What do you need to know about Microsoft's Surface Laptop

Microsoft has finally unveiled its iteration of the surface laptop line. On May 02, 2017, the Surface Laptop was made official at a Microsoft’s event by Panos Panay, the company’s device chief. The new laptop appears to be well received by many while the company placed the Surface Laptop as a direct competitor to Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro.

Credits Microsoft


Who is it for?

The Surface Laptop is marketed towards the education field with the integration of the new OS, Windows 10 S. The company has announced many of its features such as a more intuitive group management interface on a network for educators to moderate and control the use of Surface devices in a school network. Also, with its sleek and highly portable design, the Surface Laptop has gained some tractions from students who might be considering this as a next prospective laptop.

Configurations and Pricings

Hardware wise, the surface laptop has presented itself by offering $999 USD for a system comprising of Intel 7th Gen Core i5 CPU, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM and Intel onboard 620 HD Graphic as a base model.

The other configurations are as follow

Intel 7th Gen Core i5 CPU, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM and Intel 620 HD Graphic


Intel 7th Gen Core i7 CPU, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM and Intel Iris Pro Graphic 640


Intel 7th Gen Core i7 CPU, 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM and Intel Iris Pro Graphic 640


All surface laptops will pack itself with a 13.5”, 3:2 aspect ratio, touch-enabled screen. The unit will offer a USB 3.0 type A port, 3.5mm headphone port, Mini Display port (with support up to 4k) and power port (Surface Connect).

The Good

It is nice to see Microsoft has implemented Intel’s Iris Pro Graphic for its i7 iterations to provide a slight boost of graphical horsepower into the system. Causal video and photo editing (at least for school projects) is still possible but the process can be easily bottleneck without the support of Thunderbolt 3 (which is a common trend in 2017) for an alternative option of external GPU.

Credits Microsoft

PCI-E drives are used in every configuration on the Surface Laptop, meaning a more than decent disk speed for your school work. SSDs are more robust as they have lesser moving parts which helps to lower the tendencies of hardware failures while providing high file transfer speed.

Despite the current trend of laptop manufacturers omitting the USB Type A port, is it commendable for Microsoft to include at least one for the consumers. Although we are in the midst of migrating into USB type C, students and educators would know that many of their devices in schools such as portable hard drives or mice still depend on a USB type A interface. The implement of one type A port will definitely help to ease the transition.  

The Questionable

Purchasing a Surface Laptop is a long-term investment for many students. However, there are some questionable implementations on Surface Laptop that might make you think twice before committing to such purchase.

It is puzzling that the machine does not support any USB Type C (USB 3.1) or Thunderbolt connectivity. With a limited array of ports, the ability to expand physical interface is crucial for many. Even in some of Microsoft’s prototype, you will notice that Type C ports are implemented into the chassis. Into today’s premium ultra-light market, the inclusion of either USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt is mandatory to provide the option of scalability to your customer. Without this option, many including myself have second thoughts about the service life of this machine.

A prototype of the Surface Laptop, Credits The Verge

The second implement may be considered trivial to some but this is still worth discussing. Unlike many laptops that use carbon fibre or aluminium as their texture material for the keyboard, the Microsoft Surface Laptop uses the Alcantara fabric for its texture on the keyboard and palm rest surfaces. If you’re unfamiliar with this fabric, reviewing the Surface Keyboard on the Surface Pro 4 will give you some good context. No doubt to some consumer, the Alcantara fabric gives a texture that helps to reinforce a luxurious or classy feel when interacting with the product. However, there is one big drawback about these keyboards and that is wear and tear. To be fair, there are some nice looking keyboards even after months of consistent use in school but I have also seen some dirty looking ones. In the case of a Surface Pro device, this is not exactly a huge problem as the keyboard is replaceable but that is not the case for a Surface Laptop. I’m really hoping that might be some improvement in the materials used to manufacture the keyboard, else gunky, stained Surface Laptops may be a common sight in mere months.

Stained dirty looking Surface Pro keyboard 

Last but not least, with the base model packing just 4GB of RAM, we are scratching the limit of usability and value. Although Windows 10 S is designed to be extremely lightweight as an operating system, the 4GB option just does not have value in the term long for students who wish to do more other than standard productivity processes (e.g. word documents). Deciding on a configuration would require you to commit to this laptop until the end of its service life as there is no viable upgrade path.

What exactly can I do with the Surface Laptop?

To put it simply, if you are running Windows 10 S on the Surface Laptop, you can only take advantage of the applications that are available in the Windows Store. Although the hardware components in the machine are more than capable of running applications outside the Windows Store ecosystem, Windows 10 S does not allow you to run any executable program. This severely limits its capabilities for consumers who are inclined to use non-Windows Store applications such as Google Chrome (which I believed is the most common non-Windows store application on every Windows devices) or more specialised programs such as Avid Pro Tools.

