Microsoft Surface Book review: It’s expensive, very expensive

£2249
Price when reviewed

Microsoft Surface Book: The laptop that can replace your tablet

You might imagine a 13.5in tablet would be unbearably heavy and awkward, but the Surface Book knocks that presumption on the head. As Microsoft has put two-thirds of the Surface Book’s battery in the base, the tablet is only good for around three to four hours of light use, but the reward is a huge tablet that weighs only 728g and measures 8mm thick. When you consider that you’re getting a dual-core Skylake laptop condensed into a sub-1kg slab, the sheer engineering prowess isn’t to be sniffed at.

I’ll come back to the battery life later, and that’s because the Surface Book’s 13.5in PixelSense display is highly distracting. It’s utterly, utterly astonishing. Simply put, I have never seen a display this good on a portable device.

The 3,000 x 2,000-pixel resolution means pixel density, and hence sharpness, is exactly the same as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (267ppi, if you’re wondering), and the combination of a larger display and class-leading colour accuracy, brightness, contrast and overall fidelity make for a truly jaw-dropping display.

For those who like statistics and benchmark figures, the Surface Book’s display tops out at a maximum brightness of 435cd/m2; the contrast ratio peaks at 1,736:1; and the panel reproduces 96.5% of the sRGB colour gamut. Accuracy is superb, too. Microsoft has calibrated the panel to cover the sRGB range with an average Delta E of 1.01 and a maximum deviation of 2.76. In other words, this is a display that genuinely can be relied on for serious colour critical photographic or video work, and software calibration would only push it even closer to perfection.

As ever, I’m a huge fan of the Surface Pen and it works brilliantly with the Surface Book. Its size and shape makes it comfy to write or sketch with for long periods; it clamps magnetically to the side of the tablet when it’s not in use, and using it feels gloriously natural. With 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity (the same as on the Surface Pro 4) combined with the larger 13.5in display it feels as close to writing or sketching on an A4 pad as you could possibly hope for. And, as ever, you can tap the button on the end of the Pen to immediately bring up OneNote and start scribbling notes, or just while away boring meetings with aimless digital doodles.

Unlike the Surface Pro 4, however, the Surface Book leaves most of its connectivity on the keyboard base. There is a headphone output and, of course, you’ve still got the inbuilt 802.11ac and Bluetooth radios, but that’s your lot. Still, Microsoft has packed in a decent pair of front- and rear-facing cameras, and the pair of stereo speakers sound pretty good as long as you resist the temptation to crank them up to maximum volume.

Microsoft Surface Book: The hybrid that can replace your desktop

The Surface Book is a very, very good laptop. It took me a while to get up to speed on the keyboard, as there’s slightly less space between each key than on my 13in MacBook Pro. I initially found myself making silly typos, but after a couple of hours it felt entirely natural. I’m not a fan of the shrunken up and down cursor keys, which is something one too many manufacturers insist upon for the sake of aesthetics, but the rest of the layout is spot on. The keys have a little more travel than the MacBook Pro and a noticeably more positive action, too. It doesn’t get much better.

The Surface Book marks one major first, at least in my book. Finally, this is a Windows device with a damn good touchpad, and in many ways, it’s just as lovely to use as Apple’s Force Touch hardware. It feels gorgeous under the finger, responds super-smoothly to every touch while ignoring accidental brushes of a palm, and the physical click is perfect. Press down, and with barely any movement at all, the pad chirps back with a crisp, light click. Even gestures work well.

Factor in the large 3:2 display above, and the Surface Book is a genuinely lovely Windows laptop to spend time with. In fact, my only real criticisms on the laptop front come down to connectivity, which I’m not convinced Microsoft has got right. There are two USB 3 ports, an SD card reader, a mini-DisplayPort output and the same magnetic power connector as found on the Surface Pro 4. Add in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 and that’s your lot.

Of course, Microsoft’s retort to such criticisms is its Surface Dock, a £165 optional extra that connects to the magnetic power connector of the Surface Book (or Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4) and uses it to provide a further four USB 3 ports, two mini-DisplayPort ports, Gigabit Ethernet and an audio output.

For most people, that’ll probably be more than enough, but for my money, a device of this calibre could really do with Thunderbolt 3. High-end video and audio hardware is increasingly using Thunderbolt as the go-to standard, and the ability to add desktop-class GPUs via external Thunderbolt chassis would have added a welcome dash of future-proofing.

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Microsoft Surface Book specifications

ProcessorDual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U
RAM16GB
Memory slots (free)2 (0)
Max memory16GB
Dimensions232.1x22.8x312.3mm
Weight1.58kg
SoundRealtek HD Audio (3.5mm headset port)
Pointing deviceTouchscreen, trackpad

Display

Screen size13.5in
Screen resolution3,000x2,000
TouchscreenYes
Graphics adaptorNvidia GeForce
Graphics outputsMini DisplayPort
Graphics memory1GB

Storage

Total storage512GB SSD
Optical drive typeNone

Ports and expansion

USB ports2x USB3
Bluetooth4.0
Networking802.11ac Wi-Fi
Memory card readerSD
Other portsSurfaceConnect

Miscellaneous

Operating systemWindows 10 Pro
Operating system restore optionRestore partition

Buying information

Parts and labour warrantyOne year RTB
Price inc VAT£2,249
Detailswww.Microsoft.com/Surface_Book
Supplierwww.currys.co.uk
Part numberSurface Book

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