Microsoft may have launched the second world war of computing on Tuesday with the unveiling of a powerful new Surface Pro 4 tablet and Surface Book, two new convertible devices that make us feel like we're back in the 1990s world where Mac vs. PC was the only conflict of note.
Microsoft's Surface head, Panos Panay, reveled in comparing the new Surface products to the latest competition from Apple, claiming that the new Surface Pro 4 is 50 percent faster than a MacBook Air and calling the Surface Book laptop "twice as fast" as a MacBook Pro.
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An exuberant Panay ran through the specs and engineering details of both new Windows 10 devices in great detail for about an hour from a live event in New York that was also streamed on the web.
The expected Surface Pro upgrade is thinner than its predecessor, at just 8.4 mm, with a 12.3-inch screen and up to a monstrous terabyte of storage space with as much as 16 GB of RAM. It's not clear exactly which new Surface Pro 4 model most outperforms the MacBook Air. One thing that wasn't made plain in the Microsoft presentation is just how many configurations of this new Surface Pro will be available, as there are models with varying Intel processors from the M-class up to a Core i7 and different amounts of storage and RAM starting at 128 GB and 4 GB, respectively.
There was, however, lots of emphasis placed on the usefulness of the included Surface Pen, which now comes with an "eraser" on one end, an all-year battery and stows magnetically on the side of the tablet.
Much time was spent geeking out on the details of this updated stylus, which Panay explained has 1,024 levels of pressure and interchangeable pen tips for different use cases like writing, drawing or design. Lip service was also paid to the corresponding touch screen technology on the tablet itself, which Microsoft has dubbed "PixelSense," and consists of a very thin optical stack topped off with Gorilla Glass 4 that is just 0.4mm thick.
There's also a new Surface Pro docking station that's backwards compatible with Surface Pro 3, including four USB 3.0 connects, two 4K display ports and one for ethernet. Additionally, the Surface Pro Type Cover has been redesigned and is now lighter, thinner, more sturdy with backlit keys set further apart and has a 40 percent larger track pad – which is now made of glass (previous Surfaces had sketchy plastic trackpads). Finally, a new fingerprint scanner on the cover works alongside the new facial recognition feature on Windows 10 called Windows Hello to automatically recognize different users.
But the real "wow" moment of Panay's presentation came in the form of the new Microsoft Surface Book, which is like a more musclebound version of the Surface Pro that also addresses its primary flaw. As much as Microsoft has told us that the Surface Pro is the tablet to replace our laptops, its kickstand and wonky type cover don't always work very comfortably on your lap.
Surface Book looks like a regular laptop, with a 13.5-inch screen with the same Surface Pen and PixelSense touchscreen, but with the more rigid hinge between keyboard and screen that allow for comfortable typing anywhere. The surprise here is that the laptop-quality keyboard is also detachable, meaning the Surface Book can be used as a laptop or tablet or flipped around for a "tent mode" or clipboard sort of experience.
"The typing experience on this product is perfect," Panay told the crowd of journalists and employees, emphasizing how responsive and quiet the keys are while citing Microsoft's decades of experience making keyboards, which is interesting when contrasted with the fact that this is the company's first laptop in all those years.
The Surface Book runs on a Core i5 or i7 processor with different RAM and storage options, but there's also an NVIDIA GeForce GPU (the exact card is unknown at the moment) beneath the keyboard, adding a little graphics acceleration boost when the keyboard is connected. That keyboard is also backlit with a glass-covered trackpad. Without it, the Surface Book is only 7.7 mm (0.3-inch) thick and 0.73 kg (1.6 pounds). With the GPU-embedded keyboard, the whole package weighs 3.48 pounds.
Panay called the Surface Book the ideal portable system for gamers, architects, video producers and others with a need for heavy-duty computing capability. He also claimed it is the fastest 13-inch laptop ever, but perhaps even more impressive is the claim of 12 hours of battery life per charge.
So, with the iPad Pro set to launch later this year, a new battle front in the laptop and 2-in-1 wars has been opened. Both Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book begin pre-orders Wednesday, with availability starting October 26. Surface Pro 4 (minus the keyboard) starts at $899 and goes up to $2,199 for a unit with a Core i7, 16 GB RAM and 512 GB of storage, while Surface Book starts at $1,499 (minus the keyboard/GPU) up to $2,699 fully-loaded – no pricing is available for models with 1 TB of storage yet.