How Microsoft Can Improve Surface Book for 2017

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 52 Comments

How Microsoft Can Improve Surface Book for 2017

Microsoft is expected to unveil a second-generation Surface Book some time in the next few months. With just a few tweaks, Microsoft can make this nearly-perfect device into flawless. So here’s what I’m hoping to see.

Note: Brad and I discussed this a bit on today’s episode of First Ring Daily as well. This is an expansion of that talk.

Move to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 for expansion. This is the most important change: Microsoft should abandon its proprietary Surface Connect connector (which is USB-based, but uses a proprietary port and offers limited bandwidth and performance). USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is the future, and Microsoft needs to get on this train immediately.

Kaby Lake processors. Obvious, I know, but it needs to be said: By moving to newer Kaby Lake-generation Core i5 and i7 processors, Microsoft can finally put the reliability issues of the original Surface Book behind it.

Quad-core processor option. This one is probably not possible because the Surface Book’s processor is behind the screen and not under the keyboard where there is more space and thermals. But if Microsoft is serious about making this the ultimate laptop, and about competing with MacBook Pro, this needs to be an option.

Fewer models. Because Microsoft introduced the Surface Book with Performance Base one full year after the device debuted, there are now far too many Surface Book models. But this is easy to fix: Next-generation Performance Base models should simply replace, and not augment, existing dGPU models. Simple.

More ports, better positioned. Today’s Surface Book offers two full-sized USB 3 ports and an SD card reader on the left and miniDisplayPort on the right. I recommend changing this to one USB 3 port and one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port on the left and two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right. (Brad thinks keeping the SD card reader is key to retaining/gaining professional photographers, but I don’t see that as an issue.) It would be nice if the screen part of the device—the Clipboard—could support at least one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port as well.

Black keyboard keys. One thing I find very irritating about the backlit keyboards on Surface Book (and HP laptops, too, actually) is that the backlighting is often hard to see against the gray color of the keys. These keys should be black, as they are on Apple’s MacBooks,

Move the headphone jack. The location of the headphone jack today is the worst-possible place it could be, so that when the Surface Book is open normally (in laptop mode) it’s way up at the top right. This means that the cord for your headphones drapes across the screen when you watch a video. Just move it to the bottom right, problem solved.

Fingerprint reader. I remain unimpressed by the speed of the camera-based Windows Hello functionality in the current Surface Book. But the bigger issue is that I prefer a fingerprint reader because it offers an explicit way to sign-in. At the very least, this feature should be optional. But this is the ultimate laptop, right? It can have both.

 

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Comments (52)

52 responses to “How Microsoft Can Improve Surface Book for 2017”

  1. 293

    I'm such a huge fan of the Windows Hello cameras since it works so fast.  I won't ever buy another computer without this feature.  But I guess the fact that its either hit or miss with people is a problem.

    • 5443

      In reply to jgoraya:

      I agree!
      I am constantly AMAZED at how fast Hello logs me in.
      I'm not sure what issues Paul is having, I guess.  Other than that face of his.  I'm a very handsome man, so maybe that's the difference.  (Kidding Paul!)
      Like you, it is a must have feature for me on future devices.  What a great way to log in.
      it's worked in bright light, low light, bumpy airplane rides, trains, etc.  NEVER fails, and is fast.

      I love it!

    • 5184

      In reply to jgoraya:

      The Windows Hello camera works really fast on the SP4 I have at the office.  Almost so fast that I often wonder if it is really checking that it's me.  I've noticed it being a bit slower on my Dell Inspiron 15.  I've guessed that the camera must be slightly inferior to the one in the SP4.  Both devices do occasionally fail to recognize me, but the instances of them failing are getting further and further apart as I immediately retrain Windows/Hello to recognize me when it does fail.

      I do wonder if recognition is influenced by facial features and ambient temperature.  Is it harder for the infrared device to detect 3D features with warmer ambient temps?

      Like others, I won't consider another device that lacks Hello.  One of the reasons I went with Dell's Inspiron line last fall rather than the XPS that I have typically purchased.  I might be okay with a fingerprint reader in lieu of camera if it works as well as Touch ID on iPhone.

  2. 6437

    You absolutely still need a full size SD card. You can get rid of it on the lower models if you want and only include it on the Performance base. SD card slots are essential to for a mobile photographer/videographer to reliably, quickly, and safely transfer media to the surface.

    I think a quad core could work just fine. When it is unlocked, just have down clock significantly to reduce heat output.

     

  3. 6888

    I recently bought a Surface Book, and I can't say enough that I am way more impressed with it than I expected to be.  If Microsoft plays its cards right, this machine can dethrone the MacBook Pro as the world's best laptop.   Here's how I would change it for the next version:

    1.) Make the clipboard portion more usable by itself, more like the Surface Pro.  This would include longer battery life and maybe even the surface pro kickstand.

