Microsoft has created an awesome mashup of the latest Surface and Windows 11 innovations

In recent years, Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Apple Book and is know known for putting together some pretty awesome product launch and general marketing videos for their Surface Lineup and Windows 11.

Whilst we usually only see these things at annual press events and new product launches such as Laptop Studio or Surface Duo, Panos Panay has recently taken to social media and posted a really awesome mashup reveal of the latest innovations across Windows 11 and the Microsoft Surface Products.

Many of my followers will know that I am a huge fan of Surface and also an MVP for #Windows11, but I must admit, this short video even gave me goosebumps since it really does capture the best of what makes Surface devices truly remarkable and innovative (setting the standard for other OEMs). The video also shows some of the latest enhancements within Windows 11 that were annouced formerly in their Future of Work event on the 5th April, where Panos showed off enhancements to things like Fluent icons, the Start Menu, and Windows Hello.

Check it out below!

Surface Laptop SE – hands on video-review

Surface Laptop SE

Microsoft is known for setting the standard and innovating the laptop market with Surface and with Surface Laptop SE they have done it again – this time at the lowest end of the market with the extremely cheap but well built Surface that starts from just £229.

What is Surface Laptop SE?

Microsoft target market for Surface Laptop SE is schools that buy laptops in bulk to give to students in classrooms and/or to take home. This is laptop for children from primary age up to mid-secondary school age, which explains why this has been built with lower end specifications and the more lightweight and plastic design.

Surface Laptop SE is not sold commercially or direct to consumers and runs Windows 11 SE, which relies on remote provisioning, deploying, and admin for installing and maintaining applications.

Note: Windows 11 SE is not like Windows 10 in S Mode. Windows 11 SE run apps from both in and from outside the Microsoft Store. The main difference is that the OS is trimmed down and has been specifically optimised for lower specification devices. Windows SE is Microsoft's solution to help empower teachers and learners with productive, sturdy and reliable laptops at scale. 

For a device that costs between £229 and £300 you might think “really!!!!”, but I’d say that Microsoft has done it again and created an awesome piece of budget hardware which should set a new standard for low-end devices built specifically for Pre-School, Primary and lower Secondary School students.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop SE is available to education through Surafce resellers and also via Microsoft directly and pricing starts from just £229 for the 4GB RAM/64GB model, which comes with a dual-core Intel Celeron N4020 processor. The model I tested, was the slightly higher specification model which retails at around £299 and has 8GB of RAM, 128GB storage and a quad-core Intel Celeron N4120 CPU.

First Impressions: Look and Feel

This looks like a Surface! From a design perspective, the Surface Laptop SE has some similarities from its sibling, the Surface Laptop Go, but has a much more attractive price for the education market. To get to a price of just £229, Microsoft have had to compromise in a number of areas such as swapping the sleek “Surface” metal for a more child-friendly plastic for the overall chassis design. Do not let that put you off though – it is still a sleek and elegant design that looks modern, clean and far more premium than it should for a device at this price.

Unveiling – Surface Laptop SE

The top lid features a simple but bold Surface logo, while the underside of the device is clean with just seven screws that hold it together allowing for easy accessibility for repairs – yes – this is a repairable device! Alongside this, there are four rubber feet with the two rear ones being slightly taller than the front to allow a natural and angled keyboard typing experience.

Port and connectivity wise, the Laptop SE has a USB Type-A, USB Type-C (which supports power, data and video display), a headphone jack, a separate barrel type charger in favour for a the standard Surafce Connector – which I found a little odd, but presumably is much cheaper to replace.

Laptop SE is extremely light – weighing just over a kilo at 1.11kg (about 2.4 pounds) which is the weight of a bag of sugar! You can see my “unboxing experience” below.

First Impressions: Useability

So first things and weird to get my head round is that the Surafce Laptop SE does not have a touch screen, nor does it support pen and ink! This is not surprising given the price point but had to put that out there – it is a Surface after all!

Typing Experience

It’s normally easy to tell a cheap/budget laptop from the quality of the casing, keyboard and trackpad but not on Surface Laptop SE. The experience on Laptop SE is every bit premium and features exceptional quality and usability. Unlike many other budget laptops, Microsoft have reinforced the keyboard, which provides a sturdy and premium typing experience which is IMO the same as the experience on any Surafce Laptop Go .

Display

As a budget device, Microsoft have replaced the usual LCD multi-touch screen found it other Surface devices with a 16:9 aspect ratio, 11.6-inch non-touch TFT screen with a resolution of 1366×768 and an aspect ration of 135 pixels per inch.

When using the Surface Laptop SE, the display is bright, colours look good and the matt screen works well (especially given that in a school environment it’s usually bright and light). Viewing angles are good too and it’s easy to see the screen even if you are looking square on. Finally, screen bezels are a bit thick, but given this is designs for school use, it means you dont grab the screen when closing the lid or changing the angle.

Surface Laptop SE is equipped with just a 1-megapixel 720p (30 FPS) front-facing camera, which is of course a lower budget option compared to the flagship devices. Despite the lower resolution, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the camera worked (even in low and bright light), and in a Teams test call with myself, the image quality was very good and sharp. The onboard microphone is also really good (well it was in limited test environment) and did a great job of picking up all the relevant voice tones.

Battery Life

Given this is a device for schools, it needs to last the school day at least right and even more if the schools are providing these on a 1:1 basis for students which is happening more and more.

Battery life is good, Microsoft claims 16 hours, which they never seem to get right in real life, but I used my test device for a whole day from 8:30am until the battery died at around 4:30pm – a solid 8.5hrs of constant use with it plugged into a second screen, running on wireless and with all my common apps open including Teams which I used for around 6 Teams Meetings.

Performance and Workload

Surface Laptop SE is totally silent in operation. It doesn’t get hot, it does not have a fan, so it produces no ambient noise – at all.

My Test Scenario
1. Battery fully charged (no plugged int mains)
2. Wireless On
3. External Monitor Connected via USB-C in Extended Mode
4. Brightness and Power all set to “auto”
5. Workloads tested: 6 x Teams Calls (with video), PowerPoint, Outlook, Word, Excel, Edge

As you’d imagine by the insanely low price point, Surface Laptop SE is no power horse, though it performed surprisingly well given what I threw at it.

