After months of speculation and more than a year’s worth of waiting from antsy Microsoft customers, the 2022 lineup of Surface PCs is official. Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer Panos Panay took the virtual stage today to unveil the new Surface Laptop 5, Surface Pro 9, Surface Studio 2+, and two accessories meant to improve the hybrid meeting experience: Microsoft Presenter+ and Microsoft Audio Dock. The company official also broke news on a DALL-E-based graphic design app.
On the surface, Microsoft has kept its fall lineup of products nearly indistinguishable from its predecessors, retaining the company’s vision of sleek, burdenless, and practically designed computers. What’s new with this generation of Windows PCs mainly revolves around processing power and modernization — two aspects that should bring the Surface more in line with the industry’s best systems.
Here’s everything that the company announced during its October event.
Surface Laptop 5 gets a splash of color
Last year, ZDNET reviewed the Surface Laptop 4 and commended the ultraportable for its long-lasting battery life, the dual-tone pairing of stylish metal and fabric, and overall performance that was delivered in a tasteful 3:2 display.
The story mostly remains the same with the new Surface Laptop 5; Microsoft touts “all-day battery life,” a familiar anodized aluminum construction, and a 3:2 PixelSense display that comes in 13.5″ and 15″ configurations. We’re also seeing the usual suspects of visual and audio enhancements, including Dolby Vision IQ, Dolby Atmos 3D spatial processing, and a duet of “Studio Microphones” and a front-facing HD camera for virtual collaboration.
What’s different about the new Surface Laptop starts with the 12th-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors that power it. Coming from last year’s 11th-gen platform, the Surface Laptop 5 is expected to deliver over 50% more power for your casual or professional needs. (We’re not seeing anything on AMD units this time around.) Each model also comes fitted with a Thunderbolt 4 port that will yield a higher bandwidth for data and power transfer.
The Surface Laptop 5 will be available in select markets beginning on Oct. 25 with a starting price of $999 for the i5, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB model. The laptop will be available in classic Platinum, Black, and Sandstone colorways, as well as a new leafy “Sage” option.
Goodbye Surface Pro X, hello Surface Pro 9
Big news: Microsoft is doing away with the Surface Pro X line and, instead, unifying it with the regular Pro model. This gives users the option to configure the Surface Pro 9’s architecture — between the latest 12th-gen Intel Core on the Evo platform or Microsoft’s ARM-based SQ3 powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon — without compromising or settling up for a different form factor.
The Intel-based model comes equipped with Thunderbolt 4 for faster transfer speeds and the ability to connect the Surface Pro 9 to 4K monitors and eGPUs. As for the SQ3 model, it should play well with digital nomads who rely on 5G (or LTE) connectivity to get work done on the go. Microsoft says the Snapdragon version also comes with a host of Windows Studio Effects and AI features, thanks to the new Neural Processing Unit (NPU) within.
Not-so-big news: The rest is a standard Surface Pro affair; 2-in-1 design with a detachable 13-inch display, 120Hz refresh rate, support for the Surface Slim Pen 2, and an Alcantara keyboard that’s just as comfortable to type on as it is to rest your palm on and think about life. All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, given how significant of a hardware upgrade the Surface Pro 8 was to its predecessor.
As far as pricing goes, the Intel-based Surface Pro 9 starts at $999 (i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB), and the ARM-based model starts at $1,299 (SQ3, 8GB RAM, 128GB). The former comes in Platinum, Graphite, Forest, and Sapphire, while the latter only comes in Platinum. Preorders start today.
The aptly-named Surface Studio 2+
It’s been nearly four years since Microsoft introduced the sequel to one of its most ambitious Surface products, the Surface Studio. While the company left the smooth-folding, all-in-one (AIO) desktop idle for some time, it’s finally introducing a much-needed revamp to satisfy the content creators, graphics designers, and artists that it aimed to please in the first place. You’ll be impressed, as long as you weren’t expecting the new Studio to look any different.
The Surface Studio 2+, as Microsoft strategically dubs it, keeps the same push-and-pull, 28-inch frame as its predecessor, with the Zero Gravity Hinge carrying the weight of the transformative design. The company has modernized some aspects of the new Studio like the sharper front-facing camera, Studio Mics, and USB-C with Thunderbolt 4. To meet the demand of power users, the Studio 2+ leverages an updated Intel Core H-35 processor for “up to 50% faster CPU performance” and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 discrete graphics, according to Microsoft’s press release.
For all the performance gains that you’re getting, Microsoft is making you pay to play. The Surface Studio 2+ starts at $4,499 for the Core i7, 32GB RAM, and 1TB model — peripherals included. That’s a whopping $1,000 increase from the original Studio 2’s $3,499 listing price. But for what the computer is, and all the use cases that it presents to digital creators, do you think Microsoft has done enough to justify the price?
Microsoft Presenter+ and Audio Dock
Releasing alongside the new Surface products are the Microsoft Presenter+ and Microsoft Audio Dock, two accessories that Microsoft says will “improve the hybrid meeting experience.” The Presenter+, which costs $79, is a Bluetooth-powered clicker that allows you to skip through slides, mute and unmute during calls, and navigate Microsoft Teams with customizable buttons.
The Microsoft Audio Dock is both a docking station with four ports (HDMI, 2x USB-C, and USB-A) and a speaker for audio input and output. For $249, which is not cheap for either of its two functions, Microsoft promises “premium sound” and noise-reducing microphones that will help you “be heard clearly in your next online meeting.”
Microsoft Designer takes on Canva
Hardware aside, Microsoft also announced a new graphic design app, Designer, which will be integrated into Microsoft’s Office suite of productivity services. The app, available for free to Office subscribers and at a higher cost for more exclusive features, leverages Microsoft’s existing AI tech with OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 to smartly (and uniquely) generate images, layouts, and graphics based on users’ text description(s). From the examples that Microsoft demoed during the keynote (see image above), Designer looks very promising.
The Canva-competing service also allows you to upload existing images — say, a portrait of your dog or a product that you’re selling — to base the AI-generated design off of. Once finished, the image can be saved and/or shared directly on LinkedIn or Instagram.
Microsoft officials say that Designer is targeted at consumers more than anyone else, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see businesses and professionals pick up the service for its ease of use and effective output. The Designer app is still in its testing phase, but users can now join a waitlist to access the free web preview.