Microsoft just recently released the latest iteration of its Surface Book 2-in-1, which converts from a clamshell notebook to a tablet thanks to an innovative tear-off display. Announced in October 2017 and released in November, the new version significantly improves the machine’s power and introduces a larger 15-inch model. With new high-end Nvidia GPUs on tap for enhanced gaming and a new USB-C port, the latest version checks off a few boxes for potential buyers.
What needs fixing?
At the same time, while the Surface Book 2 15-inch version is an innovative and potent 2-in-1, it does suffer from some design limitations that hold it back from being a perfect fit for every user. If Microsoft wants to appeal to the widest possible market, then here are a few improvements that it might want to strongly consider for the Surface Book 3.
To begin with, the 15-inch model utilizes a processor and GPU that can draw more power than the notebook’s power adapter can provide. That means that during gaming sessions and even when running some high-end creative tasks such as video encoding, the Surface Book 2 15 sucks power from the battery even when plugged in. We don’t know the specific reasons why Microsoft limited the power adapter to just 102 watts (with only 95 watts actually going to the system itself), but offering a more powerful adapter would go a long way to making power users happy.
In another compromise, both Surface Book 2 models offer USB-C 3.1 ports that enable the ability to plug in some modern peripherals — but, it’s only a Gen1 USB-C port, meaning it’s limited to 5 gigabits per second (Gb/s) performance. There’s also no Thunderbolt 3 support, which would enable even faster (up to 40 Gb/s) connectivity as well as enhanced display support. That’s something that Digital Trend editor Matt Smith found limited the Surface Book 2’s ability to replace a desktop PC.
Finally, depending on who you ask, Microsoft still has work to do in making the Surface line as reliable and bug-free as it should be. If you visit the Reddit Surface sub or Microsoft’s Surface Community, you’ll find numerous discussions about Surface Book issues that would best be left behind when the Surface Book 3 rolls around. Reported examples include coil whine on the 13.5-inch model (which we noted in our own Surface Book 2 13 review), some problems with docking and undocking the tablet portion, and a few issues with the Surface Pen’s ability to draw straight lines.
What would be nice to have?
In addition to resolving the issues and limitations outlined above, Microsoft could consider some additional design changes that would greatly benefit the next version of the Surface Book. We have no idea if the company plans to implement any of these changes, but if it’s listening, here are a few things that what we think could elevate the Surface Book 3 to another level.
First, the 2-in-1’s tablet portion is incredibly thin and light in both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch versions, meaning it’s surprisingly easy to use for drawing, handwriting, and watching video. Even so, it’s not terribly fun to hold aloft for hours at a time, and adding a kickstand — making it work better as a standalone tablet as does the excellent Surface Pro — would be a welcome addition.
Next, while the Surface Book 2’s maximum of 16GB of RAM is fine for productivity users, it falls short of what many power users need for ultimate performance. We’d like to see Microsoft build in support for up to 32GB of RAM, which would make the notebook even more competitive for photo and video editing professionals.
Finally, while we love Surface displays in general for their excellent brightness, contrast, and sharpness, they’ve never provided a particularly wide color gamut. The exception is the Surface Studio all-in-one desktop, which boasts both wide gamuts and very accurate colors. If Microsoft wants the Surface Book 2 to essentially perform as a mobile studio and better compete with the MacBook Pro, then it should source a panel with higher than just average color support.
Usually, we start seeing some rumors around the next iteration of Microsoft’s Surface line soon after a machine is released. That’s not been the case so far with the Surface Book 3 so far, though that’ll certainly change soon.
There are, however, a number of Microsoft patents have been recently discovered concerning the Surface Pen, and those could very well promise some improvements to Microsoft’s favorite input mechanism. One patent describes a Surface Pen with haptic feedback, making the act of writing on the display feel infinitely more realistic.
Another patent involves a Surface Pen with a scroll wheel, essential a u-shaped touch-sensitive retention clip that would make short work of thinks like scrolling through a page or zooming in and out on an image. And then there are Microsoft patents for a pressure-sensitive eraser and a new elastomeric pen tip that would improve sensitivity and feel.
And then, on a completely different note, Microsoft has also been busy creating patents around new hinge designs that may or may not be relevant to the Surface Book 3. Of course, one of the most innovative aspects of the Surface Book in general is the fulcrum hinge that balances the heavy display/tablet portion while maintaining a normal clamshell format.
Another recent Microsoft patent involving a new kind of “modular hinge” hints that the company isn’t done yet. Specifically, the hinge would allow a notebook to gain new flexibility, perhaps allowing a Surface Book display to swivel 360-degrees rather than requiring the user to remove it and then reattach it in backwards orientation.
Other than those pen-related improvements and some interesting tidbits about potential hinge improvements, however, we’re not seeing any speculation yet on other new Surface Book features that might make their way to the 2-in-1’s third iteration. While the Surface Book 2 is a great machine, it could still benefit from some improvements and we’re looking forward to seeing what Microsoft has planned for the Surface Book 3.
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