I know, dear reader, that some of you do not care. You do not understand the fuss about Thunderbolt 3; you view it as, at best, a nice-to-have feature and not a dealbreaker. But I’m afraid I am going to stick to my guns. Premium portable systems should include some number of Thunderbolt 3 ports; it’s not optional, it’s mandatory.
The new refreshes of the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop lack Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C entirely, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. They’re premium machines, and their competitors—from HP, from Dell, from Lenovo, from Apple, from Razer, and from more besides—all have at least one Thunderbolt 3 port, often more. I thought this was disappointing in 2016, when Microsoft failed to take what would arguably have been a leadership position with the interface. I thought it was a significant flaw in 2017, though I hoped the Surface Book 2 (which has a single Type-C port used for USB 3.1 generation 1 and charging, but not Thunderbolt 3) was a sign that a corner had been turned. In the fourth quarter of 2018, I think the absence is inexcusable.
Aside from this notable omission, the upgrades are straightforward. Surface Pro 6—after dropping the version number for last year’s model, it’s back again—revs the processor to a current 8th-generation chip, making it a quad-core, eight-thread system. The m3 model with 4GB RAM has been dropped, with an 8GB i5 now the base configuration. Other specs remain the same: a 2736×1824 12.3″ touch screen, 128GB to 1TB of SSD storage, up to 16GB RAM, an 8MP rear-facing camera, a 5MP front-facing camera with Windows Hello support, and up to 13.5 hours of battery life. And, critically, the same array of ports: one full-size USB 3.1 generation 1 Type-A port, mini-DisplayPort, the proprietary Surface Connect port, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSDXC card reader.
The price is also down a little. The previous generation cost $999 for the i5 with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. That’s now $899.
Black is the new black
Microsoft has also introduced a second color: in addition to the regular platinum grey, there’s a new matte black version. It’s very black and looks very smart, and it just goes to show that IBM was right all those years ago when it made the ThinkPads black. Black hardware looks good, and there’s none blacker than the Surface Pro 6.
Surface Laptop 2 makes much the same change to the Surface Laptop. The processor’s now an 8th-generation part, the 4GB RAM option has been dropped, and other specs appear the same (though it is now described as supporting Bluetooth 4.1 instead of 4.0). The price starts at $999 for an i5 with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage; again, this is a slight price cut, as the previous generation only offered 4GB RAM at that same price point.
The Surface Laptop 2 is also available in the glorious matte black, and it looks fantastic.
In a shake-up from previous years, both systems ship with Windows 10 Home rather than Pro. Microsoft has a parallel line of products for business users. The i7 models appear to be identical (they use the i7-8650U), but the i5 models are slightly different. The consumer i5 specs for both the Surface Pro 6 and the Surface Laptop 2 use the i5-8250U. The corresponding business versions use the i5-8350U. The reason for the difference is that the 8350U is vPro-eligible; the 8250U is not. The 8350U is also a hair faster; its base clock is 1.7GHz to the 8250U’s 1.6GHz, and its turbo is 3.6GHz rather than 3.4GHz. Pricing for the business systems doesn’t appear to be immediately available.