I believe that the integration of Windows 10 S can be further improved in the future. Depending on the direction Microsoft takes to further develop the operating system, Windows 10 S can be an attractive ecosystem for educators who are not primarily technical trained. However, this comes with flexibility issues and might even cultivate complacency on how the school system will be managed in the future. The idea of only allowing store applications to run on a machine is well intended but at this point of time is not comprehensive enough. A quick search in the store will allow you to easily uncover some dodgy applications that are available for downloads.

The option of upgrading your OS to Windows 10 Pro is free till the end of 2017, then you are required to pay $50 USD to continue using Windows 10 Pro on the Surface Laptop. Hence, if you are a user like me who uses many applications that are not available in the Windows Store, it is wise for you to include this $50 fee as an expense.

Should I buy the Laptop?

As mentioned above, the Surface Laptop has many questionable decisions made by the company. Even with the consideration of upgrading to Windows 10 Pro, the laptop is still limited by its onboard ports. A future implementation of USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 can easily offer more scalability options for a user to expand in the future.

In short, there are other windows based premium laptops such as the XPS 13 that can provide better value and longer service life throughout your education.



CES 2017 – Thoughts in the perspective of a professional audio practitioner

CES 2017 has many up and rising technology trends this year, with a significant amount of attention invested in autonomous car technologies, mixed realities (augmented/virtual) and the Internet of things devices. These progressions made sense to me, as they are introductions to compliment our existing technological infrastructures to alleviate our already hectic lifestyles.

CES 2017, credit CES 

With a magnitude of new products and technologies launched within a few days, it is easy for one to feel lost or even not knowing what to get excited about. In this article, I will be sharing a few developments by manufacturers in consumer audio that interests me and what I feel may influence the general audio markets (professional / consumer). 

Audio Technica DSR9BT: Goodbye DAC!

There are numerous practices by audio manufacturers to improve their signal to noise ratio (SNR) in their products. From compacting an internal amplifier with high headroom to utilising better quality cables, Audio Technica has an intriguing approach to retain high SNR in their new Wireless Bluetooth Headphone.

"Truly" Digital Headphone, Audio Technical DSR9BT, credit Audio Technica

Conventional Signal Chain

The conventional signal chain of many existing headphones employs a digital to analog converter (DAC) early in the signal chain stage to amplify the audio signal to have the appropriate amplitude to drive the speaker components. Compressors and filters are commonly used to help improve signal integrity (e.g. signal gain compensation after transmission).

As previously mentioned in one of my articles (Investing in your audio system), any form of signal conversions, regardless of whether is it analog to digital (ADC) or digital to analog (DAC), these conversions will inherently produce unwanted noises (components tolerance) and decrease overall signal integrity. With a lower level of signal integrity, system fidelity will be affected.

The newly launched Audio Technica headphone has introduced a new technology that allows digital signals to transduce directly from speaker components. Conventionally, signals of analog nature are needed to operate the speaker components. However, Audio Technica’s Pure Digital Drive System allows the speakers to response to a digital signal without the necessity of any form of conversion beforehand. Do take note that the reproduction of sound at the end point is still analog.

How does Pure Digital Drive System improve SNR?

As compared to its analog counterpart, the digital signal has a discrete characteristic (1s and 0s), which in turn enable the signal to be robust against signal deterioration and also prevent signal distortions with lesser conversion stage along the signal chain. In my opinion, this is one of the most pragmatic approaches in the consumer market that have real potential to improve upon to help retain SNR and high system fidelity.

Upscaling any audio source into high resolution

It appears that there is a trend in CES 2017 where many consumer audio products are aimed to support high-resolution audio. Samsung has announced a new proprietary digital audio upscaling technology, Ultra-high Quality (UHQ) sound to “enhance” any audio format into a high-resolution format of 32 bits (bit depth). The sampling rate is yet to be confirmed, but speculation of 192KHz is expected.

Samsung h7 Wireless Speaker, credit Samsung

Will the upscale audio signal be true to its original format?

This can be an interesting development if Samsung has managed to development a upscaling protocol that is faithful to its original audio source. Existing upscaling technologies have always been biased towards pitch alteration. This is one of the digital artefacts created when a digital signal is over-sampled or under-sampled.

