What might Microsoft's Surface Book 2 entail, and what we want to see
It’s been over a year and a half now since the original Surface Book dropped in October 2015 and, since then, we’ve seen little more than a Performance Base added to the mix in the form of the top-end Surface Book i7 . However, that was more of a half-step forward than a full-on sequel.
Don’t get us wrong, we appreciate the improved graphics of the Surface Book i7, but with Surface sales as a whole having seen a
26% decline year-on-year
, it’s clearly time for
Intel’s 7th-generation Kaby Lake processors, for example, are the obvious replacement for the ageing Skylake chips still being used in every Surface Book model that exists today. Meanwhile, USB Type-C has skyrocketed in adoption since two years ago, powering everything from our Android phones to our
Rest assured, we’re not the only ones clamoring for improvements to an already promising formula. Enter the highly anticipated
- Get the scoop on Windows 10 Cloud , Microsoft's next OS
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The sequel to Microsoft's first laptop
- When is it out? Spring 2017 at the earliest
- What will it cost? Reportedly starts at $1,000 (£1,299, AU$1,899)
Surface Book 2 release date
Although the original launched well over a year ago, there's been no official confirmation of a Surface Book 2. Instead, the Surface Book i7 debuted back in October, complete with a graphics-enhancing Performance Base and a handful of subtle design changes.
With reports last year that this new Windows software would overlap with Microsoft’s introduction of new hardware, we originally surmised that the Surface Book 2 would touch down alongside the Windows 10 Creators Update, which commenced rollout on April 11.
Sources speaking with ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley suggested, however, that the Surface Book 2 won’t be ready for the spring . Our next bet would be that the Surface Book 2 arrives in the latter half of the year alongside the second major Windows 10 update of 2017 .
We could get more specifics on May 2, when Microsoft holds its #MicrosoftEDU event in New York City . Even if we do, however, that event is expected to be centered around Windows 10 Cloud , a lightweight spiritual successor to Windows RT designed to compete with the Chromebooks.
Surface Book 2 price
Reports from DigiTimes lead us to believe that Microsoft may be revealing a more traditional clamshell laptop at its spring showing, resulting in a drastic reduction in price.
While the entry-level Surface Book of today would set users back a cool $1,299 (£1,449, AU$2,299), this type of device would reportedly come in at a more modest $1,000 (about £810, AU$1,300).
We can safely expect a proper Surface Book 2 hybrid – if one exists at all – would retain the same starting price of the original, i.e., $1,499 or AU$2,299 (about £978). At any rate, expect the Surface Book 2 to at least exceed the cost of the Surface Pro 4 .
What we want to see
For as much as we've been smitten by the Surface Book, firmware issues aside, there will always be room for improvement. (That would be the case even if it had earned top marks from us.)
From the screen size and resolution to the hardware inside, we have a few ideas for how Microsoft could craft an even better Windows 10 tablet.
An even better screen
Display-wise, the current model sports a 13.5-inch panel with a 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) resolution that's backed by an integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU. The new model may utilize the same size screen but offer a more conventional 4K resolution: 3,840 x 2,160.
This rumor is aligned with public information we've seen about Intel's Kaby Lake architecture, which will supposedly include a better graphics chip that improves playback of 4K video and 3D graphics.
With a higher resolution should come a better way to actually detach the screen from the keyboard, assuming Microsoft doesn’t do away with that functionality altogether. After all, one of the most vocal complaints of the original Surface Book was its “muscle wire” locking mechanism.
That scheme not only required power to function, but users must press and hold down a key until the hinge lets go of the tablet. It's software-based, too, meaning the process could be hampered by an unforeseen glitch in the system.
Thus, if Microsoft opts to go the 2-in-1 route despite recent evident indicating the contrary, the Surface Book 2 needs a functional hinge that allows the keyboard to be detached whether the device is on or off.
We need more power
Of course, with an increased screen resolution comes the need for more power. It would make sense, given the conjectured release frame, to refresh the Surface Book with Intel's newest Kaby Lake processors.
The Kaby Lake architecture supports up to quad-core processors as the default configuration with a thermal envelope of up to 95 Watts (W), meaning it shouldn't be a battery hog even with increased performance. What’s more, Kaby Lake offers native support of the faster USB 3.1 Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 specifications in addition to CPU/GPU performance enhancements.
That said, the Surface Book 2 will need better battery support overall, as the original provides only 4 hours of activity in the Clipboard and only 8 hours of juice in the base (based on our tests). Customers eager to use the Clipboard on its own would no doubt be disappointed by the current battery’s inept sustenance while consuming 4K video.
An improved battery would also be needed to support a built-in recharge dock for the Surface Pen. If a patent filing from October is to be believed, Microsoft may have an improved Surface Pen loop in the works that would not only holster the Surface Pen itself, but simultaneously charge it via the USB port on supported Surface devices.
More power might also be needed for an updated, discrete GPU option, too. As previously stated, the current model has an option for a Nvidia GeForce graphics chip based on the Maxwell architecture, which has a thermal envelope of up to 75W.
If Microsoft were to offer, say, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics chip, the power wattage requirements wouldn’t skyrocket and DirectX 12 support would assuredly be in the cards. This would fare well with gamers looking to take advantage of the latest API on their rotating laptop screen.
What would make the Surface Book 2 really shine is if it were to be VR-ready. It’s not too far-fetched, either, considering Microsoft has partnered with companies like Acer to produce budget-friendly, Windows 10-specific head-mounted displays that aim to work flawlessly on low- to mid-range hardware.
A race to beat its new rivals?
Despite a good deal of talk about when the Surface Book 2 will be released and what it will contain, there were a handful of reports (albeit with dodgy reliability) speculating that the sequel to Microsoft’s first notebook was supposed to come out last summer alongside the Anniversary Update.
Of course, that never happened and a Surface Book 2 didn’t arrive in time to beat Apple’s late 2016 MacBook Pro to market. Especially considering the increasingly disparate market share growth between Macs and PCs, Microsoft’s next goal should be to get the Surface Book 2 out before this year’s round of MacBooks.
That's it for now. There are probably a few easter eggs hiding in the Windows 10 Creators Update that hint at a Surface Book 2, but if they exist, no one has found them yet. As such, it may be a while before we see Microsoft’s next convertible laptop in the flesh.
While we may still see a spring release for Surface Book 2, all bets are off on that being remotely certain. Instead, we would be more keen to bank on a late 2017 launch to correlate with whatever Redstone 3 turns out to be.
Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article