Microsoft Surface Book 2 – Detailed Review

Microsoft Surface Book 2 - Side by Side

When the Surface Book made its first appearance back in 2015, no one even thought that the follow up would give MacBook Pro a run for its money. But, that’s precisely what happened. Surface Book 2 is much costly than its predecessor and rightly so for the features it offers. Instead of only being a laptop that can flip around, it really is two devices in one.

Following the tradition of the original design, Surface Book 2 made changes just enough to gratify the critics. The Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge, for example, is more solid on the Surface Book 2. The compact 13.5-inch design also styles its return alongside the 15-inch Surface Book 2.

Both sizes of the Surface Book 2 could possibly be your primary device, but is the new 15-inch model worth the amount paid?

Spec Sheet

Here is the outline for the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch)

CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U (8MB cache, quad-core, up to 4.2GHz with Turbo Boost)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 (1866Mhz)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5 VRAM), Intel UHD Graphics 620
Screen: 3,240 x 2,160 (260 ppi) PixelSense display (3:2 aspect ratio; 1600:1 contrast ratio), 15-inch
Storage: 1TB PCIe 3.0 SSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac 2 x 2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, Xbox Wireless
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 3.5mm audio jack, 2 x Surface Connect, SD card reader,
Camera: Windows 8MP rear-facing autofocus camera (1080p), 5MP front-facing Hello face-authentication camera (1080p HD)
Size: 13.5 x 9.87 x 0.568 ~ 0.90 inches
Weight: 4.2 pounds (1.9kg) with a keyboard base

Price and availability

Not much of a shock but the price of Surface Book 2 is a at the higher end. The configuration reviewed here is now around $2,238 (£1,811) down from $3,299 when it was released in the US. Obviously, this is the highest end that the Surface Book 2 gets, with the entry-level 15-inch model coming in at a still substantial $1,959 (£1,561). The mere dissimilarity between the two is that the basic Surface Book 2 configuration comes with 256GB SSD instead of 512 GB drive.

Though, the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 begins at a relatively low price of $1,149 (£1,149) in the United States, with other countries likely to follow this pricing pattern. But then this offer comes with limitation as you’ll have to compromise on 128GB of storage space complimenting the dual-core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. However, you can get 16GB ram, quad-core processor and 1 TB hardisk in the 13.5 inch for $1,999 USD. The price of Surface Book 2 increases as the price doesn’t even include the $99 (£99, AU$139) Surface Pen. Microsoft should be mindful of assembling the pen, an essential accessory in with its Surface devices in the future.

When making comparison, an AMD Radeon Pro 555 graphics chip with 2GB of VRAM, 16GB of memory, Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro (with the Touch Bar) starts at $2,399 (£2,349) for a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, and a 512GB 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.

The Surface Book 2 was intially a $100 more than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but its now prices lower. You also you get a stronger processor and a bigger GPU, behind a brighter display with touch control, which can function as a tablet. It’s hard to argue with the fact that the Surface Book 2 is a much better value for the money here. And above all, a year later, you should be able to find some deals that increase the value offer of the Surface Book 2.

Design

Microsoft has put immense effort to vastly increase the Surface Book 2’s power profile and screen technology, which resulted in a bigger and sturdier Surface Book.  Microsoft worked hard in every way to make the book a 15-inch device. It is thick, but the thickness is for all the right reasons.

The magnesium alloy build feels solid. The matte surface finishing on the body and keys are pleasant to touch. I prefer this surface finishing compared to the Alcantara fabric on the Surface Laptop.

Microsoft learned some excellent lessons from the Surface Book, transforming the Surface Book 2 into a thin, light and power-packed notebook. When separated from the base, the Surface Book 2 is the lightest 15-inch tablet we’ve ever tested – it feels minor than it actually is. But then there is one feature that disturbs the most- the Surface Book 2’s fulcrum hinge. It makes it difficult and awkward to cram the laptop in a backpack, and it’s now more exaggerated than ever. To make things worse, Microsoft has offered lesser space design-wise than the regular 15 inches offers.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 - Fulcrum Hinges

The new fulcrum hinge is sturdier, but takes a little more space

For example, the glass trackpad isn’t as broad or deep as, say, the 15-inch MacBook Pro when it actually could have been, given the quantity of space below the keyboard. The absence of up-firing stereo speakers in the base is also a big turnoff, as there’s plenty of area on all three remaining sides of the keyboard for additional audio chambers. Instead, it offers tiny, front-firing speakers on the tablet portion of the device. The more extensive keyboard base should provide everything huge, not only bigger graphics. More on, the audio jack position in the absurd upper right location as always makes the wire dangling over our hands and interfering with smooth typing.

In spite of that, the typing experience with the Surface Book 2 is impressive, with a brightly backlit keyboard that has tactile feedback and satisfying travel. Keys on the keyboard are excellent. Surface Laptop has a decent keyboard, but the one on the Surface Book 2 is even improved. It’s even better than the Macbook Pro (2015) before Apple moved to the idiotic butterfly keys.

