Microsoft Announces Surface Book 2

Posted on October 17, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 30 Comments

Microsoft Announces Surface Book 2

Surprise! Microsoft will ship its second-generation Surface Book next month. And this version comes in both 13- and 15-inch variants.

“Surface Book owners use that product more hours per week than any other Surface device,” Microsoft’s Panos Panay told me last week, describing what the firm learned in the two years since it first shipped Surface Book. “And they use Microsoft Office more hours per week than other Surface owners.”

For Surface Book 2, he said, Microsoft focused on performance. So where Surface Pro is about versatility and Surface Laptop is about beauty, Surface Book is moving into that niche that I predicted for the product: It will essentially become a portable workstation.

“With Surface Book 2, we’re taking performance to the next level,” Mr. Panay noted.

At a high level, Surface Book 2 is very obviously a Surface Book: It shares the same design as its predecessor, with the same detachable Clipbook screen/tablet, the same odd teardrop-shaped hinge hole, and the same basic selection of ports and expansion. Well, not totally: The mini-DisplayPort port has been replaced by a USB-C (not Thunderbolt 3) port, which is pretty much good only for driving a second display.

But other than that, and some mostly-internal hinge updates, Surface Book 2 looks exactly like its predecessor. At least the 13-inch version. Which is really 13.5-inches, but whatever. The 15-inch expands on the original as you’d expect: A bigger display, naturally, and a bit more space to the left and right of the keyboard in the base.

Internally, there have been some nice changes.

As you should expect of a late 2017 laptop, Surface Book can be had with a choice of 8th generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. They’re not all quad-core processors, which I think is a bit odd, and perhaps even disappointing: The “entry level” 13-inch Surface Book 2 models still use dual-core Core i5 parts.

And while it’s not entirely clear which models will be available as I write this, at least the 15-inch Core i7 versions will feature NVIDIA GTX1060 graphics, a significant improvement over the current generation Performance Base models. Mr. Panay says that this will enable “full 1080p gaming at 60 fps,” and that sounds about right to me.

Microsoft was a bit vague about other tech specs at a special Surface Book 2 preview last week—Panay seems to want us to stop emphasizing that stuff and think about these devices more heuristically—so I can just say, for now, that we’re looking at super high DPI displays (260 dpi and 7 million pixels on the 15-inch), as expected, and the same basic Surface Connect infrastructure.

More impresssive, and more specifically, Microsoft did state that both versions of Surface Book 2 are good for up to 17 hours of battery life, a huge improvement over the previous generation, even when you factor in about a 30 percent decrement for the real-world experience; I’m guessing we’ll see close to 12 hours.

Also impressive: There’s no fan in the Clipbook/tablet part, even with a Core i7 processor. So it’s a “true tablet in your hands,” Panay says.

Pricing remains premium, as you should expect. The dual-core Surface Book 2 13-inch will start at $1499, while the quad-core 15-inch versions, which weigh four pounds, will go for $2499 and up. They’ll be available for preorder on November 9 and go on sale one week later.

“When Satya [Nadella] talks about hardware and software, and how all of Microsoft comes together on these devices as a stage,” Panay said, “we internalize this. Surface Book 2 comes to life through human emotion. It’s quite powerful … It’s for people who want to use it to create the future.”

Going hands-on with the devices, there were no major surprises, though initial excitement over the USB-C port quickly faded when we discovered that charging over this port would be a slow drizzle, essentially making it pointless for that use: Like its MDP predecessor, it’s for display out only.

The hinges, as noted, have been improved, mostly to accommodate the larger 15-inch display, but those improvements were brought back to the 13-inch version too. The keyboard and touchpad, already first-rate on the initial Surface Book, appear unchanged.

And … that’s about it. There’s a new large Surface-branded mouse shipping concurrently with Surface Book 2. And while it’s very plasticky, I like the size of it and may give it a go.

So kudos to Microsoft for this October surprise: As I noted earlier, I hadn’t heard a single rumor about a new Surface Book version this year, though there was a single Twitter-based rumor about a 15-inch Surface Book. This device, despite its early reliability issues, has always been a favorite of mine. And I’m delighted that Microsoft is taking it in the exact right direction.

 

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