On the last day of Build 2015, Brad Sams, Rafael Rivera, and I got to spend some more time with the stunning new Surface Hub. Here’s a quick peek at the shipping version of Microsoft’s team collaboration solution.
For context, I first used Surface Hub’s predecessor, called the Perceptive Pixel (PPI) display, during my appearance at the Windows 8 launch in New Zealand in 2012. I also had a bit of hands-on time with a pre-release Surface Hub during Build 2015, which I wrote about in the imaginatively titled Hands-On with Surface Hub. So my recent experience with a shipping Surface Hub unit builds on both.
I’d like more time with it, frankly. But the size and weight of Surface Hub—not to mention its team-oriented features—makes it hard to review. Both of my hands-on experiences with Surface Hub have been with the larger 84-inch version of the device, which provides an astonishing 4K screen. But I’m trying to see whether I can’t get some long-term time with the “smaller” 55-inch model, which has a 1080p display.
Since last year’s Build, there have been two major Surface Hub developments:
First, Microsoft raised the price by $2000 per model, apparently because the cost of making the devices was higher than anticipated. So the 55-inch model now costs $8,999, while the 84-incher goes for $21,999. (Those who preordered Surface Hub didn’t have to pay extra, thankfully.)
Second, Microsoft delayed the release of Surface Hub again and again throughout the second half of 2015, and while I don’t know why exactly, I suspect it was related to build quality and cost. That’s all been figured out, and Surface Hub is now shipping. And from the U.S., no less: Surface Hub is designed and made in the United States.
As with last year’s introduction, we were guided this year by Surface Hub senior product marketing manager Tim Bakke, who told us that Microsoft has seen tremendous interest from businesses, which are adapting to a new world with more remote workers.
“Surface Hub focuses on the challenges of collaborating in ad hoc and group meetings,” he told us. “Businesses can save time and money, and be more effective using this solution. They can put it in places where people congregate.” This can happen semi-permanently, as would be the case with the larger unit, or by using a rolling stand with a 55-inch model.
You can learn more about the basics of Surface Hub usage in that earlier Hands-On with Surface Hub article, as nothing has really changed since then. This time around, Bakke focused a bit more on the general user experience.
“There are three key experiences here,” he said. “We wanted to ensure that remote participants had a great experience, so we really invsted in the microphones, cameras and camera placements. For people who are standing at the Surface Hub, the 4K and 1080p displays mean no pixelation for a superior experience. And then for the people in the room, the participants who are physically present.”
From a technical perspective, Surface Hub utilizes a Windows 10-based OS, and of course can access Windows Store and its apps. But it’s also meant to be a different kind of Windows 10 experience, with built-in apps like Call, Whiteboard, and Connect, which are specific to the device. And some features, like Snap, work differently on Surface Hub because of its unique needs.
Surface Hub also provides unique interactivity features with other Microsoft devices.
For example, Surface Hub is a Miracast receiver, meaning you can beam your Windows 10 Mobile or Windows 10 display to the device just as you would with any other Miracast-based screen. (We experimented with a Lumia 950 XL to create the world’s biggest-ever Windows phone screen.)
But Miracast is also bidirectional in Surface Hub. This means that you can interact with what’s beamed to the Surface Hub screen, directly on the screen itself. We tested this with a Surface Pro 4, and as expected, you can interact with the remote Surface Pro 4 screen—in picture in picture mode no less–right on the Surface Hub.
The Surface Hub pens are incompatible with the Surface tablet lineup, and vice versa, because the digitizers are different. According to Bakke, Surface Hub’s display runs at 120 Hz—higher than the brain can comprehend—and there’s near-zero parallax because there’s no gap between pen tip and sensor on the screen. Our testing bore this out: The Surface Hub writing experience is liquid-smooth, and provides the expected palm rejection functionality.
Surface Hub is an impressive solution, and not just because it’s physically imposing (well, at least the 84-inch version). I hope I can spend some more time with it this year.
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