Apple rarely, if ever, pokes fun at its competition in ads these days. But that same lesson hasn’t been learned by Apple’s rivals — as a new Microsoft ad for the Surface Laptop 2 shows.Continue reading
Microsoft is quietly refreshing its Surface Book 2 model today. The company is introducing its own model with Intel’s 8th gen Quad-core i5 processor for the 13-inch Surface Book model and keeping the existing dual-core 7th gen model at $1,299. The new Quad-core model will be priced at $1,499 and will include an i5-8350U which gets the processor’s maximum boost up to 3,6GHz.EXPAND FULL STORY
These are more than surface level updates.
The Surface Pro 4 may be readily available, but grabbing the Surface Book at your local brick-and-mortar store or online retailer will prove more problematic.
Available for preorder since October 7, the Surface Pro 4 is now on sale at Microsoft’s website and retail outlets. The tablet is also up for grabs at Best Buy, Amazon, Staples and Target. The Surface Book is available through Microsoft, though at this point, it’s still listed as a preorder item.
The Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 represent Microsoft’s latest attempt to drum up interest in its Windows 10 software. By creating its own devices, the Redmond, Washington, company is trying to show manufacturing partners how to build Windows 10 devices that appeal to consumers.
The Surface Pro 4 is Microsoft’s newest iteration of a tablet that turns into a laptop via an attachable keyboard. The new Surface Pro aims to build on the success of the Surface Pro 3 with a slightly larger screen, higher resolution, slimmer body and a more user-friendly keyboard.
Microsoft’s first homegrown laptop, the Surface Book can turn into a tablet via a detachable keyboard. The Surface Book comes with a 13.5-inch display and offers as much as 16 gigabytes of memory and 1 terabyte of onboard storage. Panos Panay, Microsoft’s head of devices, called it the “thinnest, most powerful PC ever created.”
Finding the devices or at least getting them quickly is the challenge consumers now face. The Surface Pro 4 should be available at retailers, but the Surface Book is in short supply following strong preorder demand.
At Microsoft’s site, three of the Surface Pro 4 models are available immediately, but two others won’t ship until November 20. Best Buy lists most models as available but a couple as “coming soon.” Staples has several models in stock, both online and at its retail stores.
The Surface Book is playing hard to get. Preorders at Microsoft’s site show a wait time of four to five weeks or six to seven weeks. Best Buy displayed only one model, the Intel Core i7 edition with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage, as being in stock at certain stores.
A Microsoft spokesman said the company has limited Surface Book supply available in each store and plans to deliver new units nearly daily to stores after October 26.
I’ve always wanted Microsoft to build a laptop.
Some days I’ll be seated on my couch, other days I’ll be seated on the floor of a convention center or press event, so I need a laptop that just works and won’t annoy me when I’m in the middle of writing an article. The Surface line (from the RT right through to the Surface Pro 3) has always been a compromised mixture of tablet and laptop. They’ve never really worked well in my lap, the trackpad and keyboards weren’t as good as a laptop, and battery life hasn’t been ideal for a portable machine. I could use them fine at home on my desk, but every time I took them on the road with me I just ended up irritated because they weren’t real laptops.
Microsoft now thinks it has an answer, and it’s calling it the Surface Book.
Microsoft claims it’s the “ultimate laptop” that’s designed to go head-to-head with Apple’s MacBook Pro and premium Windows laptops. While the Surface Book is primarily a laptop, it’s also a tablet thanks to a display that detaches into something like a digital clipboard. Starting at $1,499, the Surface Book is clearly priced at the high-end of the laptop market, and the 1TB of storage model tops out at $3,199. That’s a lot of money to spend on a computer. I want a Surface that works like a laptop, has a great trackpad and keyboard, and actually lasts me a working day.
So, is the Surface Book a really great laptop or just another mix?
Since Microsoft is calling this a laptop, let’s judge it first as a laptop.
