The Microsoft Surface Book is now available through Quartet Service, one of a select few authorized resellers in Canada. It, and its sibling, the Surface Pro 4, are on sale as of Monday October 26, 2015. Contact us to order or ask questions.
The Surface Book is, quite simply, the best-designed Windows laptop to date. You’ll be paying in large part for design, which is undoubtedly impressive. Wait…Microsoft? Design? You bet. It’s got clever design and power galore. If you wanted the power of a desktop or laptop, but also need a tablet, this combines all features into one unit. The Book is an acknowledgement that great hardware is equally important as software, and when you control the development of both, an amazing product is the end result.
The Surface Book is the most mature iteration of the tablet-laptop line to come out of Redmond. Surfaces continue to be a table with a keyboard tacked on, but Surface Book is a brand new line of hardware for Microsoft. Microsoft’s spectacular Windows 10 is designed to work across computers, tablets, Windows phones, and the Xbox One, and it shines on the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.
The Surface Book is gorgeous and different. Bill Gates famously prophesied in 2001 that the tablet would take cutting edge PC technology and make it available wherever you want it, and predicted by 2006 the tablet form factor would outsell all other PCs. It has taken time, and the fruit company drove the shift, but this machine is perhaps what he envisioned for Microsoft. Your laptop should double as a huge tablet with an industry-leading display, and you should be able to write on it with a perfect stylus. It should be able to perform intensive video and other editing without breaking a sweat. Frankly, a $1500+ laptop is not for everyone. For those needing power, however, it’s specifications are equivalent, and in some cases exceed those of the MacBook pro, so it will be interesting to see if Microsoft can slice into the Apple market. It may not convert Apple fans – they like the platform, then the hardware. If you like Windows 10 though, go for the discrete GPU if you’re doing graphics-intensive activities, and you will have no regrets.
That beautiful 13.5” display looks even more striking when detached from its keyboard. Honestly, though, there is no way a 3000×2000 display showing 6 million pixels of photo-quality colour can not look good. This display almost embarrasses the Apple iPad Pro running at only 3.2 million units of colour in 12.9”.
At 7.7mm thick and 1.6lbs, it may seem like a larger tablet, but Microsoft wanted to give you a full legal-sized page, real-sized, so no scrolling is needed. You can also reattach the display backwards on the keyboard, so that it folds up with the display facing outwards – this is called the “clipboard” position. 20% of the unit’s battery is also contained behind the display, good for 2 ½ to 3 hours of regular use.
If you are needing more power for rendering video or other photo-intensive duties, look to the i7-specd Surface Book. The faster unit has a discrete Nvidia video chip housed in the keyboard base. While the exact model is not disclosed, the Book can handle even modern games running up to half visual quality – no mean feat for what one would cursorily take to be a light-duty laptop.
Hinge and Exterior Design
From the outset, it looks just like a shiny big magnesium clamshell, but as we know, this laptop is a convertible, and the whole thing works because of an immaculate hinge design. It’s all about the hinge, which is composed of narrow strips that dovetail together. The mechanism opens and closes without the slightest creak. It locks in place when the clipboard is detached. It’s movingly well engineered.
The keyboard clickity clacks away with speed. The crisp thwack the keys make as your fingers dance across them is reassuring. The trackpad has grown in size from the Surface Pro 3 for easier mouse-less use. Speaking of mice, if you are so inclined, you have connectivity options ranging from 2 USB3 plugs to Bluetooth to the optional expansion dock.
Using a release button at the top right of the keyboard, the screen detaches and becomes standalone tablet. It’s worth noting how Microsoft accomplished this convertible format. Obviously in order for the display to be detachable, it has to contain the powerful parts the device needs to run, including processor, flash storage, battery, etc. The keyboard doesn’t go to waste as simply a housing, it also houses the primary battery which provides 80% of the combined unit’s capacity, or roughly 7 to 8 hours of regular use. In the more expensive graphics versions, the keyboard also holds the powerful Nvidia graphics processor.
Finally, because of the cleverly-designed hinge the keys do not contact the screen when closed. Gone are greasy fingerprints and annoying rub marks in the screen surface inherent with most laptops.
This is where the newly redesigned Surface Pen comes into play. Perhaps the most important revision this time is its magnetic charm, so it fixes itself to the side of the display. Microsoft has also redesigned the Pen tips, and has an expansion set available for different “feels” for those who are heavy into drawing on the screen.
Admittedly, using a stylus to take notes on a display is far from natural, but the Surface Book and new Surface Pen make great inroads here. Microsoft has integrated the display components with the thinnest Gorilla Glass available, making it feel like you’re actually writing or drawing right on the display.
In fact, it’s very intuitive. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the natural aversion people have to dragging metal or hard plastic over glass. Thankfully, the new tips have a dense rubber that offers the perfect balance of glide with resistance, reminiscent of drawing with a leaded pencil or ballpoint pen on paper. It doesn’t feel right emotionally, but the physical experience of using a stylus has caught up with reality.
A chip dedicated to processing all screen inputs eliminates the laggy experience of yesterday, and taking responsiveness up to 1024 levels from the Surface Pro 3’s 256 is immediately noticeable.
One note to mention, we noticed the buttons on the Pen can not be programmed with your own apps or shortcuts. We’re hopeful Microsoft will release a software update that will allow individual customizations in the future.
The laptop is a joy to use when its sitting on a desk or if you’re seated such that the computer can sit fully flat on your lap. Unfortunately, this isn’t how laptops are used most of the time. If you’re hunched in the corner of an airport, lying on your hotel bed or in a cramped airplane seat, you’re going to run into problems owing to the Surface Book’s screen-heavy weight distribution. This, and the minor annoyance of non-programmable Pen buttons are not enough to dissuade us from recommending the Surface Book for just about any work-intensive activities.