    2.) Add a USB-C port but don't go all in on USB-C like the new Mac Pros.  Actually, I really don't care about USB-C, but I know it's the next wave of ports so one should be included.

    3.) Absolutely keep the "MagSafe" stlyle port, especially for use with the external dock.  This is the best laptop dock solution I have ever seen.  DO NOT go all USB-C (this is more of a do not change rather than a change, but I think this is where Apple made a mistake.  I hope Panos doesn't make the same mistake). If you keep the magnetic port and include one USB-C then you have the best of both worlds.

    4.) Some people never run a program that requires the dGPU, but they do run multiple monitors.  So for those people an IRIS graphics processor model would be more useful than just HD graphics.  Use the extra space that otherwise would be occupied by the dGPU in the base for more battery life while still having graphics performance.  I've seen data that shows that for various reasons (mostly thermal envelope) an Iris Pro based Surface Pro can get better graphics performance than the dGPU Surface Book.

    5.) A new hinge that allows the device get rid of the space and be flat when shut.

    • 5184

      In reply to coolpatent:

      I agree on the magnetic power port.  If I'm spending that much on a device, I want as much security and convenience as I can.  Knowing that one of the kids can't trip over the power cord and throw the device off the kitchen table is comforting.  I don't care that USB-C is reversible.  It's still not as easy as attaching a magnetic cord.

      I see this as a differentiator over the Mac.

      But here's an idea, make all Surfaces recharge by being near a charging device.  Imagine sitting on the couch and never having to connect a cord to recharge.

    • 899

      In reply to coolpatent:  My vote is to keep the Surface mag port on the Surface Book and SP5 for charging and compatibility with the current Surface dock, and add one or more USB-C/Thunderbolt ports to interface new, higher performance peripherals including a new Surface dock. This would add cost I know. But on my SP3, I find that the mag connection feature provides significant convenience and safety advantages relative to any USB type port. I also like the charging LED and 90 degree cord angle. Of course our "votes" today are just for fun as I'm sure the designs of the 2017 Surface Book and Pro models were fixed months ago.

       

  4. 670

    I have a fairly controversial suggestion - more battery in the clipboard and a kickstand. If you have ever used a tablet for note taking, the clipboard is a great device, but WAY TOO CONSTRAINED battery-wise. Get us through a full four our meeting please. I also love the fingerprint reader on the Type Cover - it should be mandatory here. 

  5. 180

    Y'all are crazy on the black keys. Why are you looking at the keyboard, anyway? the only reason I need the keys lit is if I'm typing in the dark, and I like the uniform color.

    I'd favor adding USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and keeping Surface Connect. I like having a magnetic connector, and there's no reason you couldn't charge through either if people want to standardize around a single port for all their devices. Similarly, you could use the previous dock design or a USB-C dock. There's no reason you can't have both, I'd just be really happy if there was a port on the screen portion. I have mixed feelings about only having the performance dock: I like that the keyboard portion is flat on the original design, and would love to see MS go back to that. With the lower power requirements of NVidia's newest chips, that's probably possible.

  6. 187

    Headphone jack has the same issue with the SP4 as well. It was on the bottom right on the Surface 3 which was perfect.

  7. 5539

    In reply to Jeff_S: I think Paul's issue is that it is exceptionally effective. Aren't there times you don't want it to instantly log you in whenever it sees you? A fingerprint reader allows explicit intent to log in. 

     

  8. 8850

    Good post Paul

    There are too many models of surface book, USB-C is the future and this should be a given along with USB3. Maybe HDMI instead of mini display port might be a good option but not essential. Is there any chance that the new models will include a smaller narrower bezel eg dell xps 13? You make a good point about the backlit keyboard black keys should be a given also.

  9. 214

    I agree with everyone on everything.

    But I do wish you'd done the article 6 months ago... by now the features of the next surface book are locked in concrete.

  10. 661

    I would like for them to have the pen be rechargeable while it is magnetically attached to the tablet.

  11. 8922

    Add a blue ray player.

  12. 7212

    Yes, and I hope that the Surface Book will have owners that do not destroy the OS that comes with it by installing browsers, antivirus, firewall, vpn and what not, so they can see that this beautiful device actually works really well with the OS that was designed to run on it...

  13. 5234

    What, praytell, magical unicorn device has enough PCIe lanes to run 3 Thunderbolt-3 ports again??

  14. 5496

    It does not have to many models.

    They are different options you can have. Options are not models.

     

  15. 1293

    Paul, I'm surprised you didn't mention the hinge?  It looks cool on the current model but the gap is a problem.

