What we expect from Microsoft's massive device launch: new Surfaces, Lumias, and Band

lumia 950xl Microsoft Windows Phone
Credit: WPXAP

But we have a hunch that the software is going to be the real star (or goat) of the launch.

Hurricane Joaquin may be skipping New York City, but Microsoft's own maelstrom of hardware is still expected to hit October 6—most likely three new Lumia phones, an updated Surface Pro 4 tablet, and a new Microsoft Band.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft’s device business will steal the spotlight. But their success could arguably turn on something else: software.

Somewhere within Redmond, Microsoft executives are making a choice: Do they show Microsoft’s new flagship phones running the safe, stable, and established Windows Phone 8.1 OS? Or will this be the official coming-out party for Windows 10 Mobile?

That’s just one of a swirl of storylines as Microsoft readies its launch. Then there are the rumored flagship Lumia phones, the Lumia 950 and 950XL, which have appeared seemingly everywhere but the event itself and are the first premium Windows phones in over a year. (Microsoft may also launch a third phone, the Lumia 550.) Then there’s the launch of the second of the Band fitness trackers, a product Microsoft never seemed all that committed to as the market for wearables cools.

The most boring part of the launch could be the one that Microsoft should be most excited about: the Surface Pro 4, a refresh of Microsoft’s powerful productivity tablet that’s nearing a billion dollars in revenue per quarter.

PCWorld will be reporting live and providing our hands-on impressions of what we’re allowed to touch and feel. So what is going to be there? Here’s our best guess.

Surface Pro 4

The Surface Pro 3 that launched about 17 months ago was finally the Windows tablet everyone wanted. Its success turned on its design: a svelte, streamlined productivity PC that just so happens to be a tablet. Microsoft’s Surface business raked in $888 million in revenue during the June calendar quarter, and it’s certainly possible that Microsoft could disclose that it topped a cool billion for the just-completed third quarter. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 shown on stage Agam Shah

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 shown on stage in May 2014.

If Microsoft announces a Surface Pro 4, many expect it will include Intel’s new Skylake chip for increased performance. I would like to see a Windows Hello camera built in to enable biometric logins, but the recent launch of the Lenovo Miix 700—with a rear-mounted Hello camera—makes that a bit doubtful.

One rumor also claims that the Surface Pro 4 will essentially do away with the bezel — on all but the side with the Windows button, presumably. Tom Warren of The Verge suggests that the SP4 could have a 4K or even 5K display, to go along with a new stylus, and perhaps a fingerprint reader. I’d hope for the latter but not the former, because I’d rather not have a high-res display eating away all my battery life.

Warren also suggests that Microsoft could be preparing a monster of a surprise: a full 14-inch “laptop”-y version of the SP4, compared with the 11.6-inch display we’re used to with the Surface Pro 4. This is a reasonable and intriguing possibility, though you'd have to balance a larger size's greater productivity against its impact on portability.

One angle slightly worries me: Six months ago, a USB-C connector was considered the hot new I/O direction, because of its blazing throughput, ease of use (you can align a USB-C connector in either direction) and the fact that you can route power through it as well. The SP3 has just one USB-3 port. The problem is this: there aren’t any USB-C charging-and-I/O dongles available today. If an SP4 includes just one USB-C port—and we don’t know if it will—you won’t be able to charge the tablet and use it to drive an external display until those dongles ship.

Finally, there are the other Surfaces you need to worry about—the ones that don’t come from Microsoft. Lenovo already announced its Miix 700 at IFA, which falls between the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 in terms of specs. VAIO (the spinoff brand formerly owned by Sony) has its own Surface clone, the $2,199 VAIO Z Canvas, and we’re hearing rumors of yet another waiting in the wings. Ladies and gentlemen, the Surface clone is going to be a thing.

Lumia 950, Lumia 950XL, and Lumia 550

At this point, what don’t we know about Microsoft’s new flagship phones? A Microsoft presentation in Spanish has described the phones in detail. Then Microsoft did, itself, on its own Store page. About the only discrepancy is that the midrange Lumia 550 appeared on Microsoft’s Latin America leak, while that phone was omitted from the United Kingdom’s Microsoft Store page.

lumia 950xl lumia 950 slide Microsoft Forever Nokia Latin America

Most of the specifications of Microsoft’s phones have already leaked...

To recap:

Lumia 950

  • Display: 5.2 inches, QuadHD
  • Processor: Qualcomm 6-core Snapdragon 808
  • Camera: 20MP PureView rear camera with optical image stabilization (OIS) and dual flash; 5MP HD front camera
  • Storage: 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage
  • Battery: 3,000 mAh, with rapid charging via USB-C

Lumia 950XL

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