Mi­crosoft Sur­face Book 2

13in: £1,499 inc VAT from fave.co/2A0rw84 15in: £2,499 inc VAT (avail­able early 2018)

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

The Sur­face Book 2 solves a big prob­lem for Mi­crosoft: how do you mar­ket the Sur­face Book as a per­for­mance notebook when it’s two years out of date? As our review shows, by mak­ing it big­ger and faster, with longer bat­tery life.

Mi­crosoft brings 8th-gen­er­a­tion Intel Core pro­ces­sors and pow­er­ful, dis­crete Nvidia GPUs with enough horse­power to start think­ing of the Sur­face Book 2 as a graph­ics work­sta­tion. But Mi­crosoft’s big Oc­to­ber sur­prise was the de­but of not one, but two Sur­face Book 2 de­vices: a 13.5in and a new 15in model (we re­viewed the lat­ter). Nei­ther is a sim­ple clamshell notebook, though call­ing them con­vert­ible 2-in-1s in­stead seems like we’re sell­ing them short.

As our review shows, how­ever, the new gen­er­a­tion isn’t per­fect. An am­bi­tious de­ci­sion to use a USB-C port has rip­ple ef­fects for ex­pan­sion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. And then there’s the price: up to £3,299.

Dis­play and chas­sis

Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Book has al­ways re­minded me of an an­swer to Len­ovo’s clas­sic ThinkPad, re­plac­ing the clas­sic black Bento box with a nearly uni­form sil­ver slab. Un­like the Sur­face Pro and the Sur­face Laptop, there are no colour op­tions, and the only adorn­ment is the Win­dows logo on the outer cas­ing. Raise the dis­play into a laptop con­fig­u­ra­tion, and the key­board’s back­light­ing is the only vis­ual cue that the Sur­face Book 2 is awake and ac­tive.

Your eyes are sucked to­ward the big, bright, vi­brant screen. Our Sur­face Book 2’s dis­play pumped out 412 nits, more than enough. And while a 3.2K IPS dis­play might not quite reach that magic 4K mile­stone, the su­perb vis­ual qual­ity lives up to the Sur­face brand. More pix­els would have neg­a­tively af­fected per­for­mance and bat­tery life. It’s a good trade-off.

Though Mi­crosoft doesn’t tout the Sur­face Book 2 as a con­tent-cre­ation ma­chine as it does the Sur­face Stu­dio, the Book 2 does in­clude both of its colour profiles: stan­dard RGB, and its ‘en­hanced’ pro­file, which makes colours a bit more vivid. If you’d like, you can also use the Sur­face Dial pe­riph­eral on the ten-point touch­screen. Un­for­tu­nately, the Sur­face Book 2 re­clines to about the same 50-de­gree an­gle as the orig­i­nal Book, not nearly flat enough to let the Dial rest with­out slid­ing to the ground.

Though the Sur­face Book’s weight climbs to 1,905g, the in­cred­i­bly long bat­tery life means you can leave your charger at home. (If you’re an acolyte of the Mi­crosoft ecosys­tem, you prob­a­bly al­ready own a Sur­face Dock for ex­pan­sion and charg­ing, any­way.) Still, it’s no won­der why Mi­crosoft’s de­vice chief Panos Panay refers to the Sur­face Book 2 as a desk­top, as the de­vice is big and bulky, though not es­pe­cially heavy.

The Sur­face Book 2 is a 2-in-1 con­vert­ible. Though it lacks the 360-de­gree hinge of most such mod­els, the dis­play can be flipped over and reat­tached into a tent mode for view­ing videos, or de­tached to func­tion as a con­ven­tional tablet. Press a but­ton on the key­board, and after a sec­ond or two the ‘mus­cle wire’ re­tracts, and the tablet dis­con­nects from the base.

