Microsoft Surface Book

A Great First Laptop That Can Also Function as a Tablet On Occassions

Microsoft Surface Book 13.5-inch 2-in-1 Laptop
Microsoft Surface Book. ©Microsoft

The Bottom Line

Nov 2 2015 - Microsoft's first laptop system offers a very solid experience with a few twists thanks to its 2-in-1 ability to detach the screen. This makes it a great option for those that need to use a tablet from time to time but it still does not perform as well as a dedicated tablet as Microsoft's Surface Pro. The design could use a few more tweaks but overall this is a great laptop if you are willing to pay the price for it.

Pros

  • Very Well Constructed
  • Excellent Performance
  • Optional Dedicated Graphics Versions
  • Exceptional Battery Life in Laptop Mode

Cons

  • Does Not Easily Switch Between Laptop and Tablet Modes
  • Poor Battery Life in Tablet Mode
  • High Price Tag

Description

  • Intel Core i5-6300U Dual Core Mobile Processor
  • 8GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
  • 128GB Solid State Drive
  • 13.5" (3000x2000) Multitouch Display
  • Intel HD Graphics 520 Integrated Graphics
  • 802.11ac Wireless, Bluetooth
  • Two USB 3.0, Mini-DisplayPort, SD Card Reader
  • 12.3" x 9.14" x .90" @ 3.48 lbs.
  • Windows 10 Professional

Review - Microsoft Surface Book

Nov 2 2015 - Microsoft's first laptop is a very impressive albeit quite expensive venture. The laptop is actually a 2-in-1 hybrid where the screen can detach from the keyboard section and function as a tablet. Both the tablet and the keyboard dock are constructed of durable magnesium and feature a silver finish. One thing to note about it is the unique hinge.

It needed to be strong enough to hold the extra weight of the tablet when used as a laptop but also needed to be flexible. The result is that the laptop doesn't fully close and leaves an air gap near the hinge that makes it a bit thicker than it really needs to be. Thus, the .9-inch thickness at the hinge is larger than many of its competitors.

The weight is very reasonable at just under three and a half pounds but when you detach the display to use as a tablet it is an amazingly light 1.6 pounds. Detaching the two is not quite as easy as the Surface Pro as it requires pressing a button and waiting for a light to change before removing the screen.

Powering the Surface Book is either the new Intel Core i5-6300U or i7-6600U dual core processors. Most people will probably be purchasing versions with the Core i5-6300U as it is in the more affordable options. In terms of performance, it is quite good with performance that is certainly above the previous i5-5200U it replaces and nearly that of the i7-5500U. This means that the system is going to offer good performance for most users although those that need serious performance will probably be looking at larger more powerful laptops. The processor is matched up with 8GB of DDR3 memory which should be plenty for most users with an option for 16GB although that once agains adds a lot to the cost. The downside here is like many of the newer ultraportable laptops, there is no way to upgrade the memory.

Storage for the Surface Book is entirely handled by solid state drives with four different capacity levels.

The base models offer 128GB which is sufficient for most business users that do not require a large amount of space for their applications or data. If you need more, you can move up to the 256GB which doubles capacity or if you have lots of money to space 512GB or 1TB in the top of the line model. If you need to expand the storage, you have either the full size SD card slot on the side of the system for the popular flash media storage or two USB 3.0 ports for use with high speed external drives. It is disappointing that the system does not use a newer USB 3.1 interface at all or the Type C connector which could have also doubled for power.

The display is somewhat unusual on the Surface Book as it uses a 13.5-inch panel with an odd 3000x2000 native resolution. This makes it much higher resolution than most laptops on the market but not quite as dense as some 4K or UltraHD based displays on the market. This is actually good because while Windows 10 has improved its scaling capabilities, text can be very difficult to read due to size with older legacy Windows applications. The main reason for the aspect ratio of the display is so that it can function better when it is used in its tablet or clipboard mode. In terms of image quality, it offers a nice wide color gamut and some high contrast levels. The glass cover for the touchscreen means that it is suspectible to some glare which can impact battery life if brightness levels have to be turned up.

If you are considering between a Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book and need to type a lot, there is no question that the Surface Book is a better choice with its full layout and larger touchpad. In terms of comfort, the layout is quite nice with a good amount of space between keys and feedback when pressed. It should be noted that when typing the screen can wobble a bit more than traditional laptops due to the heavier than usual screen. It is not bad but can be distracting. The trackpad is a nice size and offers good single and multitouch gesture support. One thing to be aware of is that the virtual keyboard for Windows 10 does not automatically come on when the screen is undocked to use it in the clipboard mode. In addition to the keyboard, you also get a Surface Pen that can attach to the device via magnets. It offers a high level of precision including 1024 levels of pressure which makes it great for designers. This is nice to have due to the lack to default keyboard in the tablet mode.

So battery life on the Surface Book can vary depending on how the it is used. This is because batteries are spaced between both the primary screen for when it is used in clipboard mode and the keyboard base for when it is used as a tablet. Microsoft only provides a twelve hour estimate for video playback when it is used in its laptop mode. In digital video playback testing, this estimate was very actually conservative to the thirteen and a quarter hours that I was able to get. This makes it one of the longest running 13-inch tablets on the market. Now if you plan to use it in the tablet mode a lot, you will need to dock it frequently for recharging. In tablet mode, the same video playback test yielded just three and a quarter hours of running time. This makes it much less than the Surface Pro 4.

Pricing for the Surface Book starts at $1499 for the Core i5, 8GB memory and 128GB SSD. This makes it very expensive and prices climb quickly from there all the way up to $3199 for the Core i7, 16GB memory and 1TB SSD with NVIDIA Graphics. This certainly prices it out of what most consumers would be willing to purchase. The closest comparison for a straight laptop would be the MacBook Pro 13 with Retina Display. Apple's laptop obviously can't convert to a tablet but offers stronger performance from a standard voltage processor and features 256GB of storage for the same price as the SurfaceBook. Apple's laptop is thinner at its hinge and weighs roughly the same. One thing it lacks is a dedicated graphics option which the Surface Book does have.