What’s New? The Surface line just keeps getting better

It’s been a while since Microsoft surprised us with its first Surface laptop, tablet, or whatever it was. At the time, the design was something unique and innovative, but not everyone liked it, or at least, not everyone was sure that the Surface was a good move for Microsoft.

Microsoft’s introduction of its Surface tablet engendered buzz like no other we’ve seen from Microsoft. The big question is, does it stand up to the hype? – PCWorld

Microsoft first announced the Surface at an event on 18 June 2012, presented by former CEO Steve Ballmer in Milk Studios Los Angeles. This hybrid tablet included a keyboard that was surprisingly good, and it also served as a cover for it.

Earlier today, Microsoft announced new updates to its existing line of Surface products and a few new items as well. So the question is, is Microsoft’s Surface line getting better? In my opinion, yes, it has been improving with every update and every product added to it. The Surface Book 2 for example, is an excellent laptop for power users looking not only for a responsive and capable laptop, but also a computer that can act as a tablet for portability, creative work, and even for entertainment.

What’s new?

Both of these incredible products come in an all-new finish, a timeless and sophisticated matte black.

Surface Pro 6

  • Featuring the latest 8th generation Intel® Quad Core™ processor.
  • More than 67 percent faster than 5th generation Surface Pro.
  • Same portability, versatility and all-day battery as before.
  • PixelSense™ Touch Display.
  • Intelligent inking.
  • Password-free Windows Hello sign-in.
  • Windows Timeline.

Surface Laptop 2

  • New Quad Core 8th generation Intel® processor.
  • 85 percent faster than the original Surface Laptop.
  • PixelSense™ Touch Display.
  • Best in class keyboard and trackpad.
  • 14.5 hours of battery life you need to get through your day (without sacrificing performance and portability).

Surface Studio 2

This is the second generation of the most potent Surface ever. This is the computer that targets annoyed Mac OS users that need high graphics performance, and fast processing for video creation, and other demanding computing tasks.

  • Next generation Pascal graphics and 50 percent faster GPU.
  • 38 percent brighter than previous Surface Studio, with 22 percent more contrast.
  • Surface Pen:
    • 4,096 levels of pressure, tilt sensitivity for drawing and sketching.
    • Best-in-class ink latency.

Surface Headphones

This is the new Surface family member, the Surface Headphones that match the design and we hope, the quality, of the rest of the Surface line products.

  • Spectacular sound quality and 13 levels of ambient noise control.
  • Designed with collaboration in mind, there are 2 beam-forming microphones on each ear cup, 8 microphones in total.
  • Easily adjust volume and noise cancellation levels with new, intuitive on-ear dials.

Microsoft says that while Surface Headphones are optimized for Surface devices, they will pair with any Bluetooth enabled device so when you’re switching between PC and phone, you can stay connected to your music, meeting or call seamlessly. The Surface Headphones also integrate with Cortana for voice-activated commands – I’ll get back to you on how well that works once I get a hold of them to try it.

What else is new?

Many people are already using Surface products, and the continued success of the Surface line depends, in part, on how many people Microsoft can get to switch from Mac OS devices and who are looking for powerful and capable tools that can help them complete their work and enjoy every minute of it.

These Surface products aren’t cheap, and to help with that, Microsoft also released a new program called Surface All Access to help people purchase any of their Surface products with low monthly payments.

One more thing, you can also get the Windows 10 October 2018 update now, details are on the video below – or you can just wait until the general rollout begins on Oct. 9.

How To Choose the Perfect Tablet

When it comes to tablets, there are specific things you need to look at before you buy. One big mistake is to buy a tablet just because it is popular. Instead, do some research and spend sometime figuring out what kind of features, operating system and price will make the perfect tablet for you.

Tablets are useful for consuming media and play casual games. But some newer models are also good for creating content.

What is your goal with the tablet?

This is the number one question you need to ask yourself. A tablet is common for casual gaming, watching movies, browsing the internet, checking email, and to read books.  Understanding which is the main reason you want a tablet will help when selecting one. Figure out what matters the most to you and write it down, this will help you select the perfect tablet.

For Gaming

Apple’s iPad is the best option for people looking to use the tablet for gaming. The reason for this is the large array of great game titles available in the App Store. However, the game selection in the Microsoft Store and Google Play Store is improving. If you are a die-hard gamer and want to be able to play with a tablet, the NVidia Shield Tablet is for you.

