It's that time of year once again when, in the name of Valentine's Day, various amorous gifts are exchanged, fancy dinners abound, and a whole lot of cash gets thrown around.
But Valentine's Day isn't exactly a joyous time for everybody. We wanted to create a Valentine's Day story that reflects the good and bad, and relate it to our shared love: Microsoft, Windows, and Xbox. To that end, we rounded up the products and services we adore right now, as well as the ones that we really don't.
The Cupid of the Windows world had just as many misses as direct hits in recent days, that's for sure. Below you'll find a collection of both, and you can click the images in the menu below to sort by the stuff we love, and the stuff we don't.
What we loved
Microsoft and Windows-related gear we love on Valentine's Day
Infatuation: Microsoft's Surface Pro X
I've been a Surface Pro user since 2017, though I reviewed earlier models before sending them back to Microsoft. That 2017 Pro, though, that's the one that made me really fall in love with the form factor. I didn't upgrade in 2018 to the Pro 6, because the form factor was the same and there weren't enough compelling updates to justify the investment. Then came the 2019 Surface Pro X announcement — and I was smitten. Love at first sight. I promptly passed on my credit card details to Microsoft as soon as preorders went live. When it arrived, I tore open the box like a starving man who came across a carton of Oreos. The hardware has proven to be an absolute DREAM. It's thin and light, sleek, and, yes, I'll say it, better looking than any computer (or tablet) Apple's ever made. The new keyboard is even better than Microsoft's previous Pro keyboards, and the new Surface Slim Pen is also a step up over previous versions. I'm legit in love with the Pro X design. I think my wife is even a bit jealous this Valentine's Day ...
— Al Sacco, Future Mobile content director
Windows 10 on ARM
The thinnest and lightest Surface Pro available
Surface Pro X delivers the most exciting design for the Surface Pro yet. For people who need a light, thin, LTE-enabled productivity laptop, the Surface Pro X offers a unique set of features not found anywhere else.
Infatuation: Microsoft Edge
Until recently, I'd not been using Microsoft Edge as my primary browser. Instead, I've been using Google Chrome for a long time. I tried to switch multiple times to the default browser on Windows 10, but because of website compatibility, speed issues, and the lack of extensions, I found myself switching back to Chrome, even though the browser is known to use a massive amount of memory and battery life.
However, since the new version of Microsoft Edge based on the Chromium engine was released, I decided to give the browser another shot. I have to say, I'm very impressed. The main reason is the decision to switch to the open Chromium engine developed by Google, making the browser lightning-fast. As the majority of developers build for Chrome first, websites are now more compatible.
Another thing I love about the new browser are the extra features and benefits. Although the legacy version included support for extensions, it didn't have the variety found with Chrome or even Firefox. Now, thanks to the new engine, I can use all my favorite Chrome extensions. Also, I like that it's cross-platform, so I can use it on my Android phone for a more integrated experience. "Tracking prevention" is a great feature to stop websites from tracking your activities. "Profiles" let you easily share the browser with other people. And since the browser is no longer tied to Windows 10, updates are available regularly with improvements and features.
Perhaps most telling, I no longer feel the need to switch back to Chrome.
– Mauro Huculak, contributing how-to writer
A huge improvement
Microsoft's new version of Edge is a complete rebuild with new features, better performance, and cross-platform support. Download today!
Infatuation: Project XCloud
Project XCloud is a dream come true for anyone who's ever seen a Nintendo 3DS (or more recently, the Nintendo Switch) and wondered what an Xbox handheld might look like. Sure, there are caveats that come with cloud-streaming, such as speed requirements, 5GHz WiFi, and having a controller clip for your phone, but it's still early days. The fact I can play my games, anywhere, on any device is something that I find to be incredibly exciting, and even at this early testing stage, I have been blown away by XCloud's speed, and vast potential.
– Jez Corden, Gaming Editor
Take your Xbox One controller on-the-go with ease
This foldable Jovitech controller clip effortlessly mounts any phone safely and securely. Plus, it's conveniently affordable.
An easy essential for Project xCloud testing.
