ANALYSIS: Microsoft is setting the standard for Windows 10 machines as Silicon goes hands-on
Think of Microsoft some ten years or so ago and your mind’s eye will picture a software giant chugging along with its globe conquering Windows operating system and almost ubiquitous Office productivity suite.
But times have changed and the Redmond giant is increasingly being challenged by competition on the software front form the likes of Apple with macOS and even Google with its ChromeOS.
And then there’s the mobile world where operating systems on smartphones are very capable platforms with access to all manner of productivity tools; iOS 11 on the new iPad Pro is aiming squarely at the working world with features normally seen on Mac laptops and desktops.
As such, Microsoft has had to react, pushing Office into the cloud and adding a bevvy of features from smart tools like Delve to virtual assistant integration with Cortana.
With its expanded Surface range, Microsoft looks to be making a big play to make Windows devices more diverse and exciting again in the face of slick designed laptops and desktops from Apple.
For London Tech Week, Microsoft invited Silicon to take a closer look at its Surface portfolio, including the recently announced Surface Laptop and the refreshed fifth-generation Surface hybrid, simply dubbed the Surface Pro.
The Surface range now consists of four halo devices; the Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Laptop, and the Surface Studio.
Starting with the Surface Pro, which is now available for purchase, Microsoft has given its 2-in-1 laptop-come-tablet a nip and a tuck, boosting is processing power with Intel’s 6th generation Kaby Lake chips, improving battery life to 13.5 hours, offering models with fanless design, and integrating the SSD with the device’s motherboard to save space.
The new Surface Pro is also lighter than its predecessor and has minor external tweaks such as smaller vents on the top of the tablet, as well as a new hinge to allow for the tablet to be laid nearly flat when used with its keyboard accessory.
We had a little play with the new Surface Pro, and while the changes over the critically-acclaimed Surface Pro 4 were minor, we remained impressed at the hybrid which in our opinion sets the bar for how a 2-in-1 Windows hybrid should be designed.
Microsoft’s more laptop aping hybrid, the Surface Book has also been equipped with Intel’s Kaby Lake processors and models with dedicated graphics cards gain access to Nvidia’s GeForce 965M graphics processing units (GPUs).
Other than a minor specs boost, there’s little to report on the refreshed Surface Book. It remains a high quality hybrid device with a nicely designed hinge and a specification that should satisify all but the most power-hungry users.
However, we were a little disappointed that Microsoft when with GPUs based on Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture rather than its latest more powerful Pascal GPUs, which can offer near-desktop level performance in chips suitable for laptops.
The MacBook Air has for some time held the benchmark for ultraportable laptop design; the likes of HP and Asus have aped its design for the Windows world, but the now venerable MacBook Air offers a combination of slick design, build-quality and solid performance on the go, that keeps its appeal despite its lack of change since 2015.
The Surface Laptop looks to upset that trend; announced back in May, the laptop has a slim wedge-like design, a vibrant, high-resolution display, clever cooling, and a keyboard decked out in alcantara micro-fibre material.
To our eyes it is a beautiful device to the look and touch, with the keyboard offering nice travel and feedback and the PixelSense touchscreen display offering bright colours and excellent contrast, as well as benign responsive to the touch and use with Microsoft’s take on the stylus the Surface Pen.
With a slimmed-down operating system in the form of Windows 10 S, there is an argument that the Surface Laptop is hobbled a bit with a limited OS.
But, Windows 10 S has been targeted at the education sector where there is more of a desire to ensure the only apps accessible are those approved for the Windows Store, thereby keeping resource hogging third-party software away from the Surface Laptop and reducing the risk of getting malware infections.
People wanting the full-fat Windows 10 experience can upgrade to the OS for £50.
Sitting around the £1,000 mark, the Surface Laptop is not cheap, but its hardware design and the amount of engineering that appears to have been put into the device, puts it in the premium device market.
The Surface Laptop is arguably one of the best Windows devices avaiable and more than challenges the MacBook Air for the corwn of quality ultraportable laptops.
From our perspective, the Surface Laptop acts as a halo device that sets the standard for Windows 10 laptops and should see Microsoft’s hardware partners follow suit in designing laptops that ape the features and design cues of the Surface Laptop.