Will the “Surface Phone” be a foldable cellular PC?

Remember the introduction of the Lumia 950 XL, 950 and 550?

Panos was pretty clear that he had only just taken over the Lumia efforts and the design of those phones (along with the Band) were things that he had inherited.

The Surface team must be working on a phone using this platform, and you can guarantee that it is going to create a new genre of devices in the same way the original Surface did for the 2 in 1.

The goal is to bring Windows 10 to life in your pocket, and the recent announcements of full Windows 10 running on ARM will allow for that. This means you can have small and always connected cellular devices which can instantly switch from being a phone to being a PC.

But what would something like that look like?

This week MSPoweruser published a new patent for a foldable phone-to-tablet mobile device:

In this patent, Microsoft is describing a device that is flexible supported by a flexible hinge structure that secures the plurality of housings to each other, permits the plurality of housings to rotate about an axis in relation to each other, and supports a continuous viewing area of the display device that extends across the plurality of housings and the flexible hinge structure.

I suggest you go to MSPoweruser and have a look for yourself – it’s very interesting.

One of the images that struck me was a view of the bottom of the device. I immediately connected it to the legendary Microsoft Courier device, which was famously abandoned late in the development process.

But the Courier isn’t the only foldable device we’ve seen Microsoft work on.

Microsoft’s Future Vision video from 2009 also featured a small foldable device. This one could also disconnect into two separate devices. (See this patent for more)

And one of my favourites, the flexible notebook device from 2015.

While I don’t think we’re at the stage of truly flexible computers that act like paper, I do think it’s likely that the technology is ready for a foldable device which would be able to transform between a phone and a tablet. Let’s see if Microsoft do it this year.

What’s your every day carry? 2016

I’ve always been a fan of these kinds of posts so every couple of years I do an update of what I keep in my work bag and what I have as my every day carry:

Every Day Carry

All-Ett Wallet

I’ve been using the same All-Ett leather sports wallet for just over four years now and I still love how small it is. I would definitely recommend this kind of wallet to someone who’s looking for something minimal.

I usually carry between four and six cards, some folded money, and any receipts or note cards I have recently collected.

The thought of replacing it has crossed my mind… not because it is in any way defective, but because I think I’d like to get a wallet which blocks radio signals passing through. This would block the contactless card inside from being used unless it is removed from the wallet.

Of course, All-Ett do a version which is just like the one I have with the addition of this blocking technology. I’ll probably get one of these next time I feel like I need an upgrade.

Windows Mobile

I’ve used Windows mobile phones for over a decade now, and I still feel most productive when I have a Windows device on me at all times.

I got the Lumia 950 XL a year ago and it’s still one of the best Windows phones on the market. Yes, I know that for many people the platform isn’t moving fast enough for them, but I don’t currently have any interest in switching – most of the apps I want are already here.

The top uses for my phone are productivity (Outlook, OneNote, Wunderlist), communication (Slack, Skype, Messenger), and entertainment (Groove, Audible, Pocket Casts). It has 200 GB SD card loaded up with tonnes of music and offline maps for use while driving. It’s also the the camera I use the most, and I have it synchronised with OneDrive so that everything goes up into the cloud.

One of the biggest complaints about the Lumia 950 XL was that it isn’t particularly eye-catching. I tend to agree, and the standard plastic back was quickly replaced with a premium cover by Mozo. I find it makes the phone feel significantly nicer in the hand, and the real leather on the back gives the phone a warm feeling and a nice grip.

Wallet and Phone

As well as the Mozo cover, I also use a leather sleeve from FitBag. I mostly use this when I’m travelling or putting my phone in my bag or my jacket pocket. It protects the screen complements my leather wallet really well. I have actually found that putting the phone in the sleeve makes me less likely to check it for no real reason – when in meetings, for example.

Overall I’m happy with the Lumia 950 XL for now, and I hope it’ll keep me going until Microsoft builds an ultra-portable Surface which includes ink support.

Microsoft Band

Since my last every day carry post there have been two versions of Microsoft Band, and I’m currently using the Band 2. The old Fitbit got me started with health tracking, but having a device on my wrist is much better.

I really like the Microsoft Band, but it’s possible that this might be the last version of it. Rumours are that the Band 3 has been cancelled and there’s no replacement coming. I have a spare Band 2 to keep me going for now, and I’m just going to hope that there is a Windows-power wearable device in the works.

Band and Lumia

KeySmart & Car Key

And last of all… keys. Everyone has to have some keys in their every day carry.

I got a KeySmart in June last year when I moved and had the opportunity to reduce the number of keys I have to carry around. I’ve dropped it a couple of times since and they’ve been just fine – and I’ve never had them come apart in my pocket or anything like that.

I love how they don’t jingle and move around when I run, but the lack of jingle also means I often double-double check I have them with me! As before, I keep them separated from my car key.

Two Weeks with Lumia 950 XL

If you know me well, you know I have been waiting for this phone for a long time. My old Lumia 920 stopped working at a time when there were no high end replacements running my operating system of choice. I decided to buy a Lumia 630 to keep me going until there was something I really wanted.

