If you look back on the histories of Microsoft Surface and the Microsoft Stores, you'll find a lot of similarities. They both started out as somewhat "me too" answers to their competition, to a fair amount of derision. Apple had already established a firm foothold in the malls of America with their Apple Stores, and a firm foothold on the tablet market with the iPad when Microsoft arrived, late, to both markets.
Fast forward a few years, and Microsoft now has over a hundred Stores across the US, and another 9 in Canada, with more popping up all the time. The Surface, which admittedly got off to a shaky start, caught up in an ill-advised attempt to get Windows running on ARM, but after a couple of attempts Microsoft hit its stride with the Surface Pro 3.
Now, with the upcoming launch of the Surface 3, set to go on sale in early May, but available now for pre-order, and some hands on time in the Stores, the Surface seems like it was built for the Store, and the Store for the Surface. Microsoft not only has what's becoming an impressive lineup of new hardware, software, and services, but it has a bright clean store to show them off in, that is of course if you're in the US or Canada, in a market with a Store.
Just a thought but the Microsoft Store is going to come in very handy in promoting a new lineup of Windows Phones once a flagship, and Windows 10 for Mobile, ships. US carriers have been notoriously bad at featuring Windows Phones in their stores, but the Microsoft Stores already have a prominent Windows Phone display, and will be able to show off and sell new Windows Phones when (or even before, like the Surface 3) they hit the market.
Walking in to a Microsoft Store, the Surface is featured prominently, in fact, there's usually a Microsoft Store employee, with Surface in hand, there to greet you. We had a chance to have Lionell Lomax, an employee at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue, Washington, give us a quick run through of the Surface:
Although Lionell says that the Surface mini-USB hub is only used for charging, it can in fact also be used as a second USB port, as confirmed in the Reddit AMA with the Surface team. Also, keep in mind that the Surface 3 will be available with a 2GB RAM and 64GB storage option, or 4GB RAM and 128GB storage options, despite what is said in the video above. Anyway, our thanks to Lionell, and Microsoft for putting the demo together.
We brought along a Surface 2 just to get some visual comparisons between the older RT version and the Surface 3, and check out an older cover attached to the new machine. The older covers do work, if you already have a Surface and want to save a few (well $130) on the new Type Cover. You'll have to bear with a bit of a misfit, and you'll lose the benefits of the Power Cover's extra battery life, but to be honest once you open the keyboard you'll never notice the difference in form factors.
While I was there, I happened to run into fellow tech pundit Wes Miller (@wesmiller) from Directions on Microsoft, who stopped by to check out the Surface 3. He was impressed by the speed and fluidity of the device, and had fired up IE's "fishbowl" test on one of the devices:
(In comparison, a quick check of the fishbowl on my Surface 2, with the same settings, runs at 20 fps)
The Atom X7 processor in the Surface 3 is nothing like the early Atom processors you may be familiar with, the Surface 3 feels much faster and more fluid than a Surface 2, and will continue to gain improvements with Windows 10 on board. Of course, if it's not enough for you, you still have the option of moving up to the more powerful (but heavier, and with a fan) Surface Pro 3, so you don't need to compromise on power if you need it.
There's no getting around it, the Surface 3 is a nice device. If you want LTE connectivity, it's coming later this year, but if you're looking for a nice lightweight laptop that's a tablet, or tablet that's a laptop, one that runs Windows, will adapt well to Windows 10, and are willing to spend a fair but not premium price for one, you won't do better than the Surface 3.
Another note, this one on the Store itself. While I was there, at 11am on a Wednesday (and again on Thursday at noon, to reshoot some video), the store was, if not busy, at least certainly active. Customers were looking at laptops, checking out the Surface 3, getting personalized attention and training, and yes, buying stuff. This wasn't a ghost town, by any means, and for midweek in early Spring, the store was doing impressively well.
Microsoft has taken the Surface and the Microsoft Store, both starting late with not much support from the community, and turned them into successes, if not exactly not blockbuster hits. They've given Microsoft a solid platform to build a future with consumer devices, and a stage on which to show them off. And in making the Surface 3 available for preview, Microsoft has a controlled retail environment to highlight a showpiece device for Windows 10 and Microsoft's services, bringing all the best that the company has to offer in one complete package. It's what the Store was made for, and what the Surface was made for, to highlight all the best of Microsoft, and it's working.