This week Microsoft dominated the tech hardware news. Yeah they had the expected chest beating about how awesome their OS was doing (Google and Apple do the same thing) and showed off their new Lumia phone handsets, but had some HUGE surprises aimed squarely at Apple. In fact, by the end of the presentation they did everything but an actual mic drop.
They announced the return of the Lumia Phone, in the form of two flagship phones, the 950 (5.2 inch for $549) and the supersized 950XL (5.7 inch for $649). They both come with beast mode 20 megapixel rear cameras. And they’ll run Microsoft’s yet-to-be-released Windows 10 Mobile. Oh, there’s a budget-friendly sibling too, the Lumia 550 which will sell for $139. They’ll be available in November.
I’m sure they’ll be cool, especially if you want to stay in the Windows environment. It’s getting harder to get excited about phone specs though these days.
Ummm….apparently Microsoft hasn’t given up on trying to use your smartphone as a computer. With the Display Dock you can plug in your new Lumia to a DisplayPort or HDMI monitor and has 3 USB ports, including USB-C. So now you can connect a mouse, keyboard and external drive to your phone.
Microsoft didn’t include pricing information but if you’ve been dying to use your phone as your primary computing device….there you go.
Cool tech, but not sure how often I’d actually use this – curious to see reviews once it’s out. According to Microsoft they see this product being popular in emerging markets where not everyone has a PC and the smartphone might actually be your only computer.
Verdict: Meh for the US. Pretty cool in certain situations.
Microsoft Band 2
The first Microsoft Band got good marks for features, but was widely regarded as a bit, well, ugly. Microsoft hired a good designer and prettied up the Band 2 and it looks great. It’s got a curved OLED screen built into Gorilla Glass. They’ve added Cortana integration and a barometer to measure elevation changes (not weather). Of course it has all the sensors from the old Band, including GPS and the normal stuff that every other wearable has. What’s different is that it has a lot of 3rd party app support, including Starbucks and Subway, so I guess you can order a (sort of) healthy lunch and a coffee while tracking your run on RunKeeper. All without your phone. They’ve also got Uber in the mix, so if you get pooped out on that long hike you can call for a ride back 😉
Verdict: I’m intrigued, but the price is $50 too high at least.
It still looks cool, they showed off an FPS game that was cool and underplayed the HoloLens’ limitations. They announced dev kits will be available and will be untethered so you won’t need to connect to PC with cables to run the things. Apply now and it can be yours for a mere $3,000. I’m not too excited because as with all VR stuff, I’m pretty sure it’ll make me hurl. It’ll be fun for most people though…eventually.
Verdict: Very cool tech, but still early days for VR.
Surface Pro 4
Hold on, now it’s getting interesting…The promise of the Surface tablet has finally arrived I think. As with the other Microsoft hardware, it’s a tech beast. They all come with a 5 and 8 megapixel camera, USB3 port, microSD card slot, Mini DisplayPort and runs Windows 10 Pro. The entry level ($899) includes an Intel Core M3 processor, 128gb storage AND the Surface Pen. Whew!
Head-to-Head with the iPad Pro
The entry level iPad Pro on the other hand looks kind of sad in comparison. No ports, runs iOS not OS X, only one processor option, and only 32gb storage. (Don’t even get me started on why Apple still includes 32gb for their tablets and 16gb for their phones as options). You have to pay an extra $100 for the Stylus and an extra $150 to jump up to 128gb storage. So while the iPad Pro starts at $799, to get comparable to the entry level Surface Pro 4 you’re looking at $1,050.
Also, the Type Keypad has backlit keys, a touchpad and a fingerprint scanner for $130, $69 less than Apple’s Smart Keyboard which has none of those things, although it is pretty.
They’re pretty similar in terms of screen resolution, size, weight, etc.
Verdict: Microsoft looks like it has a winner. It really comes down to whether or not you’re all-in with iOS or not and if you want the flexibility of ports. If that’s not you, the Surface Pro 4 may be the tablet of your dreams.
One more thing?
Boom. Microsoft announced their first-ever laptop. A convertible to be precise – so you can separate the keyboard from the screen if you just want to use it as a tablet. And the specs are pretty decent.
- Processor: Intel dual core Core i5 up to Core i7
- Screen: 13.5” 267 ppi
- Weight: Just under 3.5 lbs
- RAM: 8 or 16gb
- Storage: 128GB-512GB
- Battery Life: 12 hours
During the reveal, Microsoft tried to pull a fast one. They claimed the processor in the entry level Surface Book was twice as fast as the entry level MacBook Pro. Well actually….that’s only true for the higher end models that include the discrete GPU. Apple doesn’t offer that feature except in the 15” MacBook Pro models.
The main design difference was in the new hinge Microsoft designed. They call it the dynamic fulcrum hinge and it’s how you can separate the screen from the keyboard base. Seems to work pretty smoothly, but prevents the lid from closing completely flat when closed. It’s also segmented so doesn’t have as clean a look, in my opinion.
So if we’re comparing apples to apples 😀
Here’s the breakdown for the entry level Surface Book (SB) vs the entry level MacBook Pro (MBP):
- Processor: The MBP has a (slightly) faster Core i5 but it’s a generation older (TIE)
- Screen: The SB has a slightly larger, higher resolution screen than the MBP. BUT, it’s a 3:2 aspect ratio unlike the MBP’s 16:10. (SB unless you don’t like the aspect ratio)
- Weight: Basically a wash (TIE)
- RAM: Basically a wash (TIE)
- Storage: Basically a wash (TIE)
- Battery Life: Basically a wash (TIE)
- Price: SB comes in at $1,499 vs the MBP at $1,299 (MBP)
Don’t forget that the Surface Book comes with some features that you don’t get with the MacBook: Removable keyboard, a touchscreen interface, and the Surface Pen. Depending on how much you like it, Apple’s touchpad has Force Touch.
Now, this comparison is with the entry level products. If you max out the specs both Apple and Microsoft’s laptops approach $3,000. The Surface Book 16GB, 512GB SSD, Core i7 model weighs in at $2700 while the 15” MacBook Pro with similar specs sets you back $2500. At the high end, the Surface Book components clearly outperform the MacBook, due in large part to the fact that the components are a full generation newer.
Verdict: Microsoft looks like it has a winner again. With the caveat that there aren’t any real reviews available yet, it really looks like Microsoft hit it out of the park with their first laptop. Would I get it now? Nope, wait for the reviews, don’t forget this is first generation stuff from Microsoft.
The Lumia phones are good but not game changing and the Band 2, Display Dock and HoloLens are all potentially great products but it’s too hard to call at this point. Where Microsoft really crushed it was with their new Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. The really great thing is that even if you don’t want a Windows laptop or tablet, you can bet that this is going to light a fire under Apple. It’s probably too late to make a difference in their next release, but Apple is really going to have to step up their game now. Competition is good. I can’t wait to see how Apple responds – it’s a great time to be a consumer.Follow bernardfok