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First look: Microsoft’s 13.5-inch Surface Book 3

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Microsoft’s new 13.5-inch Surface Book 3 looks exactly like the 2017 model — all the changes are on the inside. The big updates include 10th Gen Intel processors and new graphics options. Both are welcome updates, but they don’t fundamentally change the value proposition of the Surface Book.

That proposition is potentially a good one: for a higher-than-usual price for a pro-specced laptop, you get a device with a detachable screen you can carry around as a tablet. For many, it’s more than an impressive trick — when we recently joked on The Vergecast that there are only a handful of cool architects who actually need this feature, I was inundated with replies letting me know that yes, in fact, many real humans want a detachable tablet / screen.

The model Microsoft sent us for review is a $2,499.99 machine, which includes an Intel Core i7 processor, a healthy 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. That’s all fairly standard, but the bigger upgrade is Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q GPU. It’s not the most powerful GPU you can get in a laptop by a long shot, but if your applications can take full advantage of it (when docked, of course), it could be meaningful.

Of course, that processor is a lower-wattage chip than you might find on other “pro” laptops — at least larger ones. But on the Surface Book 3, the 15W version is what you get on both the 13.5 and the larger 15-inch models. That’s simply because Microsoft needs the computer to, you know, work when you detach the screen. So most of the essential computer guts need to fit in there.

All of which is to say it’s hard to provide a heads-up comparison between the Surface Book 3 and another laptop because, in some ways, the Surface Book is in a class of its own. Its benefits don’t really fit on a spec sheet. But given that it costs significantly more than a “comparable” 13-inch Razer Blade Stealth, you should be absolutely sure that a) you want a detachable screen and b) your apps and workflows will work well with Microsoft’s GPU options.

This isn’t a gaming laptop, in other words, though it should be much more capable than previous editions. Just as a very non-scientific reference point, I opened up Rise of Tomb Raider in the Book 3’s native 3000 x 2000 resolution, didn’t touch any defaults at all, and its benchmark averaged out at 27.40fps.

The other thing that isn’t going to show up on a spec sheet is simply how well-built the Surface Book 3 is. The keyboard is wonderful to type on, the trackpad is fast and precise (though a little on the small side), and the screen looks great.

Microsoft’s very fancy, very sturdy snake-like hinge does the job, and hitting the release button and hearing a metallic thunk of the “muscle wire” mechanism releasing the screen is satisfying. When separated, even this 13.5-inch tablet feels comically large, in part because the bezels haven’t quite kept up with the competition — though, again, “competition” isn’t exactly the right term.

Overall, though, I can’t help but think that Microsoft has taken this form factor as far as it can go. It’s still much thicker than other laptops, the hinge still has that big gap on the inside when closed, and it still feels just a little unbalanced on my lap. I am happy that there’s a USB-C port, SD card slot, and that Microsoft is packing chargers that are powerful enough to keep the things charged under extremely heavy loads (an issue with the last generation).

As with Apple and its new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, my first impression is that Microsoft has done an excellent job executing on the idea of the Surface Book 3 — but I don’t think it’s the right idea for me. Whether it could be for you is a question for the review, and both Monica Chin and Tom Warren will have one for you in the near future.

Photography by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

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Microsoft says CEO Satya Nadella has talked to Trump about buying TikTok

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In a blog post Sunday, Microsoft said it was “prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” following a conversation between its CEO Satya Nadella and President Trump. It’s the first time the company has confirmed reports it was in talks to acquire the video sharing platform.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury,” the blog post reads. It adds that the company expects to move “quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020.”

The blog post also says that “the two companies have provided notice of their intent to explore a preliminary proposal that would involve a purchase of the TikTok service in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and would result in Microsoft owning and operating TikTok in these markets.”

It’s unclear how Microsoft would sever those countries from other areas where TikTok operates, like Europe and Africa. Microsoft also did not commit to undertaking the purchase entirely on its own, saying that the company “may invite other American investors to participate on a minority basis in this purchase.”

President Trump had threatened to ban TikTok in the US on Friday. Trump indicated to reporters that he was ready to sign a document to order the TikTok ban as early as Saturday, either via an executive order or emergency economic powers.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the possibility of a ban as early as July 7th, saying it was “something we’re looking at.” TikTok is a subsidiary of Beijing-based ByteDance, and critics have called out its privacy practices and potential ties to the Chinese government. Pompeo also compared TikTok to Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese companies that have been designated as threats to US national security.

