We saw the Surface V2 (as they’re calling it) soft-launched at the press day before CES, then demonstrated briefly by Ballmer in his keynote, and at last given official status with pictures and all the next morning. And then we got the the chance to try it out in person at the Microsoft booth. We’ve got video for those of you who missed the live show, some hands-on pictures, and our first impressions of the device.
One thing I should make clear right away, which is of course slightly disappointing, is that this is definitely not a consumer device. It’s too expensive and development is very much aimed at commercial deployment. That said, they hope to make the devices ubiquitous enough that having one at home would be redundant. You may form your own opinion of that strategy.
The device we saw was the SUR-40, manufactured by Samsung, and is a 1080p 40″ LCD display, with tiny photosensors embedded into the sub-pixel layer. We were told there were some tricks employed to space things correctly, but it didn’t appear to affect the image, which was as sharp as you would expect a TV of this size and resolution to be. It’s certainly more high-resolution than the original, which was 1024×768 and 30″, if I remember correctly. I’m surprised they actually changed the size by so much, considering how much research went into optimizing the UI for that exact hardware. Inside the case is a 2.9GHz AMD Athlon II X2 processor, and a Radeon HD 6700M GPU, if you’re interested. It’s also much thinner and lighter — four inches and a bit heavier than your average LCD — so wall-mounting is now possible: no small advance.
Touch sensing relies on the photosensors, which detect IR light (in the video, it actually sees my veins, very creepy; I refrained from putting my face on it) and use the long-in-development Surface algorithms to determine touches (up to a couple dozen or more, I didn’t ask about the maximum), shapes, and now, read text. The old Surface’s imager simply wasn’t high-resolution enough to get text and pictures, but this one is much better, though it’s limited by the DPI of the screen. They’re working on getting text and image recognition going.
I expressed my concern that Microsoft seems to have three completely different touch-based interfaces and strategies with almost zero overlap. That’s really a higher-level issue, and not exactly suitable for a hands-on with a new device, but I asked anyway, in case they could spill any info on a Windows 8 crossover project. No such luck, but I was told that the Surface guys are focused on Surface, and the greater issues at stake aren’t really their concern. But at least they’re not headed to the great R&D department in the sky.
The new Surface is a nice piece of hardware with some interesting tech built in. It’ll help fix the “squat, heavy barrel” image the device has had for the last few years, but I’m not sure that’ll be enough to make it as common as Microsoft wants it to be. But with the stylish, standardized, mass-produced hardware, they’re on the right track.