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Windows 10 Vision Unfolds with a Surprise: The Surface Book Laptop

Microsoft's year-long process of laying out its vision for Windows 10 reached a crescendo today.

At an event for media, analysts and Windows Insiders in New York, the company rolled out two new Lumia phones, an upgrade to its Surface Pro line with an improved Windows Hello keyboard and the company's debut into the high-end laptop market with the new Surface Book. The hardware rollouts put some metal around Windows 10, which originally launched back in July.

The biggest surprise was the introduction of the new 13.5-inch Surface Book. It's a convertible laptop and tablet that Microsoft officials claim can run 12 hours on a single charge and is two times more powerful than a MacBook Pro. "It redefines everything you would expect in a laptop," said Panos Panay, Microsoft's Surface VP, describing it as "the ultimate laptop" too many times to count.

The Surface Book starts at $1,499 for an i5-based system using the new Intel Core 6 processor with 8GB of RAM and scales up to an i7-based system with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB drive, both supporting optional Nvidia GPUs. The Surface Book is targeted at artists, engineers and gamers who require significant processing power. When the top part is removed from the keyboard to function as a "clipboard," it weighs 1.6 pounds; with the keyboard, it weighs 3.5 pounds. The device has a 13.5-inch 10 point multitouch PixelSense display that renders up to 6 million pixels at 267DPI, Panay said. "There's nothing close to it," he said. A new Surface Pen supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. "If you look at a photo on it, it will look real, if you look at a video it'll immerse you," Panay said. The top-end system will cost a hefty $2,699.

The launch of the new laptop shows that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella remains committed to broadening the Surface line. He's not walking away from it as some critics have called on Microsoft to consider.

Terry Myerson, the executive VP who heads the Windows and devices group, announced 110 million devices now run Windows 10. He added that 1 billion questions have been asked of Cortana. Users have built 650 billion Web pages that render via Microsoft's new Edge browser. "It's by far the fastest ramp-up we've ever had," Nadella said regarding Windows 10, in an appearance to wrap up the event.

While the Surface Book clearly now stands as Microsoft's premium device, the Surface Pro 4 is poised to have mainstream appeal to mobile workers, students and consumers. It's an incremental upgrade to the Surface Pro 3 but has some welcome improvements, including an upgraded pen that magnetically attaches to the device. There's a new top-of the line system configured with Intel's new Core 6 i7 processor, 1 TB SSD and 16 GB of RAM. An entry level system will have 4GB of RAM and a 128-GB drive. The Surface Pro 4 is slightly thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 3, but the battery life remains the same at 9 hours.

The Surface Pro 4 has the same form factor as its predecessor but it has a slightly larger display at 12.3 inches, made possible by a thinner bezel. Perhaps the most noteworthy addition to the Surface Pro 4 is its new Windows Hello-compatible keyboard, with a fingerprint sensor. The keyboard will work with the new system as well as the prior Surface Pro 3 model, Microsoft said. Likewise, those who want to use their old Surface Pro 3 keyboard with the new system can do so, although an engineer at the event told me that "once people see the new keyboard, they're going to want it." Besides the fact it's thinner and, Microsoft argues, more sturdy, it has improved keys that are quieter and have faster transport. It'll cost the same amount as the old one.

Microsoft also launched a Microsoft Band 2 product today with a number of new features and a perhaps more comfortable fit. Also unveiled were three new Lumia phones, including an entry-level unit priced at $139. Lastly, the company announced an SDK for developers who want to build apps for Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality device.

Most of the new products launched today will be available on October 26. Customers can preorder them now.

Microsoft described today's product launches as the "beginning of a new era" for Windows. The company also will support upcoming product rollouts by its key OEM partners, including Dell, Hewlett Packard, Acer, Asus, Fujitsu, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/06/2015 at 1:12 PM


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