Looking at the Surface Book for the first time, it’s easy to compare it to the MacBook Pro. There’s a big trackpad, nice key spacing on the keyboard, and an overall sleek combination of black and silver. All of this resembles a MacBook Pro, but Microsoft isn’t exactly copying Apple here. Just as it did with the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has picked magnesium for the materials on the Surface Book. It’s almost soft to touch, and it doesn’t feel as cold and harsh as the aluminum on a MacBook. Microsoft is going for premium here, and it’s pretty clear it’s aiming for those tempted by Apple’s well-designed hardware.
I’ve found opening up the Surface Book requires two hands because it’s magnetically sealed together to ensure nothing moves around while you’re carrying it. That’s not because the tablet portion will ever fall off, but more to protect the hinge. Once open, the Surface Book’s 13.5-inch display is the slightly odd centerpiece. I say slightly odd, because it looks a little tall and unconventional at first. That’s because Microsoft has picked a 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the wide 16:9 or 16:10 ratios found on most laptops.
It took me a couple of days to really get used to it, and it reminded me of using Google’s Chromebook Pixel. Watching movies isn’t ideal on the Surface Book because you get letterboxing, but reading web pages is a joy because of all the additional vertical space. I spend a lot of time reading content on the web, so I’ve fallen in love with this oddly shaped display. I’ve also fallen in love with the color reproduction and the viewing angles. Colors really pop, and blacks don’t wash out at all thanks to the 1700:1 contrast ratio. Windows 10 is designed with a dark theme, and it looks great on this beautiful display.
Microsoft has paid a lot of attention to the trackpad and keyboard on the Surface Book, which is exactly what you’d expect from a premium laptop. I’ve always found the trackpad on the Surface Pro 3 to be a little fiddly and too small, but the Surface Book is the complete opposite. It’s a big glass surface that feels just like a MacBook trackpad to me. Scrolling is smooth around Windows, but I’ve noticed some stuttering in both Chrome and Edge. Google’s Chrome trackpad scrolling is always terrible on every Windows laptop I’ve used, but bad Microsoft Edge scrolling is new to me. Microsoft tells me it has an update coming to address both the Chrome and Edge scrolling issues, and hopefully the company can make scrolling there as smooth as it is in the rest of Windows.
1. It’s also more expensive and has more powerful specs than the Nexus 5X. I am sympathetic to people who don’t want a phone this large and think the 5X could be a viable option for them. But call me a convert: big phones forever.
Typing on the Surface Book is a weird experience at first. There’s not very much key travel, so the keyboard feels a little hard. It took a few hours of typing to get used to it, and now when I switch back to other laptops their keyboards feel mushy in comparison. The Surface Book’s keyboard spacing is pretty ideal, and I wish other laptop makers would pay as much attention to getting the keys just right. I really can’t fault Microsoft’s keyboard here. After years of making great keyboards for desktop PCs, it has done a good job with its first real laptop keyboard.
Microsoft has opted for premium laptop specs inside the Surface Book. On the base model I’ve been testing, there’s 8GB of RAM paired with Intel’s latest Core i5 processor, and it’s fast. Basic web browsing, a little bit of Photoshop, and regular desktop apps all perform well. I’ve also been testing a 16GB of RAM model equipped with a Core i7 processor. I haven’t noticed any drastic changes between the two models for my basic work needs, but in gaming the Core i7 model benefits from the Nvidia GPU installed in the base. Drivers aren’t supplied directly from Nvidia yet, so it’s difficult to measure performance fully, but my old Steam collection of games runs well. This should be enough to cover most games on basic settings, which is unusual for most convertible machines.
The really unique and interesting part of the Surface Book is the new fulcrum hinge. It snakes around the base and display of the Surface Book, and it looks awesome, like something out of an Alien movie. It has individual notches that extend to let you adjust the screen angle, and they sound like they’re unpeeling as you fold it out. While the hinge isn’t infinitely adjustable, it has enough viewing angles to cater for my desk and lap usage.
