Using a 15-inch, 4.2-pound powerhouse like Microsoft’s new Surface Book 2 takes some time getting used to. It nearly fits into my backpack, but weighs on my back. It’s unwieldy to carry around the office, but has remarkable battery life. It takes up more space on my desk than my other computers, but has workstation-level power.
These are the type of calculations I make as a longtime ultra-light convertible user. My systems of choice typically weigh 2 pounds or less. I know that 12 -and 13.5-inch Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s MacBook, respectively, have their limits, but I love them for their combination of portability, power and battery life. If I wanted to do more, like edit 4K video, edit high-resolution images, start doing CAD work, program or game my neurons away, I’d consider a portable like this.
The Surface Book 2 is not a reinvention of the original Surface Book. At a glance and aside from the size, it’s indistinguishable from the Surface Book with Performance Base I have in my office. It has the same magnesium body and similarly designed keyboard and mouse.
Broadly, the component design is the same. Microsoft puts the CPU in the “Clipboard” PixelSense touch screen and the discrete graphics in the base. You can still detach the screen with the press of a button and signature the dynamic fulcrum hinge that connects the base and screen looks and feels unchanged.
The closer I looked, though, the more I saw evidence of the 1,000-part changes Microsoft Windows Device Lead Panos Panay told me about in October. Many are subtle. For example, even though the keyboard is the exact same size on the Surface Book 2 15-inch, it now sits on a relatively flat plane. The channel that surrounded the original keyboard, nesting it slightly more deeply in the chassis, is gone.
The screen looks similar, but in addition to a higher resolution 3240 x 2160 (versus 3000 x 2000 on the Surface Book 2 13), the frame that surrounds it is a tad sleeker. Microsoft got rid of the chamfered edge, which basically gives the Clipboard a cleaner look. The front facing camera resolution (5 MP) is unchanged, but now Microsoft hides it and the IR camera (for Windows Hello facial recognition) behind a darker black screen frame.
Panay told me the hinge is completely redesigned, but it looks and works the same as before. Changes are only evident when you detach the screen. There’s a somewhat different and slightly quieter detach click when you hit the Surface Book 2’s detach button on the keyboard. And when I pulled away the 15-inch display, I noticed that, while the trio of digital connectors looked unchanged, the magnets that hold the screen in place are somewhat smaller than those on the original Surface Book.
As you would expect for a workhorse laptop – even a hybrid like this – the Surface Book 2 maintains its supply of ports. There are still two USB 3.1 ports and an SD card slot on the left side of the keyboard. The right side though is home to one of the most important port changes Microsoft has made in the history of the Surface brand. There’s finally a USB-C port. It’s there for data or charging, though you can’t grab just any USB charger. I tried a USB-C cable plugged into a Samsung charger and the system informed me that the computer wasn’t charging and that I should use a recommended USB-C charger.
The introduction of USB-C also means the loss of a DisplayPort. I have numerous adapters that convert, for instance, VGA to DisplayPort and HDMI to DisplayPort, but, sadly, no display adapters that terminate in USB-C.
Next to that new port is Microsoft’s propriety Surface Connector power/data port. It connects to the same size Surface Connector plug as any other Surface device, however, the Surface Book 2 power cable is much thicker and the power brick much larger than any Surface Book or Pro power source before it. Just something to keep in mind if you plan on doing a lot of traveling with this behemoth.
Obviously, the Surface Book 2’s biggest changes are the ones I can’t see.
My $3,299 test system is packed with 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM.
Inside the PixelSense display is Intel’s 8th Generation Core i7 CPU. The fan-less design means that, for many processor-intensive applications, the Surface Book 2 is whisper quiet. However, like the Surface Book with Performance Base before it, there’s also resource intensive silicon is in the base. The 15-inch Surface Book 2 features a powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB of RAM. When I started running 3D operations and the Mixed Reality viewer in Windows 10 Fall Creators Edition, the base fan spun up. The good news is that it’s quieter than the fan in the Surface Book 2 Performance Base.
The new Surface Book 2 handily beats the Performance Base model on both single and multi-core scores in Geekbench. The Multi-Core score is nearly double that system. The Surface Book 2’s scores come close to, but do not beat the MacBook Pro Retina 15-inch running an Intel Quad-Core Core i7.
In a vacuum, however, these numbers mean nothing. What matters is how the Surface Book 2 performs the myriad heavy-lift tasks required by modern knowledge workers. I’m pleased to report that across mundane browser tasks, intense Photoshop work, insanely big spreadsheets and entertaining PC gaming operations, the Surface Book 2 didn’t miss a beat.
Microsoft claims 17-hours of battery life (using the batteries in the base and display). Over the course of two days, myriad tasks, setting brightness to max and not letting the screen timeout, I got roughly 12. I’m certain I could’ve done much better in battery-saver mode, but, regardless, your mileage will surely vary.
Keyboard, Screen, Pen
I’ve been writing the Surface Book 2 review on the Surface Book 2’s excellent keyboard. The keys have substantial travel (roughly 1.5 mm) and response, as well as enough spacing to make touch-typing a breeze. Unlike the huge 7-inch track pad on Apple’s MacBook Pro, the Surface Book 2’s 5-inch touch pad does physically move, but only along the bottom edge where you’ll press for left or right clicks. Thanks to the glass covering, there’s no drag and the track pad was responsive to touches, taps, and gestures like pinch to zoom.
The biggest difference between Apple’s MacBook line and Microsoft’s Surface Books (aside from the operating system) is that the Surface Book display is a touch screen and a standalone tablet computer. As such, it includes accelerometers and gyroscopes that allow it to measure movement. I can detach the 15-inch screen and play Asphalt Extreme, turning the display back and forth like a steering wheel to control the action on screen.
That’s simply not possible with the MacBook Pro. If you want that kind of functionality from a large-screen Apple device, get an iPad.
In addition, the Surface Book 2 works with the $99 Surface Pen (not included) and Windows 10 is the most pen-friendly desktop (and laptop) OS on the planet. It’s a true pleasure to detach the screen, flip it around, fold it back onto the keyboard, rest my palm on the screen and start drawing on the expansive 15-inch touch display.
I really do love this screen. Visually, it’s an improvement over the last Surface Book and easily as good as anything Apple produced at a similar scale. Obviously, it’s not as thin as a MacBook Pro screen, but then those computers don’t have battery and CPUs inside.
If you create a lot of art, design, Photoshop, CAD or even programming work, and have $3,299, this is the premium workhouse convertible for you. I do think Microsoft should consider throwing in a Surface Pen (come on, guys, even at the base price, people are spending over $2,400 for one of these rigs).
Would I buy it? No. Not because it isn’t excellent, but because I get all the power and performance I need – with a lot less weight — from the equally versatile Microsoft Surface Pro.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Sharp design • Ample power • Excellent and responsive touch screen • Decent battery life • Quiet operation • Tremendously versatile
Big screen wobbles a bit when you move it • Power and battery life add up to weight
The Bottom Line
Microsoft’s first 15-inch laptop convertible is powerful, attractive, pricey, and ready for anything.