Today I attended Microsoft’s annual fall hardware event in New York City, timed conspicuously right before the western selling season begins. The company’s Surface line gains more and more traction every year, for a lot of reasons (see my recap of last year’s Surface event here for a taste). Canalys reported that the entire Microsoft Surface line shipped 1.6 million units worldwide in Q2 2019, up 17% from the previous year, and Surface tablets increased 23% during the same time period. Given the entire market was only up a few percentage points, this is huge growth.
Tuesday’s Microsoft event demonstrated that Surface still had a lot of room for growth and expansion. Let’s take a closer at what was announced, and my quick analyst take on it. If you are looking for Surface Duo information, click here to read.
Surface Pro X- edge to edge display design, Qualcomm-based processor, pen nook
Perhaps the star of the show was the new Surface Pro X. It’s an all-new 2-in-1 with an edge to edge display design, focused on portability and touted by Microsoft as its “thinnest Surface yet.” Surface Pro X weighs in at 1.7 pounds and features 11.3” x 8.2” x 0.28” dimensions. It’s a looker, with its 13-inch PixelSense edge-to-edge display, a resolution of 2,880 x 1,920, and a 3:2 aspect ratio. It also sports a sleek body of anodized aluminum (in Matte Black), a kickstand that hinges to 165 degrees, and a magnetic attach designed for keyboard fold stability. The optional magnetically attached keyboard houses the new Surface Pen, which is shaped like a carpenter’s pencil and it feels great. When you’re done with it, it tucks brilliantly in the keyboard hinge. No more lost pens. This is huge and could make me a pen believer.
A big differentiator for the Surface Pro X is its processor, the Microsoft SQ1 SoC, co-developed with Qualcomm. This isn’t a fully custom SoC like the Xbox One processor, but it isn’t off the shelf, either, it’s in between. The SQ1’s CPU operates at 3GHz (a first for Arm) and features the Qualcomm Adreno 685 graphics delivering 2.1TFLOPs of performance, an option of 8 or 16GB speedy and low power LPDDR4X RAM operating at 2.1GHz. If you’re into TOPs to measure ML performance, the SQ1 provides 9 TOPs.
Surface X supports a removable Solid State Drive (either 128, 256, or 512GB) opening this up to governments and regulated businesses that require removable storage. For commercial users, Microsoft has certified it with Windows 10 Pro, and for consumers, Windows 10 Home.
While 5G would have been great, the Surface Pro X has a Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 modem delivering Gigabit LTE Advanced Pro with support for nanoSIM, eSIM and 2×2 MIMO. 4×4 MIMO would have been better and I’ll dig into why that’s not the case.
Overall, I’m expecting good compute performance, fast SSD performance, integrated connectivity, and good battery life.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro X’s battery lasts all day long—as much as 13 hours of local video playback—and features fast charging capabilities. While I’m not a huge fan of video playback as the one battery measuring stick, it does a good job comparing between Surfaces and other devices. The solid battery life, coupled with the device’s LTE connectivity and Instant On feature, means that this device should be ready to go at a moment’s notice when on the go. As far as I/O goes, Pro X features two USB-C ports (up to dual 4K displays), a Surface Connect port, a Surface keyboard connector port, and one nano-SIM port.
In short, between the performance, battery life, portability, and connectivity, the Surface Pro X is the most impressive looking thin and light 2-in-1s I’ve seen. I look forward to giving one a go.
Surface Neo- 9” unfolded to 13.1” Windows productivity device
Microsoft gave a sneak preview of two foldables at the event, the Surface Neo (a Windows device) and Surface Duo (an Android smartphone) available in late 2020 during the holiday selling season. I wrote about Neo smartphone here.
Surface Neo is a dual-display productivity device with two 9” screens that unfolds to a 13.1” device. It runs a new version of Windows called “Windows 10X”, which Microsoft says is modular and optimized for dual-display devices. Microsoft says it has also designed a physical keyboard for Neo in addition to the on-screen display.
I’m fascinated Microsoft pre-announced this a year early, but this device needs a lot of application and Windows 10X development work for apps to flow perfectly. Applications and information will need to naturally float from screen to screen that require new gestures, and even the area between the physical keyboard and the display needs to be defined.
Surface Neo seems like the perfect kind of device I could take from meeting to meeting and walk the tradeshow floor with. When I get back to the office, I could see plugging it into a large display, keyboard, and mouse, using Neo as a second display.
As more information becomes available, I will be analyzing it.
Surface Laptop 3, now with 15” and custom AMD option
I also wanted to talk about the two iterations of Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop 3 which has expanded to two display sizes, 13.5” and 15”. The other big change is the available processor options from Intel and AMD which Microsoft says makes these twice as fast as the previous generation Surface Laptop. I can’t wait to see the numbers.
