Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch)

When the Surface Book originally came out in 2015, no one thought its sequel would make the MacBook Pro look like a toy in comparison. But, it’s true in more than one way. While the Surface Book 2 definitely is a costly device, it really needs to be – particularly when you consider everything it can do. Rather than just being one device that flips inside out, like the best 2-in-1 laptops, the Surface Book 2 really is two devices in one.

The Surface Book 2 is far more protected than the original Surface Book, especially now that Intel has released patches with Microsoft through the Windows 10 update tool that makes the Surface Book 2 much more resilient to the Spectre and Meltdown CPU exploits.

There’s more than just great security here, though. The Surface Book 2 adopts the gorgeous design of the original Surface Book and modernizes it ever so slightly to make the critics happy. For example, the hinge is much more reliable. Then, you have the classic and compact 13.5-inch design on top of the 15-inch model reviewed here. Both versions of the Surface Book 2 would prefer to take over as your primary device, but is the new 15-inch model worth the cash?

The short answer is yes, but at a cost that will send fledgling creative types reeling.

Price and availability

Surprising no one, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 is a hugely expensive laptop, with the configuration we’ve tested coming in at a crazy $3,299 in the US. Naturally, this is the highest end that the Surface Book 2 gets, with the entry-level model starting at a still-steep $2,499 (£2,349, AU$3,649) – its only difference being a much smaller 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) inside.

In the UK, the larger Surface Book 2 can be configured with twice the storage of the 256GB model for £2,749, or with a 1TB SSD for £3,149. Meanwhile, in Australia, the 512GB Surface Book 2 is $4,249, whereas the 1TB version sells for $4,849 including GST.

However, the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 starts at a rather low price of $1,199 (about £850, AU$1,500) in the US, with other countries likely to follow this pricing model. Unfortunately, you will have to compromise on storage to get this low price – you’ll be limited to 128GB of storage space, accompanying the dual-core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM.

Keep in mind, that while these prices are indeed high, they still don’t include Microsoft’s $99 (£99, AU$139) Surface Pen. And yes, we’re going to keep calling Microsoft out on this until it begins bundling this nigh-crucial accessory in with the price of its Surface devices again.

For comparison’s sake, Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at $2,399 (£2,349, AU$3,499) for a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, an AMD Radeon Pro 555 graphics chip with 2GB of VRAM, 16GB of memory and a 256GB SSD – all powering a 2,880 x 1,800-pixel 15.4-inch display at 220 pixels per inch as well as an OLED Touch Bar.

If you add another 100 bucks to the cost, you’ll get a more up-to-date processor and much stronger graphics powering a sharper display with touch control that detaches and acts as a tablet. Not accounting for taste, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Surface Book 2 is the better value. Plus, when the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals start coming out, we think the value of the Surface Book 2 is going to skyrocket.  


When it comes to the look and feel of the device, it’s an understatement to say that Microsoft took the Surface Book and blew it up in every way to make the Surface Book 2 a 15-inch Device in all its brushed aluminum splendor. While Microsoft did clearly put a lot of effort into vastly increasing the Surface Book 2’s power profile and screen technology, this is, in many ways, simply a larger Surface Book.

That’s not a bad thing, though. Microsoft has obviously learned some major lessons from the Surface Book i7 and went to town on the sequel, crafting the Surface Book 2 into a power-packed laptop that’s quite light. What’s better, when detached from its base, this is the lightest feeling 15-inch tablet we’ve ever used – to the point that it feels deceptively small in our hands.

That said, the Surface Book 2’s fulcrum hinge does make for a laptop that’s a little more unwieldy to cram into a backpack than most, and it’s now more pronounced than ever. Worse still, Microsoft didn’t do much design-wise with the extra space that 15 inches affords you.

The Surface Book 2’s glass trackpad, for instance, isn’t quite as wide or deep as, say, the 15-inch MacBook Pro when it very well could have been, given the ample space beneath the keyboard. The lack of up-firing stereo speakers in the base is also a glaring omission, with plenty of room on all three remaining sides of the keyboard for extra audio chambers.

Instead, we’re stuck with rather tinny, albeit front-firing, speakers on the tablet portion of the device. The bigger keyboard base should offer us bigger everything, frankly, not just bigger graphics. Worse yet is that the audio jack is still in the same weird, upper-right-edge position it’s always been, dangling over our hands and distracting us while typing.

Speaking of which, typing on the Surface Book 2 is a pleasure, with a brightly backlit keyboard that demonstrates deep-enough travel and punchy feedback. However, in our view, the feedback could stand to be a touch more forceful – but that could be down to personal taste.

All told, we like the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) design quite a bit – even its 1080p webcam and rear camera should impress at the next meeting or in your Instagram feed. But, we can’t ignore the missed opportunities to refine the product that much further and make the experience that much bigger when it comes to how it feels, looks and sounds.

