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The Microsoft Surface Pro tablet is now iconic, with a design that hasn’t changed much since the very first model came out. It was meant to show off all the touch-friendly features of Windows, and kick off a whole new generation of ultraportable, compact PCs. The Surface line of hardware is unapologetically premium; meant to act as “halo” devices for Windows itself. By controlling the hardware as well as software, Microsoft can try to approach the level of integration that makes Apple’s Macs stand out. Interestingly, few other companies seem to think there’s much demand for Windows-based tablets with detachable keyboards.

The latest generation of the Surface Pro 2-in-1 tablet came to India a few months ago, although it was launched in the USA in October 2019. Prices for the Surface Pro 7 here start at Rs. 72,999 – and that’s not including the keyboard attachment or stylus. Despite the delayed availability in India, has Microsoft delivered a strong enough update to tempt buyers, and just how does such a device compare to a standard laptop? Read on to find out.

The kickstand allows for a wide range of positions suitable for typing or using a stylus

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 design and usability

Nothing major about the design of the Surface Pro has changed since the very first model, although there have been calls for Microsoft to change things up to keep pace with general trends. The tablet itself is about as thick as today’s smartphones, at 8.5mm, and weighs between 775g and 790g depending on the hardware you choose. The Type Cover, which is a fairly essential accessory, will add another 5mm and 310g.

The screen measures 12.3 inches diagonally, with a 3:2 aspect ratio that works well for a device that can be held in portrait or landscape orientation. The borders around the screen are pretty chunky by today’s standards but there’s space for a 5-megapixel front-facing camera as well as infrared sensor for Windows Hello face recognition. The border space at the bottom of the screen has magnets so the type cover can be folded and inclined a little to make typing more comfortable. The tablet will also recognise when the cover is flipped shut and go to sleep, but there aren’t magnets to hold the two together when closed.

The body is made of a magnesium alloy, and you can buy this generation in the popular Platinum or Matte Black. The most iconic thing about the Surface Pro’s design has always been its kickstand. It lies flush with the back of the body when folded, and stays stiff enough for you to jab the screen with a stylus or rest your hand on it when drawing. It can open far enough for the Surface Pro to lie nearly flat on its back, which is a comfortable position for drawing or writing with a stylus.

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The Type Cover can be folded upwards to create an incline, and the kickstand requires room behind the tablet

 

You’re really meant to use this 2-in-1 either as a tablet in your hands or with the Type Cove on a table – using it on your lap while sitting or reclining isn’t really practical. Setting up the kickstand is also an extra step compared to working with a laptop, and you need more room because of the extra footprint required. That said, the Surface Pro 7 is still extremely portable and convenient.

With the Surface Pro 7 in its default landscape orientation, you’ll find the power and physical volume buttons on the upper left, with a 3.5mm headphones socket just around the corner. This is a little inconvenient, as the wire will dangle from the upper corner if you have earphones plugged in. On the right, you’ll find one USB Type-A and one Type-C port, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connector slot. A microSD card slot is tucked away behind the kickstand, and is easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there.

This is the first Surface Pro model with a Type-C port, which has been a popular demand. You can use it to charge the device and drive an external display, which is handy since it replaces previous models’ Mini-DisplayPort video outputs. Microsoft hasn’t gone with the faster Thunderbolt 3 standard, which it says was a deliberate choice because of data security. The charger that ships with the device still uses the Surface Connect slot but has a USB port on it to let you plug other things in to charge, such as a phone.

The Type Cover is sold separately, in various colours, priced upwards of Rs. 12,299 each. There are regular plastic versions and the more expensive Signature versions with Alcantara fabric, which you might or might not like the texture of. The keyboard keys are well-laid out and the white backlighting with three levels is a pleasant surprise. You can lay the cover flat or prop it up at an angle, but doing so means it will flex and bend quite a bit when you’re typing. The keys themselves are comfortable, with a surprisingly good action by tablet accessory standards. The trackpad also works well, but it’s plasticky and is very loud when pressed.

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The keyboard layout is quite good, but it flexes when typing

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 specifications and price

The seventh incarnation of the Surface Pro has suitably modern components, starting with Intel’s 10th Gen Core processors. These are the versions based on the 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ architecture, featuring integrated Gen11 graphics and AI acceleration.

The base variant is somewhat disappointing – for Rs. 72,999 you get only a Core i3-1005G1 CPU with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. At the top of the range, you can get a Core i7-1065G7 CPU with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which will cost Rs. 1,41,999. Microsoft does not offer variants with a 512GB or 1TB SSD in India, though these are available abroad. It’s also worth noting that the RAM is soldered down and not upgradable.