Pick up Microsoft's signature controller in a sleek and simple finish. Official entry-level controllers start cheap when opting for a pure black color.
Infatuation: Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
I've been playing Age of Empires II since 1999 when it was initially released, through the HD remake and into the latest Definitive Edition. Microsoft and the studios beneath its umbrella did a fantastic job on the remake, and I've been playing on a weekly basis since the release. The new 4K graphics, the new civilizations, updates to campaigns, and balancing tweaks have been, for the most part, a success, and the game has never been easier to play thanks to plenty of quality-of-life changes. There's likewise new AI that puts up a better fight for times when you don't want to test your skills against other players in ranked or casual multiplayer games. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is an example of how to remake a classic game without angering the fans — no doubt because of a lengthy Insider Program that harvested valuable player feedback — and it should stand up for years to come. If you're a fan of RTS games, give my love a try.
— Cale Hunt, Windows Central staff writer
An RTS For The Ages
A classic remade properly
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition manages to make the classic RTS feel new while not straying away from what made the game great in the first place.
Infatuation: AMD Ryzen 9
AMD really brought the fight back to Intel in the CPU space, but it's the Ryzen 9 series of processors, specifically the Ryzen 9 3900X that blew me away. In my review of the CPU, I praised it for its incredible performance for your buck. The fact that AMD was able to launch a 12-core (with 24 threads) processor at an aggressive price, all whilst actually ensuring each core is capable of serious workloads, makes the Ryzen 9 3900X one of my favorite processors of all time.
It was exactly what AMD needed in 2019, and Intel also took notice of its competitor by slashing the price of its enthusiast desktop processors, as well as bringing forward product launches. Just when we thought AMD was running low on steam with Ryzen, it showcased some well hidden tricks. And because it's not a Threadripper, you could throw in the 12-core 3900X (or other Ryzen 9) CPU inside a small compact case with a Mini-ITX motherboard. Madness, I tell you. And love. Mad love.
— Rich Edmonds, Windows Central staff reviewer
Loving each and every core
Gone are the days of multi-core useless FX processors and here is a processor that offers 12 cores, 24 threads and bags of performance at an aggressive price.
Infatuation: Surface Precision Mouse
I've talked about my love for the Surface Precision Mouse before, and it continues to be a favorite in my ridiculously large stable of mice. Ergonomically, it feels great in the hand, and I'm a big fan of the way you can switch between a clicky or smooth scroll wheel feel with the push of a button. If you use more than one PC, you can also pair the mouse with up to three machines and nearly seamlessly scroll between them on the fly. That alone is worth some adoration.
I wish it were available in more colors, but its Surface grey color is okay. In terms of feel, the only other mouse that comes close is Logitech's MX Master 3. If you haven't tried either out, I highly recommend picking one up and giving it a trial run. You won't regret it. You might even fall in love.
— Dan Thorp-Lancaster, News Editor
Feels good, man
If you spend long hours at a desk, the Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse feels great in the hand. Add in that it can be paired with up to three PCs at a time, and you've got a solid performer.
Infatuation: Xbox Game Pass
While we've seen a share of innovations throughout the lifetime of Xbox One, few have shaken up my routine like Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft's Netflix-style subscription service for gaming, currently available on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, features over three hundred games across both platforms. And while a simple concept back at launch, its continued growth has positioned the service among the best deals in modern gaming. That $10 baseline subscription (or bundled under Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for a premium) has encouraged me to diversify the games I play, with regular additions and supporting quests pushing me further into its offerings. While Xbox Game Pass drew me in with Microsoft's flagship blockbuster titles, finding those hidden gems makes this a genuinely lovable package. It's a perfecting coupling for any Xbox newcomer or veteran.
— Matt Brown, staff writer
Save on Microsoft's now six-in-one Xbox and PC subscription
$14.99 $13.99 off
Wrapping together Xbox Game Pass for Xbox, Xbox Game Pass for PC, and Xbox Live Gold, this trio of services delivers the full experience in 2019. Microsoft's ongoing promotion cuts three months to $1, including Spotify Premium, Discord Nitro, and EA Access.
