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.

Surface Book
  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)
Memory 8-16GB RAM
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)
Headset Jack
Mini DisplayPort
Dimensions Laptop
(mm) : 232 x 312 x 13.0-22.8
(inches) : 9.14 x 12.3 x 0.51-0.90
Tablet Only
(mm) : 220.2 x 312.3 x 7.7
(inches) : 8.67 x 12.3 x 0.30
Weight Laptop
1.515 kg / 3.34 lbs
Tablet Only
726 g / 1.6 lbs
Laptop
1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs
Tablet Only
726 g / 1.6 lbs
Camera Windows Hello (Front)
8 MP Rear Facing
5 MP Front Facing
Price $1499+ $1899+ $2099+

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.

Design and the Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge
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  • Sc0rp - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - link

    1) The iPad Pro is a natural evolution of the iPad line. The surface isn't the only tablet device with split-screen multitasking, accurate pen input isn't something new and Apple had an apple made keyboard since the iPad 1. Apple names ALL of their beefier products "Pro" with the exception of the iPhone. Look at the Macbook PRO and the Mac PRO for examples. Does that mean that you can't do PRO work on a macbook or an iMac? Nope,

    2) The surface isn't leading the tablet market and it is 'leading' the productivity tablet market in the same way that blackberry 'led' the smartphone market. You know, the same market that has been dwarfed several times over by iPhones and android handsets quickly after the iPhone was released and sorta put RIM out on the street. As for the surface replacing a laptop. Well, a regular laptop is still a much better choice than getting a surface pro.

    3) The original FIRST PARTY keyboard for the iPad that was released in 2010 was itself powered by the iPad but it could also be plugged into a computer or wall adapter to charge or sync your iPad. That's what what I meant when i said that the iPad had a keyboard since day one. The Styluses for the iPad aren't all 'fingertip-emulators. Quite a few of them have pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. And look, we are talking about where apple got their ideas. Keyboard cover docks were available for the iPad before the surface was ever even announced, So were styluses. yeah, tablet PC's had styluses, but those styluses didn't use capacitive technology which was the technological challenge for making a stylus for the iPad. The surface pro used to use Wacom digitizers before microsoft bought N-Trig technology to ditch wacom and save some money for the surface pro 3.

    I know what the surface pro concept is. Unfortunately it doesn't make for a good laptop or tablet. At least not in comparison to what you get from an actual tablet and an actual laptop.

    My entire point is that the iPad Pro wasn't a response to the surface. The iPad Pro is more like apple spreading to other market segments because the mainstream consumer tablet market is drying up pretty fast. Not just for apple but every other tablet manufacturer that appeals to the consumer market. There's really no reason to upgrade your iPad every year or every two years. If you own an iPad 4 right now, there's not much that an iPad Air 2 does that absolutely have to go get it and ditch your 4 and the actual demands from using the device don't necessitate an upgrade. An iPad Air 2 is a demonstrably more powerful and faster device, but the iPad 4 is great as is so far.

    Saying that the iPad Pro is a response to the surface is like saying that windows 10 is a response to Linux.
    Reply
  • close - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Or if you actually meant MacBook Pro you may be closer but still, they're different classes. Apple doesn't have anything in this class yet. Reply
  • appleimmune - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    That's about to change..
    http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/03/technology/apple-m...

    Apple, the me too company.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    You took a patent as truth and then claimed Apple was a "me too" company for following a late 2015 MS product with a 2011 patent filing. Brilliant¡ Reply
  • Appanage - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    1. Patent filed in 2011
    2. Surface's CPU, chipset, and storage are located under the keyboard? That's news to me.
    3. Apple, the "me too" company as you described, was copying off Microsoft with the iPhone? And no, don't say PocketPC unless you expect laughter and discredit.
    Reply
  • Sc0rp - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - link

    The patent was filed 2 years before the surface pro or surface book were ever announced. Reply
  • WagonWheelsRX8 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Yep definitely a nice review. Only wish he included some Apple products in his charts as well (especially the display related ones). Reply
  • Tallface - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "Where the Surface Book is let down though is on software." ...this. Returned mine last weekend :-( Reply
  • Appanage - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Exactly. Arguing over chips and hardware superiority is overlooking half the solution, and it's not even the most important half. Reply
  • Krysto - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    > It’s unfortunate that Microsoft did not opt for anything with Intel’s Iris graphics line for the Surface Book like it did for the Surface Pro 4, but the optional NVIDIA GPU more than makes up for it.

    Why? Do we really want Intel to own 90% of all chip markets?
    Reply

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