Now that I've talked about my time with the Surface Pro 4 & Surface Pen and a nice chat about the new Lumia phones, I can talk about the rest of the Windows 10 Devices Hands-On Event. Some things I only looked at, some things I only used for a little bit, and I missed some things entirely. This will cover all of the little things about these new devices running Windows 10 that wouldn't be worth an article on their own.
Please bear in mind that the drinks and food were free and I had my fair share of both. I also was given (of all things) a set of golf balls. (More on that later.)
When I first arrived at the Windows 10 Devices event, I found myself standing outside of a building that used to be a post office. It's now an empty space that's rented out for events. The venue had three large diesel generators parked outside to provide power for all of the glitz and glamour that was pervasive throughout the party.
Once I secured my entry, I was shuffled off to the side with a crowd of people who also had been cleared for entry to this showcase of Windows 10 hardware. I'd been given a classier leather version of the standard "You belong at this event" wristband that anyone who has ever been to a concert is familiar with. After a brief wait we were all permitted to head inside.[caption id="attachment_57811" align="alignright" width="205"] Major Nelson made the day for one of TechRaptor's writers by signing an autograph and recording a personalized message.[/caption]
The crowd of several hundred walked in motley groups down twisting hallways. Large screens on the walls showed looping videos of people in everyday life. The end of this winding corridor led to a coat check and a set of stairs. After a short walk upstairs I found myself in a very large space indeed. A stage with a gigantic series of screens behind it had stylish looping animations with the "Microsoft" and "Windows 10" logos ubiquitous throughout. A DJ had some pretty good tunes going (albeit a bit too loudly for my taste). A veritable army of Microsoft Staff, venue crew, and various waiters were milling about between the handful of people who had arrived before me.
I spent the first few minutes inside the hall itself looking for a particular person: Major Nelson. One of TechRaptor's writers half-jokingly requested an autograph and I was going to make a good effort to get it.
I must admit that I was very unfamiliar with who Major Nelson was and how exactly he's impacted the gaming and technology industry over the years. A quick read of some articles on the train ride over educated me on all of the innovations he brought to the Internet, such as the concept of #FreeCodeFriday. I also had to get a good idea of what he looked like; I had only seen him in a picture once or twice years ago and honestly wasn't sure what he looked like.
Sure enough, I found him just where I had expected him to be—talking among the regular attendees, shaking hands, and taking photos. Before I got to him, he kneeled down to take a photo with a man in a wheelchair he was chatting with. He was the embodiment of charisma and politeness.
After a quick introduction, he signed a piece of my Xbox 360 box that I felt would make a thematically appropriate medium for an autograph from him. Major Nelson then went above and beyond by asking me to get my phone out—he recorded a video for the writer who asked for the autograph. I then took the opportunity to ask him for an interview and he politely declined as he wasn't doing any interviews at the moment. He said to send him an e-mail and he'd try to get back to me. And the interesting thing to me is I wholly believed he was sincere about it. With someone else I would have just assumed they were brushing me off and not worried about it.
I safely stashed the Major's autograph in my pocket and began checking out what Windows 10 devices were available to look at. I'm a pretty heavy gamer and that was my first priority. There were a few XBox Ones scattered throughout the room, but there was an unfortunate lack of any sort of PC Gaming. There have been rumblings that Windows 10 was going to be Microsoft's big return to gaming on PC, but there wasn't a single PC gaming setup running Windows 10 in the entire venue that I saw.
Hololens was on display for the few lucky winners of a scratchcard raffle—I'd have loved to check out the technology as I knew basically nothing about it. I do not buy into hype for any product as easily anymore ever since I heard about a "transportation revolution" and expected jetpacks or flying cars. Instead they revealed the Segway.
One of the XBox Ones was tucked away in a corner near the entrance. Two young gentlemen were taking turns playing Tomb Raider, and it seemed to be the same two people there for most of the night. I didn't get the chance to find out if it was the newest one or the previous version. Another XBox One with some couches was to the left of the main stage—a handful of people were sitting around playing random titles throughout the night. While it might seem strange to see XBox Ones at a Windows 10 event, the XBox One's dashboard is based more and more on Windows 10 under the hood.
While two of the XBox One setups could have been plucked out of any living room, the Halo 5 setup was a beast unto itself. Multiple consoles were linked together for LAN play on a pre-release version of the game. Each console had its own screen. I managed to get a few short videos on my phone of some of the gameplay.