For the main all my core apps like Office Apps and Teams ran well. The device comes with Minecraft Education Edition installed too, so took this for a spin over lunch and it too ran without an issue or lag (I just need to learn how to play it). Surface Laptop SE seemed quite happy chugging along with the majority of my day-to-day productivity apps together. Apps running via the browser were naturally more responsive which is one of the great things with modern apps like Office 365 in the browser.

Multiple App launching

The only place where it seems to “struggle” a bit, was initial device boot up, resume from sleep (which takes a second or two) and general “first time” app launching where you really notice the performance lag of the “out-dated” chipsets in this device – the N4120 Celeron processor is some 3 years old. This isn’t Microsoft’s fault as it’s the best they can do (and they have done well) with what Intel offers at this low price point.

That said – performance it is not awful, and after a few hours of use, it feels normal to be honest – this is due in part to the way in which Microsoft optimised Windows 11 SE to take the best advantage of the low-power Celeron N4120 processor, including streamlining the Windows 11 OS to use less system resources.

I cover Windows 11 SE in a separate post.

Conclusion and Closing Comments

Given the age range and sector this device is aimed at – it is more than adequate and a great bit of “value” Surface tech.

Surface Laptop SE Final Thoughts

Surface Laptop SE highlights what makes Surface, a Surface and it sets the standard for low cost, good quality laptops for primary and secondary education. Microsoft’s attention to detail, focus on core features, and quality design where it matters are all what Surface does best and Surface Laptop SE is no exception.

You won’t be buying one of these for the office, but even though this is designed for school children. It feels good to use and doesn’t feel like a budget friendly device at all. Most students (even teachers to be honest), don’t “need” a high-end Surface Laptop or Pro and if this means schools can equip students and teachers with technology to facilitate digital curriculum then Surface Laptop SE can go a long way to help school achieve this.

This of course, brings us to the obvious question about why Microsoft doesn’t sell this directly to consumers as well (with Windows 11 Pro)? I think they should – I’d certainly buy one for my 7 y/o. I think with a slightly better CPU, it would make a great home laptop at a crazy cheap price.

To end this review, if you work at a Primary or Secondary School, are looking at ways to increase your device to student ratio or provide a laptop for every child, Surface Laptop SE should be looked at.


Ready my similar posts…

Surface Laptop Studio Hands-on Review

Surface Laptop Studeio Image

Microsoft describe their Laptop Studio as a “Portable Device with a Seamless Transition Between Laptop and Canvas…. Your Own Portable Studio with a Large Touchscreen & Top Performing Graphics“.

In this hands-on review, I put one of these devices through the paces for two weeks as my daily device, to see how this new form factor device, which blends the best of Surface Studio 2 and Surface Book performed.

Spec Tested: Surface Laptop Studio – 14.4″ Platinum | 11th Gen i7 | 32GB RAM | 1TB SSD

My First Impressions

Being a long-term user/fan/enthusiast of Surface, then the first thing I was presented with when un-boxing the Surface Laptop Studio is how familiar, yet unique and different at the same time it is. Laptop Studio is a natural modern evolution of all the best things that makes a Surface a Surface and they have done a great job putting together their latest flagship devices. Its simply a thing of beauty with grunt and muscle to go along side the good looks.

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking it is simply a bigger, slightly chunkier Surface Laptop that has been given the Windows 11 “rounded edges” treatment. But it is not. Then there is the fact there are many similarities not only to Laptop 4 but also to Apple’s latest MacBook Pro range. From the rounded corners, layout of the keyboard and ports and the large trackpad, these are all similar to that found on Apple’s MacBook Pro (after all both have been borrowing design ideas and innovation from each other for years).

Surface Studio Laptop in ‘Laptop Mode’

Microsoft are known for setting the design standard through innovation when it comes to their products. If it wasn’t for Microsoft Surface the 2-in-1 or ink driven UI may never have been born after all!

Laptop Studio is no different so when you look a little closer you notice that’s much more than meets the eye.

Blending the best of Studio and Laptop

Whilst Laptop Studio can be used just like a a normal clam-shell laptop, you can fold down the screen to turn the laptop into a tablet (aka Studio mode) for drawing and sketching.

Surface Laptop Studio in “Studio Mode”

There’s also a half-way house, where by you can simply just pull forward the screen into “Stage Mode” to use it as an angled touch canvas for taking notes, annotating work, playing games and watching films or box sets.

Surface Laptop Studio in ‘Stage Mode’

This is all made possible thanks to what Microsoft is calling a “Dynamic Woven Hinge,” which feels sturdy and makes it easy to flip the screen into its various modes of use.

Who is Laptop Studio designed for?

In all the promotional videos around Laptop Studio, Microsoft showcases digital artists using the screen in its various positions to draw on it in flagship apps like Adobe Creative Studio. They also show it being used flat when docked to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard for a complete hybrid experience of digital note taking and conventional computing.

Laptop Studio is clearly an evolution of what Microsoft had developed with Surface Book. With Laptop Studio, Microsoft have made it easier to change between modes and there’s no need to separate the screen from the base unit, though I did often find some advantages in that since I could separate tablet component and move around leaving the base connected to a monitor and dock.

Surface Slim Pen 2

Ok, some personal advice. Do not buy, test or be given (you never know) a Surface Pro, Book, Studio or Laptop Studio without a Surface Pen. To me, the touch screen and ability to use digital ink is what stands Surface out from the crowd. Inking is it’s thing and with Surface Laptop Studio and Surface Slim Pen 2 – that experience just got even better.

Surface Slim Pen 2, is of course a must-have for graphic designers or just the more artistic users but for me (who’s been using Surface since the days of Surface RT) it’s still a must and I’d say that it’s a necessary extra for anyone buying a Surface.

Surface Pens have always been great with their 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and inter-changable nibs, but the best thing about Surface Slim Pen 2 that is now has haptic feedback which works in a growing number of apps – from drawing and inking in Whiteboard or OneNote you now get distinct vibrations which mimic the resistance felt when using different types of pencils, pens, markers and highlighters. The haptic feedback makes it feel much more like you are drawing on a real sheet of paper or canvas that a screen and their is remarkable improvement when comparing the canvass feel I was used too on my Surface Book 2.

