Everything we think we know about Microsoft’s Surface ‘Centaurus’ foldable PC

Microsoft is holding a hardware event on October 2 in New York City, and word on the rumor mill is that Microsoft is planning to take the wraps off its first foldable PC, codenamed Centaurus. This is a big deal for many reasons; it’s the first new Surface PC form factor since the Surface Laptop, and it’s also the first device to ship with Microsoft’s new modern OS known as Windows Core OS.

So a lot is riding on the unveiling of this PC, and to build up the hype, we’ve collected everything (we think) we know about Centaurus into one convenient article.

Centaurus Hardware

Kicking things off with the display, we understand Centaurus features two displays that are joined together by a hinge mechanism that allows the device to fold open and closed like a book. The two displays together equate to around 13 or 14-inches of screen real estate, and the device itself can be used in many different “postures” such as a tablet, laptop, and more. The term “posture” is something Microsoft has been using internally to describe the many different ways a device like Centaurus can be used.

The two displays are located on the inside of the device, and have noticeable top and bottom bezels, with thinner bezels on the sides. I think the iPad mini is a good reference for what the bezels will look like on Centaurus. The middle bezel where the two screens meet is indeed smaller, with only a few millimeters between both screens. Both “halves” of the device are expected to be around the same thickness so that when the device is closed, it appears to be uniform.

On the outside, we understand that Centaurus features one USB-C port for power and data transfer, the usual power and volume buttons, and a magnetic strip on one side for a pen accessory. I heard from one source that Centaurus will be able to charge the pen accessory wirelessly, just like the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro. We’ll have to see if this turns out to be accurate, but recent changes to the Windows SDK suggest it’s a feature that is in the works.

Just like the Surface Go, Centaurus will also feature rounded corners on the chassis. As far as I’m aware, the displays themselves do not have rounded corners. Regarding the outer shell, I have yet to receive a reliable answer about the material used. Some sources have suggested the outer shell will be made of Alcantara, which would make sense considering Centaurus is designed to be like a book. But I’ve also heard that glass is a possible material for the outer shell as well. It’s a mystery for now.

On the inside, we understand that Centaurus will feature an Intel processor, not Snapdragon one. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first of which being that Microsoft and Intel have been working together on the dual-screen form factor for Windows. The other reason is related to the OS and app compatibility with Win32 programs. For now, Microsoft wants native x86 and x64 programs only. Support for emulating x86 apps on ARM will come later.

Centaurus OS

On the software side of things, Centaurus is expected to debut with a brand new OS from Microsoft, known as Windows Core OS. Specifically, it’ll be running something known internally as Lite OS, also known as Santorini or Modern PC. Lite OS is a fresh take on a Microsoft OS, introducing a new user experience that puts modern computing first.

Microsoft has already started laying the groundwork for this OS by highlighting several key areas that are of focus with this new operating system:

  • Seamless Windows updates
  • More secure
  • Always-connected
  • Better performance
  • Multi-sense
  • Form factor agility
  • Cloud-connected

I’ve already broken down these categories in a previous article, so make sure you give that a read if you want to know more. But the main takeaway here is Lite OS is a fresh start for “Windows,” so much so that it might not even be called Windows when it’s announced.

Because Centaurus features two displays, the Lite OS experience will have to adapt to the many different postures possible on a device with two screens. When in normal use (both screens side-by-side in the portrait orientation) the OS will emphasize “focus” that puts things like the Start button and system tray on the display you’re currently using. If you tap on the other screen, those elements shift over.

If you’re using the device in a laptop orientation, then one screen will turn into a dedicated virtual keyboard and touchpad, with the other screen becoming the primary one for all your content. I’m also told Microsoft is working on an accessory that you can place on the screen to give the user tactile feedback when typing, but I don’t know much about this so can’t comment on whether it will ship.

Microsoft has also worked on many other areas of the underlying OS to improve things like Windows Update, instant-on, and better battery life. Crucially, Lite OS can also run Win32 programs, because it is still Windows after all. But there have been changes to the underlying OS that directly affect how Win32 programs operate on Windows Core OS.

Win32 programs, by default, are sandboxed and containerized on Windows Core OS. This keeps the OS secure, and also allows Microsoft to emulate the additional components required to run a legacy program on a modern OS. Most users likely won’t notice a difference, but it is a difference worthy of note. I’m unsure if users will be able to install unaltered .exe’s from the web as is currently possible with Windows 10. Microsoft might require these apps to be packaged as an MSIX or placed in the Store.

There have also been rumors of Android app support on Centaurus. I can confirm this is indeed something Microsoft had been considering, but I don’t think it’ll show up as a “native” feature of the OS. Instead, I’m told Microsoft is building an API layer that allows developers to build their own virtualization software to run Android apps, similar to Bluestacks. We’ll have to see what ends up shipping.

What are you hoping for?

So that’s everything we think we know about Microsoft’s foldable Centaurus PC! Let us know in the comments what you’re hoping to see on October 2nd.

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