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With Surface Neo, Microsoft brings the dual-screen experience to tablets

The twin displays can accommodate having multiple apps open at once, thanks to the new Windows 10X operating system.

Microsoft

If folding screens aren't quite ready for prime time, devices with two screens are ready to step up instead. Microsoft is adding to its Surface lineup of PCs a device with dual 9-inch displays called the Surface Neo, briefly shown at the company's annual Surface launch event in New York on Wednesday. 

The event also saw the launch of the Surface Duo dual-screen Android phone and Windows 10X software for dual-screen devices. More conventional new products included the Surface Laptop 3, Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 7 tablets, Surface Earbuds and the SQ1 custom Arm chip.

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Weighing 1.4 pounds (655 grams) and 5.6mm thick, the Surface Neo uses the thinnest LCDs ever created, said Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay. Attached with 360-degree hinges, the displays have more than 60 microcoaxial cables running between the hinges, each thinner than a human hair, Panay said. 

Windows 10X compatible

The two displays expand to the dimensions of a 13.1-inch display with an 8.9mm seam. The Surface Neo will run on a new version of Windows 10 called Windows 10X that was designed and optimized for dual-screen devices. 

"It's a new expression of Windows 10 that we've been designing and building for the last couple of years, with hundreds of engineers and designers at Microsoft," said Carmen Zlateff, Microsoft Program Manager for Experiences and Devices. "Our goal is to fuel a new era of mobile productivity and creativity across two screens."

Microsoft

During the Surface Neo demonstration, Zlateff showed how the twin displays can be used with multiple apps open and how they can be quickly reorganized depending on what position the device is in and what needs to be visible. 

Where's the Neo's keyboard?

For when you feel the need for a full keyboard, Microsoft will offer one that magnetically attaches to one of the displays. When it's on the screen, a software touchpad appears and the keyboard is wirelessly charging, Zlateff said. 

"Neo delivers the widest range of flexible postures to be productive wherever you are," she said. You'll be able to pull the keyboard off and use it as a separate Bluetooth keyboard for when you want full use of its 13.1-inch size.

However, the keyboard and its active pen will not be included when the Surface Neo ships late next year. 

Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Asus and other PC-related companies have been quietly showing off dual-screen prototypes and early models for the past year, sometimes in public, sometimes behind closed doors. Some, like the already-shipping Asus ZenBook Duo include a second, smaller screen alongside a physical keyboard. Others, like the Intel Twin River concept PC, are all screen, no keyboard. For Microsoft, the oft-rumored but rarely seen prototype was code-named Centaurus

Microsoft

Dual-screen PCs are one way to entice laptop shoppers who are holding onto purchases longer, as fewer and fewer users need newer, faster hardware for cloud-based services, social media and video streaming. Folding screens have gotten off to a rocky start on phones, and may be even harder to implement on larger laptop screens. 

This is far from the first time the dual-screen/no keyboard idea has been tried, although previous versions have been mostly unsuccessful. Acer had a larger 14-inch version in 2011, called the Iconia, while Asus tried putting screens on both sides of a laptop's lid in the Taichi in 2012. More recently, the Lenovo Yoga Book had an interesting take on the dual-screen concept, with one LCD screen and one E Ink screen.

The new dual-screen Surface Neo may not be available until late next year, but we'll update this post later with our initial impressions. 

Read all the news announced Wednesday at Microsoft's Surface Event here

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