Review: Microsoft Surface Book 2 offers performance and battery life

Microsoft’s hardware division is continuing to iterate their way to a perfect form factor. The lineup now includes the Surface Pro, Surface Hub, Surface Studio, Surface Laptop and of...

Microsoft’s hardware division is continuing to iterate their way to a perfect form factor. The lineup now includes the Surface Pro, Surface Hub, Surface Studio, Surface Laptop and of course this, the Surface Book. In its second iteration, the Surface Book 2 addresses many of the feedback from the first version.

Performance

The Surface Laptop is about portability, but the customer who buys the Surface Book is about performance. Inside is an Intel Core i7 Coffee Lake 8650U CPU paired with 16GB of RAM running at 1866MHz. That’s a fairly common CPU amongst top-end laptops and combined with a 1TB SSD, delivering serious horsepower, providing stellar boot times, application launches and general performance during day-to-day, real-world tasks.

When it comes to the GPU, the Surface Book 2 stands out from many competitors, thanks to the Nvidia GTX 1050 (located in the base) which also helps distinguish it from the rest of the Surface lineup. Recently the 15′ version of the device became available in Australia and now offers a GTX 1060. Despite the extra performance available from that, the size will be too large for many, personally, I love the 13.5′ form factor, it really is a great size.

The Surface Book has a hardware key to electronically release the screen. Thankfully this works flawlessly in V2 after being a big issue on the original. The screen can also be re-attached in reverse, offering the ability to fold back over the keyboard. This is a little more awkward than other hinge designs that simply let you fold it back on itself.

While around 90-95% of my use was in laptop mode, it is important to understand the impact on performance when you remove the keyboard base and use the screen as a tablet.

If you choose to undock the display, you’re back to the Intel Graphics 620. That means you’ll still be able to perform most lower-end tasks, but if you’re in the middle of an Adobe Media Encoder session and try to pull the rug out from under it (changing GPUs), it’ll actually prevent you from detaching. If you really have to render without the keyboard (not sure why) you’ll be using the internal graphics and that’ll take hours instead of minutes. Dedicated graphics really are that significant.

Microsoft is making a big push with Windows Mixed Reality with multiple partners now offering VR headsets that plug into PCs that are performant enough to meet a performance benchmark, ensuring a good user experience. The top tier of that benchmark is known as ‘Windows Mixed Reality Ultra’ and if you’re after a mobile VR experience, then you’ll be glad to see that label in the checkout configurator, thanks to the dedicated graphics chip.

If you want to play games on the Surface Book 2, say when you’re relaxing in your hotel room at the end of a long day at a conference, then you’ve got all the performance you need to have a great experience. Games like Forza 7 from the Windows Store, or something like PUBG on Steam and you’re all set, just remember to bring that mouse with you. This diversity of applications will certainly help you justify the price tag.

Display

The 13.5″ display features one of the best displays on the market with a 3000 x 2000 resolution, with the pixels arranged in a 3:2 aspect ratio. This offers a distinctly different experience than other 16:9 laptops, as it provides far more vertical space. This is valuable in applications that have vertical toolbars, or even just regular websites and Office docs, that allow you to see more of the content and scroll less. It sounds like a simple difference but actually makes a substantial difference during day-to-day use.

If you’re a stickler for the 16:9 aspect ratio, you should be aware this does mean you’ll get black bars at the top and bottom of the full-screen video. Personally, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives of this decision.

Battery Life

Microsoft touts a massive 17 hours of battery life on the Surface Book 2. In reality, this changes dramatically based on usage, probably more than on most devices. If you’re working on applications that leverage the dedicated GPU, then you’ll burn through power a lot faster. If you have the screen brightness up, you’ll burn through battery faster. If you run multiple applications you’ll burn through battery faster. Then there’s the Windows 10 power management slider, allowing you to decide if you need better performance or better battery life. If you choose battery life, performance gets throttled to achieve that.

This is where it’s difficult, really difficult to give exact battery life numbers. From my use, which may very well be different than yours, I got around 10-12 hours. If I just watched videos or just wrote in Word all day, then may I could get close to 17, but nobody does, we all have mixed workloads using different applications and have different levels of power draw as a result.

