Microsoft held their New York City press conference on May 2nd and announced a variety of new products targeted toward educators. Microsoft Chief Executive, Satya Nadella, kicked off the event with the following statement.
We are under no illusion that technology alone is the answer to transforming education.
Surface Laptop – A Contradiction
When asked in the days prior to the event if a new Surface Pro would be announced, Microsoft categorically said no. With this and the opening comment still fresh in my mind I was surprised when they introduced the Surface Laptop.
Ok, not technically a Pro – but what gives?
Premium Device for Students
Panos Panay, the person in charge of the Surface product line at Microsoft, stated the target audience for this product is the college bound student. Wow, when did the requirements for this group become unique? The assumption must be a they need a carefully crafted premium laptop to be successful. I guess if I were about to spend $160K, or more, over the next four years on college expenses, another $1-2K wouldn’t break the bank. And if I were going to spend $1-2K on a premium laptop, it should look good to impress classmates.
The true intent of the Surface Laptop is to lure Millennials considering the purchase of an Apple Macbook (all flavors) over to Windows. I find it interesting Microsoft acknowledges folks can excel using cloud applications by introducing Windows 10 S as the default OS. I don’t know what the “S” stands for. Probably not “standard edition” as that branding has been used before. I’ll let your imagination come up with other choices.
I suspect many new owners will upgrade to the full version of Windows because some really important application or game is missing from the Windows Store; or they want to run an application or game they already own? The influence of the MacBook design language also explains the clam shell design. It is important to note Microsoft competes against itself with another premium device named the Surface Book which was released late last year with specs some aspiring students may want (aka NVIDIA GeForce dGPU).
Critique of the Device
- Windows 10 S
- Prefer to run non-Store apps? Easily switch to Windows 10 Pro for free until Dec 31, 2017
- Introductory offer includes 1 year of Office 365 Personal
It is hard to predict the impact of the limitation of only running apps from the Windows store. The implication is the selection will be restricted and monitored closely to prevent distributing malware. It is rumored Edge is the only supported browser and Bing the only supported search engine. No word yet if virus protection will be needed for Windows 10 S. In any event, if 10 S won’t do it for you, there is an upgrade path to Pro. In either circumstance it is important to note Office 365 Personal is only free for the first year and will then require a $69.99 annual subscription.
In the K-12 environment Microsoft has a different Office 365 deal which is free and includes the following.
- Web versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and Outlook
- Desktop version of OneNote
- Class and Staff notebooks
- Professional Learning Community (PLC) groups
- Self-grading quizzes with Forms
- Digital storytelling with Sway
- Email with 50 GB mailbox Tooltip about compatibility of Outlook versions
- File storage and sharing with unlimited OneDrive storage Tooltip about unlimited OneDrive storage
- HD video conferencing
- Microsoft Teams, a digital hub that integrates the conversations, content, and apps your school needs to be more collaborative and engaged
- Inform with SharePoint team sites
- Unlimited email storage with In-Place archiving
- Advanced email with archiving and legal hold
- Compliance solutions with a unified eDiscovery center
- Rights management, data loss prevention, and encryption
- Maximum number of users: unlimited
Not on the list, but announced at the event, is an enhanced Minecraft Education Edition which is free (at least initially) to schools adopting Windows 10 S.
- 13.5 in PixelSense Display
- Resolution: 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)
- Aspect ratio 3:2
- 3.4 million pixels
- Surface Pen enabled
- Sold separately.
- Touch: 10-point multi-touch
- Corning Gorilla Glass
PixelSense refers to a specification describing the features of a display which supports touch, pen input, and a 3:2 aspect ratio. A display resolution of 2256 x 1504 puts the pixel density in the ballpark of 2K which is good. It is important to note the device is stylus enabled but the stylus (aka pen) is not included in the box. Although the PixelSense design language screams tablet mode (aka Surface Book), unless you tip the base up to allow the screen to lie flat, this is not going to happen.
- 7th Gen Intel® Core i5 or i7
Microsoft has a tradition of leveraging the latest and greatest high end Intel® processors. If this is an unspoken requirement for Windows 10 S, then there is trouble lurking in the shadows for future budget friendly devices.
