Surface Book Review

Surface Book Review

About a month ago I walked into a Microsoft store and bought a Surface Book. The first new computer that I intended on keeping in almost 3 years. My last computer was the Surface Pro 1 so I'm kind of used to the Surface model but the Book is unlike any Surface that's come out in the last 3 years. The new Surface Book is revolutionary, it's a laptop.

"But haven't laptops existed for years?"

Yes they have. Microsoft finally realized that real people wanted a real keyboard with a real hinge connected to their laptop screens. I on the other hand will probably buy and use any shit Microsoft throws out the window.

The Surface Book is a great piece of hardware, the device is fairly light and feels great to use. I bought the base model version, $1,500 for an Intel Core i5, 128 GB (119.2 GiB) of internal storage, and 8 GB of RAM. Higher priced versions can also come with a dedicated GPU (dGPU). As with all previous Surfaces the outer material of the Surface Book is magnesium. The outer body has a slightly warmer, softer touch than the aluminum body of a MacBook. The glass trackpad is almost comparable to a MacBook trackpad, your fingers slide gracefully on the large trackpad and using it quickly becomes second nature. I never worried about hitting the edge of the trackpad, it's big and doesn't suck. There are no physical left or right click buttons, it's just one large pad but you can click in the lower right hand section of the pad to right click. Multitouch gestures also work well, one finger tap to click, two finger tap or click to right click, three finger tap to bring up Cortana (or Search), four finger tap to bring up the notification center. A three finger swipe up will show you all your open windows on your current desktop and a three finger swipe down will bring you back to where you were. The Windows 8 left or right edge swipe gestures are now gone. I feel like a right edge swipe gesture to open the notification center (like on the MacBook) would work well. Also you can't use trackpad gestures to easily switch between virtual desktops, this one really doesn't make sense to me.

I'm going to keep comparing the Surface Book to the MacBook Pro because really it feels like a competitor to the MacBook Pro, a Microsoft Windows MacBook Pro. The trackpad isn't as good as the new MacBook trackpad because the Surface Book doesn't have force touch. Yes, nobody actually uses force touch. On the new MacBook you are not actually clicking a physical button, you are pressing down on a solid surface and after a certain amount of pressure is applied a vibration like click is felt, press down harder and you get a second click. There isn't a physical hinge on the MacBook trackpad anymore which means you can click anywhere on the trackpad, even at the very top. You never need to worry about where your fingers are on the trackpad because your clickforce will apply a click anywhere on the pad, and that's amazing. Let me reiterate that this doesn't make the MacBook trackpad way better than the Surface Book trackpad. The Surface Book trackpad is way better than basically every other Windows laptop trackpad I've used and is identical to the old MacBook trackpad (the one restrained by silly physical hinges).

#1. New MacBook trackpad
#2. Surface Book trackpad
#Trash. Every other trackpad

Also side note the Surface Book also has that little divot under the trackpad, like the MacBook, to open the device but the edges and corners aren't sharp. Thanks for not poking my hand.

Moving up the device we get to the keyboard. The keyboard feels great to type on (no they aren't made of magnesium), the keys have decent travel, nothing to complain about, nothing too exciting. Typing on the device seems to be a little bit quieter than typing on a MacBook Pro. The function and caps lock keys can be toggled on and off. The top row of function keys provide various functions like keyboard backlight brightness or volume control but in the top right corner, right of the F12 key there is an extra button. We'll get to that. On the left edge of the base there are two USB 3 ports and a SD card slot. Apparently SD cards stick out a bit which could probably get annoying. On the right edge there is a power port for charging and a mini DisplayPort for video output.

Like the revolutionary laptops of 40 years ago the Surface Book uses a hinge to connect the base of the laptop to the screen. But this isn't just any laptop hinge, Microsoft calls it a dynamic fulcrum hinge but you can also call it a snake hinge. The point of the snake hinge is to extend the base of the device so that it doesn't topple over, the screen is bigger and heavier than the base of the device. The Surface Book has a 13.5 inch 3000 by 2000 pixel touch screen. It's big and bright and gets the job done. I haven't had any issues with the laptop toppling over. People also say that the screen wobbles a bit, I haven't had any issues with wobbling while typing, there is a little bit of wobble if you poke the screen.

Also don't try to open the Surface Book on bare skin (for example bare hairy legs). The snake hinge likes to bite. I don't know this from personal experience.

