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What did Microsoft have in store at its tech dog-and-pony show in New York? Nothing special—unless you consider the company’s first foray into a Microsoft-branded laptop special or a brand new Surface that showcases the new Skylake chips. Or a new smartwatch. And new phones. In other words, it was a banner day for Microsoft, and a pretty special one for tech consumers.
Let’s start with the Surface Pro 4. The rumors had been swirling for months that Microsoft was going to show an update to its very popular laptop/tablet hybrid. It was good news for people who are on the fence about buying a 2-in-1 device, and one that may prove to be most beneficial for gamers. The new Surface Pro 4 will ship with the new Skylake chips—Intel’s® gamer/graphic friendly chips—and promise longer battery life and better performance.
We’ll go with that until we can road-test these puppies, but so far, Intel hasn’t seen a lot of downside with Skylake chips. Curiously enough, Microsoft will also be shipping its lowest-end Surface Pro 4 model with Intel’s Core M processor, which is the go-to processor for the MacBook. Core M processors have less of a power draw and keep clock frequency low so that they save power, and thus produce less heat (which is why the Apple MacBook can go fanless). Microsoft is also claiming a 9-hour battery life for the new Surface Pro 4, along with a slimmer, lighter footprint (.33 inches). Available in configurations of 4, 8, or 16GB of RAM with a Core M, Core i5, or Core i7 processor, along with SSD sizes of 128, 256, or 512GB, the new Surface Pro will range in price from less than $900, and will ship in late October.
But there’s more than meets the eye here: along with the exceptional stylus pen that separates Surface Pro models from other hybrids, this is Microsoft’s first Windows 10-optimized tablet, so native programs should run under the hood with few snafus. Add to that the 12.3" Pixel Sense display, running at 2763 x 1824 resolution (267 ppi), and you have a tablet that suddenly has the ability to run CAD programs (on the higher-end Intel Core i5 and i7 models; Core M isn’t there yet). Unfortunately, the one thing that makes this a usable laptop, the type cover keyboard, is still an annoying extra expense, but Microsoft even lessened that blow when it debuted a new and improved type cover keyboard with larger spacing between the keys and an improved touchpad. Could you have improved on the Surface Pro 3? This proves that the fourth time’s the charm.
Microsoft also showed off its first leap into the laptop tablet, and did it in a way that is typically Microsoft, presenting what the company feels is a direct competitor to the Apple MacBook, and so confident is Microsoft that it even put “book” in the product name. The Surface Book adds and improves the Surface Pro line by adding two things that Surface owners have long desired—a hinge and a discrete GPU (on some models). The hinge, dubbed the “dynamic fulcrum hinge,” looks like a watch wristband, and allows the 13.5" screen to sit upright like a real laptop is supposed to, but don’t worry, with Surface in the name, you knew there was some hybrid aspect to this. Simply press a button and you can detach the screen for a tablet experience (although a 13.5" tablet seems a little unwieldy, but hey, different strokes). The screen itself boast 6 million pixels, almost 267 per inch at a resolution of 3000 x 2000 (weird, huh?) but the dedicated NVIDA GeForce GPU can only be used when docked on the keyboard. Unlike the Surface Pro series, which really gave you a good sense of the capabilities of a hybrid, the Surface Book feels like a laptop that could easily replace a desktop. How will it fare in real-world situations? We’ll let you know when we road-test it.
Microsoft also has had its eye on tech wearables ever since the release of the Microsoft Band, in October 2014—as the company should, since predictions show the market is poised to blow up in 2016, and competition is fierce. Microsoft improves on its previous design with the Microsoft Band 2. Besides the standard health-monitoring bells and whistles (activity tracker, continuous optical heart rate monitor, sleep quality tracker and calorie burning monitor), Microsoft also added a curved display, making it more comfortable to wear. You can also preview email and text messages, and get calendar notifications, along with Facebook and Twitter notifications, right on your wrist.
Cortana enables you to reply to texts or set reminders with a touch of a button. Want to keep track of your bench press totals so you can impress no one at your local bar? This wrist band can do that. It even gives you a percentage total for sleep efficiency so that you can find out that you were only 89% Sleep Efficient (probably losing sleep because your bench press totals were so low). There are even advanced tech-like barometer measurements, which measure elevation gains when climbing stairs (or mountains), biking, or running, and even a built-in GPS to track your location and give you a map of your routes.
Microsoft is back in the phone game again, but the new Lumia phones have a different spin now—it’s all about the Continuum. Continuum is Microsoft’s flagship connectivity initiative that connects all of your Microsoft devices and makes the Windows OS experience consistent across all platforms (the company also announced that the Xbox One will be updated with Windows 10 this holiday season). They showed off the Lumia 950XL with a 5.7" OLED Quad HD display with 2560 x 1440 resolution (518 ppi), Snapdragon 810 octa-core 2.0 GHz processor with 3GB of RAM, and a 20MP camera with a triple LED flash and 4K video capture. But it’s what you do with the phone that is so un-phone-like that will impress you. If you dock the Lumia 950 XL to the Microsoft Display Dock via USB Type C, you can attach a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and then view apps full screen. It can run multiple apps simultaneously, and even handles Microsoft Office apps like a charm. Want some extra security? How about personal log-in using iris identification? Yep. The future is here, and Microsoft brings it to your pocket with the new Lumia 950 XL phone. There’s also a scaled-down version, the Lumia 950, which uses a hexa-core processor.
All in all, Microsoft went all out for the Octoberfest press event, even releasing a demo of the HoloLens, and while exciting and impressive, it is still a little early for that flower to blossom. They also mentioned that FaceBook, Instagram, and Messenger will be building universal apps for the 110 million devices that now use Windows 10. Microsoft went hardcore with its hardware, and it turned out to be the most significant announcement since Windows 10 was announced over a year ago. Good for Microsoft, and great for us.