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Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 really is a beautiful beast

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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 beast at rest.

The beast at rest.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

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.

Something’s different

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 new Surface Book 2 15-inch (left) next to the 13.5-inch Performance Base model.

The new Surface Book 2 15-inch (left) next to the 13.5-inch Performance Base model.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

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.

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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.

No big changes to the ports on the left side (USB got upgraded from 3.0 to 3.1).

No big changes to the ports on the left side (USB got upgraded from 3.0 to 3.1).

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

Goodbye DisplayPort, hello USB-C.

Goodbye DisplayPort, hello USB-C.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

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.

Hardcore insides

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.

There are myriad tiny differences between the last Surface Book and the new model. Among them is the redesigned base vents seen here on the Surface Book 2.

There are myriad tiny differences between the last Surface Book and the new model. Among them is the redesigned base vents seen here on the Surface Book 2.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Surface Book with Performance Base vents

Surface Book with Performance Base vents

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

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 Surface Book 2 is designed for touch and pen input.

The Surface Book 2 is designed for touch and pen input.

Image: Lance ulanoff/mashable

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.

The PixelSense Display is still a full-blown tablet in its own right.

The PixelSense Display is still a full-blown tablet in its own right.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The Surface Book 2 base looks a little sad without the display.

The Surface Book 2 base looks a little sad without the display.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

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

The Good

Sharp design Ample power Excellent and responsive touch screen Decent battery life Quiet operation Tremendously versatile

The Bad

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.

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The MSI Trident 3 Arctic packs crazy gaming power into a tiny case


Here’s the skinny: This computer is skinny. The MSI Trident 3 Artic is a gaming rig in a surprisingly small package. During testing the found the computer capable of running the latest VR hardware and games even though the tiny computer lacks the traditional cooling found on standard cases. The MSI Trident 3 Artic is a gaming console killer.

Specs:

  • Windows Home 10
  • Intel Core i7-7700 3.6GHz 8M Cache
  • H110 Chipset
  • MSI GTX 1070 8GB GDDR5
  • SO-DIMM DDR4 2133 MHz 16GB (8GB*2)
  • 13.63″x 2.83″x 9.15″
  • 6.9 Lbs

Review:

Gaming companies have long offered computers in different form factors. Generally, the bigger the case, the more powerful the computer. And that’s still the situation here in relation to the MSI Trident 3 Arctic. This is not the most powerful or well-equipped computer MSI offers. Instead, the company packaged a competent system into a package the size of an Xbox One. Basically, this is a computer built around an MSI GTX 1070 and that’s fine with me.

The case itself is the interesting part. It’s small-ish and is best served by sitting it vertically. If sat on its side, the cooling fans seem to struggle though I didn’t notice any graphical degradation. The design is striking. It looks like if the Nvidia Shield was a computer. And white.

Even though the overall goal was clearly to make a small computer, there are plenty of ports throughout the system. The front panel sports the usual assortment of USB and audio ports while the backside features nearly as many inputs and outputs as the Trident’s bigger siblings.

Even though the system is packed in a small form factor, it’s still upgradable. Users will be able to replace components including the GPU, memory, storage drives — everything but the processor. This system ships with a custom-built MSI motherboard and to pack the latest Kaby Lake CPU into the system, the CPU is integrated directly into the board.

There’s a trade-off to the size though. The 330W power supply is external so users will have to deal with a large power brick that gets a bit warm.

The system lives up to its specs. With an Intel Core i7-7700 running at 3.6Ghz and a MSI GTX 1070 8GB there’s a lot going on here and performance was never an issue during testing.

The system purrs — and when I say purrs, I mean it runs smoothly though when under load though there is an audible hum as the fans do their best to keep the Core i7 and 1070 as cool as possible. It doesn’t matter if the content is a standard game or virtual reality headset, I found the Trident 3 Arctic to handle everything with enough ease that I can soundly state this computer can handle any game you can throw at it.

It’s not perfect, though. This is a system that you might not want in your bedroom or living room. Even though my testing computer was not that old, the fans were on constantly during gaming and they will likely get noisier overtime. This computer is clearly designed with the living room in mind and to me, after a bit of testing, the Trident Arctic 3 borders on too loud for a quiet living room.

Is it a good value? No. Of course not. Pre-built computers are rarely the best way for a gamer to spend their money. If saving cash is a priority, a similar system albeit in a larger case can be made for $300-$500 less than the Trident 3 Artic’s $1449 MSRP. Corsair, Zotac and VoodooPC offer small form factor computers, but this one from MSI is several hundred less thanks in part to GTX 1070 rather than the 1080. Even still, most graphic reviews have pegged the 1070 to be a capable alternative to the 1080, so gamers could be wise to save the cash.

I have a hard time recommending pre-built systems because of the cost yet this system from MSI is a bit different. It’s just so small that your guests will think it’s a gaming console rather than being a full-fledge gaming computer. And that’s what it is. It’s a full gaming computer available for less money than its direct competitors and in some cases, even smaller than other small form-factor computers.

The MSI Trident 3 Arctic is powerful little beast. If you can handle a little fan noise and need the smallest gaming computer possible, this could be the PC for you.

You can save 29% on this light-up keyboard for your gaming setup

This light-up rainbow keyboard looks like it could quite literally step up your game and right now, it’s 29% off.

It boasts a classic keyboard design, but it still features all of the keys you need for any form of modern entertainment. It’s got macro support to streamline any of your longer keystrokes so you can get an edge on opponents in any game you’re playing. The backlights themselves are also completely programmable. You can highlight the keys that you use to play games, or you can simply decorate your keyboard to fit your aesthetic.