Because this is also a tablet, it makes this new hinge a little compromised. The hinge isn’t resistive enough like a regular laptop, so it bounces and wobbles a little if you’re typing in your lap or you touch the display while you’re using it as a laptop. A lot of 2-in-1 Windows laptops have the same problem, and even though Microsoft has probably done the best job yet, it’s not perfect. It feels a little top-heavy sometimes, and I’ve noticed this more in my lap at weird angles than on a desk. Most of the weight is traditionally in the base of a laptop, with little in the display, but the Surface Book has balanced this as best it can with the fulcrum hinge.
The problem with the hinge is that it also reveals the main weakness of the Surface Book. If you close the Book down, the display doesn’t sit flush with the keyboard, leaving an unsightly gap. It also makes the Surface Book a lot bulkier than a regular laptop. Dust, hair, and all sorts of other nastiness from my bag now gets regularly deposited onto the Surface Book keyboard because of this gap. It’s ugly, but it’s a compromise that allows Microsoft’s laptop to also convert into a tablet.
Microsoft has built a little button on the keyboard that unlocks the screen from the base. It’s like one of those crazy buttons you press to enter a secret room, and it lets you pull off the display and use it as a giant tablet. Microsoft has built an entire PC into this display that doubles as a touch screen and supports a stylus. While the base unit and display combine into a laptop that’s not exactly lightweight at 3.34 pounds, the tablet section feels manageable at 1.6 pounds.
2. The 6P also has an ambient, low-power display in black and white that’s supposed to kick on when you move the phone. But in my experience, it’s really hit and miss when it turns on. However, it does light up on incoming notifications if you want it to, which is convenient.
Because of the 3:2 aspect ratio, it really feels like you’re holding a piece of paper (except, of course, for the weight). I think that’s exactly how Microsoft designed this, and why the company keeps calling it a “digital clipboard.” The only time I’ve used it in this mode is literally to take notes, because using it as a tablet to play games and watch movies is a little awkward without a kickstand or case to prop it up. You can reattach the base the opposite way around to create a stand, but I never did that because it turns it into an even more bulky tablet.
The new Surface Pen is greatly improved thanks to a more resistive tip, but there’s still a slight lag that will irritate artists who want to draw on this professionally. It’s fine for note taking though, and there’s even an eraser on the top now. You can even hold the button down to activate Cortana, but I found it didn’t always detect my voice very well. The Surface Pen also snaps magnetically to the side. That’s better than a pen loop, but it still always falls off in my bag.
While the tablet is a fully functional PC when detached, the base is more than just a keyboard and trackpad. There are two USB ports, a full SD card reader, a mini DisplayPort, and an additional Nvidia GPU on some models. It’s a battery dock for the tablet. Once you’re done using it as a tablet, you can simply dock the Surface Book back in and it stays coupled together with magnets and a “muscle wire” lock that secures it firmly in place. It’s a clever piece of engineering, but it relies on battery power to activate. You can remove the display when it’s powered off, but if you drain the battery, you’ll have to wait until it’s at least 10 percent before you can undock it again.
Windows 10 also does a good job of switching between a touch-friendly mode and one more suited to a keyboard and mouse, especially if you enable it to do so automatically. There’s still a lack of good touch apps for Windows 10, but I like the idea of switching between using a laptop and straight into a tablet. It’s pretty seamless and apps snap back to their positions when you revert to laptop mode, so you can carry on working without issue. I’ve found that Windows 10 still doesn’t make enough use of the pen — I just can’t fit it into my regular workflow. I tried to write an email with just the pen to send a note to someone, and it doesn’t even activate a drawing mode. I tried to send a OneNote page instead and that failed. Microsoft is really advertising this as a clipboard, but Windows 10 isn’t ready to let everyone just use a stylus and take notes everywhere as it’s still a limited experience.
