook, but it doesn’t run the same software as your computer. That’s one of the tradeoffs Microsoft had to make when building this device.
We’ve tested a few folding devices at CNET using a special robot developed by SquareTrade. The Samsung Galaxy Fold began failing after about 120,000 folds during our test last year. That was much less than the 200,000 folds we estimated it would go through during five years of use. (Although we’re just starting to learn how people use folding phones and that could change with the different designs companies are inventing).
Microsoft preemptively said folding test robots don’t simulate real life usage the same way its own labs do. Still, it wouldn’t say how many folds the Surface Duo could last through, except that the company expects the hinge mechanism to last beyond the Surface Duo’s own natural lifecycle.
Does the Surface Duo have a camera?
Many companies releasing premium phones justify their $1,000 or more prices with the beautiful photographs they say you could take. Apple has that Shot on iPhone billboard campaign, and the iPhone Photography Awards contest. Samsung boasts about how its devices can deliver stunning zoom with their cameras. And Google proudly says its advanced programming makes photos on its Pixel phones unlike competitors, offering shockingly well captured low-light shots. They can even photograph stars in the sky.
By comparison, Microsoft’s mostly talked about how the Surface Duo is built for productivity and better interaction between apps. Translation: Its camera will not be a killer feature.
CNET will still test the camera against other premium phones when we do our reviews.
Microsoft says it’s working with Google directly on the Surface Duo, which naturally led to questions about whether that means it’ll get updated more often and more quickly. Microsoft says the device will get software updates, but didn’t commit to timetables about when.
Other details about the Surface Duo
A 360-degree hinge means you can fold one screen flat against the other to hold it like a notepad.
You get a total of 8.3 inches of screen real estate.
There’s no outer screen — you have to open the device to use it.
It supports the Surface Pen, which you need to buy separately for at least $99.
The Surface Duo has thick screen bezels, but that might help keep you from accidentally tapping while you hold it. Microsoft said the bezels are a tradeoff from miniaturizing parts and making the screens so thin. It’s also Microsoft’s way of saying smaller bezels are likely in the future.
You can drag and drop items, like a phone number, from one screen to the other.
Surface Duo specs
Two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays running at a resolution of 1,800×1,350 pixels separately
8.3 inches of total screen real estate when opened fully, running at an effective resolution of 2,700×1,800 pixels
Snapdragon 855, 6GB DRAM
LTE 4×4 MIMO (Not 5G), supports AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless in the US
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has appeared in a leaked hands-on video.
The video shows every inch of the upcoming flagship.
It also confirms the specs and features of the phone.
Just a day back, we saw the first real-world images of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE leaked by JimmyIsPromo. The YouTuber has now gone ahead and published a six-minute hands-on video (embedded above) of the upcoming Samsung flagship, leaving nothing to the imagination.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE leaked hands-on video features a deep blue colorway of the phone running software version One UI 2.5. The YouTuber also takes us through some of its already known hardware and software features. The phone, as seen in the video, features a plastic back panel with a camera array that looks exactly like that of the Galaxy S20. Prior leaks and the latest hands-on video confirm that the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE will house a 12MP + 12MP + 8MP sensor setup.
On the top of the Fan Edition, you get a SIM card tray slot and at the bottom is a USB-C port alongside a speaker grille. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack here, neither did we expect one because Samsung long removed it from its S and Note lines.
In terms of size, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE will sit somewhere between the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Ultra (see image above). Unlike the Infinity displays on the current Galaxy S20 phones that spill over to the sides, the Galaxy S20 FE has a flat screen with visibly thicker bezels. It still gets the 120Hz refresh rate, though, with a FullHD+ resolution.
As far as other specs and features go, we know nearly everything about the Galaxy S20 FE thanks to numerous leaks. The hands-on video further confirms features such as 30X digital zoom, stereo sound with Dolby Atmos support, 4,500mAh battery, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, Snapdragon 865, 6GB RAM, and 128GB storage.
Been having trouble preordering Sony’s PlayStation 5 console? Well, you may soon have better luck. PS5 preorders sold out rapidly, after a number of retailers unexpectedly began offering them on Wednesday. But Sony says it’ll release more of the consoles for preorder.
In a Saturday tweet, Sony said it would release the PS5s “over the next few days” and that retailers would provide specifics. The company also said more of the consoles would be available through the end of 2020.