Surface Laptop 3 13 includes the choice between a 25W quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 Processors, code-named “Ice Lake”, specifically the i5-1035G7 and i7-1065G7. All the Intel processors feature DLBoost and AVX512. The i7 has 100-200Mhz higher CPU frequency, 50Mhz higher GPU frequency, 2GB more cache,
Meanwhile, on Surface Laptop 3 15, Microsoft is offering AMD for consumers and Intel for commercial SKUs. There are two AMD processor choices, the AMD Ryzen 5 3580U Mobile Processor with Radeon Vega 9 Graphics Microsoft Surface Edition and a Ryzen 7 3780U Mobile Processor with Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics Microsoft Surface Edition. Microsoft says that these custom AMD processors will lend “industry-leading integrated graphics performance” and I believe Microsoft and AMD added one extra graphics core to the design, which should give it a leg up in graphics performance for games and 3D apps. Microsoft says this is the start of a long-term relationship with AMD and I am assuming this means the Surface team as the AMD and Xbox relationship has gone on for a decade.
Both the 13 and 15” models feature removable M.2 NVME SSD—ideal for regulated businesses and government who want to make sure its data handled most securely upon disposal or wipe. These SSDs can be removed by the IT shop as it just takes a few screws to remove the deck.
Like the other Surface devices announced at the event, the new Surface Laptops boast “all-day” battery life and fast charging capabilities (purportedly up to 80% in approximately 1 hour). According to Microsoft, the 13” model charge can last for up to 14 hours, while the 15” lasts 14 hours with Intel inside and 12.5 hours with AMD. Additionally, all new laptops sport USB-C and USB-A ports, dual far-field studio mics, and the Instant-On capability. These laptops also run Windows 10 Home for consumers and Windows 10 Pro for commercial users. Another nice feature of these laptops is their large trackpads—20% bigger than the previous generation.
All in all, the biggest adders were the 15” Laptop models and the new, more powerful processor options. It’s great to see AMD getting some love finally from Microsoft.
Surface Pro 7- latest Intel processors and USB-C
Next up, I wanted to briefly hit on the Surface Pro 7, the next generation of Microsoft’s classic Surface line of 2-in-1s. The Surface Pro is the volume driver for Microsoft and it’s important that it got some upgrades like the latest Intel processors and a USB-C port. Pro 7 features many of capabilities of the Surface Pro X, including all-day battery life, Instant On, and a PixelSense display (albeit slightly smaller than the Pro X, at 12.3”). Additionally, the Surface Pro 7 features the latest 10th Gen Intel Core Processors, code-named “Ice Lake”, with the choice of a 15W dual-core i3-1005G1 (1.2/3.4GHz.) processor, a quad-core i5-1035G4 processor (1.1/3.7GHz.), or a quad-core i7-1065G7 processor (1.3/3.9GHz). All the Intel processors feature DLBoost and AVX512. While the i3 comes with Intel’s UHD Graphics, the i5 and i7 editions feature Intel’s Iris Plus Graphics for much-improved performance.
Notably, the Pro 7’s port options include USB-A, USB-C (new), and a MicroSDXC card reader—versatility that I believe new and current customers will appreciate. This is in addition to a Mini Display Port, a Surface Connect Port, a Surface Type Cover Port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The device also includes dual far-field studio microphones and a 5.0MP front-facing camera and 8.0MP rear-facing camera—both with 1080 full HD video. These features will come in handy for Teams and Skype.
Lastly, I wanted to mention Microsoft’s new wireless earbuds offering. I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Surface Headphones, so I shouldn’t be surprised that Microsoft introduced earbuds. These earbuds feature what Microsoft calls immersive Omnisonic Sound, and touch and voice controls for phone calls and music like Spotify and can be used to access Outlook or control PowerPoint presentations. Frankly, that’s an impressive amount of capabilities for a pair of earbuds. The Surface Earbuds also includes a wireless charging case, and a charge that Microsoft says lasts all day. I’ll be digging more into this one as I get more information, but I have to say, I love the touch capabilities.
All in all, this was a huge event with new form factors, new use cases, and processor choices. Surface Pro X signifies the biggest change ever to the Surface Pro line adding the always-on, always-connected dimension and improving the pen experience. Surface Neo creates new foldable use cases with a new operating system designed for dual-screen use cases. Surface Laptop 3 added 15” models and removable SSDs for commercial customers. Overall, customers now have new processor options from AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm. Surface Earbuds extend the Surface experience and differentiate with touch gestures.
From an event and launch standpoint, Microsoft hit some major home runs and made some nice improvements to its current line. I look forward to trying this next generation of Surface devices out firsthand in the coming months.
You can check out my Surface Duo smartphone analysis here.