The 10 most important things from Microsoft's Lumia event
Lumia phones are back, and Microsoft now makes laptops93
Microsoft is still relatively fresh off the launch of Windows 10, which — as presenter and Windows team head Terry Myerson pointed out — happened less than three months ago. Now, the company is getting ready to release its smartphone variant, Windows 10 Mobile. And while the operating system isn’t out yet, we just got our first look at the phones that will run it: Microsoft’s two flagship Lumias, along with one budget option.
But the most interesting parts of the presentation weren’t about phones. One was a fast-paced shooter played on the HoloLens augmented reality headset — to be clear, it was fairly misleading about the HoloLens’ limited field of view, but that doesn’t make it less cool to watch. The other was Microsoft’s announcement that after years of touting the Surface tablet as a laptop replacement, it’s now outright making Surface convertible laptops. We haven’t seen Microsoft’s presenters look this excited about Windows hardware for years.
The Lumia 950: A Windows 10 Mobile flagship
Nokia and Microsoft's Lumia phones had uniquely colorful designs and high-powered cameras, but their Windows Phone operating system never reached the popularity of iOS or Android. Now, Microsoft is promoting the new Windows 10 Mobile with another Lumia device: the 5.2-inch Lumia 950. The Lumia 950 is a flagship phone with a Snapdragon 808 processor and, more unusually, a liquid cooling system for its components. It's also got a 20-megapixel PureView rear camera and an infrared sensor for "Windows Hello," which unlocks a user's phone by checking their face. We'll have to wait a little while to see any of this in action, though: the 950 is launching in November for $549.
The Lumia 950 XL: Microsoft's really big phone
The Lumia 950 isn't exactly tiny, but the 5.7-inch 950 XL is its bigger sibling. Under the skin, it's got a different processor but a similar feature set to the Lumia 950, including the 20-megapixel rear camera with image stabilization and support for Windows Hello. (It's also actually a slight step down from the 6-inch Lumia that was released in 2013.) Like the 950, the XL will be released in November; it will cost $649.
The Lumia 550: it's very cheap
The big news was the flagship devices, but Microsoft covered the cheaper side of the product line with the new Lumia 550. The 5-inch device features a quad-core processor and a 5-megapixel camera, and effectively replaces the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL. In December it will be available for $139 for budget-minded customers looking to join Microsoft's mobile ecosystem. We still don't know how many people that will be, but having products to sell is the first step towards actually selling them.
The Display Dock: a new attempt to turn phones into PCs
The dream of transforming a smartphone into a desktop PC isn't new, but with the Display Dock, Microsoft's new phones could be getting closer. The chunky little brick plugs into the new Lumia phones with a USB Type-C cable, providing ports for HDMI, DisplayPort, and three full USB ports. On a monitor, the experience scales up to what looks like a Windows 10 desktop and apps — because under Windows 10, they're supposed to be universal apps anyway. Is it a true desktop experience? Of course not, but it's clear where Microsoft is heading.
The Surface Pro 4: A new volley in the tablet wars
With Apple's recent iPad Pro announcement, all eyes were on Microsoft for the Surface Pro 4, and Redmond didn't disappoint. With a 12.3-inch display and reduced bezels, it has a bigger screen without becoming a bigger device, and it's available with up to 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM. Microsoft also spent some time talking up its new customizable Surface Pen — with no shortage of jabs at the Apple Pencil — and a series of performance tests against the MacBook Air, pitching its tablet as the real option for professionals. The Surface Pro 4 is available October 26th, starting at $899.
The Surface Book: an actual laptop from Microsoft
Remember when Microsoft was just a software company? Today, the company moved even further away from that with the Surface Book, a convertible laptop version of the Surface. It has a 13.5-inch display that supports both stylus and touch input, along with 12-hour battery life, a Microsoft-designed keyboard, and a glass trackpad. It also has a crazy, snaking hinge that Microsoft calls the dynamic fulcrum hinge, letting the screen flip around or be safely detached to create a standalone Surface tablet. The Surface Book is available on October 26th and starts at $1,499.
FACEBOOK: now a universal Windows 10 app
Microsoft's universal app strategy only works if there are actually, you know, universal apps — and Facebook is helping the company push that initiative forward. The company is building new versions of Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram for Windows 10, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying his company is "all in" on the platform. Getting these apps onto smartphones is a big step up from Windows Phone, which drove users towards third-party tools for things like basic Instagram functionality.
More surface accessories
Along with the new Surface Pro 4, Microsoft announced its updated Surface docking station, which adds four USB ports, two 4K DisplayPorts, and ethernet to the Surface Pro 4 (it also works with the last-gen Surface 3). On the cover front, Microsoft announced a new Type Cover with a bigger, glass trackpad, fingerprint reader, and integrated backlit keyboard. Yes, we said glass trackpad.
The new Microsoft Band: an answer to smartwatches
Microsoft positioned the new Band as the ultimate fitness device, with an array of sensors and a barometer to track elevation, all of them feeding information to the Microsoft Health app. It's also got an OLED screen in a curved Gorilla Glass display, with an aluminum color scheme. But perhaps the biggest news is the array of third-party partners: Subway, Starbucks, Twitter, and Uber were all listed. It's coming on October 30th for $249.
HoloLens development kits will cost $3,000
The HoloLens has always wowed us in concept, even if the actual implementation hasn't quite lived up to expectations. Today we got another jaw-dropping (if still overhyped) game demo — Project X-Ray — and there's also some important news about the promised development kit. For $3,000, devs will be able to get their own HoloLens kit in the first quarter of next year. Microsoft promises these kits will be "fully untethered" — meaning no cables or connection to a PC required once apps are loaded onto it. If you're a prospective augmented reality developer, you can put in an application starting today.
After years of confusing strategic decisions, canceled products, and embarrassing mobile miscues, Microsoft is clearly reinvigorated and focused under CEO Satya Nadella. It’s making some big moves with exciting products, and isn’t afraid to throw punches or draw stark comparisons with competitors. Most importantly, after today’s presentation it’s also clear Microsoft has a charismatic stage presence to communicate those messages to the public in the form of VP Panos Panay.
The New Microsoft needed to present a cohesive vision today, one of integrated software and hardware that looks ahead to a future of usable devices and ecosystems, instead of simply sitting back and counting on tired brands like Windows to do the heavy lifting. Mission accomplished.