Infatuation: HoloLens 2
Microsoft announced and launched the HoloLens 2 in 2019, and it's a huge leap forward for AR. The new HoloLens is a major upgrade over the original, introducing more natural ways of interacting with holograms. With HoloLens 2, users can interact with holograms by touching them, reducing the barrier between the user and virtual objects. It also has eye-tracking capabilities and Windows Hello integration in the form of iris-scanning. It's also Microsoft's first device to ship with a new, modern version of Windows called Windows Core OS. In addition, HoloLens 2 is an ARM device, meaning it has instant-wake and great performance. It's not a device designed for use by everybody, but it certainly deserves some widespread love, because it's a dramatic improvement over its predecessor.
— Zac Bowden, Senior Windows Editor
HoloLens, but better.
HoloLens 2 takes everything that made the original great and turns it up to 11. With a new carbon fiber body, extra padding, eye tracking, and a wider field of view, the headset should have no problem finding success among developers and firstline workers.
What a time AMD has been having of late. Since the launch of the Ryzen CPU lineup it seems that everything the red team touches turns to gold, winning near universal praise for its CPUs. In the past couple of years I've gone from just being impressed by AMDs hardware to the point that I won't consider anything else for my personal PC.
And it's not just about the stuff I can afford to use, either. AMD is grabbing headlines for many different reasons. Ryzen has now hit 7nm as has the Navi GPU architecture used in Radeon graphics cards, and we're now at a point where 64-core CPUs are a thing. AMD is a prime example of a company doing everything it can to push the boundaries at every opportunity, and I'm now looking forward to seeing what happens with the Xbox Series X, powered by Ryzen.
— Richard Devine, Reviews editor
The best CPU around
A third-gen six-core Ryzen processor that doesn't cost much more than the older Ryzen 5 2600X, but comes rocking many benefits. This beast is unlocked, comes with a good stock cooler, and even supports PCIe 4.0.
What broke our hearts
Microsoft and Windows-related tech that broke our hearts this Valentine's Day
Broken heart: The AMD Surface Laptop 3
As much as I love AMD right now, there's one blot on the record. One product I so desperately wanted to be good ... just isn't. Well, it's OK, but when it costs as much as a Surface PC, OK just doesn't cut it. I use an AMD powered laptop every day and I love it, but it also costs less than half what you spend on a Surface Laptop 3, with mostly the same internal hardware.
Whoever made the decision, the AMD powered Surface Laptop 3 came too early. At CES 2020 AMD dropped the Ryzen 4000 series laptop processors which, even without real-world testing, already look more suited to something like the Surface Laptop 3. Instead, we were left with disappointment. And heart break. Why, Microsoft? Why?
— Richard Devine, Reviews Editor
Too early, too disappointing
The Surface Laptop 3 with Ryzen came too early to be worth the high-price, making it something of an expensive disappointment.
Broken heart: Cortana
As someone who was excited by Cortana when it originally launched in testing on Windows Phone back in the day, seeing it shrivel from its potential has been disheartening to say the least. Cortana was supposed to be your personal digital assistant, integrated with your smart home devices, streamlining your life both at home and at work. Instead, she's devolving into a US-only Clippy-lite, far flung from the utter dominance Amazon's Alexa-enabled product lineup has achieved in recent years. The biggest disappointment with Cortana is how Microsoft managed to let it slip away, despite having a headstart in the space with both Kinect and Cortana. Heart = broken. At least we have Amazon Echos to fill the void, eh?
– Jez Corden, Gaming Editor
Voice assisted future
With Kinect thoroughly dead and Cortana soon to follow, you should consider picking up an Amazon Echo instead to control your smarthome experience. The Dot is the cheapest of the Echo line, and it's great.
Broken heart: Microsoft Store (for games)
I don't know where to begin with the Windows Store, now called the Microsoft Store. We've previously covered Microsoft's sorry-looking platform for apps and games. and it hasn't improved by all that much. The main issue with the store itself is that it's simply OK. Not terrible. But nothing to fall in love with by any means. Microsoft hasn't really felt the need to completely revamp it and add a whole ton of features found on competing platforms like Steam.
