Microsoft Surface Book 2 – nearly perfect (review)

Surface Book 2

Reviewing the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is like putting on a pair of comfortable old slippers – that aaahhh feeling of familiarity and comfort as you slip into them.

You see, I own a Microsoft Surface Book 1. It has long been my faithful companion and will continue to be so for many years to come. It was so far ahead of the pack when released in October 2015, especially the i7 model with NVIDIA graphics, that it is still very useful today.

I nearly bought the Surface Book 2 late last year as it had at long last included a USB-C port. Alas, only a 3.1, Gen 1 port with power and data, not Thunderbolt 3.

Ultimately, I bought an HP EliteBook x360 1030 G2 with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 instead as GadgetGuy’s production PC. Damn Microsoft – if only you had Thunderbolt 3!

The differences are subtle between Book 1 and Book 2

  • There is now a highly desirable 15” version – great for artists and designers. As a journalist I am happy with 13.5” when travelling and my HP Z34C, 21:9 monitor when I need some serious screen real estate.

Surface Book 2

  • Size is the almost the same although the i5 version has put on 200g and the i7 is 30g lighter!
  • The real charges – Microsoft claims 1000+ – are under the Surface.
    • These now sport the 7th generation i5-7300U, and the i7 gets the 8th generation i7-8650U.
    • GPU Is integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics (i5/i7) as well as NVIDIA GTX 1050 2GB (13.5” i7) or 1060 6GB (15” i7), graphics bases (detachable keyboard).
    • Screens are still 3:2 and 3000×2000 pixels – the best screen on any laptop. Book 2 uses a new type of screen that brings the glass, sensing elements, and graphical elements closer together to increase accuracy.
    • The optional pen has 4096 levels of pressure (same as the Surface Pro 2017).
    • The Surface Dial still works garnering more support as an alternative input device.
    • Batteries remain similar but the 7th and 8th generation Intel Core processors are more power efficient giving slightly longer life.

Review – Microsoft Surface Book 2, 13.5”, Core i7, 16GB/1TB, NVIDIA 1050/2GB, Model 1832/1835, RRP $4,449

Australian website here.


Surface Book 2Surface Book 2

I could be cheeky and copy the Microsoft Surface Book 1 review. But times have changed and so has the computing landscape. So, this is a fresh review against GadgetGuy test paradigms.

What is it?

A high-end, i5/i7, 13.5 or 15” touchscreen, detachable keyboard notebook. It acts like a 360° hinge notebook or a standalone tablet.

It is unique – there is no other device where the screen detaches, with an NVIDIA GTX keyboard base, dual batteries and a 3:2 ratio screen.

And because it is unique Microsoft can charge whatever it likes. Frankly, I think it is good value for what you get.

Who uses it?

Obviously, those who can afford it! But more than that it is ideally suited to

  • Creative types who can use a pen/dial and develop artwork, design, fashion, cartoons etc
  • Engineering/draftsmen who can use the pen/dial as a portable digitiser replacement
  • With Mixed Reality Ultra support more will be seen in the field for training and use by mechanics to visualise repairs
  • It has one of the best, if not the best, keyboard experiences that make it ideal for journalists to travel with. I also have a Surface Pro 2017, and while it is best for travel due to its size I take the Surface Book for the keyboard
  • An enormous number end up on CEO desks if only as a status symbol
  • And being cheeky it has attracted many MacBook Pro users that want touch screen – come on Apple!

In the box

The nice solid box is rather bereft of goodies. You get the tablet section, the appropriate base and a Surface Ribbon charger.


The i7 gets a 95W, 15V/6.33A charger as it needs more juice to power the NVIDIA keyboard base.

The i5 gets a 65W, 15/4.33A charger (same as the Surface Pro/4).

Both have a 5V/1.5A USB-A output.

The first impression is well made; matt called VaporMg magnesium and an interesting designed hinge. It is neither beautiful nor bland. Quietly elegant.

Setup

Setup is the typical Microsoft Windows 10. This one can use Cortana to voice guide you. I knew what I was doing, so Cortana only slowed me down.

As with any Windows device, I urge you to turn off all the default ‘privacy’ – or is that anti-privacy settings at setup. It does not affect the operation at all. If you need something like location it is easy to change this under Settings, Privacy.

Microsoft has listened and in all new setups does at least present privacy options – that is way ahead of other operating systems that assume you want to be spied on.

It comes with the typical Windows bloatware – mainly games and trial versions of software. Again I urge you to remove these (right click on the menu icon and select uninstall) if only to free up disk space and memory.


The hinge is not quite a 360°

Just to remind you that this is a tablet with a detachable keyboard.