Mi­crosoft claims the tablet dis­con­nects more quickly than in the pre­vi­ous Sur­face Book, though in test­ing both, I couldn’t see any dif­fer­ence. After a sec­ond or two, the Sur­face Book 2 re­leases the tablet, and you can lift it free. This is no Ama­zon Kin­dle, though: Un­docked, the 15in tablet is al­most lu­di­crously huge, and un­less you’re in the NBA, I doubt one hand will have enough breadth to hold it com­fort­ably. By it­self, the tablet weighs around 800g, sur­pris­ingly light for some­thing so big, but it’s still awk­ward. Once de­tached, it feels like it needs a Sur­face Pro-like kick­stand. The tablet is multi-touch, with the stan­dard ten points of con­tact.

(Un­docked, you’ll dis­cover that a Sur­face con­nec­tor pro­vides the data in­ter­face be­tween the base and tablet. Though you can con­nect a charger or Sur­face Dock to this port, there’s very lit­tle point in do­ing so.)

The sil­very metal­lic ex­te­rior of the Sur­face Book and Sur­face Book 2 both ex­ude an al­most mil­i­tary-like so­lid­ity. In a year or so of us­ing the orig­i­nal Sur­face Book as a daily driver, it be­came slightly dented in places from nor­mal wear and tear within a some­times crowded back­pack, and suf­fered a larger divot from a Kinect that plunged from the top of my roll-top desk as it lay, closed, on my desk. Nei­ther af­fected its per­for­mance. That’s a good in­di­ca­tor that the Sur­face Book 2 will be equally durable.

Pil­ing an ad­di­tional notebook or two on top of the Book never dam­aged its iconic, ac­cor­dion ‘dy­namic ful­crum’ hinge, which re­mains within the Sur­face Book 2. When the Book 2 is closed – now with a more au­thor­i­ta­tive click – a small gap re­mains near the hinge. While that space may still be oddly frus­trat­ing to some, it doesn’t af­fect per­for­mance and seems as struc­turally rigid as be­fore. The tablet does wob­ble when you jig­gle the base, though not as much as with the orig­i­nal Sur­face Book. It’s a re­minder, though, that this isn’t a true notebook.

Per­haps the most sur­pris­ing thing about the Sur­face Book 2, though, is sim­ply how quiet it is. Mi­crosoft uses a pas­sive cooling sys­tem to cool the

clip­board or tablet por­tion of the Sur­face Book 2, for­go­ing the fan en­tirely. Yes, it’s a fan­less Core i7.

The key­board, and the port de­ba­cle

The Sur­face Book 2 didn’t mess too much with one good thing: Its key­board feels essen­tially un­changed from the first it­er­a­tion. Note, how­ever, that it fol­lows the Sur­face Laptop’s lay­out, rather than the orig­i­nal Book’s: Mi­crosoft elim­i­nated the ‘Insert’ key, and added a sep­a­rate key for tog­gling through var­i­ous back­light con­trols. Oth­er­wise, a wider bezel sur­rounds the key­board on the 15in model, re­ally em­pha­siz­ing how vast the avail­able space is.

I’ve al­ways found the Sur­face Book’s key­board quite com­fort­able to type upon, with a firm re­sponse and good key travel. The Sur­face Book 2 key­board felt ever so slightly stiffer, with re­sponse that felt a tad shal­lower. The track­pad feels iden­ti­cal: slick, smooth, and re­spon­sive.

Mi­crosoft did mess with the port al­lot­ment, how­ever, and it’s one area where I feel the Sur­face Book 2 takes a step back. The left side of the base should look fa­mil­iar to Sur­face Book own­ers: with two USB 3.0 Type A con­nec­tors, plus a UHS-II SDXC card reader. Mi­crosoft even pre­served the 3.5mm head­phone jack. Along the right side, though, things change: Along­side the ex­pected Sur­face con­nec­tor, there’s a USB-C con­nec­tor – and that’s it.

Pre­vi­ously, Sur­face Books in­cluded a miniDis­playPort con­nec­tor, a sim­ple way to con­nect to a sin­gle mon­i­tor by way of a miniDP-to-HDMI ca­ble. To con­nect to mul­ti­ple mon­i­tors, you used the Sur­face

Dock, a £189 (from fave.co/2zVKjRT) hub with two ad­di­tional miniDP con­nec­tions.

