Blending physical with digital
Going into Microsoft’s massive device launch event on Tuesday, everyone knew that the focus would squarely fall on the intersection of physical and digital—new Microsoft devices that showcase everything possible with Windows 10. What we didn’t expect was just how convincingly Microsoft would manage to push its vision for convergence between hardware and software, or how damn sleek and sexy Microsoft’s in-house hardware would look.
From a Surface-powered MacBook rival to Lumias that appear well worth the wait, here are the seven biggest reveals from Microsoft’s hardware blitz.
The surprise star of the show, the 13.5-inch Surface Book is the result of the Surface team's wondering “what if we can do for laptops what we did for tablets?” The answer: something awfully compelling.
The sleek, sexy Surface Book leans on Microsoft’s decade-plus of experience designing keyboards and the Windows 10 team’s precision trackpad wisdom to deliver what Surface head Panos Panay claims is a top-notch ergonomic experience—always a key selling point in laptops. And while the Surface Book was created to be “the ultimate laptop,” its screen actually detaches, held in place by a Lenovo Yoga-like “dynamic fulcrum hinge” strengthened by Microsoft’s “muscle fiber.”
This thing holds up spec-wise, too, with a quad-core Intel Skylake processor, up to 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GPU to drive the display’s 6 million pixels. Ounce for ounce, Panay said, this is the most powerful 13-inch laptop ever, with twice the power of the MacBook Pro.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Read our Surface Book reveal article for more details.
Surface Pro 4
This is the thinnest and lightest Surface yet—Panay said it could’ve been thinner if Microsoft had jettisoned USB 3.0 (the tablet retains one such port)—but it’s no performance slouch, with a new Intel Skylake processor and the same storage and memory options as the Surface Book. The display’s also been upgraded, ditching the bezels to pack 5 million pixels into the expanded 12.3-inch screen.
But the real story, as always, is how the Surface Pro 4 acts as Windows 10’s paragon. The tablet packs the thinnest cover glass ever to provide better stylus support. Holding the Surface Pen’s button summons Cortana, which can then answer your voice queries. Any web searches conducted with Cortana open in the Edge browser, the results of which you can mark up with the Surface Pen to complete this virtuous circle.
The Surface Pro 4’s camera and new Touch Cover were designed to take advantage of Windows 10’s killer Windows Hello biometric technology, and the Surface Pen comes with all sorts of options now. Check out our Surface Pro 4 write-up for the full scoop.
Lumia 950 and 950 XL
Windows Phone has been languishing ever since Microsoft purchased Nokia. Most of the Nokia staff has been laid off, and there hasn’t been a new Windows Phone flagship released in over a year. That ends with Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950 XL, which bring Windows 10 to the mobile market with a bang.
The duo shimmers with high-end touches: high-quality 20-megapixel cameras, a water-cooled CPU (what?!), high-resolution displays, and USB-C ports are one hell of a spec list.
But as with the Surface devices, it’s what these Lumias do with their underlying software that’s almost more impressive. These show what’s possible on a phone powered by Windows 10 Mobile. The front cameras support Windows Hello, so the phones automatically and almost instantly unlock when you hold them up. The Lumia 950 and 950 XL also support Continuum, the killer Windows 10 Mobile feature that lets your handset perform like a full-blown Windows 10 PC when it’s connected to an external monitor, thanks to the power of Windows 10’s universal apps.
Check out our Lumia 950 and 950 XL coverage for lots more info.
Like the Surface and Lumia devices, the new Microsoft Band—not the Band 2, just “Microsoft Band” again—merges hardware with software to create experiences that users simply can’t find on other devices and operating systems.
The new Band sports a sleek, curved Gorilla Glass 3 display and deeper Cortana integration, but the real story here is how the sensor-laden device communicates with the cloud-based smarts of the Microsoft Health app to deliver actionable, personalized data to you. The second-gen Band adds yet another sensor, a barometric sensor for elevation tracking. The blend of hardware and software can track your usable oxygen levels and know when you’re merely practicing your golf swings or tearing up the fairway—a level of granularity you won’t find on other watches or fitness bands.
Microsoft didn’t have much new to share about its intriguing augmented reality headset, but it did show off a new game, Project X-Ray, that turns your home into an alien battlefield with the help of a mysterious new controller.
Holographic aliens are always fun, but the real meat came from Windows chief Terry Myerson’s more pedestrian announcement at the end of the little show: Developers can apply for a HoloLens development kit today, which will then be released in the first quarter of next year for $3000. Not $350, like the Oculus Rift’s dev kits. $3000.
Windows 10 on Xbox One
The Windows 10-powered “New Xbox Experience” for Xbox One is already being put through its paces by beta testers, but if you’re not one of the chosen few, be patient. Myerson said Windows 10 will come to all Xbox One users in time for the holidays, along with the capability to stream backward-compatible Xbox 360 games from the console to Windows 10 devices. Yay!
There’s been a core theme underlying all of these hardware announcements: Windows 10. And Windows 10 is on a roll.
The operating system’s already claimed 110 million installs in the mere 10 weeks since its launch, Myerson revealed alongside some other nifty Windows 10 stats, and people have asked Cortana more than a billion questions already. To celebrate, Myerson announced that Facebook’s bringing universal Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger apps to the Windows 10 ecosystem.
Microsoft’s no doubt hoping that all these new devices highlight what Windows 10’s capable of when it’s included in more holistic hardware design, which will help push the operating system towards its stated 1 billion user goal. If Microsoft’s partners can pump out PCs and phones that are half as compelling as the Surface and Lumia lineup revealed today, Windows 10 might just reach that goal…someday.