Microsoft Out-Pencils Apple, Adds Laptop

By Doug Mohney October 07, 2015

If the stylus is the standard by which business tablets are now to be judged, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 clearly one-upped Apple’s iPad Pro and pencil. The company also added the Surface Book laptop to round out its portfolio of mobile devices, a move that should give analysts and traditional PC manufacturers more food for thought.

The Surface Pro 4 adds a slightly larger screen (12.3 inches to the 3’s 12) without increasing total device size, along with a faster Intel processor, a new stylus, a finger print sensor, facial recognition for logging in, a new Type keyboard cover, faster RAM with options up to 16 GB, storage up to 1 TB, an 8 megapixel camera, a new docking station, and a starting price of $900. To be clear, the stylus is included – unlike Apple Pencil – while the improved keyboard cover is still an extra-cost option.

Initial reports gush about the stylus.  Click and hold the “eraser” button and you’ll get the Cortana virtual assistant on line. The stylus has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and its own dedicated chipset.  You can buy interchangeable pen tips for different types of drawing and painting applications. Like the keyboard covers, the new stylus attaches magnetically; no more loop as with the Surface Pro 3.

I was hoping Microsoft would add support for 60 GHz WiGig technology to the Surface Pro, but it only supports the current 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac high-speed standard. Maybe next year. No USB-C, it’s all USB 3.0 ports – one on the tablet and a couple in the docking station. And no wireless charging, but that may be a stretch too far for the next generation tablet. The irony here is Microsoft has USB-C appearing in its two flagship Lumina phones, with the ports providing fast charging.  Surface has a separate wonky charging cord, if memory serves.

The Surface Pro 4 is a solid upgrade.  Stylus lovers will love it and there are enough upgrades and tweaks to make it a worthy successor to the Surface Pro 3.  I’m tempted, but the price tag is still up there for elite buyers, rather than the rest of us.

The big surprise from Microsoft was a high-end laptop, the Surface Book. Microsoft’s first laptop is rightfully being compared to the MacBook Pro. Starting at $1499, it is a 13 inch laptop with a hinge that enables the keyboard to be detached from the screen.  Call it Microsoft’s 2-in-1, but the marketers aren’t using that term.

Microsoft says the Book is double the speed of the Apple MacBook Pro, an interesting shot to Apple’s jaw.  Apple should be less worried than traditional PC manufacturers, who continue to ship out products that lack excitement and polish. And Microsoft marketing will have to work out the marketing disconnect between the “ultimate laptop killer” in the Surface Pro 4 and the “ultimate Laptop” in the Book.

 If I had the cash to burn, I’d love to own a Surface Book. At less than four pounds and with the sensors that go into a Surface tablet, it’s more capable and “smarter” than a stock laptop or 2-in-1.  The next development will require laptop manufacturers to take the hint and build something as good as (or better) than the Book at a better price.  We’ll have to see if any of them put out new hardware at CES 2016 in January.




Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

Contributing Editor

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