Microsoft launches Surface Book, its first laptop, debuts Surface Pro 4, Lumia 950 phone

VP of Microsoft Surface Panos Panay speaks on stage at Windows 10 Devices Event, on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 in New York City.

VP of Microsoft Surface Panos Panay speaks on stage at Windows 10 Devices Event, on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 in New York City.  (Mark Von Holden/AP Images for Windows)

Microsoft didn’t disappoint on Tuesday at its highly-anticipated hardware event, announcing its first ever laptop and also unveiled its next Surface tablet and new flagship phones.

Surface Book

The biggest surprise was the debut of Microsoft’s first laptop, the 13.5-inch Surface Book.  In keeping with Microsoft’s hybrid device strategy, the display can disconnect from the keyboard base to become a tablet.  But this is definitely a laptop first, tablet second (unlike the Surface tablets) – and probably realizes Microsoft’s ultimate vision of a hybrid device that you can actually use on your lap.  To date, Surface products have had a built-in kickstand to prop up the device, which is not an elegant solution when typing on your lap. The Surface Book solves this problem because it has been designed as a lap-friendly laptop and eschews the kickstand.

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At only 1.6 pounds, it’s easily one of the lightest laptops on the planet, even handily beating Apple’s 2-pound 12-inch Retina MacBook.  But the machined magnesium alloy laptop is also built to be fast and comes with a powerful graphics processing unit (GPU) from Nvidia (which is located separately in the keyboard base) and processors ranging up to Core i7 (located in the tablet) based on Intel’s just-released 6th Generation Core design.  

“Ounce for ounce, the fastest laptop every made,” said Panos Panay, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Surface Computing, during an event in New York City Tuesday.

Other Surface Book goodies include a high-resolution 3,000x2,000 display, 8GB of RAM, two full-size USB 3.0 ports, up to 12 hours of battery life, and a Surface Pen.   All of this technology packed into a very thin, light package is not cheap, however.  Pricing for the Surface Book starts at a whopping $1,499 with a 128GB solid-state drive. The device will begin shipping on Oct. 26.

Surface Pro 4

Luckily the Surface Pro 4 tablet is a lot cheaper, starting at $899.  The screen is slightly larger, at 12.3 inches, than the older 12-inch Surface Pro 3 but it’s not any wider because Microsoft has made the Pro 4 with thinner bezels (borders) around the display.  It also sports a better Type Cover (the keyboard that attaches to the display): it’s thinner and has a bigger trackpad (40 percent larger) than the Surface Pro 3.

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One of the centerpieces of Surface products has always been the pen.  The Pro 4 comes with a more sensitive Surface Pen.  And Cortana – Microsoft’s intelligent voice-activated assistant – is also integrated into the new pen. For instance, by holding down the eraser button, you can invoke Cortana and give voice commands.

More detailed specs include a 2,763x1,824 resolution display, up to 16GB of RAM, and weight/thickness of 1.73 pounds and 0.33-inches, respectively – both lighter and thinner than the Surface Pro 3.  Like the Surface Book, it will start shipping on Oct. 26.

Lumia 950/950 XL smartphones

Microsoft is in the phone business too, lest we forget. On Tuesday, it announced two flagship phones - the Lumia 950 and larger 950 XL. These are the first phones from Microsoft to run the Windows 10 Mobile operating system out of the box and pack impressive hardware like Octacore processors (chips with eight processor cores) and liquid cooling. 

Other tech specs include a 5.2-inch WQHD (1,440x2,560) OLED display on the Lumia 950 and a 5.7 inch WQHD OLED display on the 950XL.  Both devices also boast 20-megapixel rear cameras.  The Lumia 950 and 950 XL will be priced at $549 and $649, respectively, and be available starting November.


Microsoft also introduced a second-generation Band, its fitness-centric wearable.  A new curved screen sports Corning Gorilla Glass 3 glass and is more responsive to touch. Microsoft has also added a barometer that tracks elevation changes.  And the latest Band will calculate oxygen intake. The Band offers email, text, and calendar alerts and works with Windows Phone, iPhone, and Android.  The second-generation Band is priced at $249.99 and will ship on Oct. 30.