  16. 5234

    Intel doesn't do mainstream (what they call the Core i-series) CPU's in quad-core ULV for slim form factors.

     

    If you want a quad-core, you're stepping down to the budget line to Apollo Lake.  The best option there is a Pentium N4200 which has a TDP of 4W, but the i7-6600U's TDP for thin and light form factors is less than double that at 7.5W and it'll run circles around the Pentium, even with only 2 cores.  Intel gave up on low TDP quad-cores by exiting the market for budget chips for tablets and they just don't have the silicon to do that in their mainstream product line.

  17. 5184

    Wholeheartedly agree on the black keyboard keys.  And I don't even own a Surface Book.  Gray is about the worst color.  I have a Dell XPS 15z from 2012 that has gray keys and I can tell you the backlighting is not enough to make them readable in all lighting.  It is annoying.  Generally the QWERTY keys are not the issue for touch typers.  It's the other keys put in non-standard positions that I have to look for as I move between different keyboards attached to the devices I regularly use between home and work.

    I have never understood why MS put gray keys on the device.  Guessed they were just trying not to look like the MacBook.  Gray keys are a terrible design decision and a huge compromise on such an expensive device.

    • 1534

      In reply to jwpear: Thank goodness I learned to touch-type without needing to look at the keyboard. If you need to look at a keyboard to type, your effectiveness and speed is severely crippled. I like the aesthetic of the silver keys on my Surface Book.
      I adjusted to the placement of special keys on my Surface Book very quickly. I've never thought of it as non-standard. Quite to the contrary, I feel it's one of the best keyboards I've ever used.
      For me black keys would simply make it ugly.

       

  18. 10199

    Strongly agree with:

      -  More ports, better positioned.

      -  Keep the SD card reader

      -  USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port on the clipboard

      -  Black keyboard keys.  (Yes Please!)

      -  Move the headphone jack.

    Purchase Requirements:

      -  Better battery life for the clipboard.

      -  GPS chip (This is must if the Surface is to replace an Apple iPad).  Maps would finally become USEFUL without a wifi connection.

  19. 514

    On the 4 core deal: since they've gone the route of putting the GPU in the base, why not use a 2 socket dual core solution with one dual core in the screen and one in the base -- Xeon processors are dual socket possibilities? 

    Other things they could put in the base: a far field microphone -- so your Book 2 could use Cortana to do Alexa-like things, and while we're at it why not put Intel's excellent cellular modem in the base, then I could ask Cortana to "call my sister June" and talk with her without recourse to a traditional smartphone handset?

  20. 3399

    it would be cool if they could figure out way to use multiple the cpus where the base has one and the screen has the other. Also NVidia 10xx anyone?

  21. 7631

    I have a first generation Surface Book i7 and I agree on the following:

    * Black keys: This is not very important but it would be better if the keys were black

    * Headphone jack: Bottom right would be great.

    * Thunderbolt: Yes, but please include SD expansion card and at least one USB A port.

     

    Apart from that my Surface Book is perfect.

  22. 6334

    I agree with everything except making the keys black!! 

  23. 378

    Another vote to change away from the grey key color. I use my SB in place of other devices because I love the 3:2 screen ratio. For what I do the extra screen height is a big help. Otherwise I might have moved to something with easier to read keys.

  24. 6080

    As I understand it the Surface connector is essentially a proprietary interface for the earlier generations of Thunderbolt architecture built into the CPUs on them. Therefore it seems like the easier/more sensible thing to do is just upgrade the backend of the port to the new standard. 

    This would then allow Microsoft to build a family of peripherals to further demonstrate what is possible with these devices while not competing with versions that OEMs might put out. Id love to see them make a version of the dock with an integrated laptop 1060 for example or the display only version of Surface Studio and using the Surface connector as the interface then they could do it without stepping on the toes of any of their partners that might want to build something similar.

  25. 442

    Isn't this computer going to answer a lot of these?  http://www.eve-tech.com/

  26. 585

    My thoughts on the Surface Book 2:

    1) USB/Thunderbolt

    2) Black backlit keyboard and auto light sensor

    3) Reduced footprint. There could be some space saved with a thinner bezel and in turn a smaller base and then reduced weight

    4) Increase slate battery life 

    5) Reduce or eliminate the screen bounce 

    6) Internal quick use pen

  27. 3787

    I understand the desire for USB-C, but my experience with getting quality cables has been a mess. Even the cable that came with my Nexus is considered harmful to other devices. I think the standard needs another iteration.

  28. 5460

    You forgot the most important area for improvement, "the gap".

  29. 22

    I have the original i7/512/16/dGPU model and while I don't have a need to purchase the performance version, I'd be willing to upgrade to the SB2 with similar specs. I'm hoping the following modifications will be made to the SB2 as this will make it a worthy upgrade. I agree with you on the Kaby Lake CPUs, the headphone jack, and the ports, but Brad is right about the full size SD card slot in the base.