Display and Surface Pen

Of course, we’re just as in love with the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) display as we were with the previous two models. Text looks crisp on the screen as do photos and video, even if the 3:2 aspect ratio makes for some awfully thick black bars during the latter.

The display’s resolution is nigh-unmatched short of 4K laptops, and Apple’s MacBook displays can’t hold a candle to it pixel for pixel. While Apple’s P3 color gamut might tower over Microsoft’s panel in the eyes of art and media pros, we don’t see much difference between the two in regards to color reproduction.

We’re told that Microsoft devoted quite a bit of effort to improving the touch response in its latest PixelSense display for the Surface Book 2, and it shows in testing. If any lag between drawing on the screen with the Surface Pen and its appearance on the screen was there before, it’s certainly imperceptible now.

In fact, if you scribble on a sticky note and run the Surface Pen off of the note window – you’ll see traces of ink appear on whatever is there, though it will almost immediately disappear. That’s a special processor rendering the ink before even Windows 10 does, we’re told, which should speak to the absence of latency in the touchscreen.

Plus, attaching and detaching the display from the keyboard base is as speedy as you’d expect from a wildly expensive computing device. Whether it’s going into tablet mode or back into a laptop, it’s less than a second before you’re successfully tapping or typing away.

At any rate, the Surface Book 2 screen goes to show that Microsoft can craft displays worthy of comparison against the technology world’s greatest in basically every metric.

To say that the Surface Book 2 is powerful would be selling Microsoft’s latest laptop short. Simply put, this is the strongest 2-in-1 laptop we’ve ever tested, ready to go toe-to-toe with not only every hybrid laptop on the market but a wide range of gaming laptops, too. 

As you can see through the benchmarks, the Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics inside the laptop’s base are more than enough to handle the very latest games at 1080p resolution. (We saw more than playable frame rates in both of these benchmarked games at native resolution, too.) Those aren’t words we generally put to paper regarding Surface devices, much less any 2-in-1 laptops.

Nor should you buy the Surface Book 2 for gaming. Honestly, you can get the same experience for way less cash, spending what you saved on games or even an external GPU box plus a graphics card. However, few laptops will keep as cool as this one under pressure, thanks to the Surface Book 2’s split design that keeps the GPU and CPU apart.

That said, Microsoft included the Xbox Wireless radio – which allows the Surface Book 2 to connect with Xbox One controllers natively – for a reason. That is, for a cross section of designers or media pros and gamers that would be served well by a device that can do it all.

At this point, it should go without saying that the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) handles our normal, workload with aplomb, barely seeing its quad-core CPU and 16GB of RAM break a sweat. You’d have to try hard to cripple this laptop, is what we’re saying.

And with Windows 10 S mode incoming soon, it’s likely you’ll be able to squeeze even more performance out of the Surface Book 2.  

Battery life

Considering that point, the fact that this laptop lasted longer in PCMark 8’s battery test than just about any 2-in-1 laptop we’ve tested to date is just downright impressive. A score of 7 hours and 39 minutes in this historically punishing test is unheard of in the TechRadar offices, especially considering the previous model lasted for less than half that long.

This figure is testament to the sheer amount of battery afforded to the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) by its larger size and the nature of its design. Microsoft promises up to 17 hours of battery life from the 15-inch Surface Book 2 over local video playback.

We’ll be putting this to the test as soon as possible, as we weren’t able to test the Surface Book 2 battery in this capacity in the time allotted for this review. Stay tuned for an update in the coming days regarding just this.

In the meantime, know that the Surface Book 2 is already shaping up to be one of the longest-lasting laptops we’ve ever tested.

We liked

From its immense power to its impressively long battery life, we’re very impressed by the Surface Book 2. The display is a delight to look at much less handle in tablet mode, not to mention touch and stylus response is just stellar. Being able to game on this device is just a cherry on the top.

We disliked

For all of its major wins, we wish Microsoft did more with the 15 inches of space in regards to the Surface Book 2 design. We would have liked to have seen larger speakers in the base of the laptop and a larger trackpad given the increased frame. Also, we’ll never stop being miffed by the fact that Microsoft doesn’t include the Surface Pen in the price of the device.

Final verdict

At the end of the day, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 is the most versatile and powerful 2-in-1 laptop we’ve ever used, but it’s not perfect. There are a few missed opportunities in Microsoft just taking the original Surface Book and bulking it up, at least chassis design-wise.

That said, we recognize the hard work and engineering that went into crafting this device. The proof is in its nigh-unparalleled performance and longevity, not to mention its good looks and tactile feel when held in the hand as either a laptop or a tablet.

Of course, you’ll pay dearly for all of the aforementioned accolades, which we’d say is well worth it for the creative pros (or anyone who’s rich enough) out there that can swing it. The price is steep for the best 2-in-1 laptop to date, but remember you’re getting the cream of the crop in 2-in-1 laptop design by the folks that defined the category.

from TechRadar - Technology Reviews