With the Sur­face Book 2, the miniDP con­nec­tor is gone. In­stead, you’ll need to in­vest in new in­fra­struc­ture, be­gin­ning with a new adap­tor – a USB-C to HDMI ca­ble, per­haps – that will cost you about £20. The­o­ret­i­cally, the USB-C con­nec­tor also an­tic­i­pates a fu­ture where you’ll be able to con­nect the Sur­face Book 2 to an ecosys­tem of ex­ter­nal hard drives and other de­vices. But Mi­crosoft’s im­ple­men­ta­tion also lacks the Thun­der­bolt I/O im­ple­men­ta­tion, part and par­cel of Ap­ple’s Mac­Book Pro and an easy way to con­nect mul­ti­ple dis­plays to a de­vice that sup­ports it.

That means con­nec­tions to ex­ter­nal mon­i­tors are some­what lim­ited. Of­fi­cially, the Sur­face Book 2 can drive two 4K mon­i­tors at 30Hz ei­ther via the USB-C port or the Sur­face Dock. Al­ter­na­tively, ei­ther the Dock or the USB-C port can power a sin­gle 4K mon­i­tor at 60Hz. (If you try si­mul­ta­ne­ously to con­nect a mon­i­tor via USB-C and a sec­ond mon­i­tor over the Dock, only the Dock-con­nected mon­i­tor will light up, Mi­crosoft says.) We suc­cess­fully con­nected the Book 2 to a con­ven­tional 1080p mon­i­tor at full frame rate, but man­aged only 30fps on a 120Hz 4K HDTV.

Mi­crosoft’s tra­di­tional so­lu­tion for multi-mon­i­tor setup has been the Sur­face Dock, which al­lows you to con­nect up to two ex­ter­nal dis­plays via a pair of miniDis­playPort con­nec­tors. But that has a prob­lem, too: The 144W Dock doesn’t sup­ply as much power as the Sur­face Book 2’s 180W na­tive charger. Mi­crosoft says that, un­der load, a Sur­face Book 2 pow­ered by the Dock may use up so much power that it will drain the bat­tery and en­ter sleep mode.

Dur­ing test­ing, I played a few 3D-in­ten­sive games for nearly an hour, while us­ing the Dock, as well as an ad­di­tional 15 min­utes or so while com­pletely un­docked. Dur­ing that time, the bat­tery de­creased to about 65 per­cent over­all. Dur­ing or­di­nary use – web brows­ing, of­fice work, and so on – the Dock sup­plied suf­fi­cient power with­out is­sue. And if the Sur­face Book 2 is con­nected to its charger, as well as to a sin­gle mon­i­tor via a USB-C to HDMI ca­ble, the Book 2 should op­er­ate nor­mally.

Mi­crosoft claims that the Book 2 will charge from any USB-C PD3.0 com­pli­ant charger from 7.5- to

95W, with a 60- to 95W USB-C charger pow­er­ing the Sur­face Book 2 to 80 per­cent charged in 1.5 hours time. I didn’t have enough time to con­firm the lat­ter claim, but as for the former, our Sur­face Book 2’s USB-C port didn’t ac­cept power from a few ran­dom ex­ter­nal charg­ers or bat­tery packs. (And no, you can’t charge the Sur­face Book 2 from the USB-C and Sur­face ports, si­mul­ta­ne­ously – we asked.)

Con­fused? Well, so were we. Mi­crosoft had a pricey but ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion in the Sur­face Dock, but com­pli­cated the matter un­nec­es­sar­ily.

All of this talk of ports and power sparked a some­what lively de­bate be­tween my­self and a col­league, Gor­don Ung. His take: how many peo­ple ac­tu­ally con­nect more than one mon­i­tor to a laptop? My re­sponse was to point to all of our co­work­ers with two or more dis­plays. It may be some­what of a niche case, but it’s a niche that lines up neatly with the power users that make the most likely can­di­dates for Sur­face Book 2 pur­chases. One fix would sim­ply be to re­lease an up­graded Sur­face Dock that could ac­com­mo­date the power needs of the Sur­face Book 2.