Phil Spencer went on record to talk about revamping the Microsoft Store with gamers in mind, so Microsoft definitely understands how far behind the company is, but it has been years since the store debuted, and we're still holding out for some notable improvements. In the meantime, Microsoft will continue to lose out to its competition on Windows since there's no compelling reason to choose the Microsoft Store over Steam, GOG or one of the publisher storefronts.
— Rich Edmonds, Windows Central staff reviewer
Broken heart: Surface Hub 2X
I'm a huge fan of Windows Core OS, and want to see it thrive on as many devices as possible. One of those devices was going to be the Surface Hub 2X, however, Microsoft announced that the Surface Hub 2X is no longer coming this year and might never ship at all. That means we're likely not going to see Windows Core OS on the Surface Hub 2 anytime soon, and that's a real shame. Heartbreaking, even. Features like multi-user support, and modern shell experiences likely won't be coming to Surface Hub 2 now. Hopefully Microsoft can deliver Windows Core OS for Surface Hub in the future. For now, we'll shed a single tear.
— Zac Bowden, Senior Windows Editor
Broken heart: (Lack of) Black Surface Headphones
I really, really wanted to give the Surface Headphones a shot, but one thing has always stood in my way: a lack of color options. Specifically, I'd love to see Microsoft at least offer a black option. We know it's something the company has at least toyed around with.
While I'm generally OK with the grey on something like the Surface Precision Mouse, I want something a bit more stylish if it's going to be on my head. With the Surface Pro X and its siblings, Microsoft has shown it can pull off a pretty awesome matte black finish. Maybe it's something we'll see in a potential Surface Headphones 2 this year. Until then, I'll just quietly pine for some slicker color options.
— Dan Thorp-Lancaster, News Editor
Noise canceling goodness
For anyone who loves the Surface ecosystem, Microsoft's Surface Headphones are an excellent (if expensive) addition. They offer adjustable noise cancellation, a digital assistant at a tap, and plenty of gesture controls.
Broken heart: Warcraft III: Reforged
Warcraft III: Reforged is another classic RTS game remake I reviewed recently; unfortunately, it didn't turn out as well as Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, which I love. Delayed once to polish things to an assumed sheen, the remake released and was immediately met with stiff criticism from fans. Instead of a worthwhile upgrade to graphics, animations, and cinematics, Warcraft III: Reforged came out more like a half-baked attempt, with many of the promised features under-delivered and other popular features completely missing. So what? Just go back to classic Warcraft III, you say? Unfortunately, no. Blizzard melted the two games into one client, and classic Warcraft III is now gone. Players without a PC powerful enough to run the new game are out of luck without resorting to alternate methods, and people are understandably upset. It's still the same Warcraft III RTS greatness at its core, but it now has a rotten exterior that Blizzard — already under scrutiny — must deal with. Shame. And just sad.
— Cale Hunt, Windows Central staff writer
What Could Have Been
Fear and loathing in Azeroth
Newcomers to Warcraft III have a far more accessible entry point to a game that's still good at its core, but veteran players are understandably turned off by some major changes.
Broken heart: Skype
On paper, Skype seems like the dream messaging platform for me. It allows you to message, call, and video call just about anyone around the world for free. It's also available on all major platforms, including Windows 10, iOS, Android, and the web. But in practice, Microsoft's improvements to Skype were too little, too late. By the time Microsoft brought features to Skype that people got used to on other platforms, they had already switched over to WhatsApp, Facebook, iMessage, Telegram, and others. I love so much about the current Skype, but it breaks my heart that no one I know uses it regularly. A communication app is only as good as the network of people it can connect you with. While hundreds of millions of people have Skype accounts, I don't know a single person that uses it as their primary app for communication anymore. I've had people initially communicate with me over Skype because of how easy it is to connect through it and then immediately jump to another platform to continue the conversation. As a result, Skype is an app I have on just about every device I own, but I never actually use it. And that's truly tragic.
— Sean Endicott, News writer and app specialist
The best messaging app that no one uses
Skype is a free app that allows you to message, call, and video call people around the world. It's on Windows, iOS, Android, and the web. Unfortunately, many have moved away from it over the years.
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