Marvellous in metal: Microsoft’s Surface Book reviewed

Screen and display

Like the MacBook Pro, there is a lovely high-resolution screen here, and boy is it impressive. It’s the first thing you notice when you start really getting to use the computer, aside for that excellent keyboard, and the display is quite lovely.

Sharp and clear, this is without doubt one of the best screens we’ve seen on any laptop. It’s bright, it’s beautiful, and it’s hard to imagine why we put up with such mediocre screen quality for as long as we did when you see this one.

Interestingly, it’s also a little sharper than Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 with Retina, though the difference in pixel sizes are more of a pointless fight than anything that’ll matter to anyone’s eyes, especially when you factor viewing distance of laptops into the fray.


To make this even sharper, Microsoft has provided a rather unusual resolution of 3000×2000, something you won’t find anywhere else, even on its Surface Pro 4, and this is why the machine is so sharp.

That size gives it away that you’re viewing this at a 3:2 aspect ratio, different from the 16:9 and 16:10 we so commonly see on laptops, and even a little different from the 4:3 used on the iPad.

As such, this is a screen that offers a very interesting size difference from many of its PC counterparts, with the whole display ratio feeling more balanced, offering a good width and height overall.

Helping this is the 267 pixels per inch count, telling you just how sharp this is, especially when Apple’s Retina technology on its comparable MacBook Pro 13 is set to 227 pixels per inch allowing Microsoft to basically fire a fantastically precise warning shot off the bow of Apple’s “Retina” screen technology, because this is pretty much as good as it gets on the PC side of things.


Battery life

The screen is even useful when you detach, offering a 13.5 tablet that doesn’t feel much heavier than an iPad Air 2, with a battery life of its own.

You’ve already read that the Surface Book arrives with a keyboard section, and that area isn’t just to offer one of the nicest PC keyboards we’ve seen in years. No, it’s also here to hide a battery. A very big battery.

When you end up using the Surface Book, Windows 10 pops up with information that you’re charging two batteries, with a note for “Battery 1” and another for “Battery 2”.

Battery 1 is the one inside the laptop, and this is rated for up to 9 hours, a result we’ll debunk shortly. In the screen and spec area, you’ll find Battery 2.


With the two areas connected, you’ll see the two batteries charging together when they’re plugged in to charge, and when disconnected, they’ll discharge together gradually.

But when you take the screen off from the body, the display switches to Battery 2, offering as much as three hours, though we found it’s closer to two in our tests.

In theory, the two batteries should together offer as much as 12 hours of life in laptop mode, but none of our tests proved this was remotely possible, at least with current firmware.

In fact, our tests revealed closer to six or seven hours in general use, which isn’t far off what the Surface Pro 4 can do, albeit with a little less power.

We might be seeing a massive difference, mind you, from the regular Intel Core-based Surface Book and the one with an Nvidia GPU inside. It’s not hard to imagine the discrete graphics chip working a little harder due to that massive amount of performance is probably pushes out, but even when it’s not in use, it still feels like it might be there, working away and causing the battery to reduce.

And we can’t get away from that niggling feeling because when you hold a working Surface Book, it’s impossible not to notice the heat.


The heat is on

While the heat isn’t super noticeable at the bottom (it’s there, but the magnesium casing doesn’t seem to throw it back against your skin like some other case materials do), the design of the Microsoft Surface Book and the throwing of all of its major components in the tablet section still produces a ton of heat at the back of the screen.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the machine ran cool, but it doesn’t do that. Rather, this is one hot sucker, with the back and middle of the tablet — one of the areas you’ll probably hold the laptop — feeling a little like a hot coal in your hands.

Pick up the laptop while it’s on and the machine is likely hot to the touch, with the metallic and reflective Windows logo on the back of the display one of the hottest sections temperature-wise, and it pretty much always stays that way.

Often, when we had collapsed the Surface Book, we found it was still firing its fan up and not just releasing sound, but trying to cool the hot processor, even though the machine had been collapsed and should have been on standby.

Standby should mean no sound, and no processing. Maybe for something light, but not a system hog, and yet this wasn’t doing what we expected.


We’d fold the Surface Book up and expect it to go on standby, packing it in our bag, only to find when we pulled it out an hour later, it had been turning the inside of our backpack to a sauna thanks to the hot rocks soaring temperatures it had been pushing out.

Why is this particular issue happening?

We couldn’t tell you, but we suspect that many of the bug fixes for the Surface Book have been rushed to complete a first-generation product, because while Microsoft has nailed aspects of its design, the stability in system heat and battery usage leaves something to be desired.

One example of this comes in the form of the connection from the keyboard to the tablet, which as we’ve previously noted is a rather interesting blend of a pulley and lock mechanic on top of a set of magnets. It’s quite intelligent, but it comes with the downside of needing Windows to switch over to a different driver, a great solution, though one that software can get wrong.

Earlier, we mentioned some of the driver issues, and in action, what this can lead to is some incompatibility. Basically, if you have an application like Photoshop open, you see some glitching, with this sometimes leading to crashing.


Going beyond these issues, we’ve even found sometimes that the lock mechanism for the tablet doesn’t always engage on the software level, disconnecting virtually but still remaining connected, which tends to be fine after a computer restart, but still cements that realisation that this whole thing feels a little rushed.

Mind you, in the days since we started writing this review, there have been quite a few updates on a regular basis. We’d even say there has been an update once a day, if not once every two days, and some of these glitches appear to be stable at least for now.

There is occasionally a loss of a mouse, because even if you start the machine up from cold, it can still load without the mouse attached to the computer. Consider it a good thing you get a touchscreen and a pen when that happens.

At least the lock mechanism appears to be good at the moment, and when we weren’t using WiFi, we even saw the suggested battery life reach nine hours one day, faring better than the six we were previously seeing.

But that whole standby heat issue, that is still there, and when you collapse the Surface Book, make sure it’s either cooling down when you do or shut down, because this appears to be one of those bugs Microsoft is having trouble fixing, at least at this point in the review.

The tablet separates at this section, but if you want to, you can charge it at this port, too.
The tablet separates at this section, but if you want to, you can charge it at this port, too.




Despite some of the problems the Surface Book offers, it’s clear that it has a lot going for it, with a solid build quality, excellent specs, and a sense of integrity few machines have imparted onto them.

It does need work, and we suspect the system updates will address these concerns, and Microsoft will likely be on them quickly.

But when it does all get ironed out, Microsoft may have a fantastic MacBook Pro competitor Windows users will be itching to buy. Recommended.

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Excellent screen; Enough ports to satisfy a computer owner; Hybrid connectivity is very interesting; Solid performance (generally) with an option for a discrete graphics chip and a large amount of memory; Great keyboard with a soft and lovely click to it; Lovely little trackpad mouse;
Thick in comparison to some of the computers it competes against; Hinge is a little odd, and thick enough to elicit a feeling that the Surface Book comes from 2010; No USB Type C or Thunderbolt 3 port; Battery life is all over shop; Can be very buggy; Casing is still easy to scratch;