The Microsoft Surface Book Reviewby Brett Howse on November 10, 2015 8:00 AM EST
When Microsoft first launched the Surface Pro, they decided to tackle a market that was pretty much untested. Sure, tablets had been around for a while already, but no one had packed a full Ultrabook inside of a tablet. True, the initial Surface Pro had some compromises made due to the hardware available at the time, but Microsoft started to build a brand with Surface, a brand that they lifted from another product line altogether. It’s taken a few generations for the hardware to catch up with that original vision, but I think it’s fair to say that the Surface Pro tablet line has solidified itself as the Windows tablet to beat. The build quality, materials, and performance, are really second to none at this time.
I’m talking about branding because it’s one of the most difficult parts of a new product lineup. Microsoft, perhaps more than most companies, has certainly had its struggles with branding over the years. Surface though, has truly been defined, and molded, and evolved, into a strong brand for the company, and it plays right at the high end. And that brings us to Surface Book. Surface Book is an extension of the Surface brand, and Microsoft now wants to try its hands at the laptop market. Their goals for Surface Book are certainly not the same as they were for the original Surface Pro, since the laptop market is already well defined, and there are already many excellent devices available. For Microsoft to throw their hat in the ring in this segment is a much different proposition than before, and to succeed, as well as to continue to evolve the Surface brand, they set out to build what they are calling “The Ultimate Laptop”.
Surface Book certainly keeps the tradition of Surface alive and well. The 13.5-inch laptop has the same 3:2 aspect ratio of the rest of the Surface line, and it is built out of magnesium with the same finish. The fit and finish is very high, and the entire device feels as premium as it should. I think the defining feature of the Surface tablet lineup is the kickstand, and with the Surface Book it is most certainly the hinge. The hinge on the Surface Book is truly unlike anything ever used on a notebook computer before, and while it may not be to everyone’s taste, it certainly draws comments. The hinge, other than a design element, brings a lot of function to the party as well, with it being a key component to keeping this laptop balanced correctly. Balance is generally not an issue with laptops, but the Surface Book has another trick up its sleeve – the display detaches. The Surface Book is hardly the first device to do this, but it is one of the few that has tried to tackle the balance problem with 2-in-1 devices where the screen detaches, and the hinge is a key component to that. Microsoft calls it a Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge, and it extends the base of the laptop slightly to give it more leverage over the display section.
The design is unique, and what is inside is unique as well, at least potentially. There are two models of the Surface Book. The first model is a typical Ultrabook inside, with an Intel Core i5-6300U processor, but the second model is the only detachable laptop which also has a discrete GPU. There are a couple of reasons this has never been done before, with the main reason being it’s very difficult to dissipate the extra heat that a GPU brings to the table. Microsoft has designed the Surface Book with a GPU which lives in the keyboard base, with the rest of the required components behind the display. This gives them two thermal zones, and by moving the GPU to the base like this, it lets the Surface Book cool the CPU and GPU independently. The extra space in the keyboard is then packed with batteries.
|Core i5||Core i5 w/GPU||Core i7 w/GPU|
|GPU||Intel HD 520||Intel +
"NVIDIA GeForce" (Approx. GT 940M) w/1GB GDDR5
|CPU||6th Generation Intel Core i5-6300U (15w)||6th Generation Intel Core i7-6600U (15w)|
|Display||13.5" IPS 3000x2000 resolution
1800:1 Contrast Ratio
100% sRGB, individually calibrated
10 point touch and Pen support
|Storage||PCIe 3.0 SSD 128 GB to 1 TB|
|I/O||USB 3.0 x 2 (In Base)
SD Card reader (In Base)
Surface Connector (In Tablet and Base)
(mm) : 232 x 312 x 13.0-22.8
(inches) : 9.14 x 12.3 x 0.51-0.90
(mm) : 220.2 x 312.3 x 7.7
(inches) : 8.67 x 12.3 x 0.30
1.515 kg / 3.34 lbs
726 g / 1.6 lbs
1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs
726 g / 1.6 lbs
|Camera||Windows Hello (Front)
8 MP Rear Facing
5 MP Front Facing
Looking at the specifications, one thing to point out is the battery capacity. Most Ultrabooks would average somewhere around 50 Wh of capacity, with a few somewhat higher and a few somewhat lower. By combining the battery in the tablet, which Microsoft calls the Clipboard, with the base, the Surface Book has an amazing 70 Wh of battery capacity. This should help out on battery life, assuming the 3000x2000 display doesn’t drag that down. The rest of the Surface Book is pretty similar to the Surface Pro 4, with PCIe NVMe storage options up to 1 TB, and touch and pen support via the PixelSense display. There are also two USB 3.0 ports in the base, along with a DisplayPort output, and the Surface Connect port which is used for charging, as well as connecting the Surface Dock. There are no ports on the Clipboard at all, with the exception of the Surface Connect port, so if you are using the Clipboard on its own, you will have to dock it to access USB. Like the Surface Pro 4, it would have been nice to see a USB Type-C port included, and the Clipboard would be a perfect spot for that.
Microsoft is calling the Surface Book “The Ultimate Laptop” and that is a pretty lofty goal for a first generation product. In this review, we will examine all aspects of the Surface Book and see how they compare to the best laptops around. Let’s start with the design.
