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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Comments (27)

27 responses to “Hands-On with Surface Hub 2”

  1. bluvg

    3:2 FTW. Not sure how I missed that before, but it's an important consideration when looking at the screen size--a 50" 3:2 display and a 50" 16:9 display are not the same thing.

  2. roastedwookie

    What was with Excel opening in 16 secs! in the demo? And the fact that they have demoed a copy paste functionality...didn't they had anything else to demo?? Do we have again a situation with some great looking and capable device, but plagued by mediocre software? same winjunk 10?

  3. carl_taylor

    Hopefully these are more stable than the 1st Gen. It is a major PITA having to reimage these when they get in "Something went wrong" cycle.

  4. TekDragon

    "You can rotate the display with a single finger—well, I could" - I assume this means with Brad's waif-like stature, he had to use both hands to rotate....

  5. jules_wombat

    The vertical stand option obviously outstanding feature. But at this display this size, (and price) I would ideally like a horizontal table top collaboration mount version and to also dream of Studio type designer option. Basically more mount options would make this compelling multi use case.

    • jean

      In reply to Jules_Wombat:

      on a vertical stand that allows you to rotate, tilt and lower much as a Surface Studio... would be THE KILLER

      HUB Mode, Monitor Mode (upright rotated), tilt as in Studio Mode or even flat as in Table Mode

  6. Grant

    Were you able to see what the screen reflection or glare was like. Attendees sitting to the side of the unit and sunlight type scenario?

    The stage demo looked amazing!

  7. dcdevito

    Paul, perhaps I should keep this for your next Ask Paul post, but do you think this form factor could be the future of the home PC? Or do you think it's strictly an enterprise play, even long term?

  8. MikeGalos

    "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."

    There are key designs present in the Windows NT architecture that make this possible. That's just some of the extra capabilities of having an architecture that was state-of-the-art in the late 1980s rather than a quick-and-dirty subset architecture from the late 1960s as all the other mainstream Operating Systems are burdened with. Sadly, we don't have any newer architectures since legacy installed base tends to lock architectures once they're popular.

    [Geek level note] For those who remember the old NSA Rainbow Series security manuals, the Windows NT architecture was designed by Dave Cutler's team to meet the "B3" level requirements and then implemented as a "C2" level design to keep it from being too onerous to use. That means that every object in the system from documents to users to programs to libraries to storage have full security tokens that are checked with each use. For more, see the first version of Inside Windows NT by Helen Custer.

    • chrisrut

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Geeky indeed Mike... My boss at Gemini back in the 80s authored the Orange book. We made an A1 kernel for "government customers." Few even knew of let alone remember the efforts that went into NT.

    • roastedwookie

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      You really brag about copy - paste?

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to roastedwookie:

        If you understood the complexities involved in a secure multi-user cut/copy/paste you'd understand why that's something to brag about. And why Paul says that "It will take the competition years to catch up. If ever."

        • locust infested orchard inc

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          Really fascinating stuff concerning the security elements built into NT3.1, both with your comments and of those who replied.

          Nowadays, a website can swipe the contents of the clipboard courtesy of JavaScript.

          For the most part, users are unconcerned with their own computing-related security, with Google and Fakebook taking full advantage of our lax attitude.

          • MikeGalos

            In reply to locust infested orchard inc:

            It's not just users. There's an entire level of security that was added with COM+ that added "evidence" to access that very few developers ever used in their applications so users never got the chance to take advantage of.

            One problem was that the http and the world wide web were never built with security in mind and really were based on ease of implementation of their architectures so friends at other universities could create the tools to use them. It's the same with our basic email protocols. That's the reason it's so hard to wipe out spam. The foundations are inherently insecure so anything built on them has to have code added to plug the holes as best they can.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      It's also worth noting that the multiple users on one screen capabilities are present in the new version of Windows Virtual Desktop also shown at Ignite.

  9. RobertJasiek

    3:2 - how nice!

  10. craigsn

    How do you think Windows 10 (?), will be changed to work directly with Surface Hub 2? If, as you say, it puts them years ahead of any competition, then Windows needs to become a seamless client to the hub (not sure if client is the right idea here).