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Microsoft's modest upgrade of its Surface computers sees a predictable speed bump for the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 portables and the Surface Studio 2 touchscreen desktop, the debut of Surface noise-cancelling headphones and new software to better integrate its devices with iPhones and Android phones.
In the six years since Microsoft began making its own devices, the company has taken the Surface from an ill-received convertible tablet to a well-reviewed line of devices with sales that topped US$5 billion in the most recent fiscal year.
Along the way, the company popularized the two-in-one device that functions as a tablet with removable keyboard, eventually pushing Apple to release the iPad Pro. Still, Microsoft has yet to produce a real blockbuster.
The new Microsoft devices face significant competition. Apple is planning a revamped, low-cost laptop with a high-resolution screen and two redesigned iPad Pro models later this year, while Google is expected to launch a device with similar functionality to a Surface at an event on October 9.
Surface Pro 6
The Surface Pro 6 is Microsoft’s flagship device and includes a detachable keyboard.
It’s the closest kin to the original Surface, with the new version powered by a quad-core Intel processor that Microsoft says makes the device 1.5 times faster than the previous generation. It will be available in Australia from October 16, starting at $1,349.
Surface Laptop 2
The Surface Laptop 2 is the first update to the machine that Microsoft launched last year to positive reviews.
According to IDC, Microsoft shipped 102,000 units of the original Surface Laptop in the second quarter, helping to push overall Microsoft device shipments up nearly 9 percent year-over-year.
The new model also includes a quad-core processor option that makes the laptop 85 percent faster than the first model, according to Microsoft. Prices begin at $1,499 with an October 16 launch date.
Surface Studio 2
The Surface Studio 2 is the first upgrade to the desktop computer that debuted in 2016.
It’s the most-unique looking Microsoft hardware product, bringing a massive touchscreen to desks that can be used upright like a standard monitor or pushed down like an easel for drawing.
The new model has a brighter display in addition to faster chips, and will cost $5,499 when released in Australia on November 15.
Headphones are a new hardware category for Microsoft. The over-ear design is unique for a major technology company, eschewing the smaller in-ear style of Apple’s AirPods.
Featuring adjustable levels of noise cancellation plus Cortana voice assistance, the Bluetooth headphones work with Microsoft devices, but can also pair with iPhones and Android phones. They go on sale in the US by December at US$349 but are not expected to see Australian release until sometime in 2019.
Microsoft is also integrating its computers more closely with Apple and Android mobile devices. The push, first announced at the company’s Build conference for developers in May, includes a new app called Your Phone.
It’ll let users receive and respond to text messages and other notifications from their Surface instead of pulling out their phone.