Left: Original Surface Pen | Middle: Surface Slim Pen | Right: Surface Slim Pen 2

Like I said, Surface Pens are not just for artists. I see the pen as a vital tools for taking notes, marking up documents or making quick edits to Office docs. The pen can also double up as a more natural tool for reviewing, editing and presenting. As an example, in Microsoft Word, you can use the pen to delete sentences by simply crossing them out, in PowerPoint you can simply ink and draw on the slides and with Edge you can write and draw directly on web-pages or use the pen to annotate notes etc. You can also program the pen to launch apps on a click and of course you can use it as a trust PowerPoint clicker in presentations.

Surface Pens are also designed to work with well known third-party programs including the Adobe Creative Suite, Sketchup and many others.

Surface Pen Slim 2 storage and charging

Surface Slim Pens are magnetic and charge wirelessly. On the Laptop Studio the pen is designed to be stored under the front lip on the keyboard area where it magnetically sticks nicely sticks and charges.

Ports and Charging

The Laptop Studio is actually also pretty slim on ports, with just two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C inputs, a headphone jack and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port for using the included charger. You can, however also charge the device via the USB-C port with a compatible power cable). The latest Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports are ideal for connecting to 4K monitors and for connecting to external files from hard drives.

Keyboards and Touchpad

The Keyboard on the Surface Laptop Studio is probably the best they have ever made, and Microsoft keyboards (even on the Laptop Go) are really good. The keyboard has great depth and travel and is responsive with the keys well spaced. As you’d expect it has the usual back-lighting which can be customised or tuned off and you get all the usual volume and media controls above the function keys.

The haptic touch pad brings another similarity from the MacBook Pro. Haptic touchpads, uses a touch-sensitive pad that vibrates to simulate a click instead of buttons that sit beneath the trackpad. I found the trackpad worked really well, with everything from clicking links and browser tabs in edge to pinching to zoom into webpages or office documents felt responsive and natural. Just like a traditional click-based trackpad, the haptic touchpad responded well to our inputs no matter where on the touchpad I clicked or pinched.

Microsoft provide the ability for you to adjust the intensity of the touchpad rumble. It isn’t a killer feature by any means, but it is a nice upgrade which I hope becomes standard on Surface devices moving forward.

Screen and Multi-Media

The display on the Surface Laptop Studio is simply a thing of beauty. As well as looking modern and sharp, the colours are vibrant, blacks black and detail is crisp and sharp whether you’re working in Office apps, inking or drawing or watching a film or box set on Netflix.

The screen is a 14.4-inch, 2400 x 1600 resolution, 120Hz display with the usual Surface 3:2 standard aspect ratio, which means you can comfortably watch 8K films or National Geographic documentaries on Disney Plus! The 120Hz does wonders for image quality and smoothness since the 120hz refresh rate is double that of most mainstream laptops and non-gaming monitors, which essentially means the display is twice as responsive.

It’s not just gaming and film watching though that benefits from a 120Hz display. I noticed that when scrolling through webpages or word documents or using a digital graphics apps like Microsoft Whiteboard, the display felt much more responsive and smoother that it does/did on my Surface Book 2 which is standard 60Hz display like most mainstream laptops.

Laptop Studio also has an impressively high quality set of quad Dolby Atmos speakers which is far from what you’d expect on a laptop! From watching StarWars films, to playing games and listening to Spotify, the audio was loud, crisp and clean with no distortion or tinny sounds/vibrations at full volume.

In usual day to day Microsoft Teams Calls, audio comes through clearly and colleagues gave no complaints about my own audio when using the built-in dual microphones.

Power & Performance

Microsoft position the Surface Laptop Studio as Microsoft’s most powerful Surface yet, and based on using the device for 2 weeks, I wont argue with that statement!

I’ve been using this device for pretty much everything this past two weeks and it has handled everything I threw at with ease with no slowing down or performance drag. The device I have been using is equipped with an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11370H processor and 32GB of RAM and was running the GA build of Windows 11.

In the two weeks I had the device – I used it every day and didn’t reboot it once. Most days I had at least 8-10 apps open including Microsoft Teams, PowerPoint, Word, Excel, PowerBI Desktop, Power Automate Desktop, Paint3D, Camtasia and Edge (with far too many tabs open). This was connected to my Surface Dock where it also powered a ultra-wide 4K screen and allowed me to switch seamlessly between the apps without any signs of struggling or slowdown. I also managed to do some graphics rich editing in Camtasia with the other apps running in the back-ground without any effort at all.

I managed to spend an evening (once the kids were in bed) using Laptop Studio as a mini gaming station by pairing my son’s Xbox controller via Bluetooth and using the device in its’ “stage mode”. It was a real pleasure to use and something I could easily get used too.

Battery Life

Given the amount of power in the Surface Laptop Studio, you’d think the battery was going to let it down. It doesn’t.

I spend a day in our London office last week and risked not taking a charger with me. I’m never one to believe the claims made by manufacturers around battery life, but in my “day out”, the Laptop Studio lasted me just over 8hrs 30 mins of usage which was spend mainly in Office apps and Teams video meetings (webcam on), on a wireless internet and with my Poly Voyager Focus 2 Bluetooth headphones connected.

This is felt was pretty impressive when you consider that kept the device in its default 120Hz mode and was connected to Wi-Fi all day too with my web-cam on for a good 2-3 hours.

In my experience, the Laptop Studio’s runtime is just a tad less than on the Surface Laptop 4 and was about the same as the Surface Book 2 (which is nearly 3 years old now). Surface Pro X (which runs ARM) has been my personal best so far consistently giving me over 9 hours of continual use.

Pricing

Ok – so Laptop Studio is hardly an entry level device but pricing depending on what you desire / need isn’t as bad as you might think, but some of the key models and pricing are illustrated below for business.

Model CodePrice (Ex VAT)
i5/16GB RAM/256GB SSDTNX-00004£1,126.90
i7/16GB RAM/512GB SSD/NVIDIA G-FORCE RTX A2000ABR-00004£1,425.42
i7/32GB RAM/1TB SSD/NVIDIA G-FORCE RTX A2000AIC-00004£2,239.31
i7/32GB RAM/2TB SSD/NVIDIA G-FORCE RTX 3050AI5-00004£2,131.43
Sample Surface Laptop Studio Business Pricing [Feb 2022]

Alternatives – of course, the thinner sleeker Surface Laptop 4 or Surface Pro 8 makes for good alternatives for everyday users who don’t need loads of power but still need and good all-rounder device. Personally, I’d always go Pro over Laptop and I don’t think I could live within pen and ink!

