Hands-On with Surface Hub 2

Posted on September 25, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 27 Comments

Brad and I were the first journalists at Ignite to experience Surface Hub 2 first-hand. And. it. Was. Awesome.

The best news? It’s real. And despite whatever qualms one might have about the recently-revised schedule, the Surface Hub 2 devices that we just experienced were running real software. This wasn’t a canned demo.

Here’s what we found out. With apologies to the gracious team from Microsoft that walked us through the products: I would normally like to quote people exactly, but we were in rush to get in ahead of what I assume will be other reporters, reviewers, and bloggers. And I wanted to get this out to you as quickly as possible.

We experienced three Surface Hub devices: An original Surface Hub, which now looks old-fashioned with its heavy stand, its 16:9 display, and its giant bezels. A Surface Hub 2S, running the latest version of the original Hub OS. And a Surface Hub 2X, which is physically identical to the Surface Hub 2S, but supports all of the modern Hub OS features like dynamic rotation.

One key aspect of the Surface Hub 2 that perhaps doesn’t get enough attention is Microsoft’s partnership with Steelcase on the Surface Hub 2 stand. It’s very easy to move around, looks elegant, and it neatly hides whatever cables are coming off the device itself.

“The stand really transforms the experience,” we were told. As it, combined with the smaller and lighter Surface Hub 2, is now truly mobile. The device can easily be moved from room to room, where the original was basically locked into a single meeting room, much like a desktop PC is also stuck in a single location.

Seen up close and personal, the reality of Surface Hub 2 is almost awe-inspiring. It has a better than 4K display, a high-quality camera (that can be mounted to any side of the display via USB), incredible in-display speakers, and built-in microphones. And, on the 2X, a USB-based fingerprint reader that, like the camera, can be placed on any edge.

That fingerprint reader makes Surface Hub 2’s most impressive feature—multiuser authentication—all the easier. But you need to really understand what this means: Two to 16 users can sign-in locally, and each app running on the display can be signed-in to any of those users. This is unique and exciting, and you can combine these local users with an unspecified number of remote users too. And copy and paste between apps signed-in with different users, assigning the permissions allow it. It will take the competition years to catch up. If ever.

We experienced the new Hub OS experience, which is an evolution of what Microsoft provides today on the original hardware, plus apps like Microsoft Teams, J2ToGo, and Whiteboard. And while each has its own interesting qualities, it is, of course, the Surface Hub 2X’s ability to dynamically rotate that stole the show.

And as you would expect of the Surface team, given its experience with new hinge technology, it is effortless. You can rotate the display with a single finger—well, I could—and watch as the entire display, and the apps running on it, seamlessly and magically rotate with the hardware. It’s mesmerizing.

“Dynamic rotation lets you use the device the way you want to use it,” we were told. And we sample the one canned demo in this mode—a video of a person in portrait mode to simulate a video call in which that person was literally life-sized. “With the 3:2 aspect ratio and the display size, it feels like you are with the person.” Yep. It does.

As for the Surface Hub 2S to 2X upgrade, this will occur via a hardware processor module that also has some but not all of the device’s ports—Ethernet, USB, HDMI, and others—-on it. We saw a picture of the module, and we were told the price of that upgrade—like the price of the device itself—was not yet decided.

There are other questions. Price, of course. What the tiled experience—something we did not get to try—is like. And availability, always a sore spot for wannabe Surface Hub customers.

Worse, were unable to take any photos, so you’ll have to rely on Ignite session video clips and Microsoft’s public facing photos for now. But I can say this: Surface Hub 2 is real, not vaporware. And it cannot happen quickly enough. Not for me, and not for the many customers that eagerly awaiting the chance to buy the device as soon as it is released. This one is going to be huge.


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