It’s worth noting here that I’ve run into a number of software issues with the Surface Book. I experienced blue screens on the machine nearly every day. Microsoft tells me this is related to the SSD, and that the company has a fix in place for retail units. I’ve also experienced problems with the trackpad gestures and scrolling failing after I’ve used it in tablet mode and reattached the keyboard. Microsoft’s docking app to control the detaching of the tablet also occasionally crashes. I’ve also been unable to test Windows Hello, a feature that lets you log in with just your face, on the Surface Book as the drivers aren’t ready yet. Together with the software crashes, it feels like Microsoft might be rushing to get the Surface Book ready in time.
Battery life is one of the key parts of a laptop for me. While the tablet portion should last around 4 hours, Microsoft claims up to 12 hours if you’re using it as a regular laptop. It’s not lying. During our own Verge battery test running in Chrome we found the Surface Book lasted nearly 13 hours for the base model without the additional GPU. It’s incredibly rare for a Windows laptop to have great battery life, and I’m amazed it lasts me a full working day. With a mix of usage outside of just surfing the web, I’ve found it lasts around 7 hours. That’s watching HD movies, using Photoshop, and surfing the web with Twitter open all day. It takes around 2 hours to charge the tablet itself, and around 4 or 5 hours to charge both. Because the keyboard and tablet both use the same Surface connector, you can use a single cable to do both, or just charge them combined in the regular laptop mode.
Is the Surface really the ultimate laptop that Microsoft claims it is? Nearly. I say that because sometimes I’m using the Surface Book and I just wish Microsoft had made a pure laptop. The display wobble can be irritating, and the weird gap when it’s closed means I have to clean the Surface Book every day. If Microsoft can fix the hinge in future versions and make it a lot less bulky then this could be great. It has a beautiful display, amazing battery life, and the keyboard and trackpad feel great. But even though that’s everything I want in a laptop, the accommodations Microsoft made to enable the tablet end up making the laptop experience less than ideal.
I rarely used it as a tablet, partly because Windows 10 really doesn’t make enough use of the stylus to make it feel natural, but also because most of my work requires a keyboard. I suspect that’s the same for most people buying a laptop. The lack of Windows 10 tablet apps means I still reach for an iPad or even a large phone if I want a tablet experience, and until that situation improves it’s still really hard to buy into this whole hybrid concept. I really like it as an idea, but right now it’s just that: an idea. It feels like the Surface Book has a detachable display because Microsoft needs it to be different, not because you actually need to remove it. Having a removable display doesn’t make this the “ultimate laptop.”
Microsoft can clearly make a laptop that competes with the MacBook Pro with all the best ingredients, but it just needs to find a better recipe to combine all its innovative hardware. The Surface Book is seriously impressive, and as a hybrid it’s probably the best out there.
If Microsoft had just made a laptop, I suspect I’d be calling it the best Windows laptop out there, but it didn’t. While it’s great Microsoft is pushing the idea of a tablet and a laptop hybrid constantly, I’m still hunting for the perfect mix of hardware that really shows this is the future.
- Great keyboard and trackpad
- Amazing battery life
- 3:2 display is ideal for webpages
- That weird gap
- Display wobbles and feels top heavy
- A little bulky as a laptop
Battery Life: 10
TechDomes SCORE: 8,5
Microsoft surprised the technology world with the Surface Book, a device that puts a new spin on what productivity might look like.
Not to be a historic historical boorish bore, but I believe that it is fair to say that Microsoft’s Surface line of devices has improved over time. With the Surface Book, Microsoft managed to leverage that expensive, paid-for knowledge and build something compelling out of the gate.
In practice, the Surface Book is a solid device. It has minor quirks, like the keys seeming a bit squishy, and the need to be powered-on to remove the screen. But on the whole, it does what Microsoft claimed it would.
That Microsoft would debut a new device, and not merely a fresh iteration of something it already released is notable. It effectively ends the argument that the company should, or would get out of hardware. You don’t go around building whole-cloth creations when you are undergoing a strategy retreat.
The Surface Book is a laptop with a twist. It looks mostly like a conventional laptop, but has a detachable screen that becomes a widescreen, thin tablet. That’s where the computer itself resides — the keyboard half of the device is battery, keys and, if you spring for it, a discrete GPU.