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The PlayStation 5 is scheduled to ship in the US on Nov. 12, at $400 for the digital-only version or $500 with Blu-ray. CNET’s Dan Ackerman says that if you have good broadband and don’t have a need for optical discs — used games, Blu-ray movies, old PS4 games — you should consider the digital-only PS5.
The Apple Watch Series 6 continues to evolve as Apple’s personal health hub on your wrist. The new watch has an FDA-cleared ECG app, a family mode to keep track of loved ones and cardio fitness alerts. It can also measure blood oxygen levels.
But as the smartwatch landscape becomes saturated with competitors including Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 and the new Fitbit Sense, which promise health features including an ECG, plus a cheaper Apple Watch SE in the mix, the $399 (£379, AU$599) Series 6 faces more competition than ever.
I’ve only spent a day with the Apple Watch Series 6, but already there are a few things that make it stand out.
Blood oxygen levels while you sleep, or on-demand
The biggest upgrade to the Series 6 is a new Blood Oxygen app that measures oxygen saturation in the blood, also known as SpO2. One of the first things I noticed on the watch — aside from the bright red frame — was the new sensors on the back: Eight tiny dots lined up in a circle, where the previous models only had one big one in the center. These are the red and infrared sensors that measure the color of your blood and determine the percentage of oxygen in it.
There are two ways the Apple Watch Series 6 measures oxygen saturation: on demand through the app, or intermittently in the background as you go about your day (or night). During the setup process you’re asked whether or not you want to activate this feature on the Watch, which I did, but you can always go back and disable it in the settings. The first thing I did after strapping it on was tap on the Blood Oxygen app. The watch gives you a few tips on how to get the best result, and requires you to rest your arm on a table or flat surface. Then the 15-second countdown begins and you’re done. It was straightforward and painless. I got a 95% on my first read, which was lower than what I’m used to. Anything above 90% is considered a healthy range, but higher is better in this case.
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I tested it a few more times and noticed I got slightly different results (a few percentage points off) depending on whether or not I was completely silent during the test, where I had the watch positioned on my wrist and how tight the watch was. I tested alongside my own pulse oximeter (the gold standard for this metric) and the Apple Watch was off by about one or two points every time, which is expected. The pulse oximeter shines the light through the tip of the finger and where it’s picked up on the other end, while the Apple Watch does it on the wrist and measures the light that bounces back, so there are many other factors that can affect your results.
I panic-bought a pulse oximeter back in March when the COVID-19 pandemic was just ramping up in the US like a lot of other people. I heard the horror stories of people dying overnight because they went to bed not knowing their blood oxygen levels were dangerously low and didn’t get to a hospital in time. I still keep it in my bedside table and use it as a safety check whenever I’m feeling ill or out of breath. To be clear, you should always check with a doctor if you’re feeling out of breath, even if your levels seem to be normal.
Apple makes it clear that this feature isn’t intended to replace a medical device, and shouldn’t be used to make any kind of diagnosis. Instead it’s meant to provide a more general look at what’s going on in your body over a longer period of time than what you’d get from a single read with a traditional pulse oximeter.
My results didn’t mean much on their own, but I’d be curious to know what they’d look like once I’ve accumulated enough data in the Health app — or at the very least gotten a full night’s rest under my belt — to see if I notice any trends. Significant dips in oxygen levels during sleep could help flag bigger issues such as sleep apnea or asthma.
Apple currently has three different SpO2-related studies underway, including one related to asthma and another for detecting early signs of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.
Samsung also introduced an SpO2 feature in the Galaxy Watch 3, which is measured on-demand only rather than automatically. Fitbit and Garmin also have some form of SpO2 tracking in their wearable devices.
I hope down the line Apple is able to use all this data to improve accuracy and provide some kind of alert system in the Apple Watch for SpO2 similar to what it already does with the high, low and irregular heart rhythm notifications. Maybe then I’d sleep easy knowing someone’s watching out for me and wouldn’t feel the need to break out my little pulse oximeter every time I feel so much as a tickle in my throat.
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New colors, brighter screen
Aside from the sensors on the back, the Apple Watch Series 6 could pass for a Series 5. They have the same body and similar always-on display. It wasn’t until I put them side by side that I noticed a difference. While the screen on the Series 5 dims when not in use, the Series 6 almost looks like it’s still on, which is especially helpful when you’re outdoors. Apple says it’s 2.5 times brighter and it shows.
