Microsoft Surface Phone: Everything you need to know
The Microsoft Surface Phone is long-awaited, and desperately needed. Here’s what we know about the Microsoft Surface Phone release date, specs, features, price and more.
(Update: 16 January 2017): A recently granted Microsoft patent reveals a new type of mobile device that switches between tablet and smartphone modes using folding hinges. Read on to find out more.
Microsoft has had very limited success with mobile, struggling to acquire any meaningful amount of market share. With titans like Apple and Google currently dominating the industry, Microsoft is under immense pressure to crack mobile successfully.
Unfortunately, the Surface Phone will probably be the last roll of the dice for Microsoft. Despite the company making much of Windows 10 Mobile, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL weren’t able to carry Microsoft to mobile glory. Now, Microsoft needs to launch a perfect phone that can convert already invested iOS and Android users to Windows.
The Surface team has done a great job of disrupting the computing industry in recent years, with the Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio devices all proving to be a thorn in the backside of Apple. Can the Surface Phone do the same for mobile? Read on to find out what we know so far.
Latest Surface Phone News:
What is the Surface Phone release date? First half of 2017 (possibly)
How much will the Surface Phone cost? $699 - $1,100 (£499-£799) approx.
What’s new about the Surface Phone? Rumoured: Three variants, Snapdragon 835 CPU, 5.7-inch display
Watch Now: Microsoft Surface Studio – First Look
Related: Samsung Galaxy S8
Microsoft Surface Phone Release Date UK & US – When will the Surface Phone come out?
We can’t say for sure when the Surface Phone is going to come out, but we know that it’s on the way. In November, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the Australia Financial Review that Microsoft is working on the “ultimate mobile device”, admitting that the company “missed the mobile boom”. That’s not confirmation of the "Surface Phone" name, but it’s clear-cut proof that a new mobile device is on the way.
During the interview, Nadella explained: “We will continue to be in the phone market, not as defined by today’s market leaders, but by what it is that we can uniquely do in what is the most ultimate mobile device.”
But that’s not the only evidence we have. Back in January 2016, it emerged that Microsoft had obtained the following domain name: surfacephone.com. The domain currently redirects to Microsoft’s homepage, but given Microsoft’s existing naming conventions for devices (Surface Book, Surface Pro, etc), it seems obvious what the intentions may be. That said, companies often buy up relevant domain names just to stop competitors bagging them, so the name "Surface Phone" may never actually be used.
According to Winbeta, Microsoft planned to finally kill off the Lumia brand – the current Microsoft phone line, formerly of Nokia – in December 2016. It's not clear whether that's happened just yet, but it could mean a Surface Phone may not be far off.
Microsoft hasn’t announced any press events for such a device, and even thoughthe company attended the CES 2017 tradeshow in Las Vegas in January 2017, there was no Surface Phone announcement.
In any case, we’re in agreement with the lion’s share of rumours that suggest we’ll see a Q1/Q2 release in 2017.
Microsoft Surface Phone Features – What’s new about the Surface Phone?
So we’re all agreed that Microsoft can’t screw this one up, right? Well, it’ll need solid hardware and compelling software to dethrone Apple, Google et al. Here’s what you can expect to see from the Microsoft Surface Phone...
Microsoft Surface Phone Design – All-metal, three variants
Rumour has it that the Microsoft Surface Phone will be available in three distinct variants. One report suggests these will be as follows: Consumer Edition, Business Edition, and Enthusiast Edition. So we’re guessing the first will be a reasonably priced flagship, the second will be a BlackBerry replacement, and the third will be a power user device, just like Samsung’s Galaxy Note phones (minus explosions, hopefully). We’ve got no idea if they’ll look any different physically, or if we’re just talking about spec changes, however.
The other design rumour is that we’ll see a new all-metal aesthetic adopted, to bring the phone series in line with Microsoft’s Surface Book. Microsoft has reportedly been hard at work to make sure the Surface Phone fits with other Surface devices, sporting the same premium finish you’d expect from the Surface series.
Related: iPhone 8
Microsoft Surface Phone Specs – 5.7-inch screen, Snapdragon 835 chip?
As I mentioned earlier, we’re expecting three distinct Surface Phone models. Usually, that would mean we’d expect to see three different screen sizes, but leaks thus far suggest all variants will use a 5.7-inch display.
Instead, the differences will reportedly come in the form of storage and memory upgrades, as follows:
- Version 1: 3GB RAM / 32GB storage
- Version 2: 6GB RAM / 128GB storage
- Version 3: 8GB RAM / 500GB storage
Now that final version sounds ludicrous, frankly. But last year, we saw Apple introduce a 256GB iPhone 7 Plus, as well as the OnePlus launch of the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T, both of which feature 6GB of RAM. So there’s no real reason why Microsoft couldn’t match such valiant efforts. After all, if Microsoft is hoping to woo business and power users, it’ll need to kit its phones out with the very best components available.
