Today, Microsoft unveiled the newest products in its Surface line of computers and accessories. There’s a new Surface Go, Surface Book, and a couple headphone options, including Microsoft’s first wireless earbuds.
“This is a strange time to be launching products,” Microsoft corporate vice president Robin Seiler said in a briefing late last week.
No doubt. The tenor of product launches has changed drastically amid a backdrop of an ever-evolving global pandemic. Coronavirus-induced disruptions to supply chains across the world have cast doubt on big tech companies’ ability to continue manufacturing at their usual rapid pace. Not to mention the fact that 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment and are unlikely to be buying expensive new gadgets right now. Microsoft has also had a few shake-ups of its own and has canceled all in-person events for at least the next year.
“I wish that I could read the future,” Seiler says. “I think that everyone knows that there is quite a bit of uncertainty that is facing us. I do know that we are seeing demand for Windows PCs increase, and for Surface specifically, as people are adjusting to working from home.”
Demand may be surging, but during this strange, new adjustment phase capitalism finds itself in, that doesn’t necessarily translate to increased sales. PC sales have been declining for several years, but they have dipped sharply in 2020, according to market research company IDC. Still, PC usage is up as people spend more time at home under lockdown. Microsoft is keen to position the Surface as the device to have during a protracted period of global unpredictability.
Surface Go 2
The Surface Go 2 is the second iteration of Microsoft’s entry-level tablet. It increases the size of its PixelSense display from 10 inches to 10.5 inches and adds dual “studio” mics for improved audio quality. Its processor is upgradable to an eighth-generation Intel Core M3, which Microsoft says gives it “up to 64 percent faster performance” than the previous Go.
Surface Book 3
Microsoft’s franken-tablet gets an update with the Surface Book 3. It has a full-size, laptop-style keyboard (with better key travel than the Go’s clip-on-type cover), and the screen detaches at the press of a button to become a tablet. Book 3 comes in a 13-inch or 15-inch package, with battery life up to 15.5 hours and 17.5 hours, respectively. Seiler described the Book 3 as the most powerful laptop the company has made.
To bolster that claim, Microsoft has pitched the Book line as machines built for gaming. Seiler says that the 15-inch Book 3, upgraded with an Intel 10th-generation processor, 32 GB of RAM, and a discrete Nvidia GPU, can play “the top Xbox Game Pass for PC titles at 1080p and 60 frames per second.” That won’t be enough to satisfy gamers looking to play in 4K, but it’s not bad for a device that wants to do everything.
Of course, with great power comes great financial responsibility: The Surface Book 3 starts at $1,599.
Surface Earbuds and Headphones
Microsoft is arriving fashionably late to the wireless earbuds game with its $199 Surface Earbuds. These were announced last October, then delayed for a Spring release. They’ll start shipping May 12, into the gaping maw of a market dominated by Apple’s AirPods. In addition to the buds’ 24-hour battery life, Microsoft seems to be hoping that the hardware’s integration with the company’s suite of mobile apps will pull in a good chunk of business-minded users. If you have always dreamed of controlling your PowerPoint presentation by barking orders at your earbuds, buddy, these are for you.
Microsoft’s other new audio addition is an update to its Surface Headphones. Seiler says the active noise canceling in the new Surface Headphones was designed specifically to block out the human voice, which starts to look like a prescient design feature if you’re entering a third month of being trapped indoors with your family. Surface Headphones 2 boosts battery life up to 20 hours, with ANC on (up from 15 hours over the previous model). On-ear control dials can be used to adjust the volume and the level of noise canceling, with additional touch buttons for controlling playback and answering calls. Perhaps the most noticeable update is that the ear cups now rotate a full 180 degrees. Oh, and they’re $100 cheaper, at $249.
Microsoft also announced the Surface Dock 2, a $260 brick meant to anchor the Surface at a workstation. The company says that the Dock 2 can support two 4K monitors at a time. It has 4 USB ports, though there’s no SD card reader. Microsoft is also selling a slimmer, USB-C Travel Hub for $100.
Everything Microsoft announced today is available for preorder and will ship later this month. Of course, that depends on whatever fresh apocalypse befalls the world between now and then.
Update May 6, 2020, 7:30 am PDT: The price of Surface Earbuds has been corrected. They are $199, not $100.
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