Microsoft’s latest flagship is a triumph of design and engineering, but how does it cope with daily use?
After dipping its toes into the hardware market with the critically-acclaimed Surface range of tablets, the detachable Surface Book is Microsoft’s attempt at creating a flagship laptop capable of showing off the Windows 10 operating system.
Lightweight laptops are nothing new, with entire products lines of notebooks and Chromebooks offering portability at a varying price. But what if you want something that combines portability and power? What if you want a Windows equivalent of the MacBook Air?
This is what Microsoft wants the Surface Book to be, especially in a world where Apple is looking to make the iPad Pro a laptop replacement for the enterprise.
Microsoft positioned the Surface Pro 4 as a ‘tablet to replace the desktop’, but the Surface Book is an unashamed laptop. Eschewing the typepad used by its stablemate, the Surface Pro has a proper keyboard. Keys are spaced out more generously and typing is no different to a more conventional notebook.
The keyboard is attached to an actual hinge that allows it to remain stable even when sitting on your lap, which was one of our main criticisms of the Surface Pro and definitely helps make this a work-focused device.
Detaching and re-attaching the tablet from the keyboard is easy enough, and can be done either via a short press on a dedicated key, or by tapping a specific icon on the screen.The device re-attaches with a hugely satisfying clunk, which Microsoft says is partly a psychological effect to reassure you that it has all come back together.
The addition of a ‘proper’ keyboard offers a bit more solidity than the Surface Pro 4‘s fabric-backed cover and means it is capable of providing a more complete laptop experience. But this does not come at the expense of portability, as the Surface Book weighs in at 725 grams and is just 7.7mm thick.
As a flagship device, it comes as no surprise that Microsoft has gone all out on components, packing in an impressive amount of power.
The version we used came with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but the Surface Book is available in options up to a 6th generation ‘Skylake’ Intel i7 processor coupled with 16GB of RAM and 512GB storage.Although upgrading will obviously add a few more pounds to an already not-considerable price tag.
The Surface Book booted up extremely quickly, as is expected with solid state storage, and apps and documents load rapidly too. The system was able to deal with a whole range of power-intensive tasks and there was no sign of it buckling under any degree of pressure whatsoever.
Using the device as a tablet is much like other Windows-powered devices, essentially giving you a PC you can walk around with, although it is a bit bulkier than an iPad or even the Surface Pro 4. It’s extremely useful when travelling or in areas that you may not have a lot of space to stretch out, as the touch-screen capability is fast and responsive – although that lovely screen can become covered in fingerprints pretty quickly.
Naturally, Windows 10 comes pre-installed but we didn’t notice any major difference between how it performed on the Surface Book and other laptops I’ve used, at least nothing negative. You can read our full review of Windows 10 here.
The 13 inch screen is incredibly detailed and bright, with a range of settings for outdoor use making it easy to work on the go or even in the park. It coped well with all kinds of media, including high definition video and even some mid-range gaming.
But this does not come at the expense of battery life, as I used the Surface Book for an entire working day without needing to charge it. This can be attributed to the device having effectively two batteries while in use – one in the screen which powers the device when in tablet mode, and one in the keyboard, which provides juice when plugged in and from the initial charge.
However charging is one of the few downsides. Just like the Surface Pro, the Surface Book has a proprietary charger and charging port. This means you have to use Microsoft’s own adapter rather than standard cables or even a USB-equipped device, and that is something does go wrong or you lose the charger, it will take a while to replace.
As with the Surface Pro 4, the accompanying Surface Pen accessory felt superfluous. Much like Microsoft’s other device, I found that I could interact with the Surface Book better through my usual mouse (connecting via USB) when in laptop mode, and using my hand when in tablet mode.
However this could be because of the nature of my work as a journalist. Keyboard and mouse are the tools of the trade, whereas someone in the creative industries or those who regularly annotate documents might find it more useful.
Overall, the Surface Book ticks all the boxes when it comes to an all-round excellent work and even play experience. It’s been a few days since I handed in the review unit and it’s not hyperbolic to say there’s a definite hole in my working life.
Having such a powerful yet stylish device that is able to set up and go wherever you need it to, whether in laptop or tablet mode, is so incredibly useful, and twinned with the user experience it offers, mean it has no comparison.
The price may put it out of the reach of many, but for business users seeking a high-end product that makes work easier, the Surface Book is hands-down the best device out there right now.