Microsoft’s New Devices Put Windows 10 on Any Screen
Last year, Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3, a thin and lightweight hybrid tablet-like device that the company famously claimed “could replace your laptop.” A lot has changed since then: Windows 8.1 has been put out to pasture, Microsoft has anointed Windows 10 as the one OS to run on all of its devices, and everyone from Apple to HP to Lenovo has trotted out their own light and powerful “lapblets.”
Perhaps most importantly, Microsoft seems to have learned that the Surface Pro 3, despite being a marvel of engineering, couldn’t necessarily replace everyone’s laptop. For email and documents, touching up spreadsheets, and rocking out with its stylus on OneNote? It excels. But for a serious marathon typing session, editing video, playing League of Legends, and other processor- and keyboard-intensive tasks, a real laptop was simply a better tool.
And so now, Redmond has diversified its portfolio to meet the demands of more types of users. The results look incredibly compelling. There’s the Surface Pro 4, which can now replace a general-purpose laptop even more realistically thanks to a thicker Type Cover with a set of keys that legitimately feels pleasant to type on (I got the chance to try it out). There’s more travel, significantly more room on the touchpad, less bounce when you’re banging away, and a sturdier feel. That new Type Cover will also work with the older Surface Pro 3, but disappointingly, it still doesn’t come in the Surface Pro 4’s box. You have to purchase it as a $130 accessory.
But despite a great new stylus that feels like an actual writing utensil when you “write” and “erase” on the screen (Microsoft really nailed the friction aspects with this thing), the Surface Pro 4 was perhaps the least-compelling of today’s Windows 10 announcements. That’s because Microsoft is using the other announcements to showcase the true potential of Windows 10: A versatile operating system that’s built to run and adapt to your use case on any size screen.
Take the new Lumia 950XL and 950, two phones that make Windows 10 Mobile an intriguing dark horse right out of the gate. That’s because you can just plug these phones into a little dock, jack in a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and use them as full-on desktop computers. Their octocore and hexacore processors, respectively, are even liquid-cooled. On the 950XL in particular, desktop mode felt incredibly zippy when touching up a PowerPoint or hammering out a Word doc. And the cameras are no joke, either, with 20-megapixel shooters that carry the esteemed PureView moniker.
After failing to gain much market share in the mobile space with Windows Phone 8 and stumbling on making Windows 8.1 a more mobile-like desktop experience, this represents a big change in strategy. Unlike Apple’s increasingly synergistic mobile/desktop ecosystem—iOS and OS X are turning into twins that communicate via Continuity telepathy—Microsoft wants to turn every Windows 10 device into whatever you want it to be. It’s a phone, and it’s a desktop computer.
Then there’s the Surface Book, a crazy-powerful laptop-first hybrid that Microsoft claims is twice as fast as the MacBook Pro. The target audience here is clear: power users who also want the ability to get their tablet on. Tucked in the base, there’s a NVIDIA GeForce GPU backed with up to 16 GB of high-speed RAM. Games, video-editing, heavy 3D modeling? It’ll purportedly handle those processor-intensive tasks with ease. But it’s also one hell of an option for writers who want to pound on a real keyboard all day—which, for the record, feels wonderful, with great spacing and a pleasant amount of travel. The large glass trackpad also feels great, and 12 hours of battery life will certainly help those long writing sessions away from an outlet.
But that’s if you use it as a laptop. The Surface Book has a unique hinge mechanism—one that locks the display in place firmly no matter the position—and a powered system that lets you detach the screen from the base entirely. That way, you can use the display as a standalone Surface table, and one that has its own battery and integrated graphics processor built for leaner tasks.
Detaching the display is a little odd. You hold a button next to the delete key, and it sends an electrical charge to the internal Muscle Wire system to set the display free. That means you need battery power to unlock the tablet from its hinged moorings. It’s a little awkward, maybe, but there’s a good reason for that: The base and the screen are always in communication, relaying information from the screen-side CPU and base-side components, including directions about which battery to use. Hitting that button doesn’t just pop the tablet off the hinge; it also gives the entire system a head’s up to go into tablet mode.
This week, Microsoft gave every type of consumer a reason to consider its new devices. For light users who just want to use a mobile device as an occasional brain for powering desktop applications, there are the new Lumia phones. For a light all-purpose machine that can pull tablet duty and give graphics pros a stylus experience, there’s the new Surface Pro 4. And for power users who need component firepower, a great keyboard, and a little bit of tabletting on the side, there’s the Surface Book.
Most people thought the centerpiece of today’s event would be about beefing up the Surface Pro 4’s capabilities. But the bigger story is that the company now provides multiple points of entry into Windows 10. And for the first time, that experience isn’t limited to just the bigger devices. The phones can run apps too, and can behave like PCs. Just like that, Windows is everywhere again.