Microsoft Surface Book Review: A High-End Laptop For Cashed Up Road Warriors

There has been a great deal of fanfare surrounding Microsoft's first ever laptop, the Surface Book. It's a risky move for Microsoft to enter the ultra-competitive notebook market, especially since it will be competing directly with its hardware partners, but the Surface Book does boast some impressive specs. We take a look at how useful the new laptop contender is for work and a bit of play.

Photo: Michael Hession

Being an avid lover of laptops, when the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book were first announced, I was more keen to try the latter. I ended up being really impressed with the Surface Pro 4 so had high hope for the the Surface Book when it landed on my desk.

The Surface Book is essentially a pimped out Surface Pro 4 with additional hardware. You still get the new Surface Pen with 1024 pressure levels that magnetically attach to the frame of the device. It comes with a full-sized keyboard with an Nvidia graphics card nestled inside (in the more expensive versions). With the Surface Pro 4, the keyboard cover, sans discrete graphics card, is sold separately.

First, The Specs

Surface Book
OS Windows 10 Pro
Exterior Magnesium casing (silver)
Dimensions 312.3mm x 232.1mm x 13.0 - 22.8mm
Weight Starting at 1.5kg including keyboard
Storage Solid state drive options: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB
Display Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense screen.  Resolution: 3000 x 2000 (267ppi)  Aspect Ratio: 3:2  Touch: 10 point multi-touch
Battery life Up to 12 hours of video playback
Processor 6th Gen Intel Core i5, or i7
Graphics i5: Intel HD graphics 520 / i5/i7: NVIDIA GeForce GPU with 1GB GDDR5 memory
Security TPM chip for enterprise security
Memory 8GB or 16GB RAM
Wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible   Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
Ports Two full-size USB 3.0  Full-sized SD Card reader  Headset jack  Mini DisplayPort  Surface Connect
Cameras, video and audio Windows Hello face-authentication camera (front-facing)   5.0 megapixel front-facing HD camera with 1080p HD video recording   8.0 megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video recording   Stereo microphones   Stereo speakers with Dolby audio
Sensors Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope and Magnetometer

Design & Handling

The 13.5-inch Surface Book is an exceptionally well-built laptop. At $2299 for the base model and $4199 for top tiered version, it has to be. The build-quality is top notch and the design is beautifully minimalistic.

It's impossible to ignore the Surface Book's "dynamic fulcrum hinge" which is at the core of the device's detachable abilities. When the tablet top is attached to the keyboard and opened up, the hinge rolls outwards, so it expands the surface area of the base by up to 2cm. Microsoft has mentioned that this gives the device balance and allows for some weight to be shaved off, making it lighter overall.

The hinge rolls in and out smoothly and silently. That. Engineering. As mentioned, it is a detachable device and you can release the screen by clicking a release button on the top right-hand side of the keyboard if you just want to carry it around as a tablet for lighter tasks.

The keyboard itself isn't just an input device. It carries an additional battery and, in the more expensive model, has a discrete Nvidia graphics processor. We'll talk more about how this affects the performance later.

The keys on the keyboard are spaced out evenly and is much more robust than the Surface Pro 4. When I was using it, every part of my brain was telling me that it's a better keyboard than the comparatively low-tech one for the Surface Pro 4. Yet, I found the typing experience on the Surface Pro 4 much more enjoyable. For me, the Surface Book keyboard is too stiff and I liked the shallower keys of the Pro 4's cover keyboard. But this has a lot to do with personal preference.

Another issue I had with the Surface Book was the detachable mechanism. To use the screen by itself, you have to hold down a button on the keyboard then pull off the display. There's a very short delay from when you press the button to when you can properly detach the tablet, which irked me to no end. This may be tolerable to some people but I can't picture myself repeating this process over and over again without losing my mind.

Despite my gripes, the Surface Book is more pleasant to use than most notebooks I have played with this year. Overall, it is comfortable to use even when I was surfing the net on the couch while curled up like a pretzel.

Features & Performance

The Surface Book comes with the Windows 10 Pro operating system and you can pick which CPU, storage and RAM you want in the laptop which will impact the pricing and performance.

Here’s the list of configurations you can get and the pricing:

  • Surface Book w/ Intel i5, 128GB SSD, 8GB RAM: $2299
  • Surface Book w/ Intel Core i5, 256GB SSD, 4GB RAM and dGPU: $2949
  • Surface Book w/ Intel Core i7, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM and dGPU: $3299
  • Surface Book w/ Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM and dGPU: $4199

The price for the Surface Book may send some people running for the hills. It is one expensive product if you do go for the most premium model which does have some impressive specs. You'll have no trouble processing and editing high quality images. For the models with the discrete GPU, image intensive tasks will be a cinch, especially with the nifty pressure sensitive stylus.

What you won't be able to do on the Surface Book is hardcore gaming. Yes, it has an independent GPU but it's not designed to be a mean gaming machine. You can still play games on it but just don't expect it to deliver the same kind of gaming performance as a well-equipped gaming PC.

As with the Surface Pro 4, the software does let down the Surface Book but Microsoft has recently released an update to fix some of the issues.

Conclusion

The Surface Book is undoubtedly a quality machine. It's well-designed, well-made and features that make it stand out in a crowded laptop market. But it's not a notebook that will suit everybody. I can't believe I'm saying this… I much prefer the Surface Pro 4, and this is coming from somebody who is hesitant about using tablets in the workplace.

My personal feelings, however, doesn't detract from the fact that the Surface Book is a good laptop.

The price is a bit hard to swallow but if you're a graphics designer and want a portable device that is powerful enough for some epic Photoshopping tasks, it might be a viable option. If you're looking for an everyday work device for standard office tasks such as writing up documents, creating PowerPoint presentations, checking emails and the lot, the Surface Book might be a bit of an overkill.

LH Reviews is a new weekly feature where we test new productivity software and hardware to see if it's worth the money.


Comments

    Apple prices you pay a premium for but with Surface products you get more (only in my opinion)

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