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Microsoft fills a hole, unveils its first laptop

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By Paresh Dave

Los Angeles Times

(TNS)

Microsoft Corp. is of two minds.

The company says its new Surface Pro 4 tablet can “absolutely” replace a laptop. Its new Lumia phones can work “like PCs” too.

Yet Microsoft on Tuesday said it has built a laptop for the first time — a laptop that’s, well, capable of being a tablet.

The Surface Book laptop appears to be an acknowledgement that one of the reasons behind slowing tablet sales could be that not everybody wants to give up a permanent keyboard and a bigger screen for the flexibility of a tablet. Though the Surface Book features a detachable keyboard, the new device resembles a laptop enough to give computer buyers fresh comfort.

Microsoft said the $1,499 Surface Book is the best 13-inch laptop on the market, taking aim at Apple’s MacBook Pro by claiming it operates at half the speed of the new Microsoft product. Pricing for the MacBook Pro starts at $1,299.

The Surface Book becomes Microsoft’s latest way to show off an unfiltered version of its Windows operating system and other software. Dell, Acer and many other companies develop laptops with customized Microsoft software, and it’s unclear how the Surface Book might affect relationships with those partners.

The Surface Book goes on sale Oct. 26, with orders accepted starting Wednesday.

Microsoft hardware chief Panos Panay said the laptop was as thin as possible while still having a USB port. It packs 12 hours of battery life. The 13.5-inch screen can sense touch or a stylus.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pen stylus is more pen-like, filling the screen with digital ink that turns into traditional computer font and an eraser-like nub for digital erasing on the top end.

The sound of typing on the Surface Book keyboard, held onto the screen by a hinge, “is so quiet,” Panay said with a whisper.

The laptop has optional graphics capabilities to suit gamers, architects and scientists, Panay said. It was built by bringing engineers from the Xbox and Surface team together.

“Once for ounce, it’s the fastest 13-inch laptop,” he said.

The new Surface Pro 4 tablet, meanwhile, is thinner, quieter and faster than its predecessor, Microsoft said. It costs $899.

Microsoft also unveiled new Lumia smartphones and a curved-screen version of the Band fitness tracker.

The new devices show Microsoft has narrowed the gap tech-wise with competitors, placing it more firmly in the consumer conversation, Daniel Ives, a financial analyst at FBR & Co., said in a note Tuesday.

Still, it’s “going to be a long road” to become a major player in hardware beyond the Xbox, Ives said.

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Microsoft fills a hole, unveils its first laptop