As a person who tracks the ebbs and flows of the computing market—in all its various forms—the last few weeks have been interesting, to say the least. First, we saw Apple extend the iPad into its most compute-friendly (or computer competitive?) form, with the release of the iPad Pro and its accompanying Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Then, Google unveiled the Pixel C, an Android-based 2-in-1 device with a detachable keyboard and a high-resolution screen (308 ppi) 10.2” screen. Finally, today saw the release of the much-anticipated Surface Pro 4 from Microsoft, as well as the unexpected Surface Book.
The clear takeaway from all of this is that, despite early criticisms, Microsoft clearly struck a chord with the Surface devices—particularly the Surface Pro 3—and the future of computing is looking increasingly like a combination notebook/tablet. This is ironic in several ways because many people wrote off these 2-in-1 devices as a fad, and arguably, the 2-in-1 category didn’t really exist until Microsoft brought out the Surface.
But now, several years, several iterations and several similar competitors later, it seems Microsoft may have been onto something after all. In fact, the Surface Pro 3 has done surprisingly well, and nearly singled-handedly rescued the clamshell form factor from tablet-dominated oblivion.[pullquote]Several years, several iterations and several similar competitors later, it seems Microsoft may have been onto something with Surface. after all.”[/pullquote]
Of course, I say this despite the fact that Microsoft insists on calling Surface a tablet and refusing to bundle the keyboard that nearly every single Surface purchaser ends up buying and using anyway. In practical, real-world use, however, essentially every single Surface Pro 3 I’ve ever seen is used like a clamshell notebook with a detachable keyboard.
Microsoft gave people interested in this unique design even more compelling reasons to consider one at their launch event today. The new Surface Pro 4 builds on the heritage, design, and even peripherals of the Surface Pro 3, but adds important extensions of its own. First, the company reduced the bezel size of the display and increased the screen size from 12 to 12.3”, all while maintaining its 3:2 aspect ratio. As expected, the company also updated the Windows 10-only device to Intel’s 6th generation core (codenamed “Skylake”) CPUs, offering variations with a Core M, Core i5 and Core i7. In addition, the company added a redesigned, magnetic Surface pen, and a Microsoft-designed IR camera that can do facial recognition for Windows Hello. There’s also a new set of improved keyboard options, including one with a fingerprint scanner, and all of them are backwards compatible with any previous Surface.
The real surprise of the day, however, comes from the company’s new Surface Book—what they call the first Surface notebook. Housed in a sleek, 3.5-pound aluminum design, the device offers a 13.5”, 6K resolution display (3K by 2K), the infrared facial recognition camera, the redesigned Surface Pen, and Intel’s latest CPUs. In addition, however, is a detachable metal keyboard that houses an additional battery and optional nVidia GPU. The “tablet” portion of the device—which the company claims is the thinnest core i7 computing device in the world—holds enough battery for 3 hours usage, but connected to the keyboard, you can get 12 hours, as well as access to the optional GPU (connected via PCIe over Microsoft’s proprietary Surface dock connector).
Pricing starts at $1,499 for the sleek new device, and ranges up over $2,000 with GPU and high-capacity (up to 2 TB) solid-state storage. Microsoft claims they’re going directly after the MacBook Pro’s bread and butter audience—creative types, graphics professionals, and other highly-demanding users. While it remains to be seen how well the new Surface Book does, my brief time with the device suggests that PC vendors and Apple have some serious new competition in the more “traditional” notebook space.
Given that Microsoft also used this event to unveil more details about its HoloLens head-mounted computer, as well as showcase how their new high-end Windows 10 Lumia 950 smartphones can function like a PC, by connecting directly to an HD monitor (or TV), and leveraging Bluetooth or USB keyboards, this day truly has shown the range to which Microsoft is extending the concept of personal computing.
All told, it was an impressive display, and one that will likely be looked back on as having started some important reimagining of what personal computers can and should be.