Thursday, August 13, 2015

My thoughts on the Surface Hub now I've used them

Yesterday I got a hands-on with both sizes of the Surface Hub. If you're not familiar with the name it's Microsoft's new wall mounted computer intended for collaborative work and meetings.

In the picture above you'll see the small one (yes really) which is a 55" 1080P screen. There's also an 84" 4K version.

They're available for pre-order now but aren't expected to ship until January 2016.
The small one is $7k and the larger is $20k. So, not cheap.

These devices really excite me. I'd love to do some work with collaborative software on such devices. In fact, given the choice, I'd take one of these over a HoloLens! Don't mistake them for just an all-in-one PC with a massive touchscreen. These are a completely new type of computing device.

I was very tempted to order one when orders opened last month. I held out though for two reasons.
Firstly I don't have anywhere to put one.
Secondly I had concerns about the screen on the 55" one.

1080P on a 55" screen means the pixels must be quite big. I have a 1080P screen on two 5.5 inch phones I carry in my pocket all day. I've learnt that a 1080P screen that is only 5.5" in diameter means that I can't see the pixels. I was concerned that I'd see the pixels on a 55" screen.

Having used one, the curves on a circle and diagonal lines were decidedly blocky when I was standing in front of the 55" screen. Personally I'd expect that I'd spend a lot of time very close to the screen and so this would constantly bother me. :(
This isn't typical of most user though. I understand the intention/expectation is that most people using the surface hub will view it from a distance.
From a distance both sizes looked great.

If the 55" device had a 4K screen then it would be very compelling.

My first reason for holding out deserves further comment too. These are not light devices. You're not going to hang them on a plasterboard wall. You'll want to seriously consider the structure of the wall you want to put it on. At these prices you don't want one falling off and breaking. Or worse, falling on someone.

Using the 84" version brought up usability ideas I hadn't thought of before.

  • How do you mount it so that short people can reach the top and tall people easily reach the bottom?
  • What about people who can't reach the top? Apps that require a swipe down from the top may have issues if the user can't stand.
  • Having a button on one side may mean a few steps for a person standing on the other side of the screen if they want to touch it. Might buttons on both sides be better?

What I saw was not the final version of the OS and so didn't handle multiple concurrent users. It was all very exciting though.


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