For Kids

A priority for most parents getting a tablet for their kids is safety. Tablets give you access to content that can be inappropriate for kids, so a tablet offering parental controls is important. The Microsoft Surface and Amazon Fire HD (kids version) tablets offer strong parental controls. For small kids, you may also consider kid-focused tablets from Nabi.

For Business and Productivity

If you need a tablet to stay connected when on the go, something like the Microsoft Surface is what you need. This tablet comes with MS Office preloaded and you can buy the Surface Cover which is also a keyboard. Another option is the iPad Pro, which has a large screen and you can also get a Smart Cover which is also a keyboard. If you are a MS Office user, this application is also available for the iPad Pro.

For Media Consumption

If your goal for a new tablet is to watch movies and read books, the Fire HDX is a great option. Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member, you’ll have access to a wide variety of TV shows, movies and music. With this tablet you also have access to exclusive content from Amazon.

The iPad Air and the Microsoft Surface also offer exclusive access to their content platforms. With the iPad, you’ll have access to the iTunes library, and with the Surface you’ll enjoy Xbox integration.

What operating system is best for you?

Choosing a tablet with an operating system you are comfortable with is essential. For example, if you are a PC user, a tablet running Windows or Android will fit you better. If you are a Mac user, then the iPad is a good idea. Why is this so important? you’ll save time and effort if you get a tablet running an operating system you are familiar with. The operating system in a tablet will also determine the apps you’ll be able to install and use.

Here is a look at some of the tablet operating systems available today:

Windows

This is the most powerful operating system available for tablets today. The reason being that it is a full version of Windows and you can run any application you currently run on your PC. There is also the benefit of having a wide variety of companies offering tablets with Windows.

Tablets running Windows are a good option for those who want to do heavy-duty computing on a tablet.

Android

Like Windows, this operating system is available in many different tablets out there. This gives you a wide array of devices to choose from, with screen sizes ranging from 6 inches to 13 inches.

Tablets running Android are a great option for those who already have Android Phones. The cost of tablets running Android also tends to be lower than those running Windows or iOS.

Tablets running Android are a great option for people who just want a tablet to browse the web and check email. Android also offers a huge variety of apps.

iOS

This is Apple’s mobile operating system and it is available for both the iPhone and the iPad. The iPad is the most popular tablet out there, the simplicity of the operating system and the large availability of apps and games is the reason for this.

What features are important to you?

Battery Life

Battery life is affected by battery size, brightness of the screen, and the time a tablet is left on. With this in mind,  if battery life is a priority for you then you should look at this article. At the moment, the Lenovo Yoga tablet is the one with the longest battery life at 14.2 hours. The Samsung Galaxy and the iPad Air come in second and third place at 13.4 and 13.2 hours.

Screen Size and Resolution

Tablets come in  sizes ranging from 5 inches to now over 12 inches with the iPad Pro at 12.9 inches. If you work with photo or video editing applications, a larger screen is a must. Also, watching a movie and playing certain games is more enjoyable in a big screen. Both the Surface Pro and the iPad offer the best screen resolution.

Memory

Tablets come with internal memory ranging from just 1 GB to 512 GB. The Surface Pro and a few other Windows tablets offering up to 512 GB of memory are a great choice if you have that need. Also, most tablets running Windows and Android have expandable storage.

Wireless Connectivity

There are different versions of Wi-Fi, at the moment we have 802.11b/g and 802.11n. The 802.11n specification is the best when you are planning on streaming video or downloading large files. Also, a tablet that supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands provide the best Wi-Fi connectivity.

Camera

Most tablets come with one and sometimes two cameras. Tablets aren’t a great choice to use as cameras to take photos. But if you need to use your tablet for video conferencing, make sure the tablet you buy has a camera on the front.

Price

Tablet prices range from less than a $100 to more than $1000 dollars. The features and even the brand will dictate the price of a tablet. There is a wide range of tablet prices for any budget. The Amazon Fire HD at just $99 is the cheapest tablet and the Apple iPads have the higher cost.

Microsoft BUILD 2012, Windows 8 and Live Tiles

Touch-based, live tiles and information at your fingertips is what Microsoft is betting the house on with the new Windows 8 and its new tablet product, the Surface. A few weeks ago I attended BUILD 2012 which is Microsoft’s 2-year-old conference that appears to have replaced two of the most successful Microsoft conferences, PDC (Professional Developer Conference) and MIX. The tickets for BUILD 2012 sold out in about 45 minutes after going on sale. This shows you how Microsoft is still very relevant in the technology industry, and continues to fight aggressively in various fronts such as game consoles, small business software, enterprise software, email, search, phone and now tablets as well.

