Now you can try Microsoft's supersized Surface Hub before buying

Now you can try Microsoft's supersized Surface Hub before buying

Microsoft's Surface Hub large-screen PC isn't your regular computer, and it takes a bit of practice to fully exploit it. With that in mind, Microsoft is starting a program in which users can try the Surface Hub for 30 days before buying it.

No such program is offered for other Surface devices. The supersized Surface Hub -- which comes in screen sizes of 55-inch and 84-inches, is mostly designed as a centerpiece for conference rooms to be used for video conferencing, collaboration, and digital whiteboarding.

The Surface Hub is off to a fast start, said Julia Atalla, senior director of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft. The company has 600 Hub customers and expects more than 2,000 customers by the end of the year.

The Hub try-and-buy program, unfortunately, won't be available to average buyers, but only to business customers through resellers. Each business will be able to try up to five Surface devices for 30 days, and there will be a small fee associated with shipping and  installation. The resellers will determine the fee.

A customer can buy a Surface Hub from a Microsoft store, but the try-and-buy program won't be available at retail locations. The program will be first available in the U.S. and Europe soon, and expand to Asia-Pacific at a later date.

Microsoft has also restructured its reseller program so the device can be purchased, set up, and serviced by one partner. Earlier, customers had to go to different partners for purchase and installation, and that headache is now gone.

"Customers have been talking about an easy way to get going" with the Surface Hub, Atalla said.

Microsoft earlier expected customers to buy one or two Surface Hubs, but the order sizes are much larger, Atalla said.

The 55-inch Surface Hub with an HD screen sells for US$8,999, while the 84-inch model with a 4K screen sells for $21,999. The models have 128GB SSDs and 8GB RAM and aging Intel Core processors based on the Haswell architecture, which was introduced four years ago.

When asked when the devices would be upgraded, Atalla said Microsoft was more worried more about the software applications than the hardware specifications. Generally, whiteboard PCs like Surface Hub have a longer lifecycle than PCs.

In addition to video conferencing, potential users are discovering many innovative uses for Surface Hub. Microsoft and SoftBank Robotics are linking Surface Hub panels to the Azure cloud to make in-storer retail shopping easier. The Surface Hub can make recommendations based on purchasing trends via data collected from sources like smartphones, point-of-sale purchases, and e-commerce sites.

The primary competition to the Surface Hub is InFocus' Mondopad Ultra, which comes in a variety of screen sizes and has newer hardware. However, Mondopads use the generic Windows 10 OS and don't have customized version of the OS like the Surface Hub.

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