The 12.3-inch 3:2 screen has an uncommon resolution of 2736×1824 and of course it supports multi-touch as well as the Surface Pen and other styluses. The battery capacity isn’t specified, but battery life is rated at 10.5 hours of “typical usage”. One thing that’s missing is an option for integrated cellular data, which could have been much appreciated considering the portability on offer.

Being a tablet, you get an ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. Other specifications worth noting are the 5-megapixel front-facing and 8-megapixel rear-mounted cameras, dual mics, stereo speakers, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5. Retail versions of the Surface Pro 7 ship with Windows 10 Home.

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Thick screen borders show that the Surface Pro’s design hasn’t changed much over the years

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 performance

I’m reviewing the top-end version of the Surface Pro 7, and performance is just as good as I had hoped for considering the price. The UI was fluid and responsive, with no hiccups during my review period. I was able to have multiple programs open, stream video, and work between dozens of browser tabs without any trouble. The tablet woke from sleep pretty much instantly when opening the cover or tapping the power button.

The only thing that requires a slight pause is rotating the UI from portrait to landscape or vice versa, which is something Microsoft could work on. Speaking of which, Windows 10 has plenty of touch-friendly gestures and stylus accommodations, but it’s pretty much up to you to figure them out. The UI is set to 200 percent scaling by default which is good for touch input, but I preferred it at 150 ­– 175 percent.

Everyday usability turned out to be very pleasant. The screen is a little smaller than most people used to mainstream laptops would prefer, and it’s very reflective, but colours are vibrant and motion is smooth enough to enjoy videos. The speakers benefit from their placement at ear height, firing forwards. They’re very loud and produce a surprisingly open sound, though it does lack bass and can get scratchy at high volumes.

I ran several real-world and synthetic tests on the Surface Pro 7, starting with an SSD speed test. CrystalDiskMark reported NVMe-class sequential read and write speeds of 2333.6Mbps and 1567.2Mbps respectively, with even random reads and writes coming in at 1006.1Mbps and 406.1Mbps respectively. Compressing a 3.24GB folder of assorted files took 4 minutes, 58 seconds, while transcoding a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 took 3 minutes, 11 seconds.

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The Surface Pro 7 is the first model in the line to feature a USB Type-C port

 

PCMark 10 managed to score 3,476 points in its standard run and 2,705 points in its Extended run. Cinebench R20 put up scores of 1,100 and 311 in its multi-core and single-core tests respectively. POV-Ray ran its default ray tracing benchmark in 4 minutes, 28 seconds.

Intel’s current naming scheme is a little confusing, but the ‘G7′ at the end of ‘Core i7-1065G7′ indicates that this CPU features the company’s Iris Plus integrated graphics subsystem, which is the highest tier within the segment. The Surface Pro 7 therefore has enough graphics power for productivity, light creative work and simple games. You’ll even be able to play somewhat older games, but you shouldn’t expect great quality.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider took a long time to load and was only able to put up an average of 10fps at 1280×720 using the Lowest graphics setting, making it unplayable. 3DMark managed 564 in the Time Spy test and 491 in Fire Strike Ultra. The back of the tablet did get quite hot when running heavy tests, but this shouldn’t affect usage — the keyboard, being an entirely separate unit, didn’t get warm at all.

Battery life was quite good, and I managed to cross 8 hours of usage with a fair bit of video streaming and multitasking thrown in. You should be able to get through a long flight or at least a full day at the office on a single charge – and Type-C charging makes it easy to top the Surface Pro 7 up on the go. The heavy Battery Eater Pro test ran for a respectable 2 hours, 55 minutes.

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The tiny charger has its own USB port so you can charge a phone simultaneously

 

Verdict

The Surface Pro line has now been around for a long time, and there aren’t any real tablet-style 2-in-1 competitors in the premium space. That’s partially because the laptop space itself has evolved, and ultraportable models are getting lighter as well as more powerful with each generation. Dell, Acer, HP, Lenovo, and others all sell sub-1.3kg laptops with decent enough keyboards, connectivity, and battery life at around the same prices. The convenience and portability of the Surface Pro 7 might not make up for all its compromises as much as it they used to.