Now lets get to why the Surface Book is a Surface, all previous Surfaces have pretty much been two in one devices. A tablet and a laptop. If you hold down that extra keyboard button next to F12 for about a second it flashes and then the computer makes a click noise while a box pops up on screen saying it's ready to detach. You can now pull the screen off the base. Boom, it's a tablet. Weighing in at 1.6 pounds the Surface Book tablet thing is basically a larger iPad Pro (12.9 inches at 1.572 pounds). There is a headphone jack on the top of the right edge of the device, it's placement is a little weird but it's not too annoying. There is nothing on the left edge of the screen but it's magnetic so you can clip the Surface pen to the side of the screen. However, the pen can fall off easily if you keep it clipped to the side of the device when you put it in a bag so stash the pen in a safer place when traveling. On the top edge you'll find the power and volume keys. They are a little too close together as I've accidentally hit the power key while trying to hit volume up. Like a laptop there is a 5 megapixel front facing camera. Like a tablet there is a 8 megapixel rear facing camera. Like a sane individual please do not use the rear facing camera to take pictures or videos, you'll just look like an idiot. A nice little thing is that the base of the laptop (at least on mine since I don't have the dGPU) doesn't heat up at all since basically all the components of the laptop are in the screen.

The Surface Book also comes with a charger that includes a USB port on the power brick so you can charge your other devices, like your phone. You also get the newest Surface Pen. It's a pretty nice upgrade from the Surface Pro 3 pen (which I've only used a couple times). You can use the pen to draw or take notes, the tip provides a little bit of friction so it doesn't feel like you're writing on glass. You can buy a pen tip kit ($10) that lets you switch pen tips if you want to feel like you're writing on glass. I tried the Apple Pencil in a store and I think I prefer the Surface Pen, there is more resistance when writing, there's a right click button on the Surface Pen, and there's an eraser on the other end. Flip the Surface Pen over and you can erase things, it's even rubbery so it feels like a pencil eraser.

Moving on the the software side, the Surface Book runs Windows 10. I don't really feel like going into too much detail here since Windows 10 isn't exclusive to the Surface Book. If you're running Windows 8.1, upgrade to 10. if you're running Windows 8, what the fuck, you should upgrade to 8.1 then upgrade to 10. If you're running Windows 7 consider upgrading to 10, I really like it, but then again I haven't used Windows 7 on any of my personal computers for over 4 years. If you're running Windows XP you need to buy a new computer at this point. If you're running Windows Vista may God have mercy on your soul. If you're running OS 10.whatever I don't really know why you are trying to upgrade to Windows from OS X.

The Surface Book has some issues, they've pretty much all been software issues for me. The screen flickers if you try to watch a video in Edge. This doesn't happen in Chrome or Firefox and the screen flickering issues have gotten better as updates have been put out. However, if you do use Chrome be aware that two finger scroll kind of sucks at the moment, scrolling is kind of jumpy. It was way worse a month ago but it has also gotten better with updates. Scrolling in Firefox is fine. Another issue with the Surface Book is that the display drivers crash every once in a while. At least if not more than once a day the computer will freeze up for a second and then I'll get a nice little notification in the lower right hand corner saying that my display driver has crashed and recovered. Pretty annoying.

Battery life on the device is pretty good. With the screen attached to the base Microsoft promises 12 hours, some reviews have gotten up to 13 hours, I don't have a number but I don't need to worry about running out of power before I get home at the end of the day. You may however need to worry about running out of power if you put the device to sleep. I'm not sure if they completely fixed it yet but in sleep mode the Surface Book seems to drain a ton of power, as if it were on. Recently it seems like it has been fine but it is still nowhere near MacBook Pro levels. With just the tablet portion Microsoft promises 4 hours but I've gotten closer to 90 minutes but that's probably because I was watching full screen Twitch streams in bed.

Overall the Surface Book pretty much matches the MacBook Pro in hardware but stumbles a bit on the software side. I'm pretty confident that Microsoft will address the software issues at some point but right now the Surface Book still isn't a perfect device. If I knew all these issues beforehand would I still buy a Surface Book now, yes. If a sane human being knew all these issues beforehand would they still buy a Surface Book now, maybe. It depends on what they are looking for, how many bugs they can handle on a day to day basis, and how much they are willing to spend. You can get a comparable 13 inch MacBook Pro for $1,300 and that has Force Touch. You can get a comparable 13 inch Dell XPS for $1,000. This page here has tons of other Windows 10, two in one devices. The Surface Book is for someone who wants a Windows laptop (with a hinge) that they can fully trust and has the build quality of Apple's line of products. If you value build quality and you value being able to draw on your screen using a stylus then the Surface Book will meet your needs.