Surface Book: What Microsoft Got Wrong (And One Thing It Got Very Right)

Surface Book: What Microsoft Got Wrong (And One Thing It Got Very Right)
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Microsoft’s Surface Book laptop displayed during the Windows 10 Devices event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg
Last week Microsoft held an event in New York to unveil an array of new devices. The star of the show was the new Surface Book—an awesome addition to the Surface tablet / laptop hybrid line that raises the bar for PCs in many ways. As great as the new Surface Book is, though, there are some glaring omissions that tarnish the otherwise stellar device.


For background let’s start with some of the rumors and speculation leading up to the Microsoft MSFT +0.00% event. A couple weeks before the Microsoft event I wrote a roundup of what to expect from the Surface Pro 4. That list included a few obvious elements that were, in fact, part of the new Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book like a more powerful processor, longer battery life, and a larger display—which Microsoft delivered via the Surface Book. There is one significant thing from my post that didn’t make the cut, though, and a couple other features that I expected from Microsoft but are missing from the new Surface tablets.

1. Windows Hello / Passport
Windows 10 has some awesome authentication features designed to make it easier to log in to the OS and eradicate the world of passwords. Microsoft’s Windows 10 marketing revolves around the premise that the babies of today will grow up in a world without passwords, where they can log in to their devices with a simple smile. It seems reasonable, then, to expect the flagship Windows 10 device from Microsoft to include the technology required to take advantage of that feature—namely an Intel INTC +0.00% RealSense 3D camera.

There are few PCs out there capable of utilizing the Windows Hello facial recognition. Even if Microsoft couldn’t squeeze an Intel RealSense 3D camera into the ultrathin tablet, it should have been able to fit a fingerprint scanner of some sort that would at least allow people to take advantage of the biometric authentication through Microsoft Passport.

[UPDATE: Both the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 do, in fact, have cameras compatible with Windows Hello facial recognition. The tech specs listed on the Microsoft site for the devices do not mention Intel RealSense 3D, but Microsoft states on the sites for each device that they include facial recognition camera technology compatible with Windows Hello. Microsoft also developed a new Surface Type keyboard cover for the Surface Pro 4 that includes a fingerprint scanner. Thanks to reader Ben Schmidt for commenting to point out this error in the article.]
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2. USB-C
USB-C has emerged as the new standard for USB ports, but there are no USB-C ports on the Surface Book or Surface Pro 4. Paul Thurrott defends the omission in part—explaining that the proprietary SurfaceConnect port Microsoft developed to connect power to the Surface tablets negates the need for power aspects provided by USB-C.

The Surface Book has two USB ports. Even if there aren’t many USB-C accessories right now, it would have made sense to build with the future in mind and make at least one of them USB-C—if for not other reason than the perception it creates with customers. As Thurrott explains, “USB 3 is the present, as we all have USB 3 peripherals, but it’s also the past. With Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, Microsoft is bringing the thunder. But without USB-C, it’s just a distant thunder.”
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