To say I was excited about the release of Surface Book would be an understatement. Going into the unveiling of the new Surface Pro 4, I was expecting to buy one. However, after seeing Surface Book, I knew I had to have one. The Surface Book I chose was the i5 / 8 GB RAM / 256 GB SSD configuration. This is essentially the same configuration of the Surface Pro 3 I had but with a new form factor and newer processor. I also went with the dedicated video card as well. This option costs $200 more, but for me it was worth it should I ever decide to play a game on it (not that I ever have time for that).
The experience I write about today has been about my use of the Surface Book this week as my primary device for work. While I have had pretty good luck with my Surface Book, my wife ran into quite a few issues with hers. Those are highlighted in the Issues section below, but there are plenty of good things to say about this device.
As expected, Surface Book has Windows 10 Pro on it. The operating system is a good fit for Surface Book with features like Tablet mode and Windows Hello.
Make no mistake. Surface Book is a laptop first and not a tablet first. As a result, it is heavier. If you have been carrying around the Surface Pro 3, you’ll notice it immediately. It’s not too heavy though. With a keyboard, the Surface Pro 3 weighs 2.45 pounds (1111 grams). The Surface Book with keyboard weighs 3.34 pounds (1516 grams). The screen on the Surface Book only weighs 1.73 pounds (784 grams) though. That’s actually slightly less than the Surface Pro 3 screen. If you are trying to keep weight to a minimum, you might want to go with the Surface Pro 4.
I covered the unboxing earlier this week, so be sure and check out my Surface Book Unboxing article if you want to see what it looks like when you first open it up.
The Surface Book is a great looking device. When the device is closed, at first it looks like any other laptop.
The top of the Surface Book when it is closed with the Surface Pen attached.
The most noticeable difference between the Surface Book and other laptops is the gap when the device is folded over. This is because of the dynamic fulcrum hinge. Why is this hinge necessary? Because the core components of the device are sitting behind the screen and not underneath the keyboard. The dynamic fulcrum hinge extends the base of the laptop, which keeps the device from tipping over. The gap is really the biggest thing that people aren’t sure about, so I am guessing the Surface engineering team will come up with an even better hinge on v2 of the Surface Book.
The notorious gap of the Surface Book.
If you are used to being able to fold the screen almost flat like on the Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4, you won’t be able to do that with a Surface Book. Microsoft did a good job planning how far back you can put the screen before it would naturally tip over. Remember, almost half the weight of the device is in the screen.
The Surface Book opened as far as possible.
On the left side of the keyboard are two USB 3.0 ports as well as a full sized SD card slot.
Surface Book features two USB 3.0 ports and a full size SD card slot.
Whereas the SDXC card hid away nicely on previous Surface devices, that’s not the case with Surface Book. Your SDXC card will require an adapter (they usually come with one) and it will stick out considerably. That’s a bit of a disappointment because the SDXC slot on the previous Surface models was a convenient way to add some additional storage.
The full size SD card slot on the Surface Book sticks out.
On the right side of the Surface, we have the newly branded Surface Connect port (aka power) and a Mini Display Port.
The Mini Display Port and Surface Connect (power) port on the right side of the Surface Book.
Like previous Surface models, the power connector lights up when connected and plugged in.
The power cable plugged into the Surface Connect port on the Surface Book.
However, when you connect the Surface Dock, the Mini Display Port is intentionally blocked. Microsoft only wants you connecting two monitors to the Surface Book. It may look like your cable will fit, but it won’t.
Surface Book with the Surface Dock connector plugged in blocks access to the Mini Display Port.
On the top of the screen, you'll find the power button and volume button. The volume buttons are oriented so that Volume Up is on the top when using the screen detached in clipboard mode.
The power and volume buttons located on the top of the Surface Book screen.
On the right side of the Surface Book screen is the headphones jack.
The headphones jack on the right of the Surface Book screen.
The Power Supply is slightly thicker than the Surface Pro 3 power supply. Without comparing them to each other, it’s hard to tell the difference. The weight is very similar too. The Surface Book outputs at 15v, whereas the Surface Pro 3 outputs at 12v. If you get them mixed up, you can read the fine print on the power supply to tell which one is which.
Comparing the power supplies of the Surface Pro 3 (left) and the Surface Book (right).
From the side, you can see how the thickness differs in the power supplies.
The power supply of the Surface Pro 3 (left) is not as thick as the Surface Book (right).
The Surface Book power supply continues to feature the built-in USB charging port as well.
If you are wondering if the Surface Pro 3 power supply can power a Surface Book, the answer is yes. However, with the lower output voltage of the power supply, it will charge slower.