The logistics

This year, BUILD was held at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond  WA, which Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer jokingly said during the keynote it was a decision they made after having one of the driest summers recorded in Redmond’s history. It was cloudy, cold and rainy every single day during the conference, but it was expected, after all it is Seattle weather. Having the conference at Redmond was something some people appreciated since it gave them the opportunity to visit the campus of one of the world’s largest tech giants. However, as large as their campus is, it is not designed to handle a conference as big as BUILD. Many of the attendees I spoke to felt that this year, they missed on the opportunity of doing more networking with the speakers and with other attendees as everybody was always in the move trying to take a shuttle to get to the next session which many times was in a different Microsoft building.

BUILD 2012 attendees stayed in various hotels within a 5 mile radio from the Microsoft campus, this means that every person had to either drive or wait for a shuttle to arrive at the hotel to take them to Microsoft’s campus. Shuttles were comfortable and on time, the drivers were always friendly but the ride was boring and it felt as a waste of time to commute for about 15 minutes to get to the conference from the different hotels in the area. In most conferences you can always stay at the hotel were the conference is being held at or stay in a different hotel within walking distance.

There was also the location of sessions, they were divided in two buildings, #92 and #33 and if in a single day you wanted to attend sessions that were on both buildings, then Microsoft provided shuttles between buildings… again, comfortable rides, friendly drivers but because of the commute between buildings most people felt like there were missing on talking to other attendees or actually get some work done or notes between sessions since you almost always had to be traveling from one building to another. Because of the large number of people, sometimes it took up to 45 minutes waiting in line to get onto one of these shuttles.

The two keynotes and beer fest were held at a huge tent setup right outside of building #33 on a baseball field. Breakfast and lunch were in a different tent that was setup next to the large one. For people who attended sessions in building #92, there was also a tent setup on a soccer field outside the building were breakfast and lunch was served. The image above should give you an idea on the lines we all had to deal with just to move from one place to the next… it was like a theme park for geeks, but without the rides.

Keynote – Day 1

The keynote on day one was my favorite, the pre-keynote show was very interesting and I enjoyed it very much. Microsoft had Jordan Rudess – an enthusiast and pioneer in the world of alternative music controllers such as touch-screen computers, etc… play some cool music using keyboards and a new app on a Surface tablet. Jordan Rudess is the co-creator of MorphWiz and Tachyon.

Steve Ballmer’s keynote was refreshing and fun. Steve seemed truly excited about what Microsoft has been releasing on both software and hardware areas in the past two weeks and it was noticeable. Ballmer was joking, smiling and just having a blast showing off a very large screen with Windows 8 on it and all the laptops, phones and PCs running Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and the new tablet Surface. He shared the following statistics during the keynote:

* 4 million Windows 8 upgrades since last Friday
* Developer account only $8.00 in the next 8 days.
* Every conference attendee gets a new MS Surface with Windows RT, 32GB storage, a 150GB of skydive’s storage and a new NOKIA Lumia 920 Windows 8 phone.

It is very clear that Microsoft is going all in with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. It is also clear that they realize they need help from developers to build applications for both platforms. During the conference, Microsoft and its partners never wasted a good opportunity to let attendees know that they are eager to get them on board to start building Windows 8 apps for all form factors (PC, tablet, phone). Microsoft claims that the new Windows 8 SDK allows developers to write an application once and then have the ability to publish the same code base to all platforms, PC, tablet and phone. They are also betting heavily on JavaScript, a look at the different developer sessions clearly reflects this.

Keynote – Day 2

This keynote was focused on the new tools available to developers to build Microsoft Store Apps and Windows Phone Apps. As a developer I am actually excited about the possibilities, it feels as if Microsoft finally nailed it with all the things that are necessary for developers to start building apps on the Windows platform. First of all, the updates made to Visual Studio, Windows Azure and the Microsoft App store are great, things just work now and it is incredibly easier to build a basic useful app when compared to building the same app for iOS. I attempted to use Windows Azure a few years ago and was disappointed with this product, it was not mature enough yet and it definitely felt half-baked. Today, Windows Azure is extremely easy to use and Microsoft has made it really easy for developers and companies to start using it, without paying anything upfront or making any commitments to it. Take a look by yourself.

