Microsoft's Surface Pro 7 adds faster chips, USB-C – and Adobe Fresco

The first Windows version of Adobe's new digital painting app is out on Microsoft Surface devices - and we can now share what artists thought while getting hands-on with the app on the Surface and Wacom (read here or scroll below.)

Microsoft has been positioning its Surface Pro tablet PC as a drawing and painting tool for designers and artists since the Surface Pro 3, but at first glance the latest version – the Surface Pro 7, announced yesterday – is a little more than “another year, another iterative Surface Pro update.”

Released at in an event brimming with hot new reveals – mainly targeting consumers – the Surface Pro 7 added some much-needed tweaks to its familiar formula and little else. But then Adobe pitched in with the big news – its highly feted new digital painting iPad app Fresco was making its debut on the Windows platform on the Surface. In this update we share what artists thought while reviewing the Windows version at Adobe MAX 2019.

At Adobe's creative MAX conference Fresco made its Windows debut across ten devices, as listed below in update to this feature:

  • Microsoft Surface Pro 4, 5 and 6
  • Microsoft Surface Book 1 and 2
  • Microsoft Surface Studio 1 and 2
  • Microsoft Surface Go
  • Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13′′ and 16′

At MAX it was also confirmed to us that there won't be a free version of Fresco for Windows as there is for iOS, but there is a six month trial version instead.

Wacom hands-on with Adobe Fresco

While we were at the conference we grabbed some hands-on time with the app on both Wacom and Surface devices, getting thoughts from designer and illustrator Matt Bonham as he made the below illustration on a Wacom MSP.

Matt was impressed with the natural texture of Fresco paints on the Wacom, finding his painting smooth with no lag to mention.

As a major Photoshop user on PC and Mac, he adapted to Fresco easily, and felt his option was to perhaps start a piece on Fresco via its iPad version before completing it via desktop Photoshop on his Wacom Intuous at home (should Fresco ever come to that device.)

Find more of Matt's Fresco work on the Wacom MobileStudio Pro below.

Fresco on Surface

Less successful is the transition of Adobe Fresco from iPad to the Surface. Whilst hardcore iPad artist Lena (The Maker Lena) found it easy to use on a Microsoft Surface Book, and we found it smooth to work with on the Surface Pro 7, there was still some serious lag on the older Surface devices available at MAX.

Artist Charlene Chua meanwhile told us on Twitter her own problems creating with the app on her Surface Pro 4 i5 model.

"The main thing is this model has no tilt function on the stylus, so I am unable to tell how well Fresco's brushes perform. However the Live brushes do seem be working at least (I had read that some Surface Pro 4 users got an error message when trying to use these brushes)."

More on the Surface Pro 7

Away from this, the Surface Pro 7 finally jumps on board the USB-C bandwagon, with the versatile modern connection replacing the tablet’s older mini-DisplayPort alongside the device’s USB-A and Surface Connect ports.

It’s still a fairly limited port selection, but one that finally unlocks a world of accessories. Microsoft spent a big chunk of the presentation showing off a versatile workflow that tapped into the Surface Pen, a Type Cover, and various Microsoft programs that support the supplementary hardware – including Excel now. (er, huzzah!)

The Surface Pro 7 also includes a new studio microphone configuration. Microsoft says that they’ve been “placed perfectly and tuned for what’s coming from your mouth” rather than picking up ambient noise. The tablet also supports fast charging now, capable of filling your battery up to 80 percent in an hour.

Curiously, Microsoft didn’t detail any under-the-hood upgrades for the Surface Pro 7 during the actual event. A fact sheet disseminated after it ended reveals that Microsoft’s tablet is receiving the same upgrade to Intel 10th-gen Core 'Ice Lake' chips as its cousin, the Surface Laptop (which is also getting a custom AMD Ryzen configuration, see below).

Intel’s previous 8th-gen Core processors gave the older Surface Pro 6 a huge upgrade in processing power, and Ice Lake’s powerful Iris Pro graphics could do the same for the visual performance of Microsoft’s slate. Check out our sister site PCWorld's Ice Lake performance preview for more details, but here’s the bottom line: Ice Lake’s integrated graphics are “a generational performance uplift over UHD graphics and might just be the surprise killer feature of the CPU.” These chips should be a great addition to the Surface Pro 7, and drive the stunning 12.3-inch PixelSense display like a champ.

Look for those potent Iris Pro graphics in the Core i5 and Core i7 versions of the Surface Pro 7. The entry-level Core i3 chip sticks to more humble UHD integrated graphics.

UK pricing and availability has The Surface Pro 7 will hit the streets on October 22 in the US, ostensibly starting at $749, though the configurations available to preorder right now start at $900 – and that doesn’t include a crucial Type Cover or the Surface Pen. If you need those, or a more potent version of Microsoft’s tablet, you can spend significantly more.