After years of using various Surface devices, I think we have adapted to a less than ideal keyboard experience. The type keyboards work ok, but they are nothing like a laptop keyboard. I have been using the keyboard on my Surface Book all week and I really enjoyed it. The keys travel a good distance to make you feel like you are really typing. I really don’t feel like I am compromising when using this keyboard.
The keyboard of the Surface Book.
The keyboard is backlit so using it at night or in low light should be no problem. I’d show a picture of it, but I am pretty sure it has stopped working for me or I have accidently turned it off somehow.
The Fn and Caps lock keys also have lights on them so that you know when they are active.
The Fn and Caps lock keys on the keyboard light up.
The keyboard has a new key next to the right Alt key. Pressing this brings up the context menu from wherever you are. Effectively, this is the same as right clicking. I’m not sure how useful this key will be but it’s there if you want it.
The new Context Menu key on the Surface Book.
The other key you need to learn about is the Detach key, which Surface Book uses to release the screen. Don’t worry about pressing it accidentally. You have to hold it for a second before it will engage.
The Surface Book has a respectable touchpad. It is large enough to easily support three and four finger gestures. You can rest your palm on it and it does a good job not accidently moving the mouse cursor (an issue I faced often with the Surface Pro 3).
The new large touchpad on the Surface Book features multi-finger gestures.
For those of you who like touchpad gestures, there are plenty of them. For example, you can tap two fingers for a right-click or tap three fingers to search with Cortana. You can easily switch apps by dragging three fingers across the touchpad as well.
In the Mouse & touchpad menu, you can configure options on the touchpad including gestures.
I love the 13.5” screen on the Surface Book. With a resolution of 3000 x 2000, it looks great. Depending on your preferences, you may choose to adjust the display scaling level. This determines how small applications look on your screen. If you have great eyes, you can take it all the way down to 100% and cram many apps on the screen. For me, I zoom to 175%. I find that this is a nice medium to take advantage of the high pixel count on the screen while still being able to see things clearly for someone with aging eyes.
As you can see, the default screen resolution for Surface Book is 3000 pixels by 2000 pixels
The screen on the Surface Book features 10 touch points. When you touch it, you will notice the screen wobbles a bit. I think there is only so much stabilization that the dynamic fulcrum hinge can do.
The stylus on the Surface Book, known as the Surface Pen, has improved as well. Artists should be happy that the new Surface Pen now has 1024 points of pressure.
The eraser button on the side of the Surface Pen has been removed. Instead, you can use the end of the pen as an eraser just as if you would with a real pencil. It has a soft rubbery feel to it that makes it feel more like a real eraser as well.
The new eraser on the Surface Pen. Rub it against the screen to erase what you just wrote.
One side of the Surface Pen is now flat instead of rounded.
The edge of the Surface Pen is flat so that it can snap to the side of Surface Book.
This allows the Surface Pen to attach to the left side of the Surface Book screen using a magnet. While the pen will attach in a few places, you can tell from the magnets it really only likes to snap in one spot. Unfortunately for me, the Surface Pen will only attach on the left side of the screen and not the right side too. While this is good news for left-handers, it would be nice if it attached to both sides of the screen.
Magnets hold the Surface Pen to the left side of the screen.
Microsoft also offers replacement tips for the Surface Pen of different sizes. I haven’t tried them yet but they should let you customize the way the pen feels when using it.
In laptop mode, I don’t find the pen highly useful. Writing on the screen in this manner just doesn’t feel natural. However, when you detach it and use it in clipboard mode or flip the screen over and reattach it then it will be more useful. If you like hand-written notes, both of these modes are nice with the Surface Pen.
Clicking the pen once brings up OneNote just like before. Click it twice and it will take a screenshot. Hold the button down and Cortana will start listening and you can give her a command. The Cortana feature is a bit gimmicky but I have found it useful at times.
To say Windows Hello is awesome is an understatement. Windows Hello is a new feature in Windows 10 that lets you log in just by sitting in front of your computer and looking at the screen. This feature requires a special camera that is included on the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. It uses infrared to take a 3D image of your face. That means you can’t easily trick it by just holding a photo in front of the camera.
Windows Hello is looking for you. When it sees your face, your computer will unlock.
When Microsoft shipped Surface Book, the Windows Hello feature wasn’t turned on. You have to install a small system hardware update that Microsoft released on 10/23. After that, the options show up in the Account page of the Settings app. Unfortunately, there is no way for an average user to know the feature is there. I suspect Microsoft will correct this as they release newer builds.
After you have your system hardware update, click on the Search box next to Cortana and type “Windows Hello.” Then choose “Set up face sign-in.” You’ll end up on the Sign-in options of Accounts. Click Set up in the Windows Hello section.