The only disadvantage is there’s no Control key on the right side. So if using a mouse, or the stylus, and want to access keyboard shortcuts on the right side with your left hand, it would be awkward to reach some shortcuts, e.g. Ctrl+= for zooming.

Its 1080p webcam and rear camera results are quite a head-turner. We liked its design, but as always there is always room for improvements to refine the product, making the experience with it much exciting.

Display and Surface Pen

Surface Book 2 display has left us mesmerised like its predecessors. The text looks sharp and clear on the screen and so do the photos and videos, even if the 3:2 aspect ratio makes for few ugly black, thick bars when viewing the latter.

The display’s resolution does not come up to scratch in comparison to 4K laptops, and Apple’s MacBook displays can’t be compared to it pixel for pixel. While Apple’s P3 colour gamut might tower over Microsoft’s panel in the view of art and media pros, we do not see much difference between both in terms of colour reproduction.

Microsoft has invested quite a bit of determination in improving the touch sensitivity in its latest PixelSense display for the MS Surface Book 2, and the results speak for it. There was no delay in a drawing on the screen with the Surface Pen and its appearance on the screen. Even if it was there before, it’s undoubtedly not noticeable now.

Surface Book 2 - Stylus and Touchscreen

If you jot on a sticky note and run the Surface Pen off of the note window – you’ll see touches of ink appear on whatever is there, though it will almost straightaway disappear. That’s a particular processor rendering the ink before even Windows 10 does.

Furthermore, attaching and detaching the display from the keyboard base is as swift and uncomplicated as you’d expect from an insanely costly computing device. Whether it’s working into tablet mode or back into a laptop, it’s is just a matter of a blink of an eye before you’re effectively typing or tapping away.

At any rate, the Surface Book 2 screen just shows that Microsoft can craft displays that can compete against the technology world’s best in basically every aspect. It would not be incorrect if we say that it is one of the strongest 2 in 1 laptop we’ve ever tested, ready to compete against not only every hybrid laptop but also against an extensive range of gaming laptops too.

 Benchmarks

This is how the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch) managed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Cinebench CPU: 647 cb; Graphics: 94 fps
PCMark 8 Home: 3,072
PCMark 8 Battery Life:
7 hours and 39 minutes
3DMark Sky Diver
: 19,363; Fire Strike: 9,238; Time Spy: 3,565
Geekbench 4 Single-Core: 5,024; Multi-Core: 13,896
Total War: Warhammer 2 (1080p, Ultra): 36 fps; (1080p, Low): 74 fps
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (1080p, Ultra): 32 fps; (1080p, Low): 70 fps

If you observe the benchmarks, the Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics inside can more than hold the newer AAA games at 1080p. That’s not something we usually expect from Surface devices, much less any 2-in-1 laptops.

This does not mean that one should buy Surface Book 2 for gaming. You can get a similar experience at a much more reasonable price, emptying what you saved on games or even an external GPU box and a graphics card. However, limited laptops will stay as cool as this one under pressure, cheers to the Surface Book 2’s split design that functions the GPU and CPU separately.

That said, Microsoft included the Xbox Wireless radio – which enables the Surface Book 2 to link with Xbox One controllers locally – for a reason. That is, for a cross-section of media pros or designers and gamers that would be aided well by a device that can do the whole thing.

At this point, needless to say, that the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) controls our normal workload with ease, hardly seeing its quad-core CPU and 16GB of RAM break a sweat. It is impossible to cripple this laptop.

Battery life

Bearing in mind that point, the fact that this laptop lasted longer in PCMark 8’s battery test than every single 2-in-1 laptop reviewed to date is absolutely astounding. A mark of 7 hours and 39 minutes in this historically demanding test is unheard of, especially given that its predecessor lasted less than half that long.

Battery life of various laptops including ms surface book 2

The Surface Book 2 boasts a really good battery life!

This is an absolute proof of the strong battery life that the Surface Book 2 offers because of its large size and nature of its design. Microsoft claims up to 17 hours of battery life from the 15-inch Surface Book 2 over local video playback.

Stay tuned for an update as we’ll soon test the battery to check how long it lasts as per the claims of Microsoft. For the time being, know that the Surface Book 2 is already gearing up to be one of the longest-running laptops we’ve ever tested.

Final verdict

On a final note, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 is the most flexible and all-powerful 2-in-1 laptop we’ve ever used. However, like always it does have some faults – there are a few missed chances with Microsoft just considering the original Surface Book and topping it up, at least chassis design-wise.

But not to forget the efforts and hard work that went into the building of this device. The superior performance, longevity, beautiful design, superb display, and exquisite tactile feel when held in hand as either a laptop or a tablet- are all testament of the uphill battle of Microsoft.

Even though it is expensive but for all the features mentioned above, the price is steep for the best 2-in-1 laptop to date (and is now lower than the launch price), and you’re also getting the cream of the crop in 2-in-1 laptop design by one of the best companies. We highly recommend it if you are looking for a two in one notebook.


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