Microsoft is back with its annual Surface event to showcase the latest hardware the company has ready for the holiday season.
We already knew a lot about what to expect from leaks, including a new Surface Pro, an ARM-based Surface, and an updated Surface Laptop, but there turned out to be a lot more hidden up Microsoft’s sleeve as the conference went on.
To start the event off, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stepped out onstage to talk about Microsoft Surface, its design intents, and its recent versions. He spoke about an expanded experience that uses all senses and involves all devices. Microsoft believes that the next decade will embody the power of creation, and user creativity.
Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer, then came out to the stage to say some words about “putting people at the centre” and needing the right device to be creative.
After a piano performance from his daughter, Panay got into the products, starting with the new Surface Laptop 3. It’s a sleek design that exists to be fast and convenient. He went into deep detail, focussing on the 1.3mm key travel, and 20 percent larger trackpad. He then took the entire top of the keyboard surface off! Which you aren’t supposed to do, of course, it’s just for repairs. There’s no rubber bumper between the screen and machined keyboard Surface, which is something Panay is particularly proud of. That’s a design element in most other laptops to protect their screens.
Panay then got into the performance of the device. Surface Laptop 3 will feature Intel’s quad-core 10th gen chips (a 10nm Ice Lake model). It’s twice as fast as Surface Laptop 2, and three times faster than the MacBook Air. For such a small device, it’s pretty fast and strong. He then announced a new 15” Surface Laptop 3 for those who want more screen real-estate. In spite of its size, it’s still supposed to be the lightest product of its class.
Next, Panay revealed the AMD Ryzen “Surface Edition” processor. “This is the most powerful mobile processor AMD has created, bar none,” Panay said. He also says it has the fastest graphics performance of any laptop in its class. You’ll still get all-day battery life on the Surface Laptop 3, but now it has fast charging. It’s able to get to 80 percent charge in under an hour. These laptops are available for pre-order now, the 13.5″ Surface Laptop 3 at $999 USD ($1,349.00 CAD) and the 15″ at $1,199 USD, both releasing on October 22nd.
After that, Microsoft’s Robin Seiler came out to introduce the Surface Pro 7. A trailer played, showing a disabled person who uses the Pro for drawing instead of paper, as it’s less muscle-intensive. USB-C has been added, getting a cheer from the crowd. Seiler then stepped to the side of the stage to demo the new Edge browser’s Collections feature that lets her plan a hike with her family. She seamlessly pulled over text from sites, weather, and driving instructions into a single Edge Collection. She was also able to easily share all of that information. After that, she started demonstrating the pen input, which she used to scribble on a map to indicate a hiking detour. There’s also in-line editing for Surface Pen now, so you can delete and write text within documents easily. She even used voice recognition to add a note to her planning document, which is even faster than typing. There are new Studio Mics optimized for your voice in the Pro 7 and Laptop 3. It sounds like they also do a better job of avoiding background noise.
A new feature of Your Phone will also integrate phone calls right into your Surface, similar to how iPhone integration works on macOS. You can also ink within cells with the pen in Excel to enter data, a brave new feature. The Microsoft Surface Pro is available for pre-order today for $749 USD, and will be available on October 22nd.
Next up is audio products. A trailer played for the new Microsoft Surface Earbuds, wireless earphones with two mics per ear to better pick up your voice. They have 24 hours of battery life and a new design that’s meant to balance the weight across your ear. However, the biggest feature is the integration of other programs like Spotify and Microsoft Office, controlled by gestures and voice commands. The captions on this stream are being facilitated by these headphones, and can even translate speech live. Neat! They’ll arrive during the holidays for $249 USD.
Panay then came back on stage, showing off a Surface prototype. He says they want a perfect intersection of mobility and speed for the modern age. A video of this new device, which is the thinnest Surface Pro yet, the Surface Pro X, with LTE and fast charging. There’s a slot right below the screen for a new Surface Slim Pen. It has a removable NVME hard drive, and apparently also 2 teraflops worth of graphics performance. It’s 5.3mm thin at its thinnest point, 1.68 pounds light (without a keyboard) and it has a new, more modernized design. It has a 13-inch screen in a 12-inch form factor, similar to how the Surface Laptop offers a slightly larger screen than other laptops in its size. The 13-inch screen has a 2880 x 1920 resolution, 1,400:1 contrast ratio, and 267 pixels per inch.
The Pro X is powered by a custom Microsoft SQ1 chip. It brings together Snapdragon mobile DNA, alongside an integrated AI accelerator, Panay says. ARM chips normally run at 2 watts, but they were able to push this chip to 7 watts for better performance. You won’t find this chip anywhere else, Panay says. The GPU has also been redesigned, along with other pieces of silicon IP he can’t mention. “This product has three-times more performance than the Surface Pro 6,” according to Panay. Because of that, it can offer better battery life, a thinner design, and more power than you’d typically see in an ARM-powered laptop.
Surface Pro X is also the first laptop with an integrated AI engine. What does that mean? Well, after some discussion on the power of eye contact, we’re shown a quick demo of the AI engine making a subtle eye placement change to your video calls, which makes recipients seem more like you’re looking at someone in the eyes. Normally, that would involve a lot of power from a CPU, but with its new custom chip, that tech takes 50 times less power, so it doesn’t even touch the GPU.
Panay’s favourite feature is the new Pen location. As soon as he pulls it out from under the screen, the pen is active and ready to go. Otherwise, it’s charging when it’s on the case. At this point, we shift focus over to typing and pointing on the new Type Cover. The GPU pushes over 2 teraflops, which is basically the equivalent of an Xbox One.
After all that, Scott Belsky, the chief product officer at Adobe, came on to show off some new features in Creative Cloud. He declares Surface will become an even more important platform for Adobe in the future since it’s so focused on creativity. Adobe is thinking of ways to extend its Creative Cloud programs from computers to mobile platforms. He shows off a demo of Adobe Fresco, a new painting program that recreates the feeling of painting and drawing with natural tools, like watercolours and oil. An adobe experience manager demonstrated how she can quickly draw a sketch of a woman. She starts by blocking out the overall shape, defining the silhouette, and adding some line work for detail. If she lays the Surface Pen on the side, she can even mimic the soft shadows you’d see from a real pencil. We got a look at different brushes, and even oil brushes and how you can blend and smear like real oils. Fresco will launch on the Surface “very soon”. We can also look forward to other apps soon.
The Surface Pro X will be available on November 5th, starting at $999 USD. You can preorder it right now. Panay expressed pride in the lineup.
And so ends the Microsoft Event for Microsoft Surface. It was a packed event, with reveals for the Surface Laptop 3 (with 13.5 and 15-inch versions), the Surface Pro 7, the Surface Earbuds, the Surface Pro X, the Surface Neo, and the Surface Duo. The Laptop 3s and the Pro 7 are available for pre-order now and will drop October 22nd. The Surface Pro X will be available on November 5th and is also ready to be preordered. The Earbuds will be out this holiday season, and the Neo and Duo will release during the 2020 holidays. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, even for someone who’s not typically invested in the technology sector. We hope you saw something that can help you conduct your creative life, and you can look forward to more reports on events like these in the future.