Click Set up below Face in the Windows Hello section of the Sign-in options tab.
After that, you will be prompted to look at the camera and it only takes a few seconds.
Welcome Hello setup will help you set up using your face to unlock your Surface Book.
If you wear glasses, Windows Hello recommends you go through the process twice (with and without the glasses). You can also optionally have it require you to turn your head after looking at the camera for added security. I thought that was overkill and likely just going to cause a crick in my neck.
After you have set up Windows Hello, lock your computer and give it a try. What’s impressive is that it even works well in the dark because of the Infrared camera. However, when I tried to use Windows Hello outside in the sun, it couldn’t recognize me at all. Like any laptop, the device is a bit hard to use outside anyways because of the brightness and reflection on the screen. You’ll have to turn the brightness all the way up.
If someone else tries to sign in with Windows Hello on your computer, eventually it will cause a lock out. This happened when my son sat down in front of my computer while it was locked. After I got him out of my office chair, it had me sign in with my PIN instead because there were too many failed login attempts.
Take a look at this video from Microsoft below to learn more about Windows Hello.
The Surface Book features a front-facing camera and a rear-facing camera. You can use the 5.0 MP front-facing camera, which powers Windows Hello, for video conferencing. The 8.0 MP rear facing camera has been improved with autofocus. Microsoft put rear-facing camera on the left side (when sitting at the keyboard).
The rear-facing camera on the Surface Book.
Surface Book comes in a variety of i5 / i7 processor configurations. You can but the i7 model with up to 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB SSD. In my daily usage, I have found that the i5 model kept up with my routine work tasks easily. If you are doing a lot of development or gaming, you may consider the i7 models. The device is definitely faster than the Surface Pro 3 and things seem snappier on my Surface Book. That could just be perception though.
The Surface Book ships with 218 GB of free storage on the 256 GB SSD models. This is actually a little more than what the Surface Pro 3 shipped with (210 GB).
Surface Book ships with 218 GB of free space, which is more than Surface Pro 3 had.
The system ships with three partitions. The recovery partition is only 880 MB compared to over 5 GB on the Surface Pro 3. That means you get more usable space on your device.
Surface Book ships with three partitions. The Recovery partition is just 830 MB.
Your primary drive is BitLocker encrypted just like on previous Surface devices.
If you have used a Surface Pro 3 or even an older Surface RT, you probably love connected standby. That’s the feature that lets your screen turn on instantly when you press the power button. It’s not something you usually see on laptops, but the Surface Book has it. That means if you are streaming music using a Universal Windows App such as Groove Music or iHeartRadio, the music keeps going when the screen is off.
One feature that really sets the Surface Book apart is that the screen detaches from the keyboard. Microsoft kept this under wraps even during the unveiling of Surface Book at the launch event. I don’t think anyone expected it at all. Detaching the screen lets you go from a solid laptop to a tablet in seconds. The screen is incredibly lightweight too. In fact, it weighs less than your Surface Pro 3 even though it is a bigger screen.
Surface Book controls the detach process using software. That means if your computer doesn’t have any power or the battery is dead, it’s not coming off. People can argue whether this is a good thing or not, but it’s something to be aware of. To detach the screen from the keyboard, you can either click the Detach icon in the task bar (there is a program that runs during startup that puts this icon there) or you can hold the Detach button on the keyboard.
You can detach the Surface Book screen by clicking on the detach icon on the left.
You’ll hear a sound and a click when the device detaches and then you are ready to go using the new Surface Book Clipboard mode. In Clipboard mode, the device excels at tasks like handwritten notes in OneNote. If you have a job where you are on your feet a lot and want to take notes on the go, you’ll love this feature.
Holding the Surface Book in Clipboard mode.
The downside is that unlike the Surface Pro devices, the screen does not have a kickstand. However, you can flip the screen around and attach it back to the keyboard. This provides a good angle to use the device to watch movies on the airplane.
Surface Book with its screen attached backwards is great for watching movies on the plane.
You can fold it down and it provides a good angle to do sketches or work with 3D drawings.
Writing with the Surface Pen when the device is folded and the screen is attached backwards.
Taking a look at the profile of the device from the side when the screen is attached backwards. You usually have to pick up the device when you do this so it knows to flip the screen towards you.
The gap in the Surface Book works to an advantage when the screen is attached backwards.
Here is what the keyboard looks like when the screen is detached.
The Surface Book keyboard when detached.
