Sep 23, 2021 - Technology

Hands-on with Microsoft's new Surface hardware

The revamped camera app on the Microsoft Surface Duo 2

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Since I was in Seattle anyway, I managed to pop over to Redmond Wednesday to check out the array of Surface hardware Microsoft debuted earlier in the day.

Why it matters: Microsoft is rolling out Windows 11 on Oct. 5 and the new products give it a fresh lineup to accompany the biggest update to its operating system in years.

Driving the news: Microsoft updated three of its Surface products — the Surface Pro, Surface Pro X and Surface Go — with faster processors and other modest tweaks.

  • The biggest change came on the laptop front, where the new Surface Laptop Studio swaps the the detachable screen of the Surface Book for a tethered display that can swivel into various positions.
  • The Android-based Surface Duo 2 "device" (Microsoft is still hesitant to use the word "phone" after its past struggles) gets 5G and significantly improved cameras.

My thought bubble: Microsoft has gotten quite good at hardware over the last decade, and each of the new products has some thoughtful refinements over previous generations.

For example:

  • The bottom half of the Surface Laptop Studio is indented a bit, which allows for better airflow and heat dissipation as well as making space for the optional Slim Pen 2 to be stored and charged. And that stylus itself has been made narrower, so less of the screen is occluded while using the pen.
  • The standard Surface Pro line gets the clever built-in stylus storage and charging spot previously only available with the ARM processor-based Surface Pro X.
  • The cameras on the Surface Duo stick out quite a bit, but a sloped gasket allows you to fold the device backwards and put it in a pocket without damage (at least that's what Microsoft says), while a stiffer hinge allows the device to better hold its shape regardless of angle. And somehow you can also stick the Slim Pen in there, too.
  • Speaking of the cameras, the zoom, wide and ultra wide lenses represent a huge upgrade, while Microsoft has also designed the camera app to make good use of the dual display.
  • And speaking of those displays, there is still a gap between the two — unlike with a single foldable display — but the screens are rounded this year, making that gap less notable.
  • Meanwhile, Microsoft debuted a mouse made partly from ocean plastics and a collection of three-dimensional stickers that make the Surface line easier to use for those with disabilities.

Yes, but: The real key is how well the company has refined Windows itself, something I have yet to test. I'm hoping to do a fuller review of some of the hardware, as well, ahead of the October launch.

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