    1) A MicroSD slot on the SB Clipboard (Without loosing the full sized SD slot on the KB Dock). Wasting that fast NVMe space on OneDrive/Sharepoint synchronized files is a crime.
    2) At least 1 or preferably 2 USB-C 3.1 connectors on the Clipboard.and 2 on the KB dock I can live without the larger USB3-A connectors on the Clipboard if they are still available on the KB Dock
    3) A kickstand on the Clipboard
    4) A better dGPU to the SB keyboard (1060m or better please) with an optional second internal 512GB/1TB SSD (it doesn't have to be nVME) for use when the clipboard is connected
    5) Offer a quad core cpu versions to compete with the Macbook pro line with core throttling for when detached from base with dGPU.
    6) Offer a 15" version. (now that the Surface Studio is out, I don't think this is as necessary.)

    • 5234

      In reply to drewidian:

      1) A MicroSD slot on the SB Clipboard (Without loosing the full sized SD slot on the KB Dock). Wasting that fast NVMe space on OneDrive/Sharepoint synchronized files is a crime.

      Why?  When you're disconnected, you still have a local copy of those files....you know, like the same as if you were just using an online backup system.

      4) A better dGPU to the SB keyboard (1060m or better please) with an optional second internal 512GB/1TB SSD (it doesn't have to be nVME) for use when the clipboard is connected

      A better dGPU ain't happenin' in their thermal design, and a second SSD couldn't be NVMe anyway with the lack of PCIe lanes.

      5) Offer a quad core cpu versions to compete with the Macbook pro line with core throttling for when detached from base with dGPU.

      Again, ain't happenin.  Do you want an inch-and-a-half thick tablet with a fan always on and no battery life?

      6) Offer a 15" version. (now that the Surface Studio is out, I don't think this is as necessary.)

      Have you ever tried to use a 15" touchscreen laptop as a tablet?  Also ain't happenin.

  30. 6166

    I always though the face recognition was fast and very convenient. Much prefer it to fingerprint. But I totally understand why some may prefer a more explicit form of sign-in and afree that fingerprint should also be an option.

    Quad-core is not an option as they are not SoCs. It's a different series (HQ) which uses the same chips as desktop. To be fair, only the larger 15 inch Macbook Pro has quad-core options. I don't think this is an issue for this form factor - they are getting the best out of their thermal budget.

    Might I suggest dark grey keys. That's the best of both worlds - keeps the visibility while avoiding the boring look of black keys. 

    Most of all, I'd like to see smaller bezels and no gap! It will be thinner and lighter as well, of course.

  31. 158

    Tbh the internals you discussed here are mostly given: USB-C, Kaby-Lake, Quad Core. More interesting, imho, is the overall design. Will they be able to make the SB lighter? Will the be able to make the gap in closed state a) smaller or b) remove it completely? Will they be able to make it less top heavy? That's what I am interested in as a current Surface Book user.

  32. 427

     I doubt we will see two or three thunderbolt 3 usb type-c ports.  I believe those use PCIe lanes.  Also the new PCIe SSDs also take up PCIe lanes.   Then of course if you have discrete graphics then you are using more PCIe lanes.  I think the standard desktop motherboard has 16 lanes, I don't know for sure about laptop motherboards, but it's probably not more.  Anyway, I think its a great notion to have lots of really fast and awesome ports on a laptop, but I'm just not sure about how practical or possible it is with today's technology, or frankly what you are trading for more usb-c ports. 

    • 5234

      In reply to awright18:

      The Core i5 CPU they used has 12 total lanes.  That is, if it hasn't been cut down.

       

      Thunderbolt 3 takes 4.  Intel has a 2-port Thunderbolt 3 controller, but you wouldn't be able to use both at full speed for obvious reasons.

  33. 1266

    My one wish, besides Paul's and Brad's excellent wish list, make the weird electrical buzzing I'm hearing when plugged into my dock stop.  I'll try my original power brick tomorrow to see if it still does it.  Strange.

  34. Daniel Blois

    Agree with all of those but would also love an adaptable Bezel - in Tablet mode, have a bezel on the screen but in laptop mode remove the bezel.


    This would also be great on the surface pro.

  35. 10157

    Screen should be reversible and not detachable. Would be a perfect machine if they would reengineer the hinge to work 180 degrees

  36. 10014

    Why on Earth would you choose to provide your laundry list of recommendations a few months before the launch?  You do realize that it takes years to design the hardware right?  If you wish to truly contribute to the design process, get involved.  If you wish to continue to be a grumpy old blogger, then continue on with your annoying and pessimistic view of the world.  Become part of the solution!

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