Surface Book 2

Pressing an electronic release button detaches the screen. You can re-attach it, either way, e.g. like a clamshell notebook or tent style.

Surface Book 2

The hinge does not allow the screen to fold flat like a typical 360° design.

If this is a need (and I can’t see it as a deal breaker) look to some similar quality commercial grade foldables from HP (Elite Book or Spectre) and Dell (XPS).

The screen sits firmly on its magnetic muscle wire locking mechanism. There is a slight front/back wobble if moved but it’s solid when typing.

The tablet section it is well, heavy at 710g. It has been described as a ‘clipboard’ as you will want to use it in A4 portrait mode. The base is about 930g – a total of 1.64kg.

Screen

One of the best, most accurate colour screens in a very usable 3:2 format. The allows for more usable space than 16:9 screens. It is like an A4 sheet 297x210mm format.

Surface Book 2The screen is factory calibrated to 96.6% sRGB (about 65% AdobeRGB) so artists, designers and photographers can use it. Blacks are solid, and whites are white – no cast. Brightness is 462 nits ad contrast of 1800:1 (or more) – excellent.


It is a PixelSense screen. The best way to describe it is more of a work surface than a screen. A special PixelSense processor ensures the best colour, clarity at all angles, and to support Windows Ink (active digitiser) and capacitive touch.

A separate Microsoft Pen controller (was called a G5 chipset) almost eliminates any pen latency or touch lag. It works!

Windows Mixed Reality

It gives you a virtual ‘home’ that offers various experiences as you move from room to room, letting you view and operate movies, apps, games and holograms. You can also use your voice to invoke the Cortana digital assistant.

The Surface Book 2 has Windows Mixed Reality Ultra with some extras including

  • crisper visuals and a higher refresh rate (90 frames per second)
  • more apps and experiences, including graphics-intensive games
  • a window on the desktop that mirrors what you see in mixed reality
  • recording and sharing of videos (and photos) of mixed reality experiences.

Surface Book 2

GadgetGuy reviews Windows Mixed Reality here.

Keyboard/touchpad/Pen

This is the best typists keyboard of any notebook.

The key throw is 1.5mm. This is about the minimum you should expect (none of this Apple MacBook 1.00mm rubbish) and around 70g actuation force. Key presses are firm but not tiresome with a good tactile feel.


There is no bounce of neighbouring keys either. Good 100wpm touch-typing speeds are possible. In an initial test I scored 90% of my mechanical keyboard speed, and after using it for about half an hour, it was up to 95%.

It has three levels of backlight. When off the letters are black. You can select three levels of illumination to make the letters white, whiter or whitest on the grey keys. There is a slight light bleed around the keys, unnoticeable when you are typing.

The 109 x 70mm glass touchpad is Microsoft Precision certified – that means it supports four finger swipes as well as 100% cursor movement from top right to bottom left in one swipe. It is accurate and a joy to use.

The 4096-pressure level pen at A$139.95 is an improvement over the previous 1024 incarnation. It adds pen tilt for thicker lines. A lower 9g actuation force makes it as easy to use on glass as a rollerball pen on paper! The Pen comes in Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Aqua, Black and Platinum barrel colours.

It connects via Bluetooth 4.0. It comes with a replacement pen tip kit. The best thing I can say (as I have no artistic skills) is that it is easier to write and annotate than the previous pen. It closely matches pen on paper experience.


I did not try the A$149.95 Surface Dial that adds dial controls to many drawing tools.

Ports

Let’s go back to USB-C

I mentioned the USB-C – it is not Thunderbolt 3 (damn you Microsoft), but it is an expansion port that supports 5Gb/s data and power.

Technically it is a USB-C, 3.1, Gen1, 5Gb/s with USB Power Delivery supporting up to 45W upstream and 15W downstream.

That means it will power most USB devices like external SSD and hard disks.

It replaces the mini-DisplayPort, so you will need a dongle to run an external monitor or a dock to run dual 1920 x 1080 FHD monitors, and it will support a 34” HP Z34C 21:9, 3440 x 1440 monitor. If you need dual 4K, then you can use a USB-A 3.0 to DisplayPort 4K adaptor.

We have tested

Cameras

The front camera is 2560 x 1440, (16:9 3.7MP) or up to 2560×1706 (3:2, 4.4MP). With fixed length focus it does a great job of selfies. It will record up to [email protected] in 16:9.


The rear camera is 3264 x 1836 pixels (16:9, 6MP) or up to 3264 x 2448 (4:3, 8MP). With autofocus and digital stabilisation is produces clear pictures with good colour under office lighting (500 lumens). It has been optimised for whiteboard photography. It will also record up to [email protected]

The Windows Camera app is surprisingly flexible, and you can download third-party apps from Windows Store for things like picture in picture, as a security camera, various filters and effects etc.

