Microsoft released its Surface Book hybrid in October 2015, calling it the “ultimate laptop.” It shipped jam-packed with a detachable screen, Surface Pen support, Intel “Skylake” dual-core processors and Windows 10 Professional. That’s on the low-end configuration. Shell out an extra 200 bucks (£300, AU$600) over the $1,499 (£1,299, AU$1,899) asking price and Microsoft will throw in an Nvidia discrete GPU.
Despite an appetizing list of hardware specs, the 2-in-1 didn’t arrive without a few hiccups. There were some complaints surrounding the “Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge” including a gap that’s formed when the laptop is closed. The “Clipboard” tablet portion of the device has a low battery life, and the pricing is rather steep on the higher end.
So, you can tell that we’re not the only ones already clamoring for Microsoft to improve on an already promising formula. Enter the (would-be) Surface Book 2, a device so highly anticipated that some people are already fabricating leaks just to egg Microsoft on.
Cut to the chase
Surface Book 2 release date
Oddly enough, although the original launched about a year ago, there’s been no official confirmation of a Surface Book 2. However, it’s easy to speculate that a follow-up is in the works and could release alongside a Surface Pro 5 and allegedly a Surface Phone as well as a Surface all-in-one PC.
It’s not too far-fetched to think we could see a new Surface product (or several) at a Microsoft press event slated for October 26. However, with a Surface-branded ergonomic keyboard having leaked recently, it’s more likely the keynote will be centered around a modular Surface desktop. We suspect the Surface Book 2 will launch alongside the second major Windows 10 overhaul, codenamed Redstone 2.
Moreover, it would make sense with the release frame to launch the new model with Intel’s next-generation Kaby Lake processors. The 14-nanometer microprocessor architecture from Intel is slated to go into volume production at the end of 2016, offering native USB 3.1 Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 support in addition to featuring up to four cores as the default configuration and better CPU/GPU performance.
We’ll see what happens as we get closer to the Surface Book 2’s purported release.
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
The upcoming Intel Kaby Lake processors will undoubtedly be needed to power the rumored, higher-definition screen that’s slated for the Surface Book 2. The current model sports a 13.5-inch display 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-sized 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 architecture 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. That’s one of the biggest complaints surrounding the current Surface Book unit: the hinge’s locking mechanism featuring Microsoft’s “muscle wire.”
This scheme not only requires 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, 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. The “Kaby Lake” architecture is said to support processors with a thermal envelope of up to 95 Watts (W), which isn’t too shabby, meaning it shouldn’t be a battery hog even with increased performance.
But the Surface Book 2 will need better battery support overall, as the original provides a 4-hour battery in the Clipboard and an 8-hour battery in the base (based on our tests). Customers will want to use the Clipboard on its own, and its current battery will likely not provide those 4 hours when watching 4K content.
An improved battery would also be needed to support a built-in recharge dock for the Surface Pen. The current device is powered by a standard AAA battery, but a patent reveals that Microsoft is shooting for a stylus with a built-in rechargeable battery.
This is a rather old patent, but it wouldn’t be surprising nonetheless if the company pushed forward with a rechargeable Surface Pen for the Surface Book 2, even more so given Microsoft’s current focus on providing better stylus support in Windows 10. The new pen will supposedly feature an LED indicator light and a power button.
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 the notebook version of, say, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980 graphics chip, the power requirements would shoot up to 145W. Alternatively, the slower GeForce GTX 980M chip would use less power (100W) while still supporting DirectX 12 in Windows 10, but require more juice than the current discrete GPU used in today’s Surface Book.
What would make the Surface Book 2 really shine is if it were to be VR-ready. That means installing additional ports into the current configuration that merely includes two USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort and an SD card reader.
The missing ingredient here is the required HDMI 1.3 port supporting a 297MHz clock by way of a “direct output architecture.” That means the external video output pumped through the HDMI port cannot be locked to the laptop’s integrated GPU.
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 several reports (with dodgy reliability) speculating that the device – along with the Surface Pro 5 – would be released this summer alongside the Anniversary Update (AU).
Of course, the AU is here and a Surface Book 2 hasn’t arrived in time to beat Apple’s MacBook Air 2016 and MacBook Pro 2016 to market, but it still very well could. Again, given the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are still young, releasing follow-up models this soon was unlikely to begin with.
That’s it for now. There are probably a few easter eggs hiding in the Windows 10 Insider Preview builds that we haven’t caught yet in terms of hardware. Microsoft’s plans for Redstone 2 are seemingly rather big, and throwing in new devices shouldn’t be totally out of the question.
We’re still betting on an early 2017 release for Surface Book 2, but we’ll have to play the wait-and-see game as 2016 draws to a close.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article