…and maybe your tablet. Back in early October I was pretty happy with my Yoga 2. It basically met all my needs; good processor, reasonable battery life, nice keyboard and screen. But when I saw Panos Panay introduce the Surface Book to the world, I knew I was ready for a change. While the GeForce GPU is a unique feature, I opted for the simpler i5 with Intel HD Graphics, and a 256GB SSD. I have desktops to do any heavy lifting.
There were several things that attracted me to the Surface Book. The magnesium casing is gorgeous, unlike the Yoga 2’s plastic cover which surprisingly looked scuffed up after 18 months of light/moderate use. I was already impressed with the digital ink capabilities on my Surface 3, but the Surface Book takes inking to a whole new level. The new Surface 4 pen is a joy to write with at varying levels of density. Using the eraser on the back of the pen is well, natural. And as the Surface Book screen is about the same size as a letter size sheet, you feel like you’re writing on paper. It’s that good. Battery life on the Yoga 2 was ok, but more is always better. So far the battery on the SB has performed really well, and when sleeping the battery barely drains a trickle. So when I pull the Book out of its bag after two or three days, there is plenty of juice for hours and hours of use. Another important consideration is that the Surface Book is made by Microsoft. I have become more and more frustrated with OEMs and Carriers forgetting who you are and what you purchased as soon as your check clears. Microsoft wants you to have a positive experience and goes to great lengths to ensure that happens. OEMs can learn from them, and from Apple. Maybe instead focusing on a few device lines, rather than a dozen. No more build one, sell it, and then move on to the next best thing, Never looking back or learning from your mistakes.
Early reviews of the Surface Book gave me some pause regarding the keyboard. While the reviewers liked the feel and spacing, they thought the keys were hard to see in different lighting conditions. Playing with computers for almost 35 years, staring at screens has taken its toll on my eyes. So I definitely need a backlit keyboard on a laptop. With the Yoga 2’s black keys and orange letters, I need the backlight on all the time. I knew the SB had a backlit keyboard, but I was still concerned. Turns out I was worried over nothing. In fact, I have only needed to turn the backlighting on once so far. In bright office lighting as well as subdued home lighting, the keys are easy to see and navigate. Probably the best laptop keyboard I have ever used. You really only need the backlit keyboard in a dark situation, like on a train or dimly lit plane for example. Otherwise, you can save some battery and turn it off.
But the real reason I “had” to own a Surface Book was that damn detachable screen. When I saw Panos pull the Book apart on stage I was ready to give Microsoft my money, before I even knew the price. I have been enamored with digital ink and digital writing for nearly two decades. Every time a new device was released, I was first in line to buy it. Only to be disappointed by its ineffectiveness later. Devices that could collect your penstrokes and transfer them to your PC. Pads that traced your handwriting and transferred to PC. They all sucked. Period. I already knew how well my Surface 3 worked with pen. And was well aware that the Yoga 2 lacked digital inking (that almost kept me from purchasing the Yoga 2 in 2013). I was also not very fond of using the Yoga 2 in tablet mode. It felt as heavy as an encyclopedia in your hand, with your fingers constantly clacking the inoperative keyboard keys. I only flipped my Yoga 2 around maybe 8-10 times in 18 months; probably the device’s most important feature, a 360 degree hinge. Half of those times to show it off to curious onlookers, and a few times to give it one more try. Each flip only lasted a couple minutes at best.
The Surface Book changes all that. With a tap, the screen, actually the whole damn computer, can be lifted from it’s base and used as a tablet. A really nice tablet. Larger and more versatile than the new and amazing iPad Pro. That’s some pretty amazing stuff there. Sure, the large 13.5” screen can become cumbersome to hold after awhile. That’s why the battery in the screen side of the SB will only last 2-3 hours. It you want a “Tablet First” device, get a Surface or Surface Pro. If you want a laptop with a detachable screen that you can use to; browse the Web, scribble some notes at a meeting, sketch an idea, mark up a contract, or collect signatures, then maybe the Surface Book is what you have been looking for. I honestly haven’t even tried reinserting the screen, display up, to use it for presentations, watching video, or flattened down if you require more juice for writing. That’s just another feature that I’ll find a use for one day.
Like with any new device (not made by Apple) pundits have found some fault with the Surface Book. Some say that the screen wobbles too much. I haven’t noticed that really, except when poking around the screen with my finger. But with an excellent keyboard and touchpad at your disposal, there is not all that much pecking to do while in laptop mode. Most any 2 in 1, with a removable or 360 degree hinge, will wobble when tapping it. For me, it’s a non issue. Others have complained about Microsoft’s new Hello feature, which allows you to login with your face. Since setting it it, Hello has not failed me in various environments; at the office, on my kitchen counter, and yes even in my lap. A few times I had to lower my head, while walking past the SB during restarts (lots of updates the past two weeks), instead of sitting properly in the chair. But I would call that normal.
Truthfully, I’ve yet to find anything that I really don’t like about the Surface Book. For me at least, it’s the ultimate laptop. Along a really amazingly huge tablet, with incredible pen capabilities thrown in. Hope you get a chance to play with one in person. I think you will be impressed. Thank you Microsoft.