Sound

It has Dolby Audio 2.0 channel processing but no equaliser or pre-sets. That means it will play Dolby encoded content (movies) with low total harmonic distortion. It is a step up from the included Realtek drivers.

Output to Bluetooth and via a 3.5mm jack had a noise-free signal. Frequency response was from 20Hz-20kHz.

The two forward facing speakers do a good job as a personal music and movie player. Frequency response had bass kicking in at 100Hz and a relatively flat response (good) to around 16kHz. Maximum volume was 74dB – like a vacuum cleaner at close quarters. Watching an action movie hovered around 60-70dB.

Sound signature is Mid (bass recessed, mids boosted, treble recessed). Small speakers simply don’t have the diaphragm movement to punch out bass, so it is best for vocal like Skype. It is not unpleasant when listening to movies – just lacking bass and sometimes a little harsh.


The internal speakers are fit for purpose – but wear headphones or connect to an external speaker like the Sony Extra Bass SRS-XB40 if you want to head thump.

Battery

It has two batteries 18Wh in the tablet and 57Wh in the base. These combine to give it 75Wh. Microsoft say 17 hours use is achievable.

PC Mark 8 rates it at 6 hours for the 13.5” and 7.5hours for the 15”. These are realistic figures you can expect with a standard office workload.

A 1080p video loop at 50% brightness with Wi-Fi off achieved just over 11 hours. The same test on the tablet section only achieved three hours.

Office use (Word, Outlook, Web, etc.) achieved just over 9 hours.

Recharge time is around 2.5 hours with the 95W charger.

While it will charge from USB-C, the maximum upstream is 45W, so it would need to be turned off and probably take 10 hours to charge fully.

Processor

The review model had the 8th generation Kaby Lake Refresh Intel Core i7-8650U – four cores, eight threads, 1.9/4.2GHz powerhouse with a CPU Benchmark score of 9165.


The 7th generation i5-7300U dual core is no slouch either with a CPU Benchmark of 5121.

But I want to put these Benchmarks in perspective. The new i9 processors which we will see in a couple of years will have previously unheard-of benchmarks between 20-30,000.

The move to quad-core has given an impressive performance increase over the older dual-core models.

Maximum heat under full load at the back of the tablet was 36° and 43° under the base. Typical office use (in a 22° office) was no more than 29°.

The noise was30-3dB under normal use. But it increasd to 49dB under 100% load with the NVIDIA base working flat out.

Graphics

Both have an integrated Intel UHD 620 Graphics chip that drives the tablet (when detached) and for run-of-the-mill applications.

The NVIDIA GTX 1050 (i7, 13”) and GTX 1060 (i7, 15”) base is only used when the software needs it.

The GTX 1060 is 30-50% faster than the 1050.

SSD

It uses a Samsung 1TB, NVE Express, PCIe 3.0 x4 drive – that is fast. As a comparison, I have put the HP EliteBook 1020 G2 that uses a Toshiba 256GB PCIe 3 x4 drive in brackets.

CrystalDiskMark 6.0.0 x64


MBps Book 2 HP Elitebook
Sequential Read 2776.672 1643.425
Sequential Write 1252.272 368.028
Random Read 4KiB 819.567 823.644
Random Write 4KiB  363.801 458.785
Random Read 4KiB 280.124 525.568
Random Write 4KiB 368.235 321.26
Random Read 4KiB 39.162 31.855
Random Write 4KiB 107.843 141.954

This drive is a screamer in sequential read/write where the Bus interface does not impede it. I suspect the 1TB drive is faster than the lower capacity versions.

 Wi-Fi AC Dual-Band 2.4/5GHz, 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2

It uses a Marvel Avastar AC wireless chipset that performs better than most Intel chipsets. It achieved the full 866Mb/s on a 5GHz channel from a D-Link AC3200 triband router at up to 10 metres and then dropped slowly. Amazing.

Security – Windows Hello

Windows Hello uses facial recognition to sign in. It is very easy to set up, and you can still have a password and pin. It was brilliantly fast on this device.

You can also enable device encryption, and it has a TPM 2.0 chip for enterprise use.

iFixit teardown

If you want to look under the hood go to iFixit’s teardown here.

GadgetGuy’s take – Surface Book 2 is almost perfect

It is hard to improve on perfection. Microsoft’s Book design is unique, and given that others have not copied it will probably remain so.


It is, without doubt, the best all-around Windows laptop/convertible device. It is what users expect from a high-end device.

Having said that there is a lot to like about the Dell 13” XPS and the HP Spectre/Elitebook x360 models.

