Marvellous in metal: Microsoft’s Surface Book reviewed

Microsoft’s Surface series of computers have always been something a little different, representing the next generation of tablet computing. But it has never really had a proper computer, until now, that is.

A little different from the ordinary Surface, Microsoft’s Surface Book takes one part Surface with all the computer parts in the tablet section and pairs it with a keyboard of a different sort. Specifically, this keyboard is one of the proper metal kinds, and that’s not all that lurks underneath here.

No, more than just a physical keyboard for your Surface tablet, the Surface Book aims to be a fully fledged computer, with a fast processor, a decent amount of storage, and more ports than the one USB a standard Surface Pro 4 tablet offers.

Is this the ultimate modern Windows PC?


Specs and features

While it might be the first time Microsoft has made an actual laptop, this isn’t the big M’s first rodeo when it comes to building computer. We’ve already seen quite a few models with the Surface name thus far, and so it’s probably safe to say Microsoft kind of knows what it should be throwing into a computer at this point in time.

So what is inside this one? Mostly what you’d expect, with a similar set of specs and innards to Microsoft’s other Surface for this year, the Surface Pro 4.

Inside that display section — because that’s where everything is — Microsoft has featured pretty much a “best of” show for modern laptop design, bringing in an Intel Core i5 or i7 from the sixth-generation of Core technology, also known as “Skylake”.


Depending on the configuration you opt for, this will be paired with 8GB or 16GB RAM, and a solid-state drive of either 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB storage.

Video will generally be provided by the Intel chipset, but you can splurge, if you want, and go for a discrete video card option, which will include an unspecified Nvidia GeForce chipset in the keyboard section.


Connection options are pretty much par for the course when it comes to a flagship computer, so expect an 802.11ac WiFi connection that is backwards compatible with existing 802.11a/b/g/n technologies, Bluetooth 4.0, and a few wired options, too, such as Mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0, and a full size SD card slot. Strangely, there is no Type C USB or Thunderbolt 3.


Two cameras can also be found here, with an 8 megapixel rear camera on the tablet section while the front relies on a 5 megapixel module, both of which can grab Full HD video.

The screen covering most of this technology is one of Microsoft’s “PixelSense” displays, just like it relied on with the Surface Pro 4, which is a stack of technologies including a high resolution screen, the screen controller, the way the pen will talk to the screen, and one of the thinnest sheets of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.


From a spec point of view, however, the actual screen is set to a 3000×2000 display size with an aspect ratio of 3:2 and supporting of 10-point multi-touch, not to mention the specialised pen it arrives with that can apply up to 1024 levels of pressure.

Speakers sit on either side of the screen, providing front-facing stereo sound.

Two batteries are technically found in the Surface Book, with a small up to three hour battery in the tablet section, while up to nine hours are theoretically possible from the battery in the keyboard section. Together, this suggests up to 12 hours are possible from the entire Microsoft Surface Book package.



Microsoft’s design of the Surface Book is a little different from its Surface Pro, and that’s because the form factor isn’t about the tablet in this model, but about the machine.

Remember that whole laptop concept Microsoft was seemingly trying to escape from in the Surface design? Well, it’s back, and part of the reason seems to stem from the keyboard, as Microsoft’s user base has been asking for a firmer and better keyboard, and more ports.

With a laptop base, Microsoft can take its Surface design and throw them together, which is exactly what it has done.


On the Surface Book, you’ll find Microsoft’s signature “VaporMg” magnesium case making an appearance on both the top and bottom — the keyboard base and the screen section — with slightly more firmed up monotone aesthetics across the board.

The bottom section has a slight curve to the framing around the keyboard, something you can feel when you touch the sides, but for the most part it’s just a metal gray slab revealing your two USB 3.0 ports on the left alongside a full-size SD card slot and then the Mini DisplayPort and Surface proprietary charge port on the right. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

At the keyboard level, it’s your typical full-size keyboard set out in island-key style, with individual backlit keys offering three stages of lighting and then off. Oh, and there’s a gesture-capable touchpad, too.