Microsoft’s Surface Book line saw immense improvements with the Book 2 model, but some flaws remained. Now it’s time to start thinking about the Surface Book 3, and what Microsoft has planned. It hasn’t been officially announced, but that hasn’t stopped us from reading between the lines of patents and rumors.
Here’s everything we know, and everything we hope Microsoft announces with the Surface Book 3.
Price and release date
We expect Microsoft to leave the pricing of the Surface Book line largely the same. Right now, the 13.5-inch Book 2 model starts at around $1,200 and the 15-inch model at around $2,500, scaling up to higher prices based on your spec choices. This is already a fairly high baseline, and one Microsoft probably doesn’t want to change if possible. In fact, there are signs that Microsoft wants to make pricing more flexible if possible: The company recently offered new options to buy a 15-inch model without discrete Nvidia graphics, at only $2,000, an acknowledgment that there’s demand for the larger screen at a lower price.
As for a release date, we haven’t heard much of anything to get a good idea. Microsoft didn’t even mention the Surface Book 3 during its October 2 hardware event in New York City. Instead, it announced the Surface Laptop 3, Surface Pro X, and the Surface Pro 7.
That would suggest that a redesigned Surface Book 3 might not come any time soon. Even if it does, it could just get a minor specs upgrade early next year. This could be similar to what Microsoft did this past April when it refreshed the Surface Book 2 with an option for the eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core i5-8350U processor. Full hardware launches are usually reserved for its October event, though we know the focus of the 2020 event will be on the Surface Duo and Surface Neo.
A touchscreen in the keyboard
Microsoft is planning to release the dual-screen Surface Neo and Duo in late 2020, but evidence suggests that the Surface Book 3 might also pick up some sort of secondary display. According to a recent patent, Microsoft is considering adding a secondary touch screen to the keyboard-half of a device with a detachable screen which looks just like the Surface Book 3. The patent goes into details of how the touch screen could sit next to the trackpad on the keyboard deck, or sit on the entire rear-half of the detachable keyboard to be used for inking, in both cases.
Of course, patents are only patents, but there is some hope. Other laptop makers have already found a way to embed a touchscreens into keyboard decks. The trackpad on the Asus ZenBook Pro 15, for example, can also double up as an “Extension Display mode,” which lets you use it as a secondary screen. It would be nice to see this come to a Surface Book 3 as well. A second screen might also suggest a Surface Book that runs with Windows 10X rather than standard Windows 10.
The Book 2 has a USB-C 3.1 port, which was nice, but it wasn’t enough. Upgrading to a Thunderbolt 3 port would allow for much faster data speeds, and more compatibility with a variety of accessories, especially monitors and external graphics cards. It’s something that’s been missing from the Surface lineup for years now that nearly all of its competitors include. The Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2, for example, both didn’t even include a USB-C port, despite being released in 2018. Even the newer Surface Pro 7 and Surface Laptop 3 — which have USB-C ports — don’t support Thunderbolt 3.
However, Microsoft may have an even better reason to upgrade to Thunderbolt 3: Microsoft continues to encourage interest in the upcoming HoloLens 2 and is working hard to be AR/VR friendly. One of the best ways to do that would be to make its next big laptop model compatible with AR and VR headsets, including the HoloLens, an extremely likely move based on Microsoft’s current interest. However, that requires plenty of power, a strong GPU (more on this later), and a connection as powerful as Thunderbolt 3.
More powerful graphics
Upgrading to a more powerful Nvidia GPU — perhaps the RTX 2060 — in the 15 inch Surface Book 3 makes a whole lot of sense for Microsoft’s adjacent goals. The Surface Book 2 included several nods to Xbox players, including easy wireless controller support and an increased focus on Play Anywhere titles. But to really make the Surface Book 3 a gaming device, an upgrade to faster Nvidia graphics would be the ideal change. If Microsoft really does want people to play AR/VR content from the Surface Book, then upgrading the GPU is necessary to support the headsets people will be using.
The issue here is that moving to a full Nvidia GPU is one of the things that’s likely to increase the already-steep price of the Surface Book line, something that Microsoft may be loath to do. The other issue is the thermals. Microsoft would have to take a serious step forward in cooling if it hopes to make the Surface Book 3 a serious option for creative professionals. However, we’ve seen Razer introduce a 13-inch laptop with Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics before, so it is possible, at least in the smaller size.
More storage and RAM, Ice Lake processors
The Surface Book 2 offered up to 1TB of SSD storage and up to 16GB of RAM. That’s more than enough for most tasks you’d want to use the laptop for, from work to play. However, this is one area Microsoft may want to push for the Book 3. RAM could especially use a higher-tier option if Microsoft wants to advertise it as a VR-ready device. While 1TB of data is all people are likely to need, we are seeing some professional laptops — such as some of HP’s Spectre models—go beyond this to offer even more storage. Microsoft may be interested in imitating this move.
Intel’s Ice Lake processors have already made their appearance in Microsoft’s other Surface products like the Surface Laptop 3, and the Surface Pro 7. That 10nm CPU line is a mobile exclusive for now, but has a number of benefits over its eighth and ninth-generation predecessors, most notably in graphics performance. If Microsoft is planning on a 2020 release for the Surface Book 3, it could adopt Ice Lake for greater graphical power alongside modest CPU speed improvements. Alternatively, 10th-gen Comet Lake chips could be used instead, once those are launched.
An improved Surface Pen
The Surface Pen makes an excellent companion to the Surface Book series if you plan on drawing or doodling — and this is another device that Microsoft has improved. The new Surface Pro X comes with what Microsoft is calling a “Surface Slim Pen,” and our bet is that this pen will also eventually work with the Surface Book 3. It’s much slimmer, and features tilt support and can also be wirelessly recharged.
Patent reports, however, show a couple of different enhancements that Microsoft could make in future versions of the Surface Pen. One of them would actually let the touchscreen sense where the Pen was about to touch and enhance sensitivity to that area. Other, older patents indicate that Microsoft has even worked on an OLED touchbar on the Pen to quickly shift settings and control apps that you are interacting with. We’re hoping the next Surface Pen could have these technologies.
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