Summary

In my opinion, Surface Laptop Studio is the best Surface device Microsoft has ever made.

Suppose I had better back that statement up right!?

Ok – well, it’s has the perfect combination of style, performance and battery whilst still being one of the best looking devices you’ll ever see or use. It’s sleek and flexible 2-in-1 design combined with (optional) Slim 2 Pen make it an especially great choice for graphics, drawing, inking and sketching and the haptic touch-pad and updated keyboard feels great for everyday use. Finally the super sharp 14.4-inch 120Hz display brings both detail, colour and sharpness to every app or use and really shows its self off when used for digital editing, gaming or watching 4K or 8K movies.

Like the Surface Book they are not the cheapest of the range but for that you have the Laptop 4, or Surface Pro, but here is my top 5 reasons to buy one (or get your manager to buy you one).

  • Their Best Ever – The 2-in-1 design makes this the best Surface Microsoft have every made and it is a no-brainer upgrade from the Surface Book
  • Powerful and Sleek – but will still get you through (just) a working day, but supports USB-C charging if you need it,
  • Simply gorgeous and really turns heads
  • Can handle anything and everything you through it without compromise.
  • A true digital canvass – it handles graphics, video editing and drawing apps with a breeze and the Slim Pen 2 turns it into a true digital canvass.


Faster adoption and higher satisfaction than ever… That’s Windows 11

Windows 11 officially launched on October 25th 2021 and ever since that day, Microsoft have been working hard ensure it’s shipped by default with all new modern PCs as well as of course through the free upgrade on supported Windows 10 devices.

Whilst there are still some niggles and bugs reported by users such as task bar functionality and the controversial move of the start menu (which can me moved back to the left if preferred), feedback continues to make a difference and Microsoft are still hard at work on features and updates which will be part of the first major update later this year (currently being tested by #WindowsInsiders as usual).


Microsoft announced, as part of their FY22 Q2 earnings call, a new Windows  blog post which highlights the scale and growth of the Windows market, user satisfaction and adoption.

The blog post cited a number of stats including the rapid adoption rate of Windows 11 stating that “Windows 11 also has the highest quality scores and product satisfaction of any version of Windows we’ve ever shipped.”

The PC is more important than ever

According to Microsoft, people are spending 40% more time on their Windows 11 PC when compared to how people used Windows 10. Whilst Microsoft don’t provide substantial details around how the data is collected, its likely as a result of the huge amount of telemetry data that Microsoft have across their product use. Of course Windows 11 has only really “existed” during these COVID-19 times, which is likely to be part of the reason people are spending more time on their devices than pre pandemic.

Over 1.4 Billion Windows devices

In the earnings call, Microsoft said they exceeded expectations for device shipments in Q2 and also exceeded their personal computing segment. Microsoft shared figures for Windows 11, Windows 10, Microsoft Teams, and their other services in a call to investors.

The big stat that was called out was that the total number of devices running Windows now stands at over 1.4 billion devices.

More Personal Computing earnings (Q2 FY2022)

Windows OEM licensing was up by a massive 25% this quarter driven by continued growth in the PC market, despite the on going global chip shortage.

Related to the above, Microsoft Surface revenue also grew by 8%, driven by unprecedented demand for Surface Laptop and Surface Pro 8.

Other OEMs like HP, Lenovo and Dell, Lenovo have also recently published record growth numbers which also help drive that a Windows 11 number upwards.

What we might see in Windows 11 during 2022

2021 saw the release of Windows 11 and Microsoft moving to a twice annual update model (outside of security and critical updates).

As we close out 2021 around the world and welcome in 2022, I wanted to share my list of things that I hope may come to Windows 11 this year.

If you haven’t made the move to Windows 11 yet and have not seen it, then in summary, other than a pretty major UI change, Windows 11 really refines a lot of what’s good about Windows 10 without compromising too many of its strengths, adds new functionality to enhance productivity and brings the OS up to date in terms of design, leading edge security baselines and performance.

Like Windows 10, the OS will be reguarly serviced and Microsoft have already confirmed that the next major update to Windows 11 will ship in the second half of 2022. As usual, Windows Insiders will be at the front of the line, testing and feeding back through the development phase as usual.

Below is a summary of some of the top changes to Windows 11 I’m hoping to see in 2022.

What I hope to see in 2022

I will keep this based on what is either public knowledge (Insider MVPs have strict NDAs so we can’t share anything told or shared under NDA).

1. Finishing the build…

22H2 will most likely see Microsoft continue to “finish” off the OS with the features, fixes and changes that either didn’t make it into the initial release or have been niggles/annoyances fed back by the user community via blogs, tweets and the formal Windows feedback hub. Much of these niggles at the top of the feedback lists are associated with finally delivery a consistent system wide dark mode across the OS including to legacy UI components, performance issues around WinUI and the return of the missing functionality, especially those centred around the start menu and Taskbar (like drag and drop).

2. Make the Widgets more useful

Widgets in Windows 11 seemed a really promising concept, but so far have failed to really add anything useful to the OS. They have lots of potential though I think.

Since live tiles in Windows are no more with Windows 11 (which I do kinda miss), Widgets, are essentially auto-updating tiles which reside within a hidden tray that slides out from the left side of the screen when you tap or click on the Widgets button. It builds on the weather/news taskbar app that shipped in Windows 10 21H1.

Within the Widgets is a Top Stories module that shows a selection of six stories from different news outlets like BBC, the Express, The Mirror, and more. Unfortunately it seems more like a never-ending stream of mainly irrelevant stories from different media outlets around the world. These can be personalised broadly by filtering th news from a list of interest topics that Microsoft provide.

The idea of being able to quickly pull up a Widget to monitor CPU performance, jot down a note or add something to a to-do list is pretty useful, so it’s annoying that this aspect of the OS feels so unfinished and rushed. Hopefully it will change and I think allowing users more control over the content and news sources and allowing third party apps like Spotify etc, Widgets would make widgets a really useful part of Windows 11.