Oth­er­wise, the Sur­face Book 2 also in­cludes 802.11ac for wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity, which con­nected

sat­is­fac­to­rily as I roamed around my home and of­fice. Blue­tooth 4.1 Low En­ergy is also built in, which avoids col­li­sions with the Wi-Fi sig­nal. Fi­nally, there’s a bonus for gamers: Xbox Wire­less is built into the 15in ver­sion, mean­ing you can con­nect your wire­less Xbox One con­troller for gaming on the go. Speak­ers, cam­eras, the Pen and the Pre­ci­sion Mouse Like the orig­i­nal Sur­face Book, the Book 2 sports both front (5Mp, 1080-ca­pa­ble) and rear (8Mp aut­o­fo­cus, 1080p-ca­pa­ble) cam­eras that take ser­vice­able pic­tures and en­able Win­dows Hello’s bio­met­ric lo­gins. Nor­mally, few peo­ple would care about a tablet cam­era. But the Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date that’s rolling out now in­cludes such fun util­i­ties as the Mixed Re­al­ity Viewer, where you can snap a photo with the rear cam­era and drop in a com­puter-gen­er­ated di­nosaur, gi­ant taco, or bug right into the scene. Our review unit shipped with the older Cre­ators Up­date, how­ever.

The Sur­face Book 2 con­tin­ues the Sur­face Book tra­di­tion of de­cent au­dio, ac­com­pa­nied by Dolby Au­dio pro­cess­ing. Though it sup­plies an ad­e­quate range of sound, you’d still be bet­ter off rout­ing Spo­tify through head­phones or an ac­com­pa­ny­ing In­voke speaker for bet­ter bass re­sponse. The speak­ers are mounted in­side the tablet, un­like the Sur­face Laptop’s base-mounted speak­ers.

Mi­crosoft also pro­vided what it calls a “nextgen­er­a­tion” Sur­face Pen for review (£99 from fave. co/2j8q9MI). To be hon­est, the in­creas­ing lev­els of sen­si­tiv­ity – 4,096 in this ver­sion – have moved be­yond our abil­ity to test. Mi­crosoft’s new Pen looks nice, writes smoothly, and is pow­ered by a re­place­able AAAA bat­tery. That’s enough.

We didn’t re­ceive Mi­crosoft’s new Pre­ci­sion Mouse in time for review, but we were quite im­pressed in the short hands-on time we had ear­lier. Per­for­mance We ex­pect an Nvidia GTX 1060-pow­ered sys­tem such as the Sur­face Book 2 to per­form well. Mi­crosoft cre­ated ex­tra pres­sure, how­ever, by claim­ing the Sur­face Book 2 would per­form three to four times bet­ter than the orig­i­nal Sur­face Books. In our per­for­mance charts be­low, you’ll see us com­pare the Sur­face Book 2 to its pre­de­ces­sor, as well as some re­cent lap­tops we’ve re­viewed that have dis­crete graph­ics: Dell’s XPS 15, Len­ovo’s Yoga 720, and Sam­sung’s Notebook 9 Pro.

We threw both main­stream and gaming bench­marks at the Sur­face Book 2. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, the

Sur­face Book 2 doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily top the heap in gen­eral pro­duc­tiv­ity per­for­mance, but as a graph­ics work­sta­tion it’s among the very best.

Our first test is PCMark Work 8 Con­ven­tional, which sim­u­lates ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties like web brows­ing and doc­u­ment edit­ing. It’s a good test for iso­lat­ing the CPU’s role in ev­ery­day use. Any ma­chine scor­ing 2,000 or above will sail along smoothly dur­ing these low-in­ten­sity tasks. The Sur­face Book 2 lands square in the middle: a lit­tle faster than its pre­de­ces­sors, but a lit­tle slower than the trio of re­cent com­peti­tors.

The Home and Cre­ative broaden the scope some­what, adding light gaming, photo edit­ing, and fi­nally some im­age and video pro­cess­ing. In gen­eral, how the Sur­face Book 2 com­pares against the Sur­face

Sur­face Dock

Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Book 2 landed in the middle dur­ing PCMark Work 8 Con­ven­tional. It was faster than its pre­de­ces­sors but slower than other lap­tops we’ve tested with dis­crete GPUs

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