After being two years' worth of patient with Microsoft, we've finally happened upon the Surface Book 2, a machine that's ostensibly more focused on iterating on its predecessor than breaking new ground in an ever-flourishing market of 2-in-1 laptops.
In spite of some presumably biased hearsay, Microsoft's Surface devices are doing well for themselves. Sure, there's a bump in the road here and there, but ultimately the company has the numbers to prove that its hardware is here to stick around for longer than the 2019 expiration date previously suggested by analysts.
Here we have a laptop -- one that doubles as a tablet, mind you -- that ignores many of the trends we're seeing in the Ultrabook space in favor of a garish hinge that uplifts its unwieldy screen. That was the premise of the Surface Book after all, flexibility over mobility, and it continues to set the stage for the Surface Book 2.
Whether that's a successful strategy compared to Apple's push for thinner and lighter notebooks, often at the cost of keyboard quality and power, remains to be seen. What we do know for certain about the Surface Book 2 are its release date, price and features, as well as the news surrounding it, which we'll describe in great detail below.
Cut to the Chase
-- What is Surface Book 2? The sequel to Microsoft's first laptop
-- When is Surface Book 2 out? November 16
-- What will it cost? Starts at $1,499
Surface Book 2 Release Date
Nearly two months after we thought we saw the Surface Book 2 in an Intel sizzle reel, Microsoft confirmed to TechRadar that its second full-on convertible laptop would touch down on November 16 in the United States in addition to ten other markets simultaneously.
It's on this date that we'll see not only a new 13.5-inch Surface Book, but a 15-incher as well. That's just 30 days after the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update starts to rollout, at least to non-Insiders, along with the company's Windows Mixed Reality headsets. It's also nine days after the Xbox One X comes out, making autumn an especially busy season in Redmond, Washington.
Microsoft will start taking pre-orders for the Surface Book 2 on November 9.
Surface Book 2 Price and Configurations
Starting at $1,499, the Surface Book 2 costs about the same in all regions as the OG Surface Book. Though, with a total of seven configurations to choose from, the price is sure to escalate from there.
The 13.5-inch model alone will be available in four configurations, the cheapest of which comes with a 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-7300U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of PCIe SSD storage space.
Should you care to spend some extra cash, you can net a 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U, 16GB of RAM and either 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of SSD space paired with the same 13.5-inch display and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM.
Meanwhile, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 packs an i7-8650U chip, 16GB of RAM and either 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of SSD storage along with a GTX 1060 GPU sporting 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM.
An Even Bigger (and Better) Screen
The Core i5 edition Surface Book 2 is only slightly lighter than its precursor at 3.38 pounds, or 1,533 grams with the keyboard attached. But, it's clear Microsoft wasn't focused on making things thinner this time around, but rather, making its laptop more powerful and impressive, spec-wise.
You can expect a higher resolution on the 15-inch model, for instance, albeit a lower pixel density due to the size bump. At 3,240 x 2,160, this version of the Surface Book won't look any sharper than it did before, but at least the company didn't stretch the existing 3,000 x 2,000 PixelSense resolution to fit the new dimensions.
The 13.5-inch Surface Book does stick with the same 3,000 x 2,000 pixel resolution of its predecessor, leaving it with 267 pixels-per-inch compared to the Surface Book 2's 260 ppi. Both come close to 4K, but seeing as Microsoft decided to keep the glaring 3:2 aspect ratio, expect thick black bars when you're watching TV and even moreso with some movies.
The fulcrum hinge is still there to keep the display attached to the keyboard, although Microsoft does say it's been ‘refined' for a “more stable touch experience.” The PixelSense display featured on both the 13.5- and 15-inch Surface Book 2 models can be used with the next-generation Surface Pen and Surface Dial.
Undeterred by the resolution increase on the 15-inch Surface Book 2, its maker promises a 5-hour battery life in tablet mode and a 17-hour battery life while docked. But, we'll believe it when we see it considering the first Surface Book lasted only 3 hours and 58 minutes in our own internal testing.
