Microsoft’s do-it-all laptop hybrid, the Surface Book, finally – ahem – re-surfaced late last year after a two-year hiatus. Yes, the firm’s hardware arm was busy launching the Surface Laptop during that time but Microsoft’s bellwether was in dire need of a modern re-do.
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And what an upgrade it was. With desktop PC-levels of power squeezed into a package you could comfortably carry around on your day-to-day, there was little in the way of competition. The only thing that was sorely missing was a big-screened configuration. As 2018 begins to find its feet, Microsoft’s 15in Surface Book 2 offers exactly that.
Buy 15in Microsoft Surface Book 2
Microsoft Surface Book 2 15in review: What you need to know
Microsoft’s 15in Surface Book 2 is essentially the same machine as its smaller sibling. The laptop’s design is no different, aside from the larger 15in display and the slightly larger footprint that comes with it. The 3,240 x 2,160 resolution touchscreen display can still be detached from the keyboard, and it can still function as a standalone tablet.
Yet, where most 2-in-1 laptops falter when it comes to raw performance, the Surface Book 2 doesn’t suffer a similar fate. This is a powerful laptop in its own right. In the configuration I’ve reviewed here it comes equipped with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U processor, 16GB of RAM, a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip and a choice of either 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of SSD storage.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 15in review: Price and competition
This big-screened Surface Book 2 isn’t cheap, though. The base model with a 256GB SSD costs £2,349 with prices spiralling to £3,149 for the top-end configuration with 1TB of storage. Its 13.5in sibling, meanwhile, starts at £1,499 for the Core i5 model, which is equipped with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
If you’re comfortable sacrificing hybrid versatility in favour of a regular clamshell laptop, Dell’s superb XPS 15 starts at £1,299 for the seventh-gen Core i5 configuration and Apple’s latest 15in MacBook Pro at £2,349 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 15in review: Design and functionality
The Surface Book 2’s matte silver aluminium construction hasn’t changed a bit since the first iteration and this new, big-screened variant is equipped with the same accordion-style “Fulcrum” hinge, complete with an electronic locking mechanism that ensures the screen is docked and undocked with the keyboard as reliably as possible.
It’s a clever feature that works as well on this 15in laptop as it does the smaller 13.5in model. To separate the screen, simply hold down the Detach button on the top right of the keyboard for a few seconds or click the icon on the right-hand side of the Windows 10 taskbar. After a second or so you’ll hear a “click” and the screen can be removed – it’s a very sturdy and reliable process.
The only real difference between the two models is, invariably, the size and weight of each device. The extra 1.5in of screen adds another 400g to the machine to bring the total up to 1.9kg – and increases the footprint by eight percent (343 x 251mm).
Despite the larger size, though, there’s not a lick of difference when it comes to ports. There’s still a pair of USB 3 Type-A ports on the left of the keyboard base next to an SD card reader, while a 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top-right corner of the tablet part. A solitary USB 3.1 Type-C port sits on the edge to the keyboard, sitting next to the magnetic SurfaceConnect charging port.
If you aren’t satisfied with the Surface Book 2’s connectivity, you can boost it with the Surface Dock power supply and docking station. For £190 (a much better purchase than the £90 Surface Dial) the Surface Dock adds another four USB 3 Type-A ports, two Mini DisplayPort outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet socket and an extra audio output.
As for wireless connectivity, the 15in Surface Book 2 is equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 for pairing external devices and peripherals. A Windows Hello-compatible 5-megapixel camera can also be found above the display and there’s an 8-megapixel camera is on the back.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Keyboard, touchpad and touchscreen
The Surface Book 2’s keyboard is a pleasure to type on. Each key is generously spaced, with individual keystrokes providing plenty of clicky, tactile feedback. There’s very little to irritate the touch-typist here.