Although the Surface Pro 7 did well enough overall, it fared a little worse in most of my tests than the HP Spectre x360 13 aw0205tu, which I recently reviewed. This is interesting considering that the two are based on exactly the same CPU and each have 16GB of RAM. HP’s offering is a little heavier, but features LTE and a more laptop-like 2-in-1 design that favours productivity. Plus, its price is actually competitive once you factor in the cost of a Type Cover and Surface Pen.

You’d choose the Surface Pro 7 over a laptop or an iPad if you really need something as light as possible, and want all the convenience of a tablet that you can sketch and draw on plus still have the ability to run Windows and all its software. I didn’t receive a Surface Pen to test with the Surface Pro 7, but my experience with previous models has been good.

Microsoft itself knows that the Surface Pro line is getting a little stale, which is why it launched the Surface Pro X alongside. This lighter, slicker model is based on an Arm CPU, not a traditional Intel/ x86 one, which means there might be some incompatibilities and adjustments in the near term, but it is a sign of things to come. The Surface Pro 7 thus serves a shrinking niche. It’s still a great portable computer, but it isn’t for everyone.

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Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop: A cheat sheet

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Cloud-based DaaS offers several advantages to a remote workforce. This smart guide to Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop assesses the platform and what it can offer.

Image: iStock/DragonImages

Unprecedented conditions surrounding COVID-19 and the accompanying global pandemic have left many business enterprises scrambling to find ways to accommodate an increasingly remote and virtual workforce. Some businesses have discovered that workforce productivity is the same, if not better, under a virtual scheme. These enterprises are likely to adopt platforms like Desktop as a Service (DaaS) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) going forward, even after the pandemic has subsided.

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download

Cloud-based DaaS and VDI services are offered by a number of vendors including Microsoft through its Azure cloud platform. Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is offered as a free service to certain Microsoft 365 and Azure subscribers. Licenses for individual Windows Virtual Desktops are also available with costs that vary with server location and type of virtual machine.

The are many advantages to Windows Virtual Desktop, but there are also several caveats to consider before your business decides to adopt the platform. Like all business decisions, planning and analysis before making any decisions is warranted and highly recommended. This Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop: A cheat sheet from TechRepublic will help you assess what the platform is and what it can offer, so you can make the best decision possible for your business.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

What is Windows Virtual Desktop?

Leveraging the power of Microsoft Azure, Windows Virtual Desktop is an instanced virtual machine hosting a desktop and app virtualization service running on the cloud. Windows Virtual Desktop delivers a virtual desktop experience and remote apps to any device. Depending on how it is configured, the platform can bring together Microsoft 365 and Azure to provide users with a multi-session Windows 10 experience, which includes scaling and reduced IT costs.

Windows Virtual Desktop can be configured to run Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows 7 Enterprise, or Windows Server 2012 R2, 2016, 2019. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are not supported.

The following Remote Desktop clients support Windows Virtual Desktop:

SEE: Software as a Service (SaaS): A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Why is Windows Virtual Desktop important?

Whether out of necessity or as part of an overall productivity strategy, the modern workforce is increasingly a remote and mobile workforce. To gain access to the systems and applications it needs to do its jobs, the workforce grows more and more dependent on cloud platforms and virtual machines which can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, by any device.

Windows Virtual Desktop provides a workforce with access to a virtual Windows computer running whatever apps a typical IT-sanctioned Windows computer should be running for your business. By taking advantage of Azure’s cloud infrastructure, businesses can setup multi-session Windows 10 deployments optimized to run in multi-user virtual scenarios.

From a worker’s perspective, their Windows Virtual Desktop is exactly the same as a traditional PC setting on their desk. From the enterprise’s perspective, the cost of purchasing, setting up, deploying, and securing physical hardware can be saved by entrusting Microsoft and Azure to handle those specifics in the cloud.

SEE: Microsoft sees surge in demand for cloud services during coronavirus outbreak (TechRepublic)

What are the benefits of Windows Virtual Desktop?

Whether by choice or by happenstance, if your employees are working remotely, sensitive company data will likely be transferred and stored locally at some point, even if only briefly. Even with best practice security precautions, this transfer of sensitive data is risky. Add the variabilities of employees using their own personal devices and networks for work activity and you have a recipe for disaster.

Windows Virtual Desktop allows employers to deploy virtual machines, configured exactly how they need them to be, that are securely instanced in the Azure cloud. In essence, sensitive company data is never transferred out of the company’s control structure because any data transfers are merely between Azure cloud instances. Within the Microsoft Azure cloud, data is protected by all manner of built-in security protocols, including Azure Firewall, Azure Security Center, Azure Sentinel, and Microsoft Defender ATP.