There was not much of a line for playing Halo 5. I was initially surprised by this until I remembered that this was a generic Windows 10 devices event and not exclusively a gaming event. I'm sure there were people here that were more interested in tablets and phones than in headshots and multikills. I must confess that I've never played a Halo game in my life; while I could have very easily tried my hand at the latest offering in the Halo series, I'm not much for playing shooters on a console. Give this man a mouse and keyboard any day of the week.
And speaking of Halo 5 and PC, I saw a pair of employees from 343 while I was exiting the event. I asked if there were any plans to bring the Master Chief Collection or any other Halo game to PC (perhaps as a Windows 10 exclusive) and received a firm "no comment" as a reply. Well, you can't blame a gal for trying.
The opposite side of the Halo 5 setup had some XBox One boxes on display. These were showing off some of the available bundles for the console. Some of these are available now and some of these are preorder-only as one or more of the games included in the bundle are not yet available, such as Fallout 4.[caption id="attachment_57814" align="alignright" width="300"] These XBox One Bundles were placed opposite the Halo 5 display at the Windows 10 Devices Event.[/caption]
The center of the room was dominated by a large stage that saw very little use throughout the night. A DJ had music going throughout the entire event. He conversed with curious people who came up to him and asked him about his setup (myself included). Everything was being run off of a Surface Book running Windows 10, and the only external peripherals were a couple of devices that the DJ preferred. I chatted with some of the onlookers and found that one of them was the developers of BitWig, a multiplatform digital audio workstation that was being used by the DJ that night.
A corner of the floor was dedicated to all of the latest Windows 10 products being displayed purely for aesthetic purposes. Everything from the Microsoft Band to the Surface Book was on display on well-lit podiums watched over by sharply dressed security personnel. Conversely, the opposite side of this massive open space was used for hands-on demonstrations. Microsoft representatives had tables and podiums set up where anyone could get their hands on one of the new Lumias or a Surface Pro 4.
While most of these displays were fairly straightforward, I was mildly puzzled by the Microsoft Band area. A crew of very fit people rotated throughout the night on a treadmill and elliptical machine (ostensibly to tout the biometric tracking benefits of the Microsoft Band), and a pair of exercise bikes were set up as a hands-on activity for anyone who wanted to participate. But tucked away to the side was a virtual golf driving range stationed by a single Microsoft employee.
We had an interesting conversation about the Microsoft Band and how it differed from other offerings on the market. While the Apple Watch acted as a supplment to iDevices, the Microsoft Band could function independently and had quite a few useful sensors in it such as a barometer (for tracking elevation when exercising). The purpose of the golf display was to show off a program developed by the Band engineers using GPS and the on-board sensors to track your golf game. It was an interesting showcase of a real-world application of wrist-based computers such as the Band.
As I concluded my conversation with Microsoft's engineer, he handed me a set of three TaylorMade golf balls with "Microsoft Band" stamped on them in blue lettering. I took them partly out of politeness and partly because I was on my fourth drink and very tired. I haven't swung a golf club once in my life, and I'm puzzled as to what I'm going to do with these things. (Had anyone accosted me on my way home they would have surely been pelted with the finest in aerodynamic golf ball technology as I fled for my life.) They'll probably sit on on a shelf somewhere, and now I'll have to disclose that I received three very nice (but altogether useless to me) golf balls gratis if I ever write an article about the Microsoft Band.
The strangest thing about this Windows 10 devices event was the incredible amount of freedom afforded to guests of what Microsoft billed as a party. (And indeed, with free food, drinks, and constant music blaring in the background it certainly had the atmosphere of a party). You could walk up to just about anywhere and get hands-on with the latest piece of technology running Windows 10. Security was ever-present, of course, but there was an air of relaxation throughout the whole shindig. No one was trying to heavily sell you on a product or Windows 10. All of the Microsoft representatives were consummately professional and polite. Questions were answered as best as they could be answered, and reps were comfortable in saying "I don't know" or "We can't comment on that just yet." The Microsoft rep for the Lumia station, a former Nokia employee, went as far as to text someone to answer one of my questions specifically. If it sates your curosity, I can tell you that the new Lumias will indeed support 802.11ac.
All in all it was a fun experience (except for the cold I managed to catch at some point in the night). There were no overly-pretentious keynote speeches talking about the next-generation paradigm shifting of buzzwords buzzwords buzzwords that Windows 10 will bring this holiday season. There was simplicity: walk up to a station, try out the device yourself, and ask questions if you have any. If all industry events can be this free of fluff I'll be quite keen on attending more in the future.
What do you think of Microsoft's latest devices running Windows 10? Do you have any plans on buying them? What should I do with these golf balls I have no use for? Let us know in the comments below!