“Enhancing” Audio Quality

Audio Enhancement is not a simple processing of up-sampling the audio source. In musical terms, sound enhancement can be referred to as the improvement to the musical components concerning spectrum characteristics (e.g. clarity) or spatial imaging (e.g. “wideness” perspective of the audio source), etc. This additional information requires additional data, which is not innate in the source. Therefore, Samsung would have to develop a technology that is intelligent enough to study the musical characteristic of the song and melodically enhance various components to complement the overall experience.

LG SJ9 Soundbar Speaker: The first 4K speaker?

The LG SJ9 Soundbar Speaker System has incorporated a 320W system featuring two speakers that can either be used as a pair of front of house speakers (home setup) or delayed surround speakers. The soundbar has also incorporated the support for Dolby Atmos, an industry format that is commonly used in the film industry.

SJ9 Soundbar Speaker System, credit Gadget360

Who are they marketing to?

Looking at the features and design of this product, it is quite clear that LG is trying to target this product to movie lovers, home party enthusiast or even casual listener. The system can be configured up till a 5.1 setup to allow user to have a comprehensive immersion experience of listening to the system

A feature that raises eyebrows

The feature that gets discussed a lot in this particular product in CES 2017 is the 4K audio resolution format the system can support. This market term is derived mathematically from the bit rates of the stream audio signal. The system support 24 bits (bit depth) @ 96KHz (sampling rate), with a two-channel of audio, the stream would equate to 96000 (sampling rate) x 24 (bit depth) x 2 (two channels e.g. L-R) = 4,608,000bps≈ 4,000kbps, hence the term 4K resolution audio.

To give credit, this marketing term has worked its way through the sea of commotion in CES 2017. However, the format 24 bits @ 96KHz is not new at all. Most entry-level audio interfaces such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 were supporting this format year ago with now having the support up till 192KHz. As discussed earlier, having high-resolution audio does not necessarily define the good quality sound, the acoustics of the environment will determine the second half of the overall experience. A more comprehensively designed system should include some form of acoustic alteration system through digital signal processing (DSP) where different profiles can accurately tune or control to benefit the most out of high-resolution audio.

On a more serious note

New LG Wallpaper TV, credit The Future Tech

Although the SJ9 was marketed inconjuncture with the new wallpaper TV from LG (4K resolution), the term 4K should not be used in audio as that constitute the amount of pixels generated per frame (pixel count). In contrast, audio signal does not involve any form of pixel generation (at least at this very moment), and manufacturers should uphold existing standards that have been rigorously tested for the use of the audio protocol. Marketing terminology such as 4K sound can bring welcomed attention to your product, and I support that. However, if these new terms are not elaborated on precisely should not be encouraged as it will cause many confusions, resulting in a more challenging environment for a casual consumer to purchase a product that truly suits his/her home setup.




High CRI Bulb

This is a follow-up post from my Prometheus Beta-QR EDC flashlight. I have received multiple enquiries regarding the type of light used in this particular flashlight. As some of you have observed in some of the beta-qr review videos on Youtube, you will notice that the light “colour” (temperature) is slightly different from your usual “white colour” flashlight. In this particular case, the beta-qr uses high colour rendering index (CRI) LED rather than the generic “white” LED bulb.

The CRI of a light source is a quantitative measure of its ability to reproduce the colours of different object faithfully in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. To put it simply, CRI lights help objects to display its colours “realistically” or “naturally” as compared to a reference, usually an incandescent bulb. These bulbs have significant improvement to help photographers, videographers to achieve images that have better colour representation when used.

The effects of CRI raitings, Credits Mdidea

To answer the most common question I encountered so far, the light from a High CRI bulb can bring more merits that it looks. Though some High CRI bulb may appear to be dimmer that its generic white LED counterpart, a high-quality CRI bulb is more efficient in its colour representation and will help user / camera sensors to perceive better. Hence, even though some CRI bulb might be spec at a lower lumen rating but its efficiency can far compensate for this shortcoming.

Below are some samples were taken with respect to the different light source, namely, white LED light (Jetbeam PA10), High CRI flash (Nexus 5x) and High CRI light from beta-qr.

High CRI bulb are getting more affordable and manufacturers are starting to include them in their products, e.g. Google Nexus 5x by LG. This is a good development in my opinion, as it can help cameras (even the lower resolution ones) achieve a more flattering and accurate representation of an image. Thus, creating a more holistic balance between camera sensors and light quality. Photography and videography are the art of capturing light and emotion, without a good light source, your highly sensitive camera senses will still be flawed.

In the past, many have avoided the use of LED lights mainly due to this particular reason, namely, bad colour representation. However, high CRI bulbs are creating a viable avenue for many photos and video enthusiast to explore as they are a lot more power efficient and can be very portable (e.g. Prometheus Beta-Qr).