It is a MacBook Pro replacement. Mac users a hard lot to change so even though it has better higher res screens, touch, pen, more power, better keyboards, lower cost and much more they simply are loyal to the Apple ecosystem.

Well, the 15” version may tip the scales!

Pros

  • Best keyboard
  • Best 3:2 screen
  • Good to great battery life
  • Heaps of power on both the i5 and i7 models
  • NVIDIA keyboard base makes it Windows Mixed Reality Ultra compatible
  • SDXC slot UHS-II at 230/160MB/s read/write is great for photographers
  • 15” also available
  • Quality build
  • Now with USB-C, 31., Gen 1 5Gbps
  • 2 x USB-A 3.0 ports

Cons

  • USB-C, not Thunderbolt 3
  • Mini-DisplayPort replaced by USB-C so you need a dock or dongle for an external monitor
  • Only 45W upstream power over USB-C – you need about double that for the i7
  • No Pen supplied
  • The screen cannot lay flat (minor)
  • The fan is too loud on keyboard base under full load (you need to play with performance settings to control this)
  • Only the 15” supports Xbox Wireless and controllers to make it a mini Xbox One

Price Microsoft Surface Book 2

13.5”


  • i5/8/256GB $2,199
  • i7/8/256GB/NVIDIA GTX 1050 $2,999
  • i7/16/512GB/NVIDIA GTX 1050 $3,799
  • i7/16GB/1TB/NVIDIA GTX 1050 $4,499

15”

  • i7/16/256GB/ NVIDIA GTX 1060 $3,649
  • i7/16/512GB/NVIDIA GTX 1060 $4,249
  • i7/16GB/1TB/ NVIDIA GTX 1060 $4,849

Ratings

Rated as a high-end consumer or business device capable of being a full desktop replacement with an appropriate dock

  • Overall: 4 out of 5
  • Features: 4 out of 5 – if it had Thunderbolt 3 it would be perfect
  • Value for money: 3.5 out of 5 – it costs what it costs. i5/8/256GB is plenty for 99% of users but it needs a dock for expansion
  • Performance: 4.5 out of 5 – As good as it gets
  • Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – Hey it’s Windows! Ink and Pen use take some expertise
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – elegant in its way. The screen cannot lay flat

Specifications – Microsoft Surface Book 2, Model 1832

  • Screen: PixelSense 13.5”, 3000 x 2000 (267ppi), 3:2 ratio, 10-point touch, Windows ink and drawing enabled. Made by Pansonic
  • Screen: Pixel Sense 15”, 3240 x 2160 (260ppi), as above. Made by LG.
  • Processor: 13.5” – Intel Core 7th generation i5-7300U, 3.5GHz turbo dual-core, Intel UHD 620 Graphics (tablet section) and optional dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 1050 GPU and 2GB GDDR5 RAM in keyboard
  • Processor: Intel Core 8th generation i7-8650U, 4.2GHz turbo quad-core, includes UHD Intel 620 graphics and NVIDIA GeForce 1050 GPU and 2GB GDDR5 RAM in keyboard (13.5”) and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060/6GB in keyboard (15”). Both GPU support Windows Mixed Reality Ultra
  • RAM: 8 or 16GB
  • Storage: 256GB to 1TB PCIe SSD plus UHS-II SDXC card reader
  • Keyboard: Full sized, 1.5mm travel, one of the best typing experiences available. Precision oversized 105 x 70mm trackpad
  • Comms: Wi-Fi AC MU-MIMO, Wi-Di, Bluetooth 4.1, Xbox Wireless (15”)
  • Ports: 2 x Surface Connect data/charge (one tablet and one keyboard), 2 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 1 x USB-C (replaces Mini DisplayPort port), 3.5mm audio
  • Front cameras: Windows Hello face authentication camera (front-facing), 5.0 MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video
  • Rear Camera: autofocus camera with 1080p Full HD video
  • Audio: Dolby Audio Premium stereo front facing speakers, dual microphones, 3.5mm combo audio
  • Charger: i5 – 39W Surface Connect with USB-A 5V/1A=5W charging port
  • Charger: i7 – 95W as above
  • Dimensions/Weight 13.5”: 312 x 232 x 15-23 mm and 1.534 to 1.642kg plus 387g charger
  • Dimensions/Weight 15”: 343 x 251 x 15 mm-23 mm and 1.905kg plus 387g charger
  • Windows: Pro 10
  • Security: TPM chip, Windows Hello
  • Warranty: 1 year return to Microsoft or the dealer
  • Options: Surface Pen V2 $139.95, Surface Dial $149.95, Surface Dock $299.95, various USB-C adaptors
  • URL: https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/surface/devices/surface-book-2/overview

Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
It is unique - for what it is it is nealy perfect
Wish it had Thunderbolt 3
4