We Get More Power
Interestingly enough, every Surface Book 2 bears Windows 10 Pro pre-installed with the Creators Update -- not the latest Fall Creators Update. Then again, we can imagine there are many units already packed up and headed to retailers given that Microsoft's next 2-in-1 laptop comes out next month.
Rather than gracing the Surface Book 2 with the newest version of its operating system, however, Microsoft is focused on delivering the cutting-edge specs that admittedly make us want to toss our MacBook Pro. In fact, Microsoft boasts that its second hybrid notebook is twice as powerful as Apple's pro-grade clamshell.
Certainly, this has to do with the discrete graphics tech found in higher tier Surface Book 2 models. Whereas the MacBook Pro only gets AMD Radeon Pro 555 and 560 graphics in its 15-inch configurations, both the 13- and 15-inch Surface Book 2 laptops can be built-to-order with Nvidia Pascal-series GPUs.
Likewise, the MacBook Pro hasn't been updated with Intel's 8th-generation processors yet, while the Surface Book 2 is stacked with the an assortment of the freshest quad-core selections from the Santa Clara chipmaker.
Finally, the Surface Book 2 has a single USB Type-C port, regardless of which build you opt for. Don't expect Thunderbolt 3, though, because this is a simple first-gen USB 3.1 port that can deliver power in and out and output video to an external monitor.
Luckily, it still uses its two proprietary Surface Connect ports for charging, so you won't have to buy an adapter to use the USB-C port for miscellaneous activities while you're refilling its battery gauge. Plus you'll be able to play with one of Microsoft's Mixed Reality headsets with your Surface Book plugged into the wall since it now meets the requirements.
A Race To Beat Its New Rivals?
At the very least, we need a device that can handle the latest Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, unlike the Atom-based 2-in-1 laptops of just a few years ago. So, it would make sense, given the conjectured release frame, to refresh the Surface Book with Intel's newest Kaby Lake Refresh processors.
The Kaby Lake architecture supports up to quad-core processors as the default configuration with a thermal envelope of up to 95 Watts (W), meaning it shouldn't be a battery hog even with increased performance. What's more, Kaby Lake offers native support of the faster USB 3.1 Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 specifications in addition to CPU/GPU performance enhancements.
That said, the Surface Book 2 will need better battery support overall, as the original provides only 4 hours of activity in the Clipboard and only 8 hours of juice in the base (based on our tests). Customers eager to use the Clipboard on its own would no doubt be disappointed by the current battery's inept sustenance while consuming 4K video.
An improved battery would also be needed to support a built-in recharge dock for the Surface Pen. If a patent filing from late last year is to be believed, Microsoft may have an improved Surface Pen loop in the works that would not only holster the Surface Pen itself, but simultaneously charge it via the USB port on supported Surface devices.
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, say, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics chip, the power wattage requirements wouldn't skyrocket and DirectX 12 support would assuredly be in the cards. This would fare well with gamers looking to take advantage of the latest API on their rotating laptop screen.
What would make the Surface Book 2 really shine is if it were to be VR-ready. It's not too far-fetched, either, considering Microsoft's own Mixed Reality headsets will be available on October 17, and the system requirements are substantially lower than that of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, though notably the current Surface Book doesn't meet them.
There was a good deal of talk about when the Surface Book 2 will be released and what it will contain leading up to its official announcement. A handful of reports with dodgy reliability speculated that the sequel to Microsoft's first notebook was supposed to come out last summer alongside the Anniversary Update.
Of course, that never happened and a Surface Book 2 didn't arrive in time to beat Apple's mid-2017 MacBook Pro to market.
Yet, with Mac shipments struggling, perhaps Microsoft was better off taking its time to launch a fully realized Surface Book 2 with more substantial upgrades instead of taking the Cupertino approach and refreshing its lineups within seven months of each other. Still, there's a lot we don't know about the Surface Book 2, including the price tags of specifically configured models.
For that reason, let's hope the Surface Book 2 shows its face at Future Decoded in London on October 31. Otherwise, we may not know of the specifics until pre-orders go live on November 9.