The Surface Book: Microsoft's Ultimate Laptop

Microsoft's first laptop is both versatile and powerful

Microsoft Surface Book
Microsoft Surface Book. Microsoft

Microsoft just introduced its first laptop, called the Surface Book (Buy on Amazon.com). It's much like the Surface Pro tablet line, except instead of the keyboard case, the Surface Book comes with a backlit keyboard base you'd expect on any typical laptop. This isn't your typical laptop, though: The screen detaches, you can write and draw on it, and you have the option of a discrete graphics card.

Take a look at what the Surface Book offers.

In the announcement today (during which Microsoft also announced the Surface Pro 4 (Buy on Amazon.com) as well as new Lumia 950 phones), Microsoft kept calling the Surface Book "the ultimate laptop," stating it's the fastest 13-inch laptop on the market--40% faster than the MacBook Pro--and with more pixels per inch than any other laptop (the 13.5-inch laptop has a "PixelSense" display with 3,000 by 2,000 pixels resolution. By comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro's Retina resolution is 2,560 by 1,600 pixels).

The Surface Book runs full Windows 10 Pro, which means you can run your legacy desktop apps on it or modern Windows apps.

Specs-wise, the Surface Book definitely is impressive. It weighs just 1.6 pounds and is 0.9 inches thick. Its battery life is rated up to 12 hours of video playback. It's got the latest 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors and configurable with either 8GB or 16GB of memory.

There's a fingerprint reader so you can share the laptop and log into your Microsoft account quickly. It comes with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi card, TPM chip for enterprise security, and a full-size SD card as well as two full-size USB 3.0 ports.  And there's a discrete NVIDIA graphics card on several models.

These are great specs for any type of laptop, especially since few laptops these days, except for gaming ones, come with a discrete graphics card.

The Surface Book display quickly detaches from the keyboard to be used tablet-like or folded back on the keyboard into drawing mode. You can take notes or draw on the display (with 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity) using the Surface Pen. Like the Surface Pro, the Surface Book is ideal for students and other note-takers as well as creative types.

The graphics horsepower, however, makes the Surface Book an even better fit for creative types than the previous Surface lineup: It's powerful enough now to do 3D modeling (using the stylus or touch even) and other high-end graphics tasks, whether in laptop or tablet mode. And if you're a gamer, the Surface Book looks like it'll be able to handle any game you want to play.

The Surface Book starts at $1,499--but that's the 128 GB, Core i5, 8 GB of memory version that has integrated graphics. If you want the NVIDIA graphics card, you'll need to spend at least $1,899, which will get you 265 GB of storage, the Core i5 processor, and 8 GB of memory. Want the highest-end model? The 512 GB / Core i7 processor / 16 GB RAM model will set you back $2,699.

(There's supposed to be a 1TB option, but it's not available for order as of this writing.)

It's pretty expensive for most people, but looking around, it's actually a competitive price. If you compare it to the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro (Buy on Amazon.com), that is, which also comes with 512 GB of storage, 16 GB of memory, an Intel Core i7 processor, and a discrete (AMD) graphics card: $2,499. The Surface Book adds the detachable touchscreen and stylus for $200 more (albeit with a smaller 13-inch display).

For Microsoft's first attempt at a laptop, this is pretty interesting, even though there have been plenty of tablet PCs like this (in form factor at least) before. Once I get my hands on one, I'll let you know if it's the "ultimate laptop" or not.