Microsoft Surface Laptop: Now with a special-edition AMD Ryzen chip

Microsoft has also unveiled two new Surface Laptops promising performance three times that of a MacBook Air, as well as one model with “AMD’s most powerful mobile processor.” That model represents the first time Microsoft has put an AMD processor in a Surface device.

The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 looks to be mostly an update to the existing Surface Laptop. The key difference is a long overdue CPU jump from the current 8th gen quad-core Kaby Lake R-based Intel CPU to Intel’s newest 10th-gen 10nm Ice Lake CPU.

Microsoft didn’t detail which 10th gen Ice Lake chip it used, but it’s likely the top-end quad-core chip, as the company said it offers a 2x performance over the Surface Laptop 2, which is built on a quad-core 8th gen Kaby Lake R chip from Intel.

Perhaps more importantly for Microsoft, the use of the new 10th-gen Ice Lake CPU delivers a 3x performance boost over Apple’s current MacBook Air, which resorts to a dual-core low power “Y” class processor.

The biggest news though looks to be the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3. Boasting a larger 15-inch screen, the bigger Surface Laptop 15 swaps out Intel silicon for a “special” AMD-built Ryzen chip.

The Surface Laptop 15 is the eyebrow lifting laptop though. Microsoft called the new "Microsoft Ryzen Surface Edition" chip the result of a close collaboration with AMD. As such, it is "AMD's most powerful mobile CPU," Microsoft said, and in fact, the most powerful in its class.

Although Microsoft didn't detail it during its introduction, more details of the CPU can be found on AMD's site. The company said it is a Ryzen 7 3780U. The chip is said to be a 15-watt chip with Radeon RX Vega 11 graphics. AMD officials also told PCWorld the chip can boost to 4GHz and is built on Zen+ cores rather than the newer Zen 2 cores in Ryzen 3000 desktop chips.

CPU core count wasn't realized but it's likely a quad-core with symmetrical multi-threading for a total of 8-threads.

AMD didn't say it was a custom part, but the blog post by AMD's Jack Hyunh, who is a VP in the custom silicon group, means it's a part specifically created for Microsoft.

Battery life, which has long been a rock in AMD's mobile laptop's shoe, is claimed to be about 11.5 hours in the new Surface Laptop 3.

Microsoft said the new 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 should offer all day battery life. Both laptops still feature Microsoft’s magnetic Surface connector for charging, but the company said it’s now able to charge a drained laptop from 0 to 80 percent in under an hour.

Microsoft also announced the Surface Pro X, which has an Arm processor and isn't up to running creative apps from the likes of Adobe or Affinity.

Microsoft shocks the world with the Surface Duo, a foldable dual-screen Android phone

Microsoft’s Surface Duo shocked the tech world this morning. Everything else the company revealed at its event Wednesday in New York was foretold in leaks over the last few days, but not this dual-screen smartphone, the company’s first foray into mobile since the long, agonizing death of Windows Phone. This time, however, Microsoft is partnering with Google to run the phone on a special version of Android, guaranteeing no app gap.

The Android world already has Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, and the Surface Duo works similarly, opening like a book. Microsoft’s version reveals not a bendable OLED display, however, but rather two 5.6-inch displays mounted side by side. Like its newborn cousin the Surface Neo, there’s a very visible hinge in the middle of the Surface Duo. Considering the torrent of troubles Samsung’s had with its Galaxy Fold screen, that’s probably the wisest choice. The use of two discrete displays also allows the device to be used in “adaptable postures” depending on the situation.

Most notably, the Surface Duo doesn’t run Windows like Microsoft’s previous handset – it runs Android. Microsoft executive Panos Panay didn’t get into specifics as to how skinned the version of Android will be, but from the looks of it, it’s quite different from the current Android 10. He said the company was working closely with Google on the device, and that it will marry “the absolute best of Microsoft with the absolute best of Android.”

It starts with the design, which is basically a smaller version of the Surface Neo tablet. When closed, it looks like a tiny laptop that may, of course, open into clamshell mode or fold flat to be used as a tablet. While the Surface Duo doesn’t technically have a separate outside screen as the Galaxy Fold does, the 360-degree hinge lets you flip the two inside screens to the outside. It resembles the XTE Axon M, but the Surface Duo is a much more elegant device.

Microsoft didn’t share dimensions of the device, but both screens have large bezels all around, with lots of space above and below the screens. Furthermore, the Surface Duo appears to have a 4:3 display rather than a 16:9 one, which would make it wider than most smartphones. Specifically, Panay called out that the Surface Duo will “fit in your bag,” which could be a sly way of noting it’s not a pocket device.

When opened, the Surface Duo is an 11-inch tablet with a seam down the middle. It can be used as a single screen, but its main purpose – like the Surface Neo (below) – is for dual-screen multitasking. Not only will it enable split-screen apps and drag-and-drop capabilities, it will also seamlessly integrate with other Surface PCs via a built-in and beefed-up version of Continue on PC. That’s the main appeal of the device, as Panay described, “not just because of the hardware but how productive you can be on it.”