From the feedback I have seen via Feedback Hub, Microsoft is likley to give the widget panel some much needed attention in 2022 (especially since the latest Insider Dev build broke widgets entirely).

3. Release the Android App Support

Other than for Windows Insiders in the USA, one of the flagship features annouced at the launch of Windows 11, Android App support has still not been released so I expect this to make its way to everyone in version update 22H2.

This is important since it was a significant part of Microsoft’s marketing plan around the annoucement of Windows 11. Microsoft showed a native Android version of Tiktok running on the same Windows desktop as Excel during the official unveiling of Windows 11 in June 2021.

Like many, I remain skepticle as to how this will materialise, whether it will live up to hype and if people will use it. It will also be interesting to see if it will be limited to apps from the Amazon App Store (a much more limited. Set of apps to the wider Google Play store).

In short, I think that if Microsoft wants to convince more comsumers to migrate to Windows 11, they needs to deliver this native Android app support sooner rather than later.

4. “Inbox” App Refreshes

Windows Insiders have seen some of the native ‘in-box’ apps updated in recent builds, such as MS Paint and Notepad and others are likley to get the modern Windows 11 UI updates such as media player, sound recorder etc. The native Mail & Calendar apps are also expected to be replaced with Microsoft’s new lightweight Outlook client in 2022.

5. More love for Windows on ARM

Windows on ARM (for devices like the Surface Pro X) seems to have been a bit neglected since Windows 11s launch, and we haven’t seen truck loads of ARM powered laptops hit the market.

Microsoft are due to release a formal devkit for ARM in 2022, in time for the next Surface Pro X which will likely ship with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx G3 chip. If Microsoft are serious about the future of ARM then 2022 is the year to make it a thing…as it still feels a little like an ‘experiment’.

What’s your top 5?

This is just my top five from a core functionality perspective. There are other little niggles as always with anything new and everyone has and is entitled to their view an opinion.

What ever you like, don’t like, love or hate, make sure you use the feedback hub in Windows 11 to tell the engineering team. As a Windows Insider MVP, I can tell that the Windows engineering team really do care and what to hear your feedback. It’s hard to make an OS that delivers everything to everyone (over a billion users), but that’s the goal so keep the feedback coming.


Finally… Happy new year everyone.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 “Hands on” Review

SurfaceDuo

Santa was kind this year and allowed me to get my hands on a Surface Duo 2. Before I drive into the formal review, I’d like to summarise by saying that Surface Duo 2, whilst very much similar and samey is much better and more refined better than the original Duo. Whilst a Dual Screen may not be for everyone, it’s different and is great once you to adapt to it.

IMO, having two screens available will (once you get used to it) leave you wondering how you ever made do with just one before. It’s a convenience and multitasking experience that once you get used to is hard to let go of.

The Duo certainly get’s attention and is simply an awesome blend of Surface and Android then this device is worth every penny or cent.

The original Surface Duo was released in 2020 and whilst a thing of beauty (it looked gorgeous, was pretty responsive and a real “wow piece”, it lacked (for most) some key things such as NFC, and decent cameras which stopped me for replacing my daily driver (a Samsung S20) for the Duo.

The Surface Duo 2

Surface Duo 2 is simply the most beautiful bit of mobile technology I have ever set eyes on. It is a work of art, the Picasso of devices, and you just want to touch it and use it. The original Duo only came in a white (Glacier) , but the Duo 2 adds another colour option of black (called Obsidian) which is also stunning.

As I said in the intro, having two screens available to you (once you get used to it) will leave you wondering how you ever made do with just one before. It’s a convenience and multitasking experience that once you get used to is hard to let go of.

Surface Duo 2 is simply the most beautiful bit of mobile technology I have ever set eyes on.

Under the hood, Microsoft have given us a flagship mobile chipset (the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888), 2 beautiful screens, NFC, fast charging, the latest Bluetooth, 8GB of RAM and updated cameras (both on the front and in a new 3-camera cluster on the rear). There’s also a glance bar on the sides to see notifications. These hardware improvements have enabled me to use the Surface Duo 2 as my day-to-day device, which the original Duo fell short of.

Yes it is bigger than my “old” Samsung S20 Ultra, but it does feel ok in my pocket (now that my Surface Bumpers have arrived).  Unlike the original, the Surface Duo 2 arrived with Android 11 waiting to be installed which, combined with the updated guts makes it feel super fast and responsive with no noticeable lag. 

One week in and I haven’t experienced any major quirks, and my only annoyance is that the battery is still not as good as I would have hoped (more on that later) but then I have been using it (ok, showing it off) a lot and of course the Duo has to power two screens.

Design and Feel

The Surface Duo 2 feels more polished than the Surface Duo does. It still looks every bit Surface Duo, Microsoft have clearly listened to feedback and made a number of key refinements over the first generation.

Surface Duo 2 (left) vs Surface Duo (right)

One of the most noticeable changes (you can’t miss it), is the camera bump on the back of the device. Microsoft have added a powerful triple-lens camera setup (there was no rear camera in the original Duo), which means the cameras do protrude from the back of the device (like with most phones). This was a slight concern to me when I first started using the device, mainly because it’s so noticeable compared to the original Duo!  The cameras are surrounded with a tough plastic material, which extends beyond the glass back of the camera. This means that camera lenses are not in direct contact with the back of the left side of the device when it closes. Its does stick out though and you can’t help think “I hope I dont damage it”.

With Duo 2, Microsoft has also addressed one of the most annoying things about the original Duo which was that you had to open the device just to check the time or see if you had any notifications – a problem you don’t get with single screen phones. Surface Duo 2 has notification displays (called the Glance bar) that wraps around the edge of the device and are activated with a simple tap of the unlock button to show the time or a missed notification.

The Screen(s)

Like the original Surface Duo, the Duo 2’s selling point and USP is centred around the dual-screen design.

Two screens make every day tasks so much easier. Everything from reading an eBook across two screens feels more natural, whilst being on. Teams Call and making notes in OneNote on another is simple a fluid. Another great example is when you are reading and email or on a web page with links. With dual screens, clicking a link means these can open on the second screen to read later. As I have said a few times now, having two screens at your disposal massively changes the ways in which you can multitasking on your device.