I actually think this mix of battery life and performance is a great balance and only a few years ago, a high-performing laptop needed the power connector in less than 2 hours, so we’ve come a long way in a short time in terms of power management both on a hardware and software level.

Design

The Surface Book 2 is a matte grey in colour, no standard affair in the Surface lineup. There’s no alcantara carpet on your keyboard with this one, its all about business and productivity. The design is minimalist and the back of the screen that faces the world when you’re at the coffee shop or office meeting is only interrupted by the rear-facing camera and the mirror Microsoft logo.

In many ways the device is understated, giving no hint about the power that lies within. The Book 2 is more substantial than most laptops I’ve used in the last 12 months with thin and light still the highest priority for device makes. I’m glad Microsoft is offering users something that tips the scale in the other direction, while still remaining portable enough for everyday use.

The Surface Book makes you look like a professional and that’s important if you’re showing work to clients. If you turn up to an important client meeting you want to be taken seriously and if you arrive with a gaming laptop with LED lights hanging out of every possible gap in the chassis, you’ll be laughed out of the building.

Thankfully Microsoft has included a full array of ports on the Surface Book 2. On the sides of the base, you’ll find 2x full-size USB 3.1 Gen 1, 1 x USB-C, a 3.5mm headphone jack, 2 x Surface Connect ports (1 in tablet, 1 in base), and a full-size SD card reader. If you need to throw in a microSD card, like that from your phone or old Surface Pro device, then find an adapter, but the full-sized SD allows great workflows for photographers moving media from their DSLRs.

With more and more new phones and displays supporting or completely switching to USB-C, I would like to see a second USB Type-C port, but the simple workaround is a USB-C hub that can easily daisy chain a few devices from a single port.

Issues

Its still a little weird that the hinge doesn’t fold flat when closed, while its unique in design, it does not to add to the functionality of the device, so its a design attribute for the sake of design. This was heavily criticised in V1 and something that wasn’t changed, at this point, it may be a signature oddity of the Surfacebook design we should expect to be repeated in the future.

Now for the sound, not of the speakers, but of the hinge folding. Vehicle manufacturers spend a lot of effort (and money) on the sound of the doors closing. That confidence-inspiring thud of the door closing gives a feeling of quality and I see the hinge on the Surface Book fails to do this. When folding the screen (something you do multiple times a day) it sounds like you’re crunching cardboard rather than operating a finely tuned, high-tech gadget. While I’m sure Microsoft has done plenty of reliability on the hinge folding cycles, but as a user, it doesn’t sound like it’ll last through 5 years of wear and tear, remembering you are likely to pass this on once you’re done with it in a couple of years.

 

Price and Availability

The Surface Book 2 is available now from Microsoft’s Surface website directly, or via one of their retail partners. While the base model (with no dedicated GPU), starts at $2,199, our model with a Core i7, 16GB RAM and the 1TB SSD costs a staggering A$4,499.00.

Overall

The performance of the SurfaceBook 2 is everything you could want form a laptop and thanks to the dual battery (base and screen) the battery life on offer here is impressive from a performance-focused device. Generally, you get one choice, performance or battery life, but the Surface Book 2 offers both in 1 device.

Combine those aspects with a great keyboard for typing, generous, accurate trackpad along with plenty of ports and what we have here is a laptop that’s brilliant for mobile workers.

As with most technology at the premium range of the market, the issue often isn’t with features or design, but price. The Surface Book 2 is a fantastic laptop and with a lower price, more people could enjoy the significant engineering efforts that went into making it. Sure some will take issue with the weight of a device like this, but personally, I’m willing to accept extra grams for extra performance and battery life, that’s a trade I’m willing to make, every day of the week.

Get your boss to pay for it and you’ll love this laptop.

9.1
Microsoft Surface Book 2
The Good
  • Design
  • Performance
  • Battery Life
The Bad
  • Hinge
  • Design
    9.5
  • Features
    9.0
  • Performance
    9.8
  • Value
    8.0
Categories
Reviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
2 Comments on this post.

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  • SonnyDickson
    29 March 2018 at 4:18 pm
    • Jason Cartwright
      29 March 2018 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks Sonny, much appreciated. Was definitely one of the harder products to send me. While there’s definitely thinner laptops, this one had performance and battery life to match my needs.

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