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Reviewed: Microsoft Surface Book

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Shawn Baker

Page 1: Reviewed: Microsoft Surface Book

microsoft surface book 9 840x215 2Over the last few years we’ve seen an expansion in 2-in-1 devices that bring a focus to separating the screen from the keyboard to offer both a tablet and notebook experience. While Microsoft seem to have the Surface Pro to concentrate on the more tablet side of things, the new Surface Book seems to focus on the notebook side. Whether this is indeed so, and if the teething problems have been resolved, we’ll find out today.

Especially the latter has likely disrupted the flow of purchases. Not only that, there were problems in standby while docking and undocking the tablet unit didn’t always go smoothly. In addition, errors where discovered in the two batteries being unable to reach their full potential. Meanwhile, Microsoft has released several updates, however, as of February 29, it still wasn’t sufficient.

This is especially irritating considering the fact that Microsoft market the Surface Book as premium hardware. Even the entry model costs $1,499 with its Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD. Those wanting to get a dedicated GPU, Intel Core i7 CPU and 1TB of storage are looking at $3,199. As for the version we’ve got on hand today, we have the one that sits just below the top model. While both models share the Intel Core i7 CPU, dedicated GPU and 16GB of RAM, our particular sample carries the 512 GB storage solution instead of 1 TB.

The distribution makes the difference

Most likely the development effort can be used as an excuse as Microsoft hasn’t simply adjusted the Surface Pro but instead built something from scratch. In its normal state, the Surface Book is almost indistinguishable from traditional notebooks. The connections are where you’d expect them while the display is connected firmly via the fulcrum hinge to the base unit.

The internal structure changes as we move from the base of the unit into the display where we’ll find the CPU, RAM, internal memory as well as wireless interfaces. The base which holds the keyboard carries a number of physical interfaces along with a dedicated GPU. The battery is also shared with the larger one seen in the keyboard and a smaller one behind the screen.

CPU and SSD in the display, GPU and ports in the keyboard: Microsoft distributes the technology over the Surface Book
Our CPU and SSD sit behind the display while a dedicated GPU and connections are seen in the keyboard

A special treat comes with the release mechanism. First, a designated button is needed which later shows a green LED letting you know the device can be separated. While it might seem gimmicky, it certainly isn’t as the device needs to uncouple itself from the dedicated GPU. The firm connection also ensure accidental separating isn’t possible.

Not exactly eye catching

Here Microsoft has managed to do all this and make it almost invisible to the user. While the Fulcrum hinge seems a bit strange, it does a great job in completely hiding the transformation process. Made of several components, the aluminum ensure the display is securely held in place while protecting against any kind of awkward bumps. At the same time, the lid can easily be opened with just one hand.

However, all is not perfect. Because of the minimum radius, the display doesn’t sit completely flat and dust and dirt can get in between causing possible life expectancy issues. Those who are looking to open the housing and clean it will find themselves running into a tough time as iFixit reward it just 1 out of 10 when it comes to pulling the device apart.

Grey dominates: Much simpler can not look a notebook
It couldn’t look much simpler

The situation is different in the processing. Nothing is loose and even with high force you can’t provoke any deformations. One could argue over the appearance of the 312 x 232 x 23 mm device which comes in at 1.5 kg and a look that could be classified as boring. It’s hardly a piece of art with anything that really catches the eye thanks to the gray color. At least the interfaces are well placed. Two USB 3.0 ports are housed together with the card reader on the rear left edge. Mini DisplayPort and an AC adapter connector on the right. The latter is secured magnetically to the Surface Book. This way if you trip over the cable, the notebook won’t fall to the ground.

The Fulcrum Hinge together docking mechanism fascinated, but has a clear disadvantage
The Fulcrum Hinge is certainly fascinating, but has a clear disadvantage

The two built-in cameras – 8 mp on the back, 5 mp on the front provide satisfactory photos when lighting conditions are right. Thanks to infrared support on the front module, Window Hello can be used under Windows 10. Also just average are the two speakers that are installed in the display frame. Little depth is heard while a few distortions are heard at high levels.

Good input devices

With the Type Cover for the Surface Pro, Microsoft proved good keyboards and touchpads can be offered outside of the normal format. Here, the situation is no different.

With 15 x 15 mm keys throughout, the main type keys are big enough with the standard layout. The same applies for the haptic feedback alongside the pressure point which is very well chosen. The stroke is almost ideal as a very crisp feel is offered. However, not all keys are created equally as enter, blank and cursor keys are adjusted. Fortunately, working in the dark isn’t an issue thanks to the four stage backlighting.

Thanks to good stroke and pressure point and the uniform illumination like the keyboard
A solid keyboard is offered thanks to a good stroke and pressure point alongside uniform lighting

Another negative point is the incomplete labeling, like the Type Cover, it’s not clear what combination must be used to adjust the display brightness. However, a definite plus is the small LED that lies in the “Fn” key allowing users to easily tell which mode the function keys are in.

The Surface Pen is included and also provides a real added value
The included Surface Pen adds real value

Like so many other manufacturers, Microsoft has dispensed of any kind of visual difference for the integrated buttons on the touchpad. In all other respects, however, the input device is impressive. The detection of single and multi-finger gestures is accurate with good gliding properties. Because of that, the desire to use the very good touch screen becomes quite low when in its more common “notebook” form