The displays themselves are simply beautiful and clear. Like many other aspects of the Surface Duo 2, the screens have been upgraded too. The original Duo had two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays with a 1,350 x 1,800 resolution, which “combined” into an equivalent single 8.1 display with a 1,800 x 2,700 resolution.

With Surface Duo 2, there are two 5.8-inch displays, which open up to a “combined” 8.3 inch single screen. Each display gives 1,344 x 1,899, which with a combined resolution of 2,688 x 1,892.

Each display on the Duo 2 has a 90Hz refresh rate and up to 800 nits of brightness. Duo 2 can also deliver over 87% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut which is actually slightly better than the Surface Laptop Studio, a device designed specifically for art and graphics focussed tasks.

Gesture support for the Surface Duo 2 is unchanged from the original. This is good becuase it works well, allowing for example, for you to swipe up and drag towards the middle of the two displays to have an app span both screens. Additionally, most Microsoft apps (and a few third party ones), take full advantage of the dual displays on the Surface Duo. I find apps like Outlook most useful on a dual screen whereby you can have your email list and your current emails side by side which makes scanning through and responding to email much easier and similar to what you’d expect on a Windows/Mac desktop app.

Surface Duo 2 (left) vs Surface Duo (right)

Microsoft Teams is another app that leverages the full potential of the dual screen capability of the Surface Duo. With Teams on a Surface Duo, you can have chat open on one display, with your video call open on the other which makes the  mobile Teams experience much more aligned to how we tend to use apps and multitask in a Teams meeting. The Amazon Kindle app is good example of a non Microsoft app that has also been optimised for dual screen devices.

The launcher screen (which is the home screen  UI) even allows you to group and launch apps side by side as I have shown in the example below from my original Surface Duo device.

App grouping on Surface Duo

The hinge mechanism on the Surface Duo 2 is the same as on the original Duo. It’s slick and smooth with just enough resistance to prevent it opening by accident and once open, it stays open and in place.

The Camera(s)

When you are paying this kind of money for a flagship phone, you expect decent cameras, and this was one area the original Surface Duo fell short. Whilst I’d day that Surface Duo is not really aimed at the average iPhone or Samsung S series customer, if you are going to use it as your primary device (whether that is work, personal or both), you don’t want to have to carry a second camera around just to be able to take good photos.

The Surface Duo 2 has two cameras, a 12MP front facing camera, and a triple-lens camera on the back which encompasses a 12MP wide lens, a 12 MP telephoto lens and a 16MP Ultra-Wide angle lens.

The camera bump does mean, however that you can no longer fold the device back completely but it’s a small price to pay for awesome cameras.

The image below is one I took while visiting Kew Gardens in London over the Xmas break.

Image Captured With Surface Duo 2

If you’ve seen or used the original Duo, you will notice the photo quality is a huge improvement from the original and was one my biggest disappointments.

Specifications and Performance

With Surface Duo 2, Microsoft have put a decent flagship chipset inside. The original device, while  an innovative bit of technology, struggled IMO to grab the attention needed because the chipset components used weren’t at the specification the device or the price-tag commanded.

This time, Microsoft have got it right – and includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, a leap ahead of the Snapdragon 855 which makes up the guts of the original model. RAM in the Surface Duo 2, has increased from 6GB to 8GB, but this is lower in comparison to what other vendors are heading for with their top end devices. Highend Samsung devices for example, now ship with 12GB.

Does it matter? Well, it may not be a RAM related  thing,  but I’ve read reviews from others seeing performance issues with Duo 2 where the phone gets “stuck” in a the camera app when taking lots of photos, or more precisely when switching from camera to another app and back again. I have not seen this myself yet but it’s something I’ll be on the look out for.

So far though, from my week of use, the Surface Duo 2 works and performs extremely well. I am comparing most of the day to day use with my previous daily device (the Samsung Galaxy S20) and it is at least on par with this, but far more fun to use. 

Battery Life

Like all mobile phone makers, battery life gets close attention, and the published numbers are never (in true day-to-day life) accurate.

Microsoft claim “up to 15.5 hours of video playback and 28 hours of talk time”, which definitely sounds impressive. Here’s how the Duo 2 performed for me over Christmas Day and Boxing day….

Though out these two days, I took lots of photos and videos of the kids, family and friends, did a fair bit of web browsing, WhatsApp messaging and general “showing off” of the device, and it did fall short of Microsoft’s claims but faired better than I actually thought it would…

The Surface Duo 2 lasted 11.5hrs before the battery got to the critical 10% level. I didn’t try it with single screen only (why would I), but in essence I’d say it performed about as well as my 1 year old Samsung S20. I think I will still need to bring a battery charger with me for a full day out (fortunately the Duo 2 does support fast charging).

Gaming…..

Another big use case of the Duo is gaming, after all this is a device made by the same company that built the Xbox and of course they have recently just released their Xbox Cloud Gaming service. With Surface Duo, You can play games using the second screen as a controller or you can stream console games using an Xbox controller.

Pricing

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is available to buy (at time of writing) from £1,349 – which gets you the base/standard configuration with the Snapdragon 888 chipset, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. For another £150 you can get the 256GB version and there’s also a version with 512GB RAM if you really need that much!

Unlike the original device, Surface Duo 2 doesn’t come with the Bumper case that is designed to protect it from falls and knocks – the first thing I did was spend another £38 on one in an attempt to keep it looking new and shiny. Many may not see this as a big deal, as the sides of the Surface Duo 2 are a more rugged plastic this time but its an expensive device so the bumper is the least it deserves to keep it looking pretty.

Yes, Surface Duo 2 is an expensive device, but it’s more competitive with the phones around it. As an example, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs £1,599, which is slightly more expensive than the same spec Surface Duo 2.

Any annoyances?

