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Microsoft just launched a new everything

AP Photo/Richard Drew
CEO Satya Nadella capped off a packed morning in New York.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

At a massive event at New York’s main post office building (that’s about to become a train station), Microsoft today (Oct. 6) announced a range of new products, including new computers, wearables, and phones. The company announced that its newest operating system, Windows 10, has been installed on over 110 million devices. Microsoft introduced nearly that many devices today, and Quartz rounded up everything the company showed off.

Surface Book laptop

It’s bendy. Microsoft’s first true laptop device—which shares the same branding as its tablet line—has a similar snap-together keyboard-and-screen structure, except with a far sturdier connection. The screen is connected to the body of the laptop through a bendy-straw-like connection (that looks a lot like a bicycle chain on the inside) that you can’t just pull off. There’s a button you have to hold down (either a physical one on the keyboard, or an on-screen one) before the screen is released from the base.

Quartz/Mike Murphy

It’s powerful. Microsoft called the 13.5-inch laptop “the fastest in its class,” comparing it to the MacBook Pro, with Microsoft’s Panos Panay saying it’s two times faster than Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop. The base model laptop comes with a 128-GB solid-state hard drive, 8 GB of memory, and a magnesium body design that might have some folks in Cupertino twisting their heads. Perhaps in a few years the new MacBooks will be bendy too.

Nice screen. The 6 million “PixelSense” screen was vivid, and easy to see in the dim light of the demo area.

Like the rest of the Surface line, you can draw on the Surface Book’s screen. The new pen was pretty responsive, apparently comprising 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, but it wasn’t as easy to control as expected. (See below.)

Quartz/Mike Murphy
The Surface Book hanging out.

The cost. Starting at $1,499, the Surface Book is roughly the same price as Apple’s newest MacBook, not the MacBook Pro to which it was compared.

Quartz/Mike Murphy
The Surface Book, in its various states of being.

Get it soon. The Surface Book is available for pre-order tomorrow and ships Oct. 26.

Surface Pro 4 tablet

Why? Microsoft calls this the “tablet that can replace your laptop,” unless you have the Surface Book, presumably. Following pretty much the same design as the old Surface models, there’s not much aesthetically to separate the Pro 4 from earlier Surfaces. The new model runs Windows 10 pretty well, however, and has up to 9 hours of battery life.

Quartz/Mike Murphy

Microsoft compared the Pro 4 to a MacBook Air in terms of power and utility—not the iPad Pro. The Pro 4 packs an HD 267 ppi 12.3-inch screen, 128 GB of storage, and 4 GB of memory at the base model. And unlike an Air, you can draw on the screen, if you want.

New pen. It seems like everyone is copying the Surface’s look these days. The new Surface pen is magnetic and snaps right to the magnesium body of the tablet—no need for any awkward loops from the keyboard cover this time. The pen also has interchangeable nibs to simulate the feel of different pens and pencils, and it even has an eraser on top. The top also doubles as a way to summon Cortana—Microsoft’s voice-activated assistant—but considering the top is clickable, this reporter kept clicking on it like it was a pen, meaning Cortana kept popping up when I just wanted to write something. The pen is supposed to interact with the improved Gorilla Glass screen to make it feel more like you’re writing on paper, but at the demonstration, it still pretty much felt like a piece of rubber rolling along a piece of glass.

Quartz/Mike Murphy
Not as easy as it looks.

New keyboard. Like its predecessors, the angular tablet has a sold-separately keyboard which comes in an array of colors. The keyboard’s buttons are deeper than the old versions, and it’s supposed to be better to type on. When trying it out, it still seemed pretty flat, but was definitely easier to type on than the last version.The mouse, however, was a still a bit finicky to use. The magnetic link between the cover and the tablet was also super strong—effective enough to hold the Surface up just by the cover, though Microsoft wasn’t too happy with me doing that.

Price point. The Pro 4 starts at $899, and includes the new pen. The keyboard costs an additional $130—which you’re likely going to want to have—meaning its base price is only a few hundred dollars less than the Surface Book.