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chrisnyc75 - Monday, November 16, 2015 - linkAnd fwiw, according to Dell (and the few "legitimate" sounding reviews I've been able to find so far), the XPS15 gets "up to 17 hours" battery life with the FHD display, "a few hours less" with the 4k touchscreen QHD. If that's true, then it's not far behind the SB battery life, but with more power, more connectivity, and a bigger display (due to the edge-to-edge infinity display, you get a 15.6" of display on a 13.5" device (hence why I keep bringing up the fact that they're the same size, and thus crying out for direct comparison). Personally, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the larger display and greater processing power of the XPS over the detachable tablet option on the SB if that's really they're biggest difference. If only a reputable expert would run the tests to find out if that's really the case. ;) (hint hint)
And p.s., from what I'm reading on laptop forums/reviews, the touchscreen can be paired with any bluetooth stylus, it just doesn't come with it. But you don't need the connectivity port that you have to buy separately to connect the SB to just about everything, so if that's true it kinda balances out (again) IMHO.
s.yu - Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - linkHmmm, I have to disagree on the size. The Dell is 6cm wider and 2cm taller, over 500g (that's one third of the MSB) heavier, though mostly thinner(yeah stupid hinge gets in the way) than the MSB. The Dell is still a ~15" device while MSB is still a ~13" device. The line is slightly blurred but not enough for them to be totally exchangable.
Notebookcheck, credible and meticulous in their tests IMO, reports poor battery life. Though they didn't give 11-13hrs for MSB either.
Jukens - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - linkIn the first 60 seconds of playing with one at Bestbuy when I undocked the display using the key it BSOD'd and restarted...
s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - linklol if you're persistant, keep returning them and eventually you'll get a functional model.
kaisersoser37 - Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - linkSo I picked up a Surface Book 8GB RAM, 256GB Storage, and these are my early impressions:
+ By far the best built laptop I have ever used. It looks and feels like a premium device, and I do a lot of XCode programming on a MBP 15" which was my previous preferred system/platform for serious work but this just looks and feels much better than any other MBP I have ever used before.
+ The hinge is a technical marvel and you can hold the screen without feeling afraid the rest of the system will drop off. It also feels very solid with no externally moving (or visible) parts
+ The 3:2 factor is a revelation, especially for programmers and I presume users of word processors, as it providers a much longer vertical screen space, without compromising screen width. Besides, It is a Fibonacci ratio, so it feels natural to use.
+ The detachable screen is lighter than I expected. It feels comfortable to use either in landscape or portrait mode
+ They were not kidding about battery life. I have not charged my system in 2 days, and I put in about 4-5 hours per day on my SB
+ The keyboard is excellent and makes a natural clicking noise similar to a gaming mech keyboard, giving you solid tactitile feedback as you type
+ Excellent performance. I am running Unreal Engine and Unity on it and they both work for simple demos (yes even with 8GB RAM)
+ Windows Hello is the Future. You look at your screen and it logs you in, no questions asked or answers given. If this was a Mac feature, analysts will be drooling all over it.
- It is heavier than I expected in general. Definately a bit heavier than an equivalent MBP 13"
- For me, the FN key feels like it is in the way. It would made more sense to switch places with the FN key and Ctrl key.
- I had problems with my Surface Pen (shipped with the device), which wasnt writing, but I got a replacement and now it works pretty well
- The sound quality is good but does not seem as crisp as the sound on my MBP 15", then again, not many laptops match Macbook Pros for sound quality.
All in all, I am in love with my Surface Book. It is by far, the prettiest, best built laptop I have ever owned. Make no mistake, this might be a hybrid with a tablet screen, but it is a laptop first and foremost.
So if you need a tablet experience first, I suggest you look at the Surface Pro 4 instead. But if you want a workhorse that also stands out in a crowd, and you can afford to pay for it, this is for you.
Eleveneleven - Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - linkOh wow you guys were crazy late on this review.
ktkps - Tuesday, November 24, 2015 - linkFrom the "About" section : "No AnandTech writer is ever told to be quickest to post a story, but everyone at AnandTech is challenged to be the best that they can possibly be when working on a story. Focus on quality first, then timeliness second. There's value in both but there's more value in one"
icwhatudidthere - Monday, November 23, 2015 - linkI want one for one reason: I'm tired of sweaty palms from and burned thighs from current laptops. Not sure that's worth $1499 yet though.
Kazoo - Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - linkHey, guys... new poster here.
I just picked up my i7 Surface Book, and I was checking out my own 3DMark results, and some of them are dead on what you got and some aren't. The worse seems to be Fire Strike, where I come in at a lowly 690, or so, compared to your 1900.
Ice Storm Unlimited (1.2) comes in with similar physics scores, but a total score of 61,800 and a graphics score of around 86,000, again far below your reported numbers.
Is there some additional setting/configuration/tweak I need to see those numbers?
Kazoo - Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - linkAnd... nevermind. But, comment if the urge gets you. When I got up this morning, the benchmarks all started matching the reviews. There was an additional Hardware update (even though it was not present last night), so I rebooted as requested and benchmarks improved. I also installed GoForce Experience, but I thought I had run tests after that last night, but might not have,
For what it's worth, you guys are my go-to site for techie stuff like this. And the comments to the articles are often more illuminating than the original subject material.. (and half the time I'm totally lost in the depth of knowledge!). Keep it up, and thanks!