REVIEW: Microsoft's newest laptop is a powerful alternative to any of Apple's...

REVIEW: Microsoft's newest laptop is a powerful alternative to any of Apple's MacBooks or iPads

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Microsoft Surface Book 2Testing out the Surface Book 2.Caroline Cakebread/Business InsiderMicrosoft’s original Surface Book was my favorite computer.

It may have been the company’s first-ever laptop, but when I tested it last year a few months after it debuted, I immediately liked it better than any of Apple’s MacBooks that I’d ever used.

I now have a new favorite computer, and it’s the successor to my old favorite — it’s Microsoft’s new Surface Book 2. I’ve been testing one since Monday, and I’m already ready ready to declare that it now is probably the best computer I’ve ever used.

The new device, which goes on sale Thursday with a starting price of $1,499, has a better screen and offers longer battery life than the original. Its hardware is more powerful, and its design is a little more refined.

You can get the new Surface Book with a 15-inch display as well as with the 13.5-inch screen of the original. As you could with the first Surface Book, you can separate the screen of the Surface Book 2 from its keyboard and use it as a full-blown tablet, making the device a great alternative to an iPad or an Android tablet. 

All told, the changes from the first Surface Book to the Surface Book 2 are evolutionary, not revolutionary. But, hey, sometimes there’s no improving on a classic. And even without any big changes, it’s still a better alternative than a MacBook Pro or an iPad Pro. