08 October 2015
by Yolanda Redrup

Microsoft unveils laptop to rival MacBook Pro

"Ounce for ounce, pound for pound, this is the fastest 13-inch laptop ever made, anywhere, on any planet," Surface Computing vice-president Panos Panay said.

Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet to Apple at its Windows 10 devices event in New York, announcing not only a range of new Microsoft Lumia smartphones, but the first laptop in the company's history.

Microsoft's Surface Book came as a surprise to audience members, many of whom gave a standing ovation after its demonstration.

The laptop is a direct challenger to Apple's MacBook Pro and is two times faster and has six million pixels.

Utilising what Microsoft calls a dynamic fulcrum hinge and a muscle wire lock, the laptop screen is easily detachable from the keyboard so that the device also can be used as a tablet, but retain the processing power of a laptop.

The Microsoft Surface Book laptop has a removable display that can also be attached backwards.

It's claimed to be the fastest 13-inch laptop created so far and it has a sixth generation Intel Core, NVIDIA GeForce graphic processor and high-speed GDDR5 memory.

"Ounce for ounce, pound for pound, this is the fastest 13-inch laptop ever made, anywhere, on any planet," Surface Computing vice-president Panos Panay said.

"By adding the discrete GPU, two extra processors, it fundamentally makes Surface Book two times faster than the MacBook Pro. It gives you a sense of the performance of the product."

It has 12 hours of battery life and when the laptop is in sleep mode, there is no battery drain. It will be available in stores from October 26, and will cost $US1499.

Microsoft's next generation Surface Pro 4.

The laptop announcement could trigger a new era for Microsoft, which has struggled to compete against Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market, but whose tablets, the Surface Pro 3 and the new generation Surface Pro 4, have been considered market leaders.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said his goal was to get people "to move from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows".

"These devices promise to fuel even more enthusiasm and opportunity for the entire Windows ecosystem," he said. "Every successful company has a soul ... Our ambition is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more."

As expected, Microsoft also unveiled the latest models of its Microsoft Lumia range the 950 and 950 XL at the event in New York on Tuesday.

The new phones each have a 20-megapixel camera, which has three flash functions to make pictures look more natural.

Reviewing the camera function, the image quality looks superior to that of the 12-megapixel camera in Apple's iPhone 6s.

But Microsoft is playing catchup in the smartphone market. In Australia Telsyte figures show in the first half of 2015 about 170,000 Windows phones were sold in Australia, comprising 5 per cent of all sales.

The new Microsoft Lumia's will have 32 gigabytes of internal storage, which can be expanded by up to two terabytes.

Microsoft's new Continuum device also lets the phone be used as a PC. By connecting to a monitor using the Continuum device, both the Nokia Lumia 950 and 950 XL will be able to function as a computer, while at the same time still being a mobile phone.

But perhaps the biggest win for Microsoft when it comes to its smartphones is that more app developers have pledged to make universal apps which will run on Windows phones. For example, the Facebook, Instagram and Messenger apps will be available on Windows 10 phones.

The lack of apps on Windows phones has previously been pinpointed as one of the reasons Microsoft has struggled in this space.

The latest generation of Surface Pro builds on the success of the Surface Pro 3. The screen is slightly larger, measuring 12.3 inches, it has five million pixels, a 40 per cent larger track pad and is 50 per cent faster than Apple's MacBook Air.

The pen, which accompanies the Surface products, has a 1-year battery life and will come in five colours.

The new device is 30 per cent faster than the Surface Pro 3, has 16 gigabytes of random access memory and one terabyte of storage.

It's also thinner and lighter, but has 60 per cent more screen pixels.

"We have competitors, they are chasing it," Mr Panay said. "Engineers right now in Redmond (Washington) used the Surface Pro 3 to build the Surface Pro 4."

Microsoft also gave a demonstration of "Project X-Ray" using its HoloLens technology, which will bring gaming to people's living rooms in live action settings. The game, an augmented reality shooter, uses HoloLens spatial mapping capabilities to make robot enemies appear out of the user's surroundings.

Previously Microsoft has demonstrated the technology's potential applications through Skype and Minecraft.

It heralds a more personal, immersive era of gaming, in which the technology adapts to the user's own environment.

HoloLens development kits will be available in the first quarter of 2016 at a cost of $US3000.

OTHER DEVICES Microsoft also launched a new gaming controller which will be able to be used on both Xbox One and PCs running Windows 10 for game play.

The company also announced the latest version of its wearable technology creation the Microsoft Band.

Much like other fitness bands, it allows wearers to track their own big data, recording stats such as how many steps taken, how many kilometres run, how many steps climbed and how long one has slept.

But the new band, which has a Gorilla Glass curved display, also gives athletes V02 max readings, has 48 hours of battery life and has new features for tracking the performance of golfers. It is priced at $US249.

The Band is not available in Australia, but if it sells well in the United States, the UK and Canada, it will likely make the journey across the ocean.