Traveling with Surface Book

What is it like to travel with Microsoft’s first laptop?

Corey Roth

by Corey Roth on 11/5/2015

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airline, battery life, Surface Book, Surface Book vs Surface Pro 3, traveling, tray table

After using my Surface Book at home for a week, I got an opportunity to try it out as a traveling device on my trip to Redmond, WA for the Microsoft MVP Summit. I’ll cover what it’s like to travel with the Surface Book from undocking it to using it on the airplane.

First test – bump and run

I probably use this golf analogy way too much. As a test, I wanted to know how well the Surface Book works when I just undock it and throw it in my backpack. Before my trip, I left Surface Book on the dock overnight. Then I simply closed it and threw it in my bag and went to the airport. I didn’t put it to sleep, press the power button, or tell it to hibernate. I can usually just close the lid with any other laptop so I expected this to perform the same.

Once I arrived at the airport, I checked to see if the Surface Book passed the test. It did not. I expected it to go to sleep in Connected Standby mode. Instead, it was running hot and didn’t respond to my initial attempts to wake it up without holding down the Power button. 

When I got it to boot up, it was finishing applying updates. Updates on a Saturday night? I’m not surprised for a v1 device on the first week. Maybe it was the updates, but I’ll give the device another chance on this test this week to see if it works right. 

I confirmed in my power settings that the expected action was set to put the device to Sleep when I closed the lid.

Checking power setting on the Surface Book. It was clearly set to go to Sleep when I close the lid.

The default action when pressing power or closing the lid is for the device to go to Sleep.

Airport security

Remember how you can leave your Surface Pro 3 in your bag when going through airport security? That may not be the case here. Remember we are dealing with a laptop now. I went through the TSA PreCheck line and Surface Book went through in my bag without a problem. If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, you should probably expect to take Surface Book out of your bag.

Takeoff and landing

FAA regulations allow you to use any electronic device under two pounds during takeoff and landing.  With the keyboard attached, Surface Book is 3.34 pounds. If you have it sitting in your lap when the flight attendant comes by, you are going to get yourself a “talking-to.” You can get around the system though. Simply hold the detach button and then throw your keyboard in your bag. Now, you have yourself a 1.73-pound tablet and you are free to use it as you like. 

With my Surface Pro 3, I often used it without the keyboard. The Surface Pen comes in handy as it helps you click things. I’ve built entire wireframes in this manner using nothing but the Surface Pen on my Surface Pro 3. The Surface Book in Clipboard mode works just as well. You can easily hold the screen in your arms and watch a movie, check social media, or listen to music.

Using Surface Book in Clipboard mode on a tray table while traveling.

Showing Clipboard mode of the Surface Book on a tray table.

One thing to note when traveling is to be careful with your Surface Pen. It just snaps on the side of the screen using a magnet. Bump it on anything and it’s going to go flying off. When I put Surface Book in my backpack, I store it so that the Surface Pen is at the top of my backpack. That way I don’t have to worry about it falling off in the bottom of my backpack.

Using Surface Book on the tray table

I always found that using the Surface Pro 3 on a tray table to be a bit difficult. Since it relies on the kickstand, you have to position is absolutely perfectly so that you have enough room to use the keyboard. However, if the tray table doesn’t have a bump at the end of it, you’ll constantly find your Surface Pro 3 falling off the back of the tray table. 

Surface Book has its own set of challenges on a tray table. Thanks to the dynamic fulcrum hinge, the base of the Surface Book is quite long. That means the keyboard of the Surface Book is going to stick out the end a little bit. It works pretty well though. I’ve typed this entire article from the tray table and it has been relatively comfortable.

Typing on the Surface Book keyboard on a tray table

Typing on the Surface Book on the tray table.

Watching TV or movies on Surface Book

On my Southwest Airlines flight we can watch free TV, so I wanted to test what that experience is like. Since the device doesn’t have a kickstand, your best bet is to detach the screen and flip it around. That allows the keyboard to go off the back of the tray table freeing up some room for you.

Watching a movie on Surface Book is easier on a tray table if you flip the screen around and attach it to the keyboard.

Using the Surface Book with the screen flipped to watch TV in-flight.

Battery life

Any good device you travel with needs to have great battery life. Microsoft quotes my model at 12 hours. That’s never going to happen. The battery life does pretty well though. Even with the device coming on when I had it in my backpack, it was able to easily make it through my four-hour flight to Seattle. However, could it make it through an entire day? I used that as another test when I attended my first day at the MVP Summit.

Using Surface Book for a whole day

When traveling, I don’t want to plug in if I don’t have to. You’ve probably been in one of those conference rooms before where everyone at the table is scrambling for a power outlet. With Surface Book, you shouldn’t need one, right? I decided to put the battery to the test and see if I could go the whole day at the conference without charging. My usage was light all day with a mix of Outlook, OneNote, and browsing in Edge. Unfortunately, my battery life was far from 12 hours. I made it just over 7 hours and then I had to plug it in. I expected battery life to be better than that but this is just one test. This is still better than what I usually saw with my Surface Pro 3. Your experience may vary.


With the Surface Book, you lose some of the flexibility that you had with the Surface Pro series. Without a doubt the Surface Pro is better suited for travel because it weighs less. That’s just my preference. I like to travel light. However, what you get in exchange with the Surface Book is more power, killer battery life, an awesome keyboard and touchpad and a lot of versatility. 

Feel free to read my articles about Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Book, unboxing Surface Book and my complete review of Surface Book (prior to traveling with it). Also, catch my live comments about using Surface Book when I appear on Office 365 Pulse.

Topic: Surface

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