This is part two. Read part one here.
As mentioned previously, Microsoft’s Surface event back in October 2015 caught my eye. Microsoft’s first laptop, the Surface Book, was unveiled. I’ve been a long-time ThinkPad fan and I’ve owned three Mac laptops since the aluminm unibody design came out.
The Surface Book is billed by Microsoft as the “ultimate laptop.” That’s a big claim. Apple’s MacBook Pro is one of the absolutely best computing products ever created. The MacBook Pro’s aluminum design is light, strong, beautiful, and reliable. Lenovo’s ThinkPad has easily the best reputation for toughness in the laptop market, not to mention the excellent keyboard. Can the Surface Book compete?
The short answer is yes. The Surface Book features a 3000 x 2000 screen, comparable to the MacBook Pro. The unique 3:2 aspect ratio is odd at first, but Microsoft wanted to match a piece of paper, and it makes sense. The Surface Book’s keyboard is silver, but no one will think it’s aluminum. The plastic keys are comfortable, although the backlight is horrible. Unlike the MacBook Pro, the keyboard backlight does not automatically turn on and off based on ambient light. Keys are supplied to manually turn the backlight on and off. You can’t simply leave it on either, the keys are silver, and the letters black (when the backlight is off). Leaving the backlight on in most lit situations means the keys are unreadable.
Microsoft has used a glass trackpad, exactly like the one on a MacBook Pro. The texture isn’t quite right, the Surface Book’s trackpad is less smooth than the Mac’s. Microsoft used multi-finger operation for scrolling (two fingers), and this mostly works. Occasionally the Surface Book will need to be restarted to kick-start the scrolling feature. I suspect this can be fixed later with drivers.
The Surface Book comes with Microsoft’s pen, which allows both finger and pen input on the screen. This is incredibly useful. The pen is well-built, easy to use, and comfortable. Best of all, Microsoft includes it, unlike Apple’s iPad Pro. Microsoft acknowledges the Surface product line is specifically designed to be used as a touch+pen device. And it is.
The screen of the Surface Book detaches to allow the use of the screen alone as a tablet. The screen is large, but thin and light. I’m not one to use a full-size iPad, because I feel it’s too big and heavy. However, short-term use of the Surface Book’s screen as a tablet is excellent. My only complaint, the pen magnetically attaches to the left side of the display. Only. Why? I can’t for the life of me, figure out why Microsoft wouldn’t have put magnets on both sides, or even the top. I’m forced to remove the pen, put it in my shirt pocket, and use the device in my left hand. It’s annoying.
Overall, the Surface Book is very good. It’s easily not up to the standard set by the MacBook Pro. However, the Mac’s lack of a touch screen or any tablet functionality in a world which is quickly moving to convertible laptop designs means it’s fundamentally out of date. The Surface Book is a very nice laptop, it’s well sized, has good battery life, and a good keyboard. The Surface Book is the only product in it’s class. It offers desktop-class performance with good graphics (optional), and it’s a true 2-in-1. If you’re a person who usually wants a laptop, but you want to take a tablet and pen to a meeting, the Surface Book is the perfect product for you.
Looking for my review of the Surface Dock? Don’t worry, it’s coming.