8 ways to make Microsoft’s Surface laptops better than ever

Surface devices usually remain relatively unchanged from generation to generation, a remarkable consistency that can nevertheless leave the impression that Microsoft doesn’t keep up with the times. After reviewing almost all of the Surface devices ever released, we can’t help but keep a running tally of the features we’d like to see in the next generation of Microsoft’s Surface laptops and tablets.

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Microsoft plans to host a virtual event where the company is expected to provide updates for its Surface devices, since the invitation (pictured above) literally shows a Surface tablet in profile. Microsoft will likely offer updates to its Surface Pro tablet lineup as well as the Surface Laptop. We may also see new versions of the Surface Pro X, Surface Book, and more.

Surface devices can excel—best-in-class hardware like the Surface Pro 7+ proves that. But devices like the Surface Laptop and even the Surface Book face aggressive competition, and are sometimes left wanting. While we’re certainly not part of the Surface design team, our deep experience reviewing Surface devices has highlighted eight key features that we’d add or change about Surface devices, all with the intention of making them better than ever. 

1.) Thunderbolt

Anyone familiar with Surface devices—or, at least, Surface reviews—has heard this argument before. The original Surface Connector was years ahead of its time: a magnetically-connected power connector that, like Apple’s MagSafe, could detach without yanking the tablet to the floor. The Surface Connector allowed Surface owners to reuse power supplies from generation to generation, save for the underpowered Surface Book 2

thunderbolt laptops one wrong one right Mark Hachman / IDG

USB-C ports and Thunderbolt are much more popular in the PC ecosystem than the Surface Connector.

The Surface Connector’s strength was that it delivered not only power but also high-bandwidth data, including video. Most Surface owners probably didn’t mind paying for a proprietary power port when high-speed I/O came along for the ride. Even the pricey Surface Dock and Surface Dock 2 offered capabilities far beyond most USB-C dongles of a few years’ back.

Then Thunderbolt rolled in, also offering high-speed I/O, power, and new expensive external docks. Thunderbolt and its USB-C form factor is a more universally adopted interface than the Surface Connector, and there’s a small but growing ecosystem of third-party hardware, including Thunderbolt displays, that can take advantage of it. Thunderbolt 4 also delivers up to 100W of power, satisfying most Surface products save for the Surface Book lineup. Microsoft might have been able to capture the hearts of PC gamers by using the Surface Connector to power an external GPU. It declined to take that shot, however, and now Thunderbolt is now the more commonly adopted standard. 

2.) An Xbox (Surface) gaming laptop

It’s unclear why Microsoft hasn’t developed an overtly gaming-centric laptop, an argument we’ve made before. Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay often talks about “focus” in the context of maximizing productivity with Surface PCs. But if that’s true, why do recent Surface Books natively support Xbox One game controllers?

alienware area 51m in lunar light with cyberpunk v2 front view Dell

Doesn’t an Xbox/Surface gaming laptop make sense? We’d say so.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella recently said that Microsoft is “all in on gaming,” though his priorities—the cloud, subscriptions, and empowering creators—prioritize Xbox, and not the central issue of PC gaming. Here, Microsoft has had a seemingly on-again, off-again commitment: it lacked top-tier gaming titles for years, then went on a buying spree that saw the company buy up major PC-centric studios like Obsidian, Bethesda, Ninja Theory, and Double Fine. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Windows Store app pales in comparison to Steam or Epic, and it hasn’t really backed major game competitions like the World Cyber Games since 2006. Who knows.

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