The 630 was good value, but it was underpowered for what I wanted to do with it (skipping the Windows Insider Program wasn’t an option!). Because of this, I took less photographs, listened to less music, and generally found ways to avoid doing anything complicated on my phone. Not cool.

I stuck with it and waited until a new flagship arrived, and boy did it take a while.

The Lumia 950 XL is just what I needed: the operating system I wanted, the same ecosystem I was invested in – but the whole experience is much better.

With that in mind, this isn’t so much of a review of the 950 XL, or even of Windows 10. It’s more about how having this new phone has changed what I can do when compared to the previous handset.

Lumia 950 XL

The 5.7 inch and 518 PPI screen is large, crisp, and bright. It supports the same Lumia settings as other devices, so I can set it to have my preferred warm and vivid colour profile – similar to what can be achieved by using F.lux on a PC.

Lumia 950 XL Screen Comparison

The above picture has a screenshot of OneNote running on the 630 (left) compared to the same page on the 950 XL (right). You can easily see that the information density is higher, as well as the overall size of the display.

Lumia 950 XL Screen Comparison

In this cropped 100% zoomed screenshot, you can see here that the text itself is much larger on the 950 XL (right), making it seem a lot crisper to the eyes. It’s very difficult to make out individual pixels with the naked eye.

The 950 XL also uses AMOLED technology, which is by far my preferred choice of screen for a device like this. Black is black, and each pixel has its own light source. As an astronomer, this is important as 100% red is 100% red, which is great for using Astrolight.

Like most of the other Lumia devices, it supports micro SD expansion. I’m using 64 GB for photos, music, maps and all those things that take up lots of space on a phone. I have set the built in 32 GB of storage to be used by apps only. This means if I need to change the card at any point, I won’t need to reinstall everything.

Lumia 950 XL

The phone itself has a bit of a strange feel to it. You can’t really call it premium. It’s crazy light, has a removable plastic back, and the side buttons feel just a little bit too sharp around the edges for my tastes. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t give the same kind of premium feel of an iPhone.

I do like the understated branding, and I find that the silvered Microsoft logo on the back looks great.

Lumia 950 XL

It’s significantly larger than my 630 and I can feel it in my pocket, but it’s not too large. I’m already thinking that the 5.7 inch mark is probably the sweet spot for me moving forward.

It also has all of the hardware features I sorely missed on the 630 – a front facing camera, ambient light sensor, dedicated camera button and glance mode support. Crucially, it also includes a powerful new camera and flash.

Lumia 950 XL

I absolutely adore photography and, as many photographers know, the best camera is the one that you have with you. With the 630, taking a photograph was a slow process, or impossible with some builds of the Windows 10 preview. The app would simply crash and not let me take the photograph.

The 950 XL’s camera is significantly faster than the 630. With the dedicated camera button on the side, this means that I can pull the phone out of my pocket and take a photograph in seconds.

On the back you can see the tri-colour flash. I’ve not experimented with the flash enough to say for sure that a tri-colour one is superior, but I can say that it’s bright and fast.

Lumia 950 XL Flash Adjustment

Field Notes DDC Dead Print

The built-in Lumia Creative Studio software allows you to change the intensity of the flash after the photo has been taken. This is a really nice feature, but I would say that the post-processing of these images is a little sluggish compared to the usual high speeds of the device.

Overall, the camera is fantastic. I’ll probably end up posting more pictures taken with it over the coming months, as the weather hasn’t been too ideal.

Windows 10 Audio Apps

Audio is also great with the 950 XL. I regularly use Groove Music, Pocket Casts and Audible to listen to music and spoken audio. Unfortunately he device itself didn’t come with any earphones, but I have a couple of pairs already so I didn’t mind too much.

I have a Nokia Purity Headset for listening to music. They are still the best earphones you can get for Windows phones, and I would really love to see Microsoft release a successor.

I also Microsoft Comfort Headset which I use for listening to spoken audio and making phone calls. The Purity Headset has much better noise reduction and sounds really great with the music I listen to, but the bass can be a bit much when listening to audiobooks. The Comfort Headset is also a bit safer to use when walking in the street, as the sound of traffic comes through without being blocked.

Lumia 950 XL

For charging and connectivity the 950 XL uses USB Type-C connector and comes with two cables – a standard USB cable for the computer and a fast charge cable for plugging into the wall. I have found that the fast charging really is quick when compared to my 630, it’s a great feature to have.

The cable is too short though, and at time of writing it’s super complicated to find acceptable USB Type-C cables: Microsoft don’t list the official ones in the UK store, and the world of third party cables is complex. One of the adapters I purchased doesn’t meet the specs, so I am not going to use it.

Windows Hello

The 950 XL also includes a couple of new features which I don’t think I have had enough time with. Windows Hello allows biometric authentication using the built in iris scanner, and the Display Dock allows you to connect your phone to a monitor, keyboard and mouse to get a full screen experience. I have tried both, but only in limited ways so I am not sure how good they are yet.

Lumia 950 XL

Overall I am really pleased with the Lumia 950 XL. It gives me with the Windows experience I want on a large and powerful device. I appreciate that this is not a device for every consumer, but it feels like it was made for me.

I would like to see an even more premium Windows device come in the future though, and hopefully a Surface Phone will be around in a couple of years when I replace this one.