Microsoft Surface Book review: The verdict on Microsoft's first notebook
To wait for the second model or has Microsoft nailed its first notebook?
- Well built with sturdy fulcrum hinge
- Tablet-notebook form factor
- High resolution 13.5-inch display and front firing speakers
- Among the most comfortable keyboard and trackpad
- High performing computing innards
- Some minor software glitches
- Screen invites fingerprints
- Placement of power and volume buttons is not good for a notebook
- Weight distribution could be optimised further
Price$ 2,299.00 (AUD)
The Surface Book is Microsoft’s first notebook and already it is challenging what a notebook is, how it should work and what it should do. Some of these changes are welcomed. Others leave you wondering what Microsoft could have achieved had it perfected the original notebook formula.
This is not a small notebook by any measure, but it is supreme in its functionality and powerful in its performance. It is 13mm thick at its narrowest, 23mm at its thickest point and it weighs a respectable 1.5 kilograms, which is on par with Apple’s MacBook Pro.
A range of configurations are available, including Intel’s sixth-generation core i5 and i7 processors, integrated Intel HD 520 graphics, up to 16GB of RAM and solid state drives up to 512GB in capacity. A secondary NVIDIA GeForce GPU with 1GB of DDR5 memory is also present.
One button on the keyboard rouses intrigue. It has a coloured LED light which turns from orange to green in a process that signals the screen is ready to come clean off. Herein lies the charm of the Surface Book: it is a no-compromise notebook that doubles as a tablet.
A lot of clever technology goes into making this hybrid the kind of notebook you’d want to spend hours working on, but the most interesting innovation is its ‘fulcrum’ hinge. It is the single component that gives the Surface Book the rigidity of a well-built notebook, the versatility to mount the screen back-to-front and the liberty for it to be used as a standalone tablet.
Holding the Surface Book up from its screen can be done with no hesitation. No tremors trickle down to the keyboard and there’s never a sense that the two components will come undone. This is owed to the use of ‘muscle wire’, which flexes when it is charged with an electric current. Pressing the detach button cuts the current off so that the notebook can become a tablet, while also switching ongoing applications from the NVIDIA GPU in its base to the processor’s integrated graphics.
Few intensive applications will crash during this process if the NVIDIA GPU is being used in a move telling of Microsoft’s immaturity as a hardware company. Detaching the screen during a Blender 3D rendering test led to the notebook crashing on one occasion. Most times a pop-up window will ask for select applications to be shut down before the Surface Book can be used as a tablet.
Another tell-tale sign that this is Microsoft’s first notebook came in the guise of a software glitch. There were instances when the mouse and keyboard would fail to respond if we placed the Surface Book in standby by closing the lid. Detaching and docking the screen is how we dealt with the problem, while restarting worked, too. We anticipate these gripes to be tended to with ongoing software support.
As a standalone tablet, the Surface Book weighs approximately 660 grams, which is almost twice as much as the thinnest Android and iOS tablets. Only this is more than a tablet because it packs no-compromise computing hardware; it is a computer freed from the keyboard, so that it is easier to use standing up, on a train or even in bed.
Parts of the tablet experience are still waiting to be refined. The touch keyboard, for instance, isn’t smart enough to automatically capitalise the first letter of every sentence. It lacks time-saving intuition because Microsoft treats the virtual copy just like a physical keyboard.
On the one hand, the Surface Book is less attractive as a tablet because it is bigger. On the other, its 13.5-inch, 3000x2000 resolution display makes up for the extra heft. All of the technology praised in the Pro 4 is featured here, including Microsoft’s PixelSense innovation, and having the LCD bonded to thin Gorilla Glass 4, which bridges the gap between what you see and what you touch.
Every part of the Windows 10 experience is enriched by the Surface Book’s display. Things as seemingly insignificant as sending an email or surfing the web feel more involving. Text is sharper, colours are accurate, the backlighting is stronger. This is the kind of notebook-tablet than can be relied upon to watch a movie. The screen and its accompanying speakers are proficient enough to do so — easily.
Microsoft’s strength as a hardware maker lies in how it uses accessories to make the experience better. The Microsoft Pen is a prime example. It works like an ordinary writing tool, with a pen tip, an eraser and a ‘clicky top’ button. It is powered down when it is magnetically mounted and it switches on automatically when it is in use. Microsoft claims its inbuilt battery has a year lifespan. With its 1024 levels of gradation, it’ll spill virtual ink with the same wondrous inconsistencies as a pen. Using it is familiar, organic and easy, and although the divide between pen-and-paper remains, it is now small enough to be negligible.
The same can be said of the Surface Book’s keyboard. Other notebooks have keys that sit in a recessed body so that they don’t touch the screen when the lid is closed. The unique design of the Surface Book’s fulcrum hinge means there’s a notable gap that facilitates tall, chiclet keys, each one backlit by an individual LED bulb. The generosity of each key’s travel makes using this notebook for a nine hour work day a reassuring prospect.
Reiterating this user friendliness is the capacitive trackpad. Notebooks running Windows have long trailed Apple with jerky and finicky iterations, but the trackpad on the Surface Book is large at 5-inches, is well tuned and it takes advantage of the gestures baked into Windows 10.
The Surface Book being reviewed by PCWorld came equipped with an Intel core i7-6600U CPU running at 2.6GHz, though it could be turbocharged in spurts to 3.4GHz. It shipped with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid state storage drive. This is a top-of-the-range configuration that retails for $4200, although pricing for the Surface Book starts from $2299.
Microsoft is pitching the Surface Book at professionals, designers, artists and engineers as it is can handle intensive applications, such as PhotoShop and AutoCAD. In our Blender 3D test, the notebook rendered the ‘ring’ demo in 2 minutes and 56 seconds, while it blitzed CrystalDiskMark’s storage test with average read speeds of 1519MB/s and write speeds of 575.9MB/s.
