Ed Baig takes a first look at Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 4, announced at their product event in New York City
NEW YORK — When was the last time you lusted after a product from Microsoft? With apologies to Xbox fans, if the next time is the first time you’re not alone.
Yet I expect lots of folks to drool over the beautiful and fast new Microsoft Surface Book, the company’s powerhouse of a notebook that aims to give Apple’s MacBook Pro a run for its money. It’s the first full-fledged notebook that Microsoft has ever built.
Apparently, plenty of people are already voting for Surface Book with their wallets, judging by the pre-sale demand.
At Microsoftstore.com, you learn that the company isn’t expected to ship the entry level $1499 Surface Book configuration (Intel Core i5, 128GB of storage, 8GB of memory) for four to five weeks. And the top of the line $3199 model (Intel Core i7, 1 terabyte, 16GB) won’t get shipped until late January.
Surface Book shares certain traits with its highly-regarded siblings, the Surface hybrid tablet computers of which there’s now a brand new Surface Pro 4.
Both Surface Book and Surface Pro make use of a pressure-sensitive pen. Both run Windows 10 software. And both can perform double-duty as a laptop and a table.
But you should really consider Surface Book first and foremost as a laptop — and a darn impressive one at that — while Surface Pro 4 is more of a hybrid tablet. Indeed, to truly employ Surface Pro 4 as a laptop, you’ll want to purchase the optional keyboard cover accessory, lest you otherwise have to rely full-time on an onscreen keyboard.
The physical keyboard on Surface Book is an integral part of the machine, of course, just as it is on any laptop. It is absolutely first rate, with backlit keys that are a genuine pleasure to type on. The trackpad is also really nice.
If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t even know the keyboard and gorgeous 13.5-inch touch screen can be detached from one another, which transforms Surface Book into a large display clipboard or slate that I suspect will invite comparisons with Apple’s yet to be released iPad Pro.
To release the keyboard, you must press a key on the upper row of keys and wait a moment or so for a green light, or an alert to appear on the screen. This protects you from crashing say the graphics program you’ve been running, since the horsepower required to run such heavy duty software is in the base. (A discreet NVIDIA graphics processor is an option.)
Separated from the rest of the computer in tablet mode, the Surface Book weighs a mere 1.6 pounds, or a little less than half the weight of the machine when the keyboard is connected to the screen. When tethered, Surface Book is in the same weight class as Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro, which means it is just a little bit heavy.
This clipboard/tablet functionality is kind of a bonus: use it to show off a presentation, jot down some notes, or even do some browsing. I found it perfectly natural to write on the display with the special Surface Pen, which Microsoft says has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity.
Indeed, you might doodle in the OneNote note-taking program, sketch in Fresh Paint, or write on the Web inside the new Microsoft Edge browser, which comes along with Windows 10.
Microsoft says you’ll get about three hours of battery life when using Surface Book as a clipboard but up to 12 hours when everything is reattached. I found the battery life to be excellent.
It is of course in this reattached mode in which you’ll turn to Surface Book as your prime time Windows 10 laptop.
According to Microsoft, you’ll be able to exploit the new Windows Hello feature in Windows 10 and “unlock” the computer by having the front-facing 5-megapixel high definition camera recognize your mug. (There’s also a rear facing 8-megapixel HD camera.) But the feature was not enabled yet in time for this review.
Windows 10 itself represent a marked improvement over Windows 8. The presence of Cortana is a major plus, with Microsoft’s answer to Siri able to help you with search, manage your calendar, even sing a tune. You can type in a search query, or talk to Cortana and get a verbal response back.
Microsoft claims that Surface Book is up to twice as fast as the MacBook Pro. While I’ll leave it to others to conduct comparative benchmark tests, I can tell you the Surface Book feels plenty snappy.
I do have some quibbles. There’s no kickstand on Surface Book as on the Surface Pro, and you can’t push back the screen beyond a certain angle. In its closed position as a laptop, there’s also a visible gap on the side that looks a little strange, almost as if the designers took that day off.
While the new Microsoft hardware compares very favorably to the MacBook Pro, the decision of whether you want Surface Book or Apple’s premium laptop comes ultimately boils down to another important factor—do you buy into Windows or favor Apple’s Mac OS X operating system?
If you decide on Windows, the Surface Book is a computer worth gushing about.
The bottom line
Microsoft Surface Book
$1,499 on up, www.microsoft.com
Pro. Fast and powerful Windows 10 laptop has gorgeous display, excellent keyboard and trackpad and can turn into a tablet. Terrific battery life. Surface Pen.
Con. Expensive. No kickstand as on Surface Odd gap design.
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