The F7/backlight button – which cycles through three different intensities of backlighting – is very handy for typing in dark conditions, and the large backspace, Enter and spacebar keys are well-sized. If I was being picky, the half-size up/down cursor keys could be bigger but this is a small complaint.
The same could be said about the touchpad. While modern laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro and the Huawei Matebook X Pro make ample use of the space below the keyboard, the Surface Book 2’s touchpad is small relative to the size of the machine and it isn’t best suited to Windows 10’s multitouch gestures. My fingers often bumped against the sides of it despite gliding smoothly across the glass-covered surface.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Display
I’m yet to find any better than the Surface Book 2’s 3,240 x 2,160 resolution display; it’s practically impeccable. When measured with our in-house X-rite i1 Pro colorimeter, the 15in display returned near-perfect scores with a contrast ratio of 1,545:1 and an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 91.2%. An average Delta E of 1.33, indicating superb colour accuracy, proves this display is well-suited for colour sensitive work and a peak brightness of 404cd/m2 is good enough to defeat the glare of nearby windows when you’re working from home.
The touch-sensitive display supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen stylus (£100), complete with tilt support and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. You can also use the hockey puck-shaped Surface Dial which, when placed on the surface, allows you to cycle through different app settings via the on-screen radial context menu.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Performance and battery life
Available in only one configuration – with a choice of three storage options – the 15in Surface Book 2 is equipped with Intel’s latest quad-core Coffee Lake Core i7-8650 processor, clocked at 1.9GHz and capable of boosted clock speeds up to 4.2GHz, and it’s paired with 16GB of 1,866MHz LPDDR3 RAM.
In our 4K benchmarks, the 15in Surface Book 2 scored 124 in the image-editing test, 83 in the video test and a stonking 70 in the multitasking test. These give it an overall score of 104, which is the highest we’ve seen on a 2-in-1 machine this thin and light.
Anecdotally, I found the 15in variant to be significantly more responsive in demanding applications such as Adobe Photoshop over the Core i5-equipped 13.5in Book 2, which scored 75 in the same test.
The Samsung-made 512GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD in our review unit produced sequential read and write speeds of 1,769MB/sec and 635MB/sec in the CrystalDiskMark benchmark. Those are far from the fastest read and write speeds we’ve seen, especially for a PCIe drive and they’re even slower when tested with AS SSD, with sequential read and write speeds of 1,223MB/sec and 594MB/sec.
Buy 15in Microsoft Surface Book 2
The 15in version also comes with a discrete 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip built into the keyboard base, with the tablet reverting to the CPU’s integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics when undocked. Gaming performance is decent: in Dirt: Showdown at 1,280 x 720 resolution, with settings turned up to High, it returned an average frame rate of 93fps. Even at its native resolution, with graphics quality bumped up to Ultra, the Surface Book 2 averaged 50fps.
It coped just as well in Rise of the Tomb Raider, hitting 94fps at Full HD resolution at Ultimate quality. Most importantly, the Surface Book 2 achieved these scores with minimal fan-whirr and the laptop kept nice and cool throughout as well.
In addition to the battery inside the tablet portion of the device, the keyboard base also contains a secondary battery. Battery life is exemplary, too, with a result of 10hrs and 47mins in our video-rundown test with the screen set to our standard 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode engaged. This isn’t quite the quoted “17 hours” but it is still a great result when you factor in the power-hungry internals and larger screen.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Verdict
The key question is whether the 15in Surface Book 2 is worth the added investment over the 13.5in model. I’m afraid, alas, that the answer to that question has to be no and that’s purely down to the size of the gap in price.
This 15in variant is a huge £850 more than the smaller model but it doesn’t deliver much more than the larger screen, with a similar core specification and only slightly better overall performance. Plus, the Surface Book 2 15in is a very heavy machine.
With Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1 on the horizon, promising similar flexibility and (inevitably) a sleeker, lighter design, the Surface Book 2’s days could be numbered before it gets going. It’s just far too niche.
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