Just a few…

  1. The Microsoft Launcher needs updating. It’s far out of date compared to the Standalone version you can run on any other android phone and other a couple of dual app launching shortcuts, lacks features of the standalone launcher.
  2. The size of the camera bump (mainly its noticeable since the device is so thin) is overwhelming at first but when you use it you soon forget how good the cameras are (especially compared to the Duo 1).
  3. Touch response is an issue at times on the Surface Duo 2 as it was on the original and an area of the software that Microsoft really needs to work on. Hopefully the upcoming Android 12 update and promised updates will address this.
  4. Apps optimised for dual screens are few and far between. It’s a shame that not nearly enough app developers take advantage of the capabilities and flexibility of using dual screen technology effectively. This is not limited to Surface Duo of course – there simply aren’t that many of these type of devices in the market today.

Would I recommend?

In short Yes

Being a Surface Fan and Windows MVP, I am always going to say yes!!! but in all honestly, the Surface Duo 2 is a truly unique and beautiful device that delivers a really solid solution for IT professionals, senior managers or tech enthusiasts.

Surface Duo 2 addresses all the short comings of the original and is a device that allows you to replace your daily driver.

Just like the Surface line up for business, Surface Duo 2 hits the professional market spot well. If you are an IT enthusiast, love the Surface Brand and want a device that stands out from the crowd, delivers a powerful and unique experience over the run-of-the-mill iPhone or Samsung devices out there then this a device that will not disappoint.

2022 will celebrate 10 years of Surface

2022 will see Microsoft celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Surface. The first device launching in October 2012 with the Surface RT followed shortly after by the Surface Pro (I still have a working one in my office somewhere too).

Microsoft Surface Go 3 Review

Surface Go 3

Being a big fan of the Surface Family, and being a fan of the Surface Go 2 LTE for traveling and working on the go, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Surface Go 3 and put it through a days work!

Introducing the Surface Go 3

The Surface Go 3 is essentially an under the hood upgrade to last years’ Surface Go 2. Internally, the entry-level Pentium Gold 4425Y processor has been replaced with a Pentium Gold 6500Y chip, while the higher end model (the one I have been evaluating) has had its Core m3-8100Y chip replaced with a 10th-gen Core i3-10100Y chip. Being 10th-gen is key as this means it will run and support Windows 11 which the Surface Go 2 family will not (officially anyway).

Surface Go 3
Surface Go 3

While not a power horse (and not designed to be), the Surface Go 3 is still the cheapest, smallest and lightest Windows 11 Surface device from Microsoft that gives you the full experience of Surface including Surface pen support, 10-point multi-touch and Windows Hello camera.

Same Quality Look and Feel

The Surface Go 3, looks almost identical to the Surface Go 2 which is no bad thing. There are rumours and “leaks” online that a black version is also coming very soon which will be nice as I am a fan of the Surface Pro X which I have in Black and feels a little more “Professional” in my opinion.

A year on, the Surface Go still looks modern, but the screen bezels, which are 13mm at the top and 12mm at the sides, are wide by modern standards and again I’m surprised these weren’t made a bit smaller. Surface is very popular in schools and one of the reasons for the larger bezels is to help with screen grip and reduce accidental tapping on the screen or so we are told!

The size of the Surface Go 3 is 245 x 175 x 8.3mm and weight is 544grams. The screen is the same 10.5inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS screen and the body is high quality, solid magnesium body, complete with “any angle” kickstand, single USB-C port, Surface Connect Port and, headphone jack port.

Specifications, Speeds and Feeds!

As with the Surface Go 2 before it, the spec sheet is only half the story and it is easy to dismiss the Surface Go range due to its specification when comparing to the big brother devices like the Surface Pro 7 or 8. Whilst I would have liked to see a “little more grunt” under the hood, the Surface Go, is, however, in my opinion, a great bit of modern workplace kit and deserves serious consideration when looking at future 2-in-1 purchases for both home and work – depending on the use case of course. Here’s the headlines:

  • Core Spec: The base model features just 64GB eMMC and 4GB RAM with no pen or keyboard. The higher end version (I really wouldn’t bother with the lower end one unless on a real tight budget) is built with a Intel Core i3 10th Gen/128GB SDD and 8GB RAM.
  • Battery: The Surface Go 3 improves on the battery life of the Go 2 and delivers 9hrs 31mins according to benchmark data. My own personal tests delivered me just over 8hrs of constant use with a blue tooth mouse and the Type Cover Keyboard attached, connected via wireless and with me in and out of Teams calls, Outlook and usual office type apps. That’s not bad considering the battery is only a little larger than the Surface Go 2’s (28Wh versus 27Wh) but not as good as Apple manage with their iPads.
  • Wireless: comms in the Surface Go 3 has been extend to Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 which is powered by the Intel AX200 card, and there is also an NFC radio inside too. The LTE version also ships with Fast 4G support either in physical SIM or eSIM.
  • Keyboard: The Surface Type Cover keyboard is rightly regarded as a design classic and something that has been copied, cloned and built upon my most other OEM vendors. The Surface Type Cover keyboard is sleek, easy to type on, and very light and even has a backlight. Unlike the majority of it’s “clones”, it also has a trackpad for the full-on “mini laptop” experience.
  • Front Facing Webcam: The Webcam on the Surface Go is 5MP and is exceptionally good quality. The picture and video quality is crisp and colours are vibrant and low light support is good too. The camera also supports video recording at 30fps / 1080p. Generally the cameras on Surface devices are always fantastic – and the Go 3 is no exception. Combined with the highly effective microphone array, makes the Surface Go 3 ideal for videoconferencing apps like Teams (or WebEx or Zoom). The webcam also supports Windows Hello facial recognition.
  • Rear Camera: At the back of the device is average quality flash-less, 8MP camera that, like the front facing webcam, can shoot 1080p 30fps video. Quality is good and clear and great for school field trips etc.

Cost

Surface Go 3 starts from £369 (£30 cheaper than the Go 2) and as always with Surface devices, specification options, regional variations, promotions and volume, and accessories all affect the end price.

Note: Surface Go doesn’t ship by default with a Pen or the Type Cover Keyboard which to me are what makes a Surface a Surface.

Without these promos the price for commercial organisations is around:

ModelTypical Price (inc. VAT)
Surface Go 3: Pentium Gold/4GB/64GB eMMC [no extras]£369
Surface Go 3: Pentium Gold/8GB/128GB SD [no extras]£499
Surface Go 3: Intel i3/ 8GB / 128GB SSD [no extras] £569
Surface Go 3: Intel i3/ 8 GB / 128GB [plus Pen and Type Keyboard]£740 [ish]
Surface Go 3 Consumer Pricing Table

Summary

Stay clear of the entry-level Surface Go 3. Yes, it is very cost effective, lovely to look and great if you just want to do web browsing type activities or use it for the occasional film or word doc etc.

