Microsoft couldn’t let Amazon and Apple have all the fun during this month of tech events. The computing giant threw itself into the circle, completing the technological trilogy (for now), with its Surface event earlier this month. The hardware-focused presentation unveiled a number of updated products within the company’s successful Surface line, including expected iterations on the brand’s laptops and tablets. But it also delivered on the promise of a dual-screen, foldable phone that won’t immediately suffer pixel and screen damage like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Let’s dive into two screens worth of announcements from Microsoft’s Surface event.
Look, processors aren’t the most sexy thing the tech world likes to brag about to the general public. Many of us just want to see the model numbers go up and have these ever-shrinking mother brains work properly. But this new Surface slate marks a few departures for Microsoft as it pertains to its proficiency at internal development. The majority of these new devices are still powered by Intel chips, but two incorporate chips co-developed with AMD and Qualcomm. A custom AMD Ryzen processor powers the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, packing graphical power comparable to the Xbox One into its thin frame. The Qualcomm co-developed SQ1 chip delivers octa-core processing power while sizably boosting the Surface Pro X’s GPU output. These chips have teraflops for days.
Dual-screen capability was a constant theme throughout the presentation, so it makes sense that Microsoft would develop a specialized version of its Windows 10 operating system for such devices. Enter Windows 10X, an operating system tailored to the new Surface line. The OS looks surprisingly easy to use, showcasing the ability to run all apps and quickly organize them between multiple displays. Windows 10X looked sharpest on the forthcoming Surface Neo tablet, but the program could shine the brightest within the tech market as a whole. Microsoft clearly believes dual-screen devices are the future, and building an OS specific to those needs could bring other tech companies to their door, wallets out. That is if it can avoid the bugs that tend to plague Windows iterations at launch.
In what felt like Microsoft chasing a trend that’s already gone by, the company revealed its entry into the wireless earbud market: the Surface Earbuds. These pack plenty of functionality into a frankly ugly design. These earbuds do everything you want in such a device, delivering touch music controls and a directional dual array microphone. They boast a 24 hour battery life and even integrates Microsoft Office controls into the touch controls. Now you can run through your PowerPoint presentations by touching the pop sockets in your ear. There is plenty here that could appeal to those exclusively using Windows devices, but the Surface Earbuds feel a few steps behind other offerings in the market—especially at their $249 price tag.
The Surface Pro line has anchored the brand for some time, so it only made sense that Microsoft would announce its latest iteration. Staying on brand with Microsoft’s newfound attitude of cooperation, the Surface Pro 7 ditches the proprietary Surface Connector for a USB-C charging port, bringing it in line with countless other non-Apple products. Its 10th Generation Intel processor beefs up the tablet-laptop combo’s processing power, but relatively little remains unchanged otherwise. The Surface Pro 7 is available now starting at $749.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop line of notebooks have proven themselves to be strong contenders in the market since its 2017 launch. The third iteration in the line introduces USB-C integration alongside the Surface Connector port, furthering the laptop’s library of compatible exterior devices. Both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models include batteries that last up to 11.5 hours and charges to 80% in under an hour via Surface Connector. That increased speed is packed into startup on the 13.5-inch model as well with the new Instant-On feature, allowing the notebook to turn on in seconds no matter how long its been dormant.
Microsoft also made some positive changes for fans of customization and home repair. The incredibly thin notebook actually includes a removable hard drive and ditches the Alcantara fabric keyboard deck as a standard inclusion. The move addresses concerns about difficulties with repairing the keyboard, though the 3’s quieter keyboard and larger trackpad should prove more durable. Microsoft also bragged that this library of noteboooks is three times faster than the Macbook Air. The 13.5-inch and 15-inch models start at $999 and $1199 respectively.
Stepping away from specific devices once again, a major development coming out of the event was Microsoft’s decision to shelve its own Windows Phone infrastructure in favor of Android. The move felt like a shockwave at first, but it completely makes sense for the company as it prepares to re-enter the phone market after a years-long absence. The company recognizes that Google knows how to build quality operating systems for mobile devices, so why not ease their own engineers’ workload and let them focus more on hardware? “We are embracing customers where they are and building on technology they use with benefits only Microsoft can bring. We are building on top of Android, just as we’ve built on top of Chromium in our Edge browser, to give our customers the best of both companies,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNet. Not a bad strategy.
Microsoft’s premium two-in-one line packs in many of the Surface Laptop 3’s additions into a lightweight (1.68 pounds) and thin (7.33 millimeters) chassis that isn’t far off from past models. The main exterior addition is the inclusion of the new Surface Slim stylus, a thinner peripheral packed into a shrewdly hidden pocket in the device’s type cover. The big changes come under the hood thanks to the aforementioned SQ1 processor. The company claims that the Pro X delivers “three times more performance per watt than the Surface Pro 6” thanks to the change in processor, positing the Pro X as the most powerful device yet in the Surface Pro line. Preorders are open for the Surface Pro X ahead of its November 5th release for $999.
Now it’s time to talk about the show stealers, starting with Microsoft’s headlong dive back into the phone pool. It did so with flash thanks to the introduction of the dual-screen Surface Duo. The foldable device avoids the Galaxy Fold’s issues by connecting the Duo’s two 5.6-inch displays with a 360-degree hinge. The device can run separate apps on each display or one display can be converted into a keyboard via landscape mode. Android implementation makes app availability wider than before on a Microsoft phone while tailoring it’s utilization to closely resemble other devices running Windows 10X. Flexibility and wow factor are the main takeaways for now, but look for more information about the Surface Duo in the coming year ahead of its Holiday 2020 release.
The Surface Neo does to two-in-one devices what the Duo does for dual-display phones. The Neo fixes two 9-inch screens on the same 360-degree hinge and packs the same app-flexibility the Duo delivers. The Neo’s adaptability stretches to its all-new peripherals as well. Microsoft developed a new keyboard that lies on top of one display, instantly converting the display into different style of second screen. Above the keyboard lies the WonderBar, which can be used as a trackpad, housing for streaming video, chat tools and likely more. Its peripherals attach magnetically to either side of the device, and it comes with the Surface Slim pen as well, which charges when magnetically connected to the device. Like the Duo, there is little known about what things look like under the Neo’s hood, but the promise of such a flexible handheld device should keep interested parties intrigued. The Surface Neo is slated for a Holiday 2020 release.
Brian Bell is a queer freelance writer covering tech, pro wrestling, esports, games, comics and TV. Co-host of the Mr. Videogames Super Show podcast. Find and follow him on Twitter @WonderboyOTM.