The blog post describes the discussions as “preliminary,” but addresses the privacy concerns, saying the company would “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.

“To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States,” the post continues, “Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred.”

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Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may try to be the Xbox Phone

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Samsung’s Note 20 Ultra, which is expected to launch on August 5th at the next Samsung Unpacked event, may be highly optimized to stream Xbox games over xCloud, according to a new report from WinFuture.

While that might come as a surprise, Samsung and Microsoft have actually gotten pretty cozy over the past year. Last August, at the last Galaxy Note launch event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella appeared onstage to recognize an increased partnership between the two companies, and the two companies announced that Samsung would preinstall Microsoft’s Your Phone app, Office apps, LinkedIn, and OneDrive on the Galaxy Note 10.

The two companies also announced they would be partnering on a cloud-based game streaming service in February. A Microsoft-made game streaming service would also fill a hole for Samsung, which shut down its own PC-to-phone game streaming service in March. More than 90 games will apparently be available to stream on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra over xCloud, according to WinFuture.

WinFuture’s report also included details about Samsung’s new flagship Note. The phone is expected to have a 6.9-inch screen with a 3200 x 1440 resolution, and will apparently be capable of a variable refresh rate of up to 120Hz, similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The phone may also be the first to have Corning’s Gorilla Glass 7.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is expected to have three cameras on a huge camera bump — which we’ve seen on previous leaks of the phone — and WinFuture mostly corroborates other rumors about those cameras. WinFuture says the phone will have a 108 megapixel main camera, a 12 megapixel ultrawide camera, and a 12 megapixel periscope lens (though leaker Ice Universe reported it would be 13 megapixels) that can magnify up to 50X. That zoom would a step down from the Samsung S20 Ultra’s hyped 100X zoom, but that turned out to be gimmicky in real-world use, so perhaps the reduced zoom will result in better photos. And the hole-punch front camera is 10 megapixels, reports WinFuture.

The S Pen stylus in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may only have a latency of nine milliseconds, according to WinFuture. And YouTuber Jimmy Is Promo revealed that the Note 20 Ultra could have a new “pointer” mode that will let you use an on-screen cursor by pointing the S Pen at the phone, as shown in a video posted earlier this month.

Rounding out the specs, WinFuture reports the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will work on 5G networks, comes with either 256 or 512 GB of storage that can be expanded via microSD, and has 12GB of RAM, Wi-Fi 6, and a 4,500mAh battery.

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Mixer is getting a big Fortnite tournament series hosted by Ninja

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Microsoft’s Mixer streaming platform is making a bigger splash in the live event game with a new tournament series starting this week featuring Fortnite player Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Called Ninja Battles Featuring Fortnite, the weekly tournament series will take place starting this week on May 28th and lasting every Thursday through July, reports Deadline.

The event will be hosted on Ninja’s Mixer channel, which is the platform’s most popular channel since the streamer left Twitch last August to join Microsoft’s competitor as part of a lucrative multiyear streaming deal. Ninja’s high-profile departure, orchestrated in part by his management team at the talent agency Loaded, inspired a wave of new contracts spanning the entire live-streaming ecosystem. In the months after Ninja left Twitch, several popular gaming entertainers followed him and signed new deals with other streaming platforms.

Just in the last few months alone, Twitch and YouTube have locked down popular creators like Imane “Pokimane” Anys and YouTube megastar Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg to their respective platforms.

Ninja Battles Featuring Fortnite will feature $400,000 in prize money and bring together 60 Fortnite pros and other big names in the Twitch and broader live-streaming world, including Nicholas “Nick Eh 30” Amyoony, Fortnite World Cup champion Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, and Faze Clan streamers Nate Hill and Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler. Everyone will be streaming from the comfort of their home during the pandemic.

Ninja will of course be a centerpiece of the event, which is being co-produced by Ninja himself and his management team Loaded. He’ll participate in the competitions, while popular community members “BallaTW” and “MonsterDface” will commentate. Notably, Ninja was the first streamer to host a live and in-person Fortnite tournament in early 2018, just months after the game first came out and long before developer Epic Games formed an official esports circuit for the title.

“I joined Mixer to push boundaries, create different types of streaming content and interact with fans in new ways,” Ninja said in a statement. “Ninja Battles brings a new kind of gameplay to the community. I am excited to share this competitive experience with my fans as well as have my fellow gamers and friends participate.”

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