SEE: How SMBs build their tech stacks (TechRepublic)

Under Windows Virtual Desktop, access to desktop instances is controlled by conditional access protocols, including multi-factor authentication. Azure infrastructure can be deployed to enable role-based access control (RBAC) and detect threats using Azure Security Center. Windows Virtual Desktop certified compliant with ISO 27001, 27018 and 27701, PCI, FedRAMP High for Commercial, and HIPPA.

If your enterprise already subscribes to Microsoft 365 or an enterprise version of Windows, it can establish a desktop instance for each user for free with Windows Virtual Desktop. Therefore, at no extra charge, your remote users can access a ready-made virtual machine running Windows from anywhere, at any time, from any device.

Because Windows Virtual Desktop is managed through the Microsoft Azure Portal, your enterprise can scale desktop instances to meet business needs on the fly. Admins can increase virtual CPUs, add virtual RAM, allocate more virtual hard disk storage, etc., with a few mouse clicks and an admin login account.

What are the caveats of Windows Virtual Desktop?

The primary caveat to consider when deciding whether to deploy Windows Virtual Desktop for a remote workforce is the quality of network connections. No matter how well you plan and design your virtual desktop instances, they are only worth the effort if your employees have the ability to effectively reach the cloud. Slow internet connections, intermittent connections, and no internet connections are all a real possibility, and all must be mitigated for cloud-based virtualization to work efficiently.

SEE: DaaS and VDI: New report underscores the high costs and challenges of virtual workforces (TechRepublic)

Beyond the technical aspect of network connections, employers must also consider how much employee training will be necessary. Tech-savvy employees and IT pros will likely have no trouble connecting to Azure and Windows Virtual Desktop servers, but some employees may need at least some instruction to complete the connection. Who will provide that help, how will they provide it, what if it is not effective? These questions must have acceptable answers.

Other questions to be answered include, once in operation, how will employees ask for additional resources if they need them? Will there be a ticketing system with IT department personnel responsible for their resolution? Is that infrastructure in place? Setting up procedures to handle the maintenance of a Windows Virtual Desktop system should be completed before deploying the actual virtual instances.

Who are the major competitors to Windows Virtual Desktop?

Competition among cloud vendors in the virtual desktop space is fierce and includes dozens of different companies, many of which are prominent and familiar. Obvious competitors include the usual major cloud services suspects of Amazon AWS and Google Cloud Platform. Other prominent competitors include Citrix and VMware. Other smaller competitors offer specialized desktop services for engineers, architects, artists, and scientists that require specific features.

SEE: Research: SMB IT stack decisions based on fulfilling business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Here is a short list of virtual desktop competitors:

With all of this competition, Microsoft will continue to feel pressure to keep costs and fees low for its Windows Virtual Desktop service. This competitive pressure helps explain why Microsoft is willing to offer Windows Virtual Desktop free to existing customers already subscribed to Microsoft 365 or enterprise versions of Windows.

How do you get Windows Virtual Desktop, and when will it be available?

Windows Virtual desktop is available through the Microsoft Azure Portal. For current subscribers to Microsoft 365 and enterprise versions of Windows, desktop instances are available for each user at no extra charge. Non-subscribers will have to pay a subscription fee determined by the specifications of the virtual machines used for each desktop instance.

Subscribers to these existing services have free access to Windows Virtual Desktop instances running specific operating systems on a per user basis:

Operating system

Required license    

Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session or Windows 10 Enterprise    

Microsoft 365 E3, E5, A3, A5, F3, Business Premium or Windows E3, E5, A3, A5    

Windows 7 Enterprise    

Microsoft 365 E3, E5, A3, A5, F3, Business Premium or Windows E3, E5, A3, A5    

Windows Server 2012 R2, 2016, 2019    

RDS Client Access License (CAL) with Software Assurance    

For enterprises without a pre-existing subscription, the price of a Windows Virtual Desktop through Azure will depend on the specifications chosen for each desktop instance. For example, a pay-as-you-go instance with 2 CPUs, 8 GB RAM, and 50 GB of storage is estimated to cost $137.29 per month. A quote from the Azure price calculator that is significantly more than a Microsoft 365 Business Premium subscriber paying $12.50/month/user.

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Scientists are getting closer to effective treatment for hair loss

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Hair loss seems like a minor problem to many. You got bald, so what? Some people prefer this look. However, for many men going bald is a terrible experience and they would pay good money to avoid it. Now scientists at the University of Helsinki have identified a mechanism that is likely to prevent hair loss.

