The Surface Book was a complete surprise when it was announced earlier this year by Microsoft. More than the Surface series of 2-in-1 hybrids, the Surface Book feels much more like a straight up laptop. Starting at $1499 and full of top notch specs, it’s Microsoft’s attempt at competing with something like the MacBook Pro or a higher end UltraBook.
My overall impressions is that this is the sturdy, powerful, well-built laptop we’ve always wanted from the Surface Pro line. The fact that you can pull of the screen and use it as a tablet is just an additional perk.
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I was unsure at first about the future of the Surface line when the new CEO Satya Nadella took over due to his renewed emphasis on software and services. However, it's now clear that Microsoft is interested more than ever in taking on Apple at its own game.
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There's no question that the Surface Book is an attractive-looking device. I was impressed immediately by the aluminum finish and even just the way it looked on the table. It has a unique aesthetic that looks neither like a MacBook copycat or a generic UltraBook.
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The "dynamic fulcrum hinge," as Microsoft calls it, is the centerpiece of the product. Without the use of magnets or a kickstand, the engineers at Microsoft have designed a strong hinge that locks the display in place in a satisfying way that feels clicky and mechanical. Yes—the space that is created when the device is closed is weird at first, but the more I played with it the more I grew to appreciate the unique look.
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One of the shining features of the Surface Book are the keyboard and all-new glass trackpad. It's leaps and bounds above what's available on the Surface Pro keyboards. It even felt as refined as what you'll find on MacBooks or other high-end laptops. Multi-finger gestures felt great and tracking felt very responsive.
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While the hinge works and looks great, the screen is unquestionably wobbly. Even fairly light taps at the screen will cause it to wobble, just due to how heavy the tablet part is. Other than that, the Surface Book works great both on a table and on your lap, which is something even the newest Surface Pro 4 struggles with.
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The Surface Book has a bright, beautiful display—a 13.3-inch 3000 x 2000 resolution one to be specific. It's a higher resolution than even the Retina Display screens on the MacBook Pros and really does look fantastic.
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The Surface Pen from the Surface devices is back again, but it's gotten a huge update. The stylus is now way more responsive and fluid for both navigation and detailed drawing in Adobe Illustrator. While the eraser function on the end of the stylus might seem gimmicky, it was actually felt really natural to use and I could see it being helpful in day-to-day usage for illustrators. To be clear, this is the same stylus that comes with the new Surface Pro 4 as well.
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Once the screen is released from the keyboard, it becomes a tablet, leave the keyboard looking awkwardly like a broken accessory. When it's attached, you get access to the extra battery, as well as an additional GPU in the higher-end configurations. It can also be folded back entirely so that it's sitting in a slight incline, which is comfortable for tapping and reading (while also getting that extra battery).
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The tablet mode for the Surface Book is certainly not as usable as it was with the Surface Pro 4 due to the fact that is considerably heavier. However, as a "clipboard," as Microsoft calls it, it works pretty well. Just don't expect to be able to hold it above you while laying down in bed without getting tired.
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Using the Microsoft Pen is definitely the preferred method of input when using the Surface Book in tablet mode. Your palm won't be detected when it's laid on the screen and writing feels very fluid. The Surface Book came pre-installed with third-party software that makes highlighting and notating PDFs really easy. If that's something your job requires, you're going to love how this feels.