Another great announcement during the keynote was the mention that registrations to Microsoft’s developer program was available at only $8.00 (an offer that will only lasted until 11/8), as opposed to $99.00 which is the regular price for one year registration, the same as Apple’s developer program fee. Many people still do not realize what a sweet deal this is for developers, especially if you also take into account that Microsoft has a 100% free version of Visual Studio as well, so you could really start developing, hosting and selling an app with just about $8 out of your pocket. I should also mention that if you are part of the BizSpark program, you can have access these tools for free.

What’s New

A new Windows operating system with a very cool and intuitive touch-enabled interface. Microsoft is taking a big risk with Windows 8 and that is exactly what this company needs, to bet on new things and be seen as an innovative company and not as a company always playing catch up with other companies. I like were Microsoft is going with Windows 8 and all of its tiles, as both a software developer and a consumer, I feel excited about using Windows again. I packed a Macbook Air and a Dell laptop for this trip and after receiving the Surface with Windows RT, I barely used any of the laptops during the conference, email was very easy to set up on this new tablet and browsing the web and apps was very enjoyable using the touch screen. What about taking notes during the conference? the Surface comes with the smart cover which also serves as a keyboard and it is surprisingly good when typing. It is not as easy to type on it as it is on my Macbook Air but you get used to it after some practice – to jot down thoughts and small notes the on-screen keyboard was very comfortable.

The battery is also something that was surprisingly lasting, it lasted from the time I got out of the hotel around 7:30AM until about 8PM. The Surface was not used all the time of course but it was neat to realize that every time I took it out of my backpack it was ready for me to browse the web, check email, type something or use some of the new Windows 8 apps.

The user interface works, touch just works, and information is always there for you, what you need and when you need it. For example, you can select the apps that appear as tiles in your desktop, change the layout as much as you want and more importantly, if your app is connected then the tiles get updated with information so you don’t even need to open the app to see new data – what does that mean you might ask? for example, I installed the New York Times app and placed it in the desktop, this app shows me the latest news as it is available in NYT.com, without me having to open the app or even open a browser to get to their website. This is truly what “information at your fingertips” was meant to be. If you are into sports you can have sport related apps show scores, or you can have an email app that shows you new messages as they come in, as well as total of unread messages, etc – without even opening the app. These app shortcuts or “Tiles” are alive and always getting the newest data when connected. Very clever and useful.

Sounds too good to be true? we’ll have to wait and see, personally I think MS is right about taking a huge risk by going all in with this new OS, they are showing great support to all developers out there by lowering the cost of the developer registration, handing free software and hardware and committing to spend a lot of resources marketing Windows 8 and its applications.

“You’ll see Windows 8 every time you go on the internet, every time you turn your TV, in every magazine, newspaper and on every highway”. ~ Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft.

Is Microsoft Cool Again?

Microsoft trendy and cool? sure, with Windows 8, the new Windows Phone, and the new Surface tablet Microsoft is definitely going in the right direction. The enthusiasm among conference attendees was overwhelming and evident. However, you might argue that all the conference attendees are already interested in Microsoft products and working with them. What about the consumers? the non-technical people who have shown a lot of love and loyalty to other products such as the Apple iPhone and iPad for the past several years, what about them? are they going to love these new offerings from Microsoft? the answer is unknown, time will tell but with more than 4 million of Windows copies already upgraded to Windows 8 after only 3 days of its release, the odds are in favor of Microsoft. While at the conference, I made a trip to a local mall in Bellevue to visit both the Apple and the Microsoft stores, I wanted to capture consumer’s feelings and interests about the new products that both companies released in the past few weeks:

Since Microsoft opened its retail stores, this is the first time I see a Microsoft store this full of people wanting to look and play with the Surface tablet and laptops running the new Windows 8 operating system. Look at the photos and make your own conclusions.

The Surface with Windows 8 is already causing people to talk about Microsoft and Windows again, many people are complaining that Windows 8 is confusing and that they don’t see a need to upgrade from Windows 7, other people say they love it and appreciate the innovative design, live tiles in the new desktop and immediate access to music, movies, news, weather, apps, games, etc… what do you think? is Microsoft cool again? and if you are a software developer, are you interested in building Windows 8 apps?