Gaming is an ancillary function of the Surface Book, but it’s best suited to light games. It performed well in 3DMark’s benchmarking tests scoring 7295 in Cloud Gate, 6155 in Sky Diver and 1900 in Firestrike, all of which eclipse the results of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 — and that was no slouch, either.
The screen of the Surface Book is larger and richer than that of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, but it houses two batteries; one behind its display and another in its base. PCWorld measured the battery performance as both a tablet and a notebook.
Our test is brutal. We disable all battery saving modes, loop a Full HD movie with the display brightness set to max and maintain a Wi-Fi connection. The battery depleted in a fast 2 hours and 19 minutes in tablet mode, but as a computer, the Surface Book ploughed on for 6 hours and 52 minutes.
The Surface Book is hands down the best hybrid on the market for power users. Care has evidently been taken in its design with it being forged from magnesium. Attention has been paid to the fine details, like the finish of its lip; the way the stylus sits reassuringly using the power of magnets; and that fulcrum hinge, with its extraordinary versatility and subtle touches of chrome. Wrapped inside is an exceptional keyboard and trackpad duo, and if you delve deeper, beyond the allure of its skin, you’ll find serious computing guts.
Carrying the Surface Book under one arm is done with the Microsoft badge facing outwards; it’s done with a sense of pride. If only the review would end there, but imagine what Microsoft could do if it didn’t have to pop the computing hardware in the screen and bother with a thick hinge. Imagine if Microsoft poured the same blood, sweat and tears into a dedicated notebook.
Join the newsletter!
cloudandco Smart Cane
Panasonic OLED 4K Ultra HD TV - TH-55EZ950U
Panasonic OLED 4K Ultra HD TV - TH-77EZ1000U
WD MY PASSPORT™ X Gaming Storage
SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™
Apple iPhone X
Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44
Nespresso Creatista Coffee Machine
Bang and Olufsen BeoVision 14
Dyson Supersonic™ Hair Dryer Fuchsia/Iron
Toys for Boys
Lego Mindstorms EV3
Leica M10 Digital Rangefinder Camera
UBTech First Order Stormtrooper Robot
Onyx Smart Walkie Talkie
Google Daydream View VR Headset
LaCie Rugged USB-C Portable Hard Drive
Ubiquiti Network’s Front Row Camera
Propel Star Wars T-65 X-Wing Drone
Bose SoundLink Micro
Xbox One X
Panasonic Hi-Fi - SC-UA7GS-K
iRobot Roomba 980 Vaccum Cleaning Robot
Dearear Endear In-ear Wireless Earphones
PETKIG Go Smart Dog Leash
Amazon Echo Bluetooth Speaker
Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K
Nest Protect Smart Smoke Alarm
Belkin Pocket Power 10,000mAh
Toffee Bags Commuter Satchel
WD MY CLOUD™ HOME Personal Cloud Storage
Ikea NORDMÄRKE Wireless Charging Pad
Raspberry Pi Starter Kit
3SIXT 3-in-1 Smartphone Lens Kit
Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse
Fallout Geeki Tikis
Tile Pro Bluetooth Tracker
Panasonic Portable Splashproof Fun - RF-D20U
Kogan Bluetooth Soundbar
Urbanworx Full HD Action Camera
Logitech Doodle Collection Wireless Mouse
Lexon Flip Alarm Clock
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review: A solid winter flagship that cribs from the best
- 2 Google Pixel 2 review: not quite 'pixel perfect' but damn close
- 3 Google Home Mini review: a welcome addition to the smart speaker family.
- 4 Huawei Nova 2i review: Flagship features get smuggled into the mid-tier
- 5 Moto X4 review: This is what a world without MotoMods looks like
Latest News Articles
- macOS High Sierra ‘root’ security issue allows admin access to your Mac—but there's a fix
- Acer attempts to woo Australian gamers with reveal of its new Predator range
- Lenovo ThinkPad celebrates 25 years of cutting edge technology
- Crowdfunding campaign to bring wireless charging to the Macbook
- Google Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixelbook, Google Home Mini & Max: Everything Announced At Today’s Google Event
PCW Evaluation Team
I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.
It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.
Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.
The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.
The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.
The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic
- PC World 2017 Editors' Choice Awards Nomineees Announced
- LG V30+ review: The videographer's smartphone arrives
- Fitbit Ionic review: Impressive but not quite iconic
- What's the difference between an Intel Core i3, i5 and i7?
- Laser vs. inkjet printers: which is better?
Product Launch Showcase
- CCTechnical Field EngineerNSW
- CCContracts OfficerNSW
- FT.NET DeveloperACT
- CCWeb Applications Project ManagerQLD
- CCSenior Project CoordinatorNSW
- FTSpatial AnalystVIC
- FTSenior Telecommunications RiggerSA
- FTSenior Software Engineer - ContractOther
- FTProject ManagerACT
- FTAutomation Test ManagerOther
- CCNetwork Engineer -VoiceWA
- FTFinancial AdministratorOther
- FTSenior Developer - Node.js - APINSW
- CCSystem Analyst - AxwayNSW
- CCBusiness Analyst - Application DevelopmentWA
- CCField Services EngineerQLD
- FTServiceNow Solution SpecialistOther
- FTTechnology Project CoordinatorOther
- FTSecurity Technical LeadOther
- FTProject/Stakeholder Engagement ManagerACT
- TPICT ArchitectsACT
- FTJava DeveloperOther
- FTSenior SAP Business Analyst (Business Intelligence & Data Management)NSW
- FTJunior-Mid Level Java Developer (Brisbane Location)VIC
- CCRelease Management LeadNSW