And on that note, it’s highly likely that the Microsoft Surface Phone will come packing Qualcomm’s brand-new Snapdragon 835 chipset. The new chip has already started appearing on devices, and is a direct sequel to the top-end Snapdragon 820 and 821 chips, which featured in the Galaxy S8, OnePlus 3T, and Google Pixel phones.
What’s exciting about the chip is that it’s Qualcomm’s first 10nm processor, which means it’s significantly more efficient than the old 16nm Snapdragon 820. Qualcomm reckons we’ll see either 40% lower power consumption or 27% higher performance, depending on what manufacturers do with the new Snapdragon 835. If Microsoft wants to go big with the Surface Phone, it’ll need to come packing this chip.
And making the use of a Snapdragon chip even more likely is Microsoft’s announcement of a partnership with Qualcomm in December 2016. Announced at the WinHEC event in Shenzhen, China, Microsoft will be working with Qualcomm to bring the full Windows 10 desktop experience to smartphones and other mobile devices.
The new products will run on Qualcomm’s ARM-based SoCs and, according to Terry Myerson, who heads up Windows Devices, will be a “range of thin, light, power-efficient and always-connected devices”. That means we should see the full Windows 10 desktop experience, including apps such as Office and Windows Hello, on phones, tablets, ultra-portable laptops, and more.
All this makes the prospect of a Surface Phone seem much more likely.
Unfortunately, we don’t know much else about the Surface Phone in terms of hardware. There have been zero camera leaks, although we’d expect big things from the Surface Phone camera. For a start, Apple, LG, and Huawei have all shipped phones with dual-camera configurations, and Samsung is expected to follow suit this year. So Microsoft is as likely as anyone to utilise similar technology.
But it would also seem appropriate if the Surface Phone had some kind of Intel RealSense arrangement that could capture 3D images. After all, Microsoft has made much of HoloLens and Windows Holographic, so being able to capture and import 3D images onto Windows using your smartphone would make complete sense. We’d be very surprised if this wasn’t a feature, but we’ve heard no rumours supporting it – yet.
Related: Google Pixel XL review
Microsoft Surface Phone Software – Windows 10, Microsoft Wallet, Continuum
One thing you can count on is that the Microsoft Surface Phone will run on Windows 10. Microsoft wants Windows 10 to be the “last version of Windows”, and will keep updating it across all platforms. That means Windows 10 Mobile isn’t going away any time soon, despite its limited success. If Microsoft wants to really push Windows 10 to the fore, it will need a great device to carry it there – specifically, the Surface Phone.
We’re not exactly sure what changes Microsoft plans to make to Windows 10 to accommodate a new Surface Phone, however. Rumours suggest that Continuum – Microsoft’s cross-platform productivity feature – will play a bigger role on mobile, while another source says we’ll see a new Microsoft Wallet mobile payments system introduced to compete with Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay.
Microsoft Surface Phone Price – Post-referendum price hike?
Unless we’re very fortunate with a leak, there’s pretty much no way of knowing how much Microsoft plans to sell the Surface Phone for.
We’ve seen one report already, courtesy of the Bitbag, which claims Microsoft will kick off pricing from $699, with a top-end model costing as much as $1,099. At the time, that worked out to around £485 to £765, before VAT is added – so we’d expected prices closer to £499-£799 in the UK. That said, with post-referendum currency fluctuations in mind, we could see far higher prices – think closer to £599 and beyond.
Most flagship smartphones these days typically start between £500 and £600, with super-premium models going for £900 and above. So expect something in that region, realistically.
Microsoft Surface Phone Patents – The future, revealed?
Patents are a great way to see what sort of technology a company is working on, but it’s important to remember that they’re by no means a guarantee that the tech will ever be introduced in a consumer product. That said, it’s still worth keeping an eye on Microsoft patents if you’re desperate for clues about the Surface Phone.
One recently granted Microsoft patent shows dual- and triple-hinged devices that can be configured into various shapes. For instance, they can be folded out like tablets, or folded back inwards to create a smaller phone-like handset. There’s also the opportunity to place it in a tent-mode for media consumption.
Given Microsoft’s universal approach to Windows 10, i.e. having it work across multiple devices, creating a Surface Phone that could function as multiple handsets would be a great way to demonstrate the software’s capabilities.
Unfortunately, there’s every chance we’ll never see this technology in a retail-ready product from Microsoft.
Should I wait for the Microsoft Surface Phone?
We’d only recommend waiting around the the Surface Phone if you have the utmost faith in Microsoft. The company has a proven track record of failure in mobile, so it’s hard for us to believe Microsoft’s next smartphone effort will be any better than previous attempts.
It’s also worth noting that there are already plenty of great smartphones to choose from right now. Apple fans may have been swayed by the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, while we’re quite keen on Android flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7, Google Pixel, and OnePlus 3T.
If you’re definitely set on getting a Windows 10 smartphone, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t wait to see what Microsoft is cooking up à la the Surface Phone. But otherwise, we’d recommend just buying one of the many great phones that 2016 has graced us with.
Related: CES 2017
Watch: Microsoft Surface Keynote Recap
What would you like to see from Microsoft's next smartphone? Let us know in the comments.