Living with the Microsoft Surface Book 2
Windows PCs and laptops have conventionally been made and sold by various OEMs as Microsoft’s role was prominent only in the software side of things while the hardware was manufactured as per the brands’ wish. This was contrary to Apple who managed both the hardware as well as software and hence could optimize their MacBook line-up and make necessary tweaks and customizations based on what they thought the user would require.
Microsoft jumped onto the bandwagon with their Surface-branded tablet PCs initially which later on went on to evolve into portable laptops which were versatile and could behave like tablets as well when you wanted them to, along with the power of Windows and its touchscreen capabilities. The Surface Book was one such device which offered a premium full-fledged powerhouse laptop experience along with a detachable screen with touch input that could be used as a standalone device. The successor to it, the Surface Book 2 is what I used for a while to help me with my workflow and these are my impressions about it.
The first time I unboxed the Surface Book 2, I had just one word. Wow. The Surface Book 2 both looks and feels fantastic. The construction is extremely solid, and when held in hand, the base feels like one cold, thick slab of metal. The quality of materials used on the Surface Book 2 is undeniably premium. The hinge does not have even the slightest of giving and feels solid while opening and closing the display. The edges on the base, however, are slightly sharp and can get uncomfortable at times when your hand rests on it while typing for long hours.
Thankfully, there are sufficient ports to get you through day-to-day usage, but I observed that the two USB ports are located too close to each other for my liking. The display portion seems equally well built and attaches snugly into the mechanism built onto the base. There is absolutely no flex even when the display is tried to be pulled out forcefully. The Surface Book overall has a considerable amount of heft to it which can be attributed to quality construction. Excellent job on the build, Microsoft.
The display is a 4K panel and consuming content on it was an absolute joy. There are two cameras on the Surface Book 2, one each on the front and back and while I didn’t find myself using them too often, the image quality seems impressive for a camera on a laptop. And then there’s Windows Hello which uses ultra-fast facial recognition to unlock your Surface. It’s not just about how the exterior feels on the Surface Book 2. The build is also ergonomic meaning keeping it on your lap for extended periods of time will not cause any issues as the thermal aspect of it is managed surprisingly well too. What’s not managed too well, however, is throttling.
The 13.5-inch variant sent to us boasted of an Intel Core i7 8th gen processor along with the Nvidia GTX 1050 for graphics, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. My day-to-day activities include typing articles, web browsing, some YouTube, college assignments, 1080p video editing and at times, some casual gaming. While the Surface Book 2 breezed through most of these tasks, editing videos on Adobe Premiere Pro was where the internals took the maximum hit. I realized that the machine was constantly getting hot on the under-side which might have caused the throttling resulting in terrible frame-drops as well as lag. This can get frustrating if you want to get work done urgently but your computer won’t co-operate.
While I expected the case to be no different with regards to gaming, The Surface Book 2 surprisingly held its own here. I did not play intensive games, but CS GO as well as FIFA 18 ran without any issues albeit not on 60fps at highest graphics settings, but surely playable.
Being a high-performance machine, I did not expect the Surface Book 2 to perform too well in the battery department, but when I started to use the laptop, I realized that I probably jumped the gun too soon. The Surface Book 2, on a full-fledged college + workday could easily get me upwards of 7-8 hours on battery power which for me was quite impressive given all that power underneath and that high-res display.
My day included some light YouTube early in the morning, followed by some programming at college for around 2 hours, typing out a script for a smartphone review, some social media, editing a portion of a 1080p video, 2-3 games of FIFA followed by some light YouTube again before I ended the day with 15% charge, all while having push notifications from WhatsApp web running in the background.
For a student like me who goes to college during the day and also works part-time, the Surface Book 2 was an excellent departure from my underpowered and hefty 15.6-inch laptop as this 13.5-inch machine would slide into my backpack without adding too much bulk and carried serious power to get probably any task done without hiccups (unless I had to edit a video of course) and the fact that battery lasts long meant I wouldn’t have to carry the charger along with me.
However, the one factor that prevents me from investing in this machine myself is that behemoth price tag. The Surface Book 2 in India starts at a price of Rs. 1,37,999 and for that price, you’re getting a powerful laptop in a portable size along with a detachable screen and great battery life, but is the form factor and build worth paying that extra money for, as a generic laptop with specs as the Surface Book 2 can be found for under half the price? For a student like me, probably not. But if you’re a professional and want to invest in a portable Windows machine specifically and don’t do a lot of processor/graphics-intensive work like video-editing or heavy gaming, and want a premium laptop with a battery that lasts you all day even while traveling, the Surface Book 2 can be a solid option.