This keyboard typically goes for $119.99, but you can pick one up now for $84.99 and save $35.

Buy it here.

This bamboo keyboard combo adds a touch of tranquility to your workspace

Image: smart tech

Looking to add a touch of tranquility to your workspace? Your boss might not support the purchase of a full-sized bamboo water fountain for the office, but she ought to be OK with this natural bamboo keyboard-and-mouse combo. 

The duo, from Smart Tech, are handcrafted from natural bamboo — a soothing earth-tone alternative to the glaring white or matte black of most computer gear.

Panda not included

Panda not included

Image: smart tech

This one works with just about any Windows operating system, and works wirelessly from up to ten meters. All you need to do is plug the USB nano-receiver into your device and get some AAA batteries (which are not included).

A desk-sized Zen rock garden is not required… but it couldn’t hurt!

The mouse and keyboard set are usually $59.99 but are currently on sale for just $45.99—a discount of 30 percent. Buy now, and they’ll throw in a free Smart Tech touch pen.

Buy them here.

Microsoft’s hardware boss explains the strangest thing about the Surface Pro

Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Windows device lead, is not just the face of the Surface brand. He’s essentially its father, too.

Panay, who joined Microsoft 13 years ago to work on the Device Group (which was mainly keyboards and mice at the time) was part of the initial team tasked with building a Surface Tablet for Windows 8.

The Surface brand predates Microsoft’s first tablet. It already existed as a giant tabletop touchscreen, meant primarily as a kind of interactive kiosk for retail businesses, restaurants, and hotels. It was the opposite of a mobile device.

During this week’s MashTalk podcast, Panay recounted how he and his team spent years in, essentially, a bunker-like existence, unable to tell even their families what they were working on.

The real relief came not so much during the surprise 2012 unveiling in California, and afterward Panay and his team were able to go home to their families and finally reveal what they’d been working on for two years.

Many Surfaces

Panay has also overseen the transformation of the Surface product line: It began as a tablet that lived somewhere between Windows and Android (remember Windows RT?) and has become the sharp point at the tip of an aggressive hardware strategy — to make Surface one of the premier consumer-technology brands in the world.

That’s been done through a steady refinement of the product and a broadening of the Surface ideal into all-in-ones, performance convertibles and now traditional laptops. On Thursday, Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, the Surface Pro and the Surface Laptop, launch to the public. 

The Surface has also been supported by the opening and expansion of Microsoft Stores, where Surface products own the prime real estate.

Panay told Mashable that those stores serve an important purpose. 

Surface devices feature prominently in Microsoft Stores.

Surface devices feature prominently in Microsoft Stores.

Image: Jhila Farzaneh/Mashable

“They’re critical,” he said. Panay explained that in a world that values stories and storytellers, having stores with smart sales people who care about the product makes the story of the Surface “more functional, emotional, relatable. You can talk to someone who really cares about the product, understands what it’s there for.”

Now, with five different Surfaces to choose from (including the gigantic Surface Hub digital “whiteboard”), this kind of in-person guidance, and the ability to touch and try the products, can make all the difference.

“So that point where you walk in and, ‘Hey, which one do you want, which laptop? The versatile one, the performant, or the personal one?’ and they can sit there and tell you a story for each one.”

“In the element of our brand-building across Microsoft, it’s where you will see all the hardware and software come together and somebody able to put it together for you,” said Panay.

The high end

In those stores, though, Surface customers may notice that most of Microsoft’s tablet and touch computers are more expensive that third-party Windows 10 counterparts. For this, Panay is unapologetic. He acknowledges that, much as Apple has done, Microsoft is building a premium brand.

“It is about pride and craftsmanship. It is about premium fit and finish,” said Panay.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro has an improved hinge capable of "studio" mode, which puts the screen almost flat.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro has an improved hinge capable of “studio” mode, which puts the screen almost flat.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Essentially, Surface products are now intended to reflect the apex of what’s possible with Windows 10 products and to sell millions of those products direct to customers.

“We’re not here to make tradeoffs to hold costs down,” he added.

There are, though, issues to deal with on the pricing and packaging front. Right now, a Surface Pro sells for $799 without the Type Cover ($129.99) and the Surface Pen ($59.99).  Buy them all and you pay full price. For consumers, there are no bundle pricing options.

Panay attributes the lack of bundle options to the need to maintain as much choice (color options, basically) as possible across the keyboard and pen lines.

However, Microsoft rarely refers to the Surface Pro as a tablet. “We believe you need a keyboard with this product, believe you should use a pen with this product,” he told us.

When we suggest that there could be a $100 discount for buying all three, Panay called it “good feedback.”

The newest Surface

We also talked about recent criticism of the new Surface Laptop, which ships with Windows 10 S, a restricted version of Windows that will only run apps from the Windows Store (that’s right, no Google Chrome). Microsoft says this is to protect users (primarily students) from malware and to ensure the maximum possible battery life (Microsoft claims up to 14.5 hours for video playback).

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop, in burgundy.

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop, in burgundy.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

As for those who want a more unfettered experience, they can upgrade, at no cost until the end of the year (and for $50 afterward), the Surface Laptop to Windows 10 Pro, but can never go back to 10 S.

Panay is not concerned about the reception to this restriction.

“It’s a little different than anything we’ve talked about in the past, where it’s like, ‘Here it is, and we know it’s good for you, so, enjoy’ and then it’s not. In this case, if you don’t think it is, you just switch out and you move to Pro.”

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