While we have a lot of questions—camera, chip, battery life, carrier support, and price—the Surface Duo is undoubtedly exciting. As Android phones and iPhones are struggling to figure out the next big thing, the Surface Duo is a new category of device with, as Panay said, “a unique design ethos that Surface brings with every single app in the Android ecosystem.”

However, we’re going to have to wait a while to get it. Microsoft says the Surface Duo won’t ship until holiday 2020, more than a year away. By that point, the Galaxy S11, iPhone 12, and Pixel 5 will all be here, so Microsoft will certainly have its work cut out for it. But if you’re in the market for a new phone, you might want to hold off just a little longer

Microsoft's Surface Neo is a folding PC with Windows 10X and a 2020 ship date

With Microsoft’s Surface Neo, the company looks ahead to a future that’s foldable. At its Surface event in New York on Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled a prototype Surface Neo that will feature a next-gen Lakefield CPU, the thinnest LCD ever made, and a new vision for mobile productivity. It won't actually ship until late next year, but what Microsoft showed gives all the other companies trying folding devices a lot to think about.

The Surface Neo features two opposing screens that fold on a geared 360-degree hinge. That hinge allows the Neo to be used as a large tablet, as a book-shaped reader, or as a small tablet when the screens are folded back-to-back.

Microsoft knows productivity matters whatever the mode, so it’s cleverly designed a magnetic wireless keyboard that attaches to the back of the screen or sits on top of one of the screens, so the Neo can be used like a traditional clamshell device.

A new version of Windows that will ship with the laptop, called Windows 10X, makes the keyboard even more versatile by adjusting features based on its location. If the keyboard is pushed toward the hinge, Windows will automatically configure the screen so the uncovered portion functions as a trackpad.

If the keyboard is attached near the front edge, the OS reconfigures the screen to create a large touch area that Microsoft calls “Wonder Bar.” Think of Apple’s dismal Touch Bar, but perhaps more useful and with more support. In one demonstration, Microsoft showed the Surface Neo automatically docking a Netflix video to the Wonder Bar, keeping the main screen clear for productivity tasks.

As a Surface there is, of course, pen support. The pen appears to be same flat, wireless charging Slim pen as the one that comes with the new Surface Pro X. Microsoft didn’t say whether the pen charges in its storage position on the tablet’s back (see below), but we hope it does.

The Neo offers a large tablet surface (albeit with a bezel splitting it), a small tablet mode, a book mode, and two different clamshell modes. As the keyboard is wireless, you can detach it and set the screen on a table to use both screens.

It's not clear how the tablet would stand on its own. Sure, you can fold the screen a little so it stands straight up and down, but that’s not exactly an optimal way to use it. You can see just how awkward this mode would be below.

Microsoft has a year to figure out this last mode, because the Surface Neo won’t be released until the end of 2020, coincident with the Windows 10X OS that’s optimised for the Surface Neo. Microsoft did not discuss pricing at this early reveal.

Microsoft's Surface Earbuds put a $249 trackpad in your ears for controlling Office apps

Some of the designs on show veer between innovative and odd, but Microsoft's new earbuds are, frankly, weird.

In our age of diminishing headphone jacks, everyone needs a set of true wireless earbuds. So it’s only natural that Microsoft released a pair alongside its new lineup of Surface products at its New York event Wednesday. Named Surface Earbuds, they’re designed to work closely with both Spotify and ... wait for it ... Microsoft Office.

AirPods knockoffs these ain’t. Where Apple’s wireless earbuds are small and primarily designed to play music, Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds are bulbous circles that look very noticeable when in one’s ears. That’s because the surface of the earbuds are small trackpads that you can swipe to change music tracks or advance slides when giving a PowerPoint presentation.

When it comes to music, Microsoft called out the Earbuds ability to work with Spotify on your Android phone. As Robin Seiler pointed out, you’ll be able to access the Spotify app on your phone “with a few simple taps,” though she didn’t demonstrate how it works.

Despite their size, Seiler said the Surface Earbuds will be comfortable to use all day with 24 hours of battery life, and Microsoft engineers carefully considered ergonomics and weight “that balances against two points in your ear” so they won’t fall out while running.

But music isn’t the primary point of Surface Earbuds. The earbuds have two mics per ear and built-in filters for better noise reduction so they’ll be able to pick yp what you’re saying. Compatible with more than 60 languages, they will be able to translate words as you speak and automatically input them into a Word or PowerPoint document. Seiler also said they “work on any platform,” which presumably means Mac, PC, iOS, and Android.

While the Office integration and unique design certainly set the Surface Earbuds apart from the pack of AirPods imitators, it remains to be seen whether anyone was actually asking for that. We’ll find out when they ship later this year for $249.

Read next: Adobe Fresco review by Hazel Mead

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