Microsoft has recently been making moves away from the smartphone market, taking a comprehensive $US3 billion (£1.9 billion) write-off on its Nokia assets, which many took as a sign that the production of high-end handsets would come to an end.
Not so, it would seem. For the past few months there have been rumours swirling that Redmond is actually looking to make a Surface-branded device — the Surface brand coming, of course, from the company’s line of tablets — that would have features gleaned from the tablets.
Here’s a roundup of what such a phone could look like.
The key rumours
- The phone could be unveiled in October but will likely be unveiled in early 2016.
- The phone will have a 5.5-inch AMOLED screen with 1440×2560 pixels, more than the iPhone 6 Plus.
- In terms of RAM, the phone will have 4GB.
- Storage options will start at 64GB and go up to 128GB.
- Surface accessories, such as the Surface Pen, could be included.
- The design could fit in with the Surface tablets: angular, metallic, solid.
- The release date and price are as yet unknown.
There has been much speculation about the release date of the Surface Phone with an event being rumoured for October. However, industry observers speculate that the event will see the release of two new Lumia handsets — the 950 and 950XL — and releasing a Surface Phone would create confusion and could potentially overshadow these new handsets.
If the Surface Phone isn’t unveiled in October then the release may slip back to 2016. Terry Myerson, vice president of the Windows and Devices group within Microsoft, said in an interview that the company’s plans in 2015 were to focus on “a few great devices” that head in the direction of “the premium-branded” segment of the market, which is likely intentionally ambiguous.
The Nokia handsets that are expected to be announced in October definitely count as high-end, however, so we may not see the Surface Phone until 2016.
A leaked screenshot, provided to WMPowerUser, described a phone that was code named “Juggernaut Alpha” which, according to a source, is the Surface Phone.
The handset would, if the leak turns out to be correct, feature a 5.5-inch screen with 1440×2560 pixels. For reference, the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch screen but only 1080×1920 pixels. The display could feature AMOLED technology which “switches off” the pixels that are not in use — i.e. are showing black colours — saving battery.
Powering the phone is an Intel Atom x3 chipset code-named SoFIA that was released earlier in 2015. As the phone is running Windows 10 Mobile, the chipset needs to be robust and we may well see a different CPU being used in the final model, especially if the phone arrives in 2016.
Storage and RAM are, according to the leak, fairly standard: 4GB of RAM keeps everything running smoothly, while storage options could start at 64GB and go up to 128GB. This would mean that Microsoft is eschewing lower storage models, such as the 16GB iPhone 6.
The camera, however, is reported to an above-standard affair: a 21 MP PureView Zeiss 6-lens is the back camera and a 8MP Zeiss Wide-Angle serves as the front camera. Nokia was famous for producing some of the best camera phones on the market and it would seem that Microsoft is interested in retaining that legacy.
An interesting addition would be Surface-branded accessories, such as the Surface Pen. The report specifically mentions the Surface Pen as one of the compelling reasons to buy the rumoured device, adding functionality that could be similar to that found in Samsung’s S Pen, included with the company’s Note series of phones.
While the internal hardware, Surface accessories aside, may be fairly standard it’s the design that could set the Surface Phone apart. According to reports, the phone could feature an aluminium and magnesium unibody design which would fit in with Microsoft’s current Surface tablet design language: angular, squared off and sturdy.
Various mockups have been created to show what the device could potentially look like. So far, there have been very few actual leaks of the hardware beyond speculation, which would suggest that the device has not made it to production, again hinting that it will not be revealed in October.
The Surface devices have a very distinctive design language and transplanting that into a phone could yield interesting results that would, most importantly, separate the Surface Phone from the competition. Of course, Microsoft may choose to simply implement this design ethos into its Nokia range but this would take the sting out of the Surface and degrade Nokia’s own ideas, many of which won the company praise.
Windows 10 Mobile is the obvious choice for the software that powers the Surface Phone as it would serve as both a flagship and would keep it well up to date. There are currently no Windows 10 Mobile handsets available on the market — predominantly because Microsoft is the only manufacture of Windows phones — and so the Surface Phone could work a little like Google’s Nexus line, showing other manufactures what to aim for.
According to WMPowerUser, the “current version” of the Surface Phone is running Windows Mobile version 10.0.10514.19 which is a very early stage release.
One of the main focuses of Windows 10 Mobile is creating a synergy between “full” Windows 10 and the system which runs on a phone. Not only is the design similar, but apps can also run natively on both operating systems.
Notifications are also synced between Windows 10 and Mobile with new options to “quick reply” from within the notification. Beyond this, there are new Office apps that are made for Mobile and could work well with a Surface Pen.
Pricing and Availability
Very little is known at this point about the pricing of the Surface Phone. As a premium device it is likely to command a high price tag but Microsoft has never independently made a high-end device — i.e. without the help of Nokia — and so the water is uncharted at best. The Surface tablets run from £639 ($US799) all the way up to £1,349 ($US1,799) but this is in no way instructive as to how much the Phone will cost.
Availability will likely be handled by Microsoft, which may work to pursue the same strategy as Google and Apple: selling the phone directly to the customer, thus bypassing carriers. Nokia has traditionally sold phones through carriers but the Surface brand dictates that Microsoft handles this — as it has done with the tablets — and we may well see this with the Surface Phone.
This post will be updated when new rumours arrive.
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