The speakers on the Surface Book are comparable to the Surface Pro 3. They support Dolby Audio Premium. They sound alright and they definitely get loud enough for you to hear over background noise. To me, they sound a bit “tinny” and lack bass but I really wasn’t expecting more than that. If you have a pair of speakers to plug into a Surface Dock, that is the way to go. However, the built-in Surface Dock speakers are definitely good enough if you decide to go work on the back porch when the weather is nice. I’ve listened to music on them for several hours and the experience isn’t bad at all.
The Surface Book isn’t going to replace a hardcore gamer’s Alienware laptop. However, with the models that have dedicated NVidia graphics cards in them, the performance is not bad at all. I tried it with a game or two and it seemed to perform well enough. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the software that tells you when the NVidia graphics card is active. That would be nice to know. For someone using the device mostly for work that plays an occasional game here and there, you’ll be happy with its performance.
If you are not going to play games on the Surface Book or if you don’t see yourself using high-end graphics or 3D modeling software, then you can pass on the dedicated GPU. You’ll likely never use it.
Microsoft claims battery life on the device is 12 hours. I am guessing it will be less than that in the real world, but it’s too early to tell. How Microsoft got that number was by testing it on an i5 / 8 GB RAM / 256 GB SSD model (the same one I have). They tested the device by doing continuous video playback using default settings. The Wi-Fi was associated with a network and Auto-Brightness was disabled. Now that might have meant brightness was set to 0 % so who knows.
The device has two separate batteries. One in the keyboard and one in the display. The keyboard battery is rated for 9 hours and the display battery is rated for 3 hours. It consumes power from the keyboard battery first. When you click on the battery icon, it will display the status of both batteries.
Power status of both batteries in the Surface Book.
Surface Book is a premium laptop and costs quite a bit more than the Surface Pro 4. The entry level price for an Intel Core i5 / 8 GB RAM / 128 GB SSD starts at $1499 USD. The highest end model features an Intel Core i7 / 16 GB RAM / 1 TB SSD and a dedicated GPU and it will run you $3199 USD. Many of the high end models aren’t shipping until January 2016. They are only available in the United States and Canada right now, too. I don’t think it matters which model you get; all of them should be great machines. You just might be waiting a while for some models.
I’m not going to lie, it’s been a bumpy week for my wife and I with Surface Book. This is, in fact, a v1 device. While I have had pretty good success with the device itself, my wife’s Surface Book had issues from the beginning. When hers arrived, the keyboard wouldn’t work. The battery in the keyboard wasn’t detected and the device wouldn’t detach. It took a day but finally I got a support article for @SurfaceSupport that had the answer buried inside. We did a hard power off by holding Power + Volume Up for 15 seconds. Finally, the device sprung back to life and the keyboard started working. That key combination works on any Surface, by the way, when you are having trouble with it.
However, her issues were far from done. She later had issues with the touchpad not working, the keyboard not working (but in a different way), and then touch not working. We took that Surface Book back to the Microsoft store, but I am keeping mine.
Have I had issues? Yes, but almost all of them are centered around Surface Dock. I was planning on writing a review on it earlier this week, but I simply have nothing good to say about it. Connecting multiple monitors to Surface Dock does not work right now. I’ve gone through lots of testing on two different docks. I have tried lots of workarounds. Nothing keeps your monitors working on that device. Surface Dock is compatible with the Surface Pro 3 and the issues occur there so it really has nothing to do with Surface Book, just the dock itself. I suspect the problem is with drivers and it will hopefully get better soon. It has been frustrating to say the least.
Finally, if you are a developer and you use Hyper-V, you will find that having it installed causes the screen to flicker sometimes. Again, another video driver issue. It’s funny how issues on any new device are so often caused by video drivers. I expect that one to get fixed soon. I don’t do much real development any more so I just uninstalled the Hyper-V role and the flickering went away.
When you get a new device you should expect issues. Previous iterations of the Surface Pro had issues as well (most of them video driver related). I suspect things will improve soon.
I’ve been working with my Surface Book all week. Aside from the Surface Dock issues, the Surface Book has been a great device. Thanks to OneDrive and Office 365, it didn’t take long for me to become productive on this device. Using Windows Hello to login seems like magic every time I do it. It easily drives my 4k monitor (when I plug it in directly) and provides a great workspace for me to get my job done. Typing on the keyboard is great too. It’s so much nicer than typing on the Surface Pro 3 keyboard. I think the Surface Book can meet the needs of a lot of people regardless of their job. It’s a nice device.
There is no doubt that the Surface Book is a cool device. It has a good amount of power, a beautiful screen, and great keyboard and touchpad. It’s versatile too with its unique detach capabilities. While there have been a few issues, I’d still recommend it if you are looking for a device that is a laptop first. If you want a tablet first device, the Surface Pro 4 should be your first choice.
Catch my live comments about Surface Book when I appear on Office 365 Pulse.