Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15in) review

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THE SURFACE BOOK 2 has been around for some time, but it’s now available in a new, higher-spec 15in model. 

It’s probably one of the most powerful Windows devices on the market right now, too, thanks to its dedicated Nvidia graphics, Intel Core i7 processor and its full-sized keyboard, trackpad and stylus, making it possibly the first laptop that could act as a true desktop replacement, despite the claims of many manufacturers that promise this and never deliver.

Read on to find out how it fares in real life.

Design
It’s not surprising that Microsoft hasn’t really changed the design of the Surface Book 2 compared to its predecessor as it worked so well the first time around

The magnesium chassis with its brushed aluminium façade is exceptionally sturdy and won’t bend or flex no matter what you do to it, which is pretty reassuring. The chassis is built like a tank, and so it’s quite surprising how it is able to transform into different modes, such as stand or tablet, while still keeping this rigid, hard wearing form throughout.


So how exactly can it transform? Well, it does so via its innovative push-button that activates its “muscle wire” latching mechanism inside the hinge between the display and keyboard. This allows you to detach the screen to use the tablet only if you so wish, or spin it around 180-degrees and use the keyboard as a stand – held in place with extremely strong magnetic clamps – for your viewing pleasure.


The “dynamic fulcrum” hinge is a nice touch, as it folds outwards in segments rather than rotating on a pivot. While it means the viewing angles of the screen are better and more ergonomic than rival devices, such as Lenovo’s “watchstrap” hinge, it does leave a bit of a gap in between the bottom of the display and the top of the keyboard when folded, and means the tablet can flex slightly when pressured.

In terms of size, the Surface Book 2 measures a pretty hefty 343x251x23mm and weighs almost 2kg at 1,905g. This is perhaps the only major downside of the Surface Book 2, as its size and weight make it a bit of a pain to carry around from the office to home, for example, taking up most of the space in your average-sized backpack.

Keyboard
With its brightly backlit keys that demonstrate deep travel and punchy feedback, the Surface Book 2’s keyboard is a pleasure to use. Well, it was until the “o” button randomly just fell off. And it’s not like we were over-excitedly ‘OOOOH-ing’ at everything during use, either (it’s not THAT good).

Nevertheless, this could have been down to our review model being a sample device made for testing, or could have been done by a naughty journalist who used the device before us. Still, it’s worth keeping a note in case this is prone to happen on consumer devices also.

Screen
The Surface Book 2’s screen boasts something Microsoft calls a “PixelSense Display”, which is – as you’d expect from the name – very pixel-heavy, touting a 260ppi and a resolution of 3240×2160 pixels. It also has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is great for working on documents.

It’s a pleasure to use and while it isn’t the best for Netflix binging due to the lack of widescreen aspect ratio, we think this is done purposely on Microsoft’s part as its way of telling users that this machine is made for working; backing up its powerhouse internal specs.

The laptop’s display also manages to balance its colours well, showing off punchy and vibrant reds, greens and blue with none of the sickly pop of an oversaturated tablet. It’s bright, too, which helps cut through the reflectivity of its glossy finish.

Overall, you can definitely tell the Surface Book 2 has been built with graphic designers and illustrators in mind, and outside of the bundled Surface Pen, nowhere is this more evident than its excellent display.

Performance and software
We reviewed a relatively top-spec model of the Surface Book 2, which boasted Intel’s 8th-gen, quad-core Core i7 processor clocked at 2.1GHz and a massive 16GB of RAM, with 512GB of SSD storage and super-fast dedicated Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics.

And you could tell Microsoft has put its heart and soul into making this laptop a desktop replacement, as it can handle anything you throw at it, with ease. Opening multiple windows doesn’t cause any slowdown at all, for example, and even demanding, graphics-intensive apps run quickly and smoothly. Overall, the Surface Book 2 was as fast and responsive as one might expect from those specs, making it – in our opinion – a viable desktop alternative.

While we didn’t experience it during our review, one potential issue with the Surface Book 2 is the power supply. Microsoft has only given the machine a 102-watt charger, and with a Nvidia GTX 1060 inside, this could prove troublesome for the more hardcore gamers. Most similar laptops are gaming ones that have 150-watt or even 200-watt power supplies.

In terms of software, Windows 10 Pro, the upgraded business-friendly version of Windows 10 Home, is Microsoft’s OS of choice for the Surface Book 2. It’s a fine choice – bonus BitLocker encryption makes Windows 10 Pro more secure than the basic edition, and if the screen is removed to be used as a tablet, then the Continuum interface can automatically adapt the UI into a more touch-optimised layout. During our time using the OS on the Surface Book 2, Windows worked perfectly, as you’d expect from a device that is made by the same company. 

Microsoft has also kept pre-installed apps, beyond what’s included with Windows 10 Pro by default, to a minimum. Thankfully, there’s far less bloatware on the Surface Book 2 than what manufacturers like Acer, Asus, and Lenovo include on their laptops.

Connectivity
For connectivity, Microsoft has given the Surface Book 2 two USB-A 3.1 ports, 1 USB-C port, a headphone jack, a Surface Connector, and an SD card reader. All worked fine in our experience, with nothing negative to report.

There’s also 1080p front and rear cameras located on the tablet, which also work with Windows Hello.

Battery life
There are two batteries inside the Surface Book 2, one in the base and one in the tablet portion of the device, which is super handy if you’re looking to use it as a true 2-in1.

Microsoft claims the device can offer 17 hours for local video playback when used in laptop mode, but in reality, we managed to rack up around eight hours in normal use, around the same as the original Surface Book. This was based on a variety of web-browsing, document editing, and HD video streaming. So it’ll comfortably see you through a whole day in the office, as long as you are constraining the display to slightly dimmed levels, mind.

In tablet mode the battery ran out of juice after around three hours, perfect length of time to last you through a few episodes on a short haul flight, for example.

Price and availability
Right, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How much does this thing cost?

While it has a quoted starting price of “from £1,149”, the configuration of our review device, as seen on the UK Microsoft store, comes in an eye-watering £2,749.00 including VAT. Gah.

Yes, the Surface Book 2 is a hugely expensive laptop, but you should remember that it’s not your average laptop device. You’re paying for the impressive specs, specifically the 16GB RAM and the discrete Nvidia graphics, and that’s definitely something the Surface Book has over the Apple MacBook Pro, for instance.

In short
We see a lot of claims about “the power of a desktop” here at INQ, but Microsoft looks to have genuinely cracked it.

It’s particularly impressive that a dedicated GPU has been squeezed into this relatively slimline chassis, but saying that, it does make it exceptionally heavy to lug around with you if you need a device that’s portable, as well as powerful. If you’re not all that fussed about gaming or needing demanding graphically intensive work apps, we’d suggest going for the cheaper and lighter 13.5in device, and sacrificing the dedicated graphics for a lighter, more portable offering. µ

The good
Sturdy build quality, stylish minimalist design, amazing display, beefy performance, a true desktop replacement.

The bad
Not very portable; quite heavy.

The ugly
The price.

Bartender’s score 
8/10 

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