It’s also the first Apple Watch to add to the traditional silver, space gray and gold finishes. Mine came in a Product Red aluminum frame, but it’s also available in blue. The aluminum version will now come in blue and Product Red, while the stainless steel will get a new gold finish.
I like the red, but I think I’d still stick to a more neutral tone for the frame and spice it up with the watch band instead.
Claspless bands and Memoji watch faces
Apple also announced a new type of silicone band with no clasps or buckles called Solo Loop.
It looks and feels similar to the silicone sports band, but with no overlapping parts. I set up my watch with a black size 4 strap that Apple provided and just slipped in on my wrist like a hair tie. The material feels stretchy and slightly smooth to the touch. I thought it felt a bit tight at first, but I barely felt it on my wrist after a few hours. It is important to get your size right though, because the size down for me would’ve been way too small.
This will require you to measure your wrist before you buy it. And for this you’ll need a measuring tape, which I personally don’t always have on hand. It’s also expensive for a band that I’d worry would stretch a bit over time. It’s $49 on its own, the same price as the silicone sports bands.
I’ll have to report back on the stretching once I’ve used it for a while. I do think it would be a good alternative for kids, which Apple is now targeting with its new Family Setup, because it’s less cumbersome to put on and take off.
The new Family Setup feature allows you to set up a second Apple Watch that doesn’t need its own iPhone. You can program location alerts from the parent’s iPhone, designate which contacts they can communicate with and limit use during certain hours with the School Time mode.
There are also new ways to customize the watch face with a new Animoji and Memoji that you can create directly on the watch, which I did. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it on as my main screen, but I can see this being popular with kids too.
Faster processor, but only slightly better battery
The other key upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 6 is the faster processor: Apple’s S6 chip is based on the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11. Aside from being faster to launch apps, the new processor makes the Watch more efficient at extending battery life during runs. In my 10 hours of use, the Apple Watch had no problem loading apps, displaying messages and showing stats in real time. But the Series 5 already felt fast to me, and so far I haven’t noticed a huge change in my day-to-day use.
I was hoping the faster processor would have a bigger impact on battery life, especially as Apple rolls out sleep tracking on the Apple Watch. You’ll need at least a 30% charge at the end of the day for the new sleep-tracking feature launching with WatchOS 7. Sadly it still has the same 18-hour battery life as the Series 5, although that’s according to Apple: I haven’t worn it long enough to test the battery life for myself yet. What it does improve upon is on charge time. It now charged to 100% in 1.5 hours compared to the 2 hours needed by its predecessors. But you’ll have to provide your own wall charger, because Apple isn’t including them in the box anymore. You just get the cable with the magnetic puck.
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Bye, bye Force Touch on WatchOS 7
The update to WatchOS 7 eliminated Force Touch on the Apple Watch across the board, so instead of applying more pressure on the watch face, you now have to long-press to prompt an action. You still get the same haptic feedback that you would with Force Touch, but it didn’t seem quite as satisfying. It also means you have to relearn certain actions like switching from grid view to list view for your app screen. If you long press on the app page, they all start to jiggle like on the iPhone to rearrange or delete. The list view option has moved to the Settings.
Real-time elevation and cardio fitness alerts
The entire Apple Watch line will also get new fitness features with WatchOS 7, including dance tracking and core training, but only the Series 6 and Apple Watch SE include a new always-on altimeter that provides real-time elevation monitoring you can use during an outdoor workout.
The Apple Watch also uses the Vo2 max reading (maximum oxygen consumption during exercise) to monitor cardio fitness levels. It will eventually let you know when your levels are too low with a new notification feature that’s launching later this year. According to Apple, this metric can be an important indicator of overall health.
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Fitness Plus with the Apple Watch at its core
Apple’s new subscription Fitness Plus service brings guided workouts to the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. You can choose from a variety of different programs to stream on your device of choice and sync with the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch will automatically start the correct workout for you and display your stats on the screen, so you can follow along without having to glance at your phone. Instructors will use the Apple Watch as a training tool to push you during a workout.
Sadly I wasn’t able to test this out on the watch yet, because it’s not launching until later this year. The Fitness Plus subscription will cost $9.99 (£9.99, AU$14.99) a month, or $80 (£80, AU$120) a year.
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