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Photo: Microsoft

With Surface Duo, Microsoft has re-entered the phone business (sort of), with a dual-screen device running Android. The unique hardware and software combination makes it more than just a curiosity, even if it's likely to be a niche player at best.

Why it matters: Microsoft isn't going to suddenly become a major player in mobile hardware, but the Duo does give the company a novel option for Microsoft loyalists.

Details: Teased a year ago and formally introduced last month, Surface Duo becomes officially available today, starting at $1,400. AT&T will sell the device directly, while an unlocked version that works on all three major carriers will be sold by Microsoft, Best Buy and other retailers.

What's hot:

  • The design is elegant, useful and seemingly hearty: Of all the new crop of folding devices I've used, Microsoft's is the first that doesn't feel delicate and precious but rather built to be used.
  • Two screens makes for great multitasking. I enjoyed more easily moving among my mainstay apps: Slack, Outlook, Twitter and the browser.
  • It's first-class Android. By partnering with Google, you really do get the best of Android in terms of Google's apps and access to the Google Play store combined with all of Microsoft's mobile apps.

What's not:

  • The camera is the Duo's glaring hardware weakness. There's only one small sensor, and you have to fold your phone one way to take selfies and another to capture what's in front of you. That makes Surface Duo ill-suited for candid shots and results in an overall subpar camera experience.
  • Few programs are optimized for Duo's two displays, so you're usually just running one program in each screen. Over time, it would be nice if more programs make full use of the dual screens, as Microsoft has for some of its own programs, like Outlook, and Amazon has with its Kindle app.
  • The phone supports all the major LTE networks, but lacks 5G support. That's not a huge issue today, but could prove frustrating over the life of the device.
  • Surface Duo suffers from the same price problem as other multi-screen devices: It costs as much as two phones put together.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Nov 20, 2020 - Technology

Cloud gaming services use iPhone's web browser door

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

One of the biggest trends in gaming is the ability to play console games wherever you are, on whatever type of device, thanks to the magic of cloud streaming. The tricky part has been finding a way to bring such gaming to iOS — since Apple wants to review and approve each game as a separate app.

Yes, but: Google, Nvidia and Microsoft have decided to work around, rather than with, Apple's rules. In recent weeks, all three have announced plans to bring their game services to iOS via the web browser — the one big opening in the wall around Apple's garden.

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.