Available today. The Pro 4 is available today through Microsoft’s website.

Lumia 950 and 950 XL phones

New flagships. Microsoft showed off its new phones, with bright 5.2-inch and 5.7-inch screens. Panay said that even up close, “you’ll never see a pixel” on the 950s—I tried quickly, and I couldn’t.

Quartz/Mike Murphy
The new Lumia flagship phones.

They’re cool. According to Panay, the phones have “tablet-class liquid cooling,” which makes it sound like they’re cooled like massive data systems are. Probably not though. It does mean that they’re powerful phones, running eight-core processors that hopefully won’t overheat with that fancy cooling system.

Great cameras. Lumia phones, be they made by Microsoft or Nokia, have a tradition of packing great cameras, and the 950s are no exception. Both phones have a 20-megapixel camera that can shoot 4K video, and get rid of red eye on the fly, as well as stabilize images in “challenging situations.” In the challenging, bustling, darkened demo room, the Lumias took decent photos, even in the low light.

Cost and availability. Lumia 950 starts at $549 and the XL at $649, and you can order them next month.

There is another. Microsoft also blazed through the fact that it launched the Lumia 550, a 4.7-inch entry-level LTE smartphone with a 5-megapixel camera for $139. Phew.

Microsoft Band 2

For superhumans. The Microsoft presenter explained how she was training for her first ultra-marathon and the new Band 2 wearable has been perfect for her workouts. The device has 11 sensors built in, providing pieces of information that presumably the average schlub would not need, including a barmometer to tell you your elevation when you’re biking up a mountain, and a sensor to figure out your VO2 Max—a metric used on pro athletes to determine the maximum volume of oxygen they can inhale while exercising. It can also tell you if you got an email.

Quartz/Mike Murphy

Cost and release date. The Band 2 costs $249—the same price as the most expensive FitBit and $100 less than an Apple Watch—and will be available on Oct. 30.

HoloLens updates

Coming in the spring. Microsoft announced that the developer edition of the HoloLens would be released in the first quarter of 2016, and will cost $3,000. No details on how much a consumer version will cost, or any additional specs on what you’ll need to actually use the HoloLens.

AP Photo/Richard Drew
The future of gaming involves a lot of moving parts right now.

New games. The company showed off a new program—mysteriously entitled “Project X-Ray”—that further blends reality with holograms, or at least what Microsoft keeps wanting to call holograms. The program was a game, where the player stands in a room and has to use weapons to stave off a robot insect invasion. On top of the enemies being able to adapt the contours of the room, the program also could generate holograms around the player—his gun was a Mega Man-like cannon sticking right out of his arm—which the company called the first “wearable hologram.” The demonstration looked a bit choreographed (the enemies never hit the player, and he always seemed to know when to defend), but it points at a future where Microsoft brands—like Halo, and Gears of War—could produce some pretty impressive immersive gameplay.

Microsoft Display Dock

Continuum. No, not the John Mayer album—Microsoft has a new device, shaped like a tiny, dense, Apple TV, that can charge a new Lumia, and when it’s connected up to a computer monitor, keyboard and mouse, turn the phone’s operating system into a relatively full-fledged Windows 10 experience. It calls this experience Continuum. Microsoft showed me that you can edit PowerPoint decks, play around with Word docs, watch Netflix and manage files like you would on an actual computer, all from the smartphone. You can even be running a program on the computer screen, and use the phone’s screen to do something else at the same time.

Quartz/Mike Murphy
There’s no computer here, just a smartphone.

Do you need it? The $150 device assumes that someone has a top-of-the-line Lumia phone, but no access to a laptop or tablet. Perhaps in a pinch it could be a great add-on to an existing setup, or as clumsy streaming device system, but for that price, you might as well just get a cheaper phone and a better computer. Microsoft isn’t the first company to attempt a device like this—Motorola and Palm both tried—but perhaps they can make it useful where others have failed.

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