The Surface Book is the first Surface device from Microsoft that completely replaced my usage of an ever-present Macbook Air. I’ve done stints on Surface devices for years, but mostly in between using Apple hardware. Here’s how much I used the Book: I actually managed to forget my Macbook Air at the office once when I went home.
That would have been fine, but I also forgot that I didn’t have a spare Surface Book charger at home, so my battery testing became a bit more real that day than I had hoped.
So, what’s to like? The screen on the Book is lovely and largely responsive. I had some issues with lag, but that seemed more predicated on Windows 10 than the Book itself.
Also, the keyboard. I mentioned it above, but I can report that this is my favorite keyboard on a mobile device from Microsoft to date. I am a somewhat laid-back person about some things occasionally. Keyboards are not one of them. Either it types, or it doesn’t. The Surface Book’s keyboard is functional and quick.
If you convert from a Macbook Air, give yourself a few days, but it should become a similar experience with a bit of practice. Why? Aside from the small fact that you have to reprogram your fingers to different shortcuts, the keyboards are similar, but offset. I spent a glorious two days missing keys by small fractions, and therefore closing tabs and programs, or, in reverse, doing nothing when I wanted to do something. After a few days, I was issue-free. But it was annoying at first.
Also, the Surface Book is not particularly light or small. I suppose that’s why Microsoft makes the Surface Pro 4 and Surface 3, but it should remain a point of consideration.
What Is It Good For?
I found the Surface Book a fine daily driver and a functional tablet. There are better tablets out there.
Ironies abound. I consistently kept trying to open the Surface Book’s kickstand, akin to the traditional Surface device experience. It doesn’t have one, since it locks into its own base, but I did miss having one. That’s not to say that Microsoft should build one into the Book — that would be silly — but it does mean that if tablet-a-bility is your main focus, you might want to look at a different device.
As a laptop it does well. I’m currently writing to you on this loaner Surface Book plugged into the new Surface Dock, powering two Apple Cinema Displays at the office. It can very nearly keep up at full speed. If you are going to run a similar setup, you are going to want the full power setup. I could use a bit more horsepower.
Of course, if you are a more a light-use computer user, that won’t be a bottleneck. But if that is the case, there are host of cheaper devices that might suit you better.
I don’t have too many beefs with the Surface Book, but I did find its touchpad to be its weakest element. It has, in its current firmware iteration, a tough time accepting input if your fingers are both too dry, or too wet. Moist, even. I am a fat bastard, so I sweat. This became something of an issue.
The touchpad is certainly usable, but lacks the same polish of the rest of the device. I presume that in later iterations, it won’t be an issue. I was tempted to plug in a mouse on a few occasions, but decided that a test should be more stringent than that.
Hardware elements aside, the device is not cheap. That may keep it out of the hands of people who might have otherwise picked one up. I’m not sure if price deflation for the Book is a Microsoft priority, but perhaps once unit volume comes into play, and the company can leverage economics of scale, a lower sticker could emerge. Then again, Microsoft did not set out to build an inexpensive computer in this case — if it did, it failed — so our quibble here is slightly unfair.
Finally, battery life. After being spoiled for years on Apple hardware, I found the Surface Book battery life slightly disappointing. Not bad, but also not stellar. Normally I’d not bring it up, but as Microsoft has quite a lot of room in the lower half of the device to secure juice, I think it’s a fair complaint.
I think that, in its current form, the Surface Book will either be a direct hit for any given consumer, or too much. Most people buy inexpensive laptops to browse the Internet and pretend that email matters. The Surface Book, in comparison, is designed for the person who wants to get the most out of Windows 10’s touch-focused features inside a package that can be both mobile and desktop-focused.
I don’t know how big that demographic is even though I am squarely inside of it.
Here’s what I would do. If you are in the market for a new Windows 10 tablet, or laptop, doodle around with the Surface Book. Carrying two devices, after all, is for the birds.
You can once again preorder a Surface Book through Microsoft but don’t expect it to land on your doorstep anytime soon.