If you are going Surface Go, go for the Core i3 model with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD and dont forget the keyboard.

Finally bear in mind the use case. I love the Surface Go family but as a secondary device to my primary and not as a daily driver. They are great for school use – my 7 y/o uses my old Surface Go 2 for school work and loves it as its a “proper” laptop, runs Windows and he can use the pen to make “things come to life!”. I also work with many commercial organisations that use Surface Go for front-line staff due to the light-weight build, LTE options and good battery life.

Cisco’s new Enterprise Agreement is great for partners and customers

I feel I must congratulate Cisco on the annoucement of their new partner and customer centric Enterprise Agreement.

Simple and Inclusive

This looks and feels like one of the simplest yet powerful subscription based licensing programmes in the channel… at a time when “other” major vendors seem to be struggling to get a model right that is fair and offers value to both customer and partners regardless of size.

Consistent across their solution portfolio

When fully available in early 2022, Cisco will make their full portfolio of services available through a single agreement rather than the current multiple EAs with different terms, rules and portals they have today. Instead the EA will cover all five of Cisco’s solution areas – application infrastructure, networking infrastructure, collaboration, security and services.

Helps make it easy for customer to buy solutions across the stack

This new EA will dramatically simplify purchasing and selling as it creates one program and one experience for everything Cisco do and aligned to their product portfolio.

For example, Cisco has been beating the drum hard with the concept of “full stack observability”, which is growing in importance in this multi-cloud centric, highly mobile and hybrid world.

To make this a reality, customers, need to buy products across multiple technology and solution stacks, including services like AppDynamnics, ThousandEyes, Intersight etc., but this new should make it much easier for partners to sell and for customers to buy.

#cisco #collaboration #ciscopartner #security #partners #customers #subscription

New 6-year Microsoft 365 for Education plans annouced

Microsoft has announced a more simple and affordable licensing option for education, with a new inclusive 6 year subscription at less than $5.50 per device per year.

The aim: to offer the best tools and services for education to help teachers teach and learners learn.

Microsoft 365 A1 for “Devices”

The Microsoft 365 A1 for devices license costs just $38 per device for up to six years (so around $6.33 per device per annum), with no limit on the number of students that can access the devices.

I’ll update the blog when UK pricing is published.

Presumably to help them further compete against Google in the Classroom, Microsoft 365 A1 for devices will provide education establishments with all the most popular Microsoft learning apps and tools for a very low and attractive price point.

From 1st November, this new per device license will includes;

  • Full Microsoft 365 apps, including Office and Microsoft Teams.
  • Full Cloud device management through Microsoft Intune for Education.
  • Minecraft: Education Edition.
  • Full desktop versions of the Office apps.

Read more

You can the read the news on the official Microsoft blog here.

What we might see at the Surface Event tommorow (22nd Sept).

Based on leaks, past years and media gossip we expect to see:-

  • Surface Book 4
  • Surface Pro 8
  • Surface Go 2
  • Surface Duo 2 (aka surface phone)

So as my friends, colleagues and followers know I’m a big fan of Windows and Surface so just a tad excited for the annual Surface hardware event on Wed Sept 22nd 2021.

There’s been loads of coverage by Windows Central for example as well as many other spotters and bloggers as well as what has been refreshed in previous years. As such ere’s what might be coming based on the rumours and leaks and update history of past events.

Surface Book 4?

One of the most rumoured design changes “may” be coming to the Power horse that is the Surface Book 4. This (if true) will be a major uplift to the current model and w is expected to feature a brand new design with non-detachable 2-in-1 design which will basically combining the best of Surface Laptop with the Surface Pro form factor to create the new Book 4.

Based on the renders and numerous leaks, the display on the Surface Book 4 will be able to be pulled forward and laid flat over the keyboard deck for drawing or taking notes which also resembles similaraires to the Surface Studio.

Leaked images of Surface Book 4 (maybe)

I’d expect the usual upgrades to the internals, USB A to be ditched in favour of USB C (or even thunderbolt) and upgraded graphics capability and a possible increase in screen refresh rate to match the new dynamic refresh which is part of #Windows11.

The big question is will this in fact be called a Surface Book 4 or something else… Time will tell.. But I think its fair to say that this is likley to be the biggest highlight of the event on Wednesday.

Surface Pro 8

The flagship Surface Pro device (which will most likely be called the Surface Pro 8) should also be unveiled.

Surface Pro Black

There is unlikely to be any major design changes but there are rumours we will see a more Surface Pro X feel to this years model with a bigger display and thinner bezels. There also be the usual spec upgrades to chipsets and processors to the latest and greatest.

There also been reports that Microsoft might be ready to up the screen to support a new dynamic refresh rate of up 120Hz for this years higher end Surface devices.

Surface Go 3

The ever popular Surface Go is likely see just a modest upgrade this year with better chipsets and battery and again will most likley keep the Intel Pentium Gold processor as well as an i3 (or maybe i5 option to match the Surface Laptop).

Surface Go

Other than, not expecting much else other than it would be nice to see an option of black… Everyone loves a black Surface.

Surface Duo 2

I loved the Duo v1 (price tag aside) but it lacked a lot of leasing features that would have earned more airtime…

There been lots of rumours and leaks in this one but we hope to see a much better phone that still builds on the amazing looks and quality of the original. We expect and hope to see it feature at least:

  • Latest Processor (Snapdragon 888)
  • 5G and Bluetooth 5
  • Upgraded camera, as well as rear cluster
  • NFC
  • Upgraded battery and Screen
Surface Duo 2. Image (C) Windows Central

A new Surface Studio?

I’d love to see a new Studio but not heard any rumours on this one and suspect the new Surface Book 4 may create the hybrid graphics powerhouse in a mobile form… Who knows…we all will in a days time.

Where to watch the event?

The event is streamed live at 4pm UK time (11am ET) and can be watched (or register for a reminder) here.

Link: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/event

What are you most excited for?

Please leave your comments below…