- 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM
4 GB is pretty much the industry standard. No mention as to whether it is DDR3 or DDR4. My assumption is it uses the faster DDR4 as it was pointed out the Surface beat simular equipped Macbooks in performance.
- Solid state drive (SSD) options: 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB
Apparently Microsoft is willing to give you free cloud storage but they really don’t want you to use it. 128GB or more of local storage makes sense if you are using Windows Pro, but on the other hand if you have free cloud storage why not use it. An interesting footnote in the fine print reads “System software uses significant storage space”. As an OS compared to Chrome OS by many, my assumption is Windows 10 S has a small footprint.
- Intel® HD 620 (i5)
- Intel® Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7)
- Camera, video and audio
- Windows Hello face sign-in camera
- 720p HD camera (front-facing)
- Stereo microphones
- Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
- 3.5mm headphone jack
Windows Hello for the Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s facial recognition hardware and software used for login. Its been around awhile and has received generally good reviews. The litmus test for this type of technology is; does it know the difference between your face and a good photo of your face? Hello is able to pass this test.
Like the Chromebook Pixel and many others, the speakers are placed under the keyboard and the keyboard is backlit.
- USB 3.0
- Headset jack
- mini DisplayPort
- 3.5mm AV
- Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction
The biggest take away here is the lack of a USB C port.
- Wi-Fi: 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking
- IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n compatible
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- Up to 14.5 hours video playback
It was noted in the fine print battery testing was conducted by Microsoft in April 2017 using devices configured with an Intel® Core i5 processor, 256GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM. If 14.5 hours proves to be the case, all day usage should be obtainable.
- 12.13″ x 8.79″ x .57″ (308.02 mm x 223.20 mm x 14.47 mm)
- 2.76 lbs (1.25 kg)
- Casing: Aluminum
- Alcantara covered keyboard
- Colors: Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold
- Colors available on i5-7200U 8GB/256GB model only
The concept of using fabric to cover a keyboard is not new to Microsoft. The Alcantara covered Surface Pro 4 Signature keyboard is a good example. Concerns over wear patterns, fading, moisture absorption are mostly unfounded as users of the these keyboards give them a thumbs up. On the other hand, life in a dorm can be brutal. I wonder how easy it is to clean a smear of mustard that somehow finds its way to the keyboard?
- Ambient light sensor
Acer TravelMate Spin B1 / HP ProBook x360
The real test for Windows 10 S will be its performance on devices like the Acer TravelMate Spin B1 or the HP ProBook x360 Education Edition.
The HP is designed to MIL-STD-810G military specifications, targeted to the K-12 classroom, and is currently available in either Windows 10 Pro or Chrome OS models.
The Acer Spin B1 is also a ruggedized 2-in-1 device targeted to the K-12 classroom. This model will compete with the Acer Chromebook Spin 11. The Chromebook Spin 11 has an 11-inch HD IPS touchscreen display with Wacom EMR technology for improved stylus usability. Mounted above the display is a 720p webcam with a secondary 5MP camera available above the keyboard.
The Chromebook Spin 11 is also built to withstand daily drops with a reinforced chassis that has a MIL-STD 810G US military rating for durability.
I expect similar models to be released by Lenovo and Dell.
The Big Gamble
As evidenced by the event, Microsoft now has a sophisticated portfolio of software products targeted toward education. This is a blessing and a curse. Although mastering these products is probably more than most teachers will want to tackle, Microsoft is betting 3rd party education consultants will step up and create lesson plans and classroom activities schools will want to purchase. Some companies that cater to this market may offer these services as a value add proposition.
This risk is monetary; will schools have the funding?
How will this affect Google? I am sure Google is analyzing the data and making adjustments. The key difference between Microsoft’s and Google’s approach to education is Google emphasizes simplicity and affordability. Google wants their solution to scale from the smallest to the largest use cases.
When asked to comment on recent events, Prabhakar Raghavan, the Google vice-president responsible for G Suite stated.
I’m happy to see a validation of the approach we’ve taken. What educational institutions have demanded is simplicity. It’s a real test tube for all of us, whether it’s Microsoft or any of us, right?