Microsoft made its name decades ago as a software company and its staple products such as Windows and Office continue to dominate the personal computer market.
In recent years though, Microsoft has become increasingly involved in the hardware aspect of technology – starting with the Xbox and its multiple generations, the company then came out with the Surface tablet a few years back and has since acquired Nokia’s mobile phone division (since rebranded as Microsoft Lumia).
The company has now drawn the covers off its latest hardware – two new flagship Lumia phones, the Lumia 950 and 950 XL; its latest tablet, the Surface Pro 4; and a brand new 2-in-1 laptop, the Surface Book. Each device comes packed with top-notch specs and features, all intended to secure Microsoft’s presence as a real competitor in both computer and mobile hardware.
Starting with the phones, the Lumia 950 includes a 5.2-inch Quad-HD screen powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor and a 3000mAh battery; the 950 XL bumps up these specs with a 5.7-inch QHD screen, a more powerful Snapdragon 810 processor and a 3340mAh battery, and both phones have the latest USB Type-C charging ports built in.
The two flagship phones also both come with the latest in a line of powerful Lumia cameras – at the back, a 20MP behemoth with Optical Image Stabilisation and a triple LED flash, that’s also capable of taking incredible 4K resolution video; in addition, there’s a 5MP wide-angle camera at the front. In a welcome move for heavy phone users, both new Lumias have removable backs that allow for SD card storage expansion and a removable battery – perfect for storing all the photos and videos you’ll be taking.
When it comes to software, both the Lumia 950 and the 950 XL are the first phones to run Windows 10 – the Windows Phone moniker appears to have been dropped, though the mobile software is still significantly different from the desktop experience. Windows 10 includes clever features like Windows Hello, which lets you unlock your phone simply by looking at the camera, as well as more integrated search and other streamlining improvements.
The headline feature of the new OS is what Microsoft calls Continuum; by plugging in your phone to Microsoft’s display dock along with a monitor, mouse and keyboard, you can use your phone as a quasi-PC. Your Lumia’s apps such as Office or Edge browser all scale up to desktop size to let you work as if you were at a regular computer, whilst your phone can still be used as normal while it’s plugged in. It’s not a full Windows 10, but it sounds useful nevertheless – not to mention pretty cool.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Moving on to the bigger products, we start with the Surface Pro 4. This year’s Surface starts at $1,349 in Australia and is essentially a bigger, lighter and generally better version of last year’s model – an incremental upgrade compared to the significant overhaul that was the Surface 3. The Pro 4 has a significantly bigger 12.3-inch HD display and comes with Intel’s latest 6th generation processors, as well as an 8MP camera at the rear and a 5MP at the front.
The tablet comes with SSD storage up to 512GB as well as an SD card slot, and the Surface’s signature features remain such as the variable kickstand, Surface Pen and the choice of Touch or Type Covers. The Pro 4 runs full Windows 10, including Office and Microsoft’s new Edge browser which allows you to annotate and share webpages as you go.
Microsoft Surface Book
Last and arguably most important is Microsoft’s first ever dedicated laptop, the Surface Book. The Book starts at $2,299 in Australia, and whilst this is a big increase on the Pro 4, you’ll be getting a lot more hardware for your money. The Surface Book is a touchscreen laptop with a 13.5-inch Full HD screen that can be detached and used as a tablet, or reattached backwards and folded down to be used as an inclined sketchpad or workspace.
The laptop’s unique multi-jointed hinge makes it easy to fold between different configurations. Like the Pro 4, the Surface Book comes with the Surface Pen which can be used for precise control in professional applications, meaning you have a choice between mouse, pen or finger touch to control your device; versatility really is the name of the game. The device is powered by the latest Intel i5 or i7 processors, and there’s also the option of a dedicated graphics card for graphically intense applications such as video editing (or gaming!). Like the Pro 4, the Surface Book runs full Windows 10 and all the programs that come with it, making it an exciting proposition for Microsoft aficionados.
By introducing high-end hardware into the mobile phone, tablet and laptop markets, Microsoft is clearly dead serious about becoming a major player in computer hardware. And with the unprecedented integration between the company’s mobile and desktop operating systems, this could well signal the start of a new period of Microsoft dominance. Watch this space.