Many men lose their hair as they grow older. It is natural and hereditary – if your dad or one of your grandads went bald, chances are your head is going to be very shiny in the future. On the other hand, ultraviolet radiation and other environmental factors damage our skin as well.

Scientists are getting closer to effective treatment for hair loss

Baldness can be a serious psychological drag – some men got to huge lengths to hide it. Image credit: Nesnad via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Stress is another factor as well as various diseases and some treatments. Scientists in Finland now think that hair follicle stem cells, which promote hair growth, could live longer if their metabolic state was switched. And scientists already managed to demonstrate that in experiments with a Rictor protein.

Naturally, an average human sheds 500 million cells and a quantity of hairs weighing a total of 1.5 grams every day. If you are not going bald already, this tissue is replaced by specialised stem cells. If these stem cells become inactive or at least less active, lost tissue is not going to be replaced and hair follicles are going to become weaker and smaller. Normally, as a hair follicle becomes older and weaker, stem cells replace it with a new one and then return to their specific location and resume a quiescent state. If this cycle could be maintained, baldness would be essentially cured.

1603134795 223 Scientists are getting closer to effective treatment for hair loss

Hair follicle stem cells, which promote hair growth, can prolong their life by switching their metabolic state. Image credit: Sara Wickström, University of Helsinki

Scientists now found that stem cells need a change in the metabolic state in order to return to their specific location. Essentially, they switch from glutamine-based metabolism and cellular respiration to glycolysis – this switch is induced by a protein called Rictor. Scientists found that when Rictor is absent, slow exhaustion of the stem cells and age-related hair loss begins. Experiments with mice showed that Rictor deficiency results in hair loss.

Sara Wickström, lead author of the study, said: “We are particularly excited about the observation that the application of a glutaminase inhibitor was able to restore stem cell function in the Rictor-deficient mice, proving the principle that modifying metabolic pathways could be a powerful way to boost the regenerative capacity of our tissues”.

Baldness is a minor issue – it is not life threatening and some people can really rock that look. But it can be a serious drag psychologically and it would be worthwhile to fix it. Also, scientists can use this opportunity to learn more about stem cells, their function and regenerative functions. This could benefit the entire aging research field.

 

Source: University of Helsinki




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Apple Offering Free Virtual Workshops in India on Photography, Art, Music, and More

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Apple is hosting a series of free virtual sessions in India under its ‘Today at Apple’ initiative. Nearly month after the online Apple Store launched in India, the tech giant will be commemorating the occasion by offering free virtual workshops related to photography, music, art, and other creative fields. The workshops began on October 17, and will continue till November 29. Today at Apple was launched as a retail-focused initiative back in 2017, but this is the first time it is being extended to India.

While under ordinary circumstances, consumers visit Apple’s retails stores for the Today at Apple sessions, this year the workshops are being conducted online worldwide, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting from 2017, Today at Apple conducts hands-on sessions with experts on basics, how-to-learn, and professional-level programmes on topics ranging from art, coding, design, music, photography, and more. The workshops in India will kick-start with sessions from local photographers and acclaimed musicians, with tips on skills and techniques from Apple Creatives.

The photography workshops for the coming weeks include sessions with Siddhartha Joshi, Avani Rai, Anurag Banerjee, Prarthna Singh, and Hashmi Badani. Music sessions so far include a beginner’s course to Garage Band. The full schedule can be found here. The music skill sessions will also include sessions by Lisa Mishra, DIVINE, Aditi Ramesh, Raja Kumari, and Prateek Kuhad soon.

The first session of the Today at Apple series in India is Photo Lab: Faces and Places with Mumbai-based photographer Siddhartha Joshi, on October 22. He will be showcasing portrait projects he has taken across India, and giving professional photography tips.

You can head to Apple India and sign up for these sessions. To join a Webex session, you need a mobile/ laptop/ tablet/ computer, along with a stable Internet connection and the free Cisco Webex Meetings app. If you’re under 18, your parent or guardian can register for you, as per Apple. To recall, Apple Store launched in India in late September, and the company had that point itself announced plans to bring Today at Apple to India.

“We’re creating a modern-day town square, where everyone is welcome in a space where the best of Apple comes together to connect with one another, discover a new passion, or take their skill to the next level,” Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president, Retail had said at the time of launching Today at Apple in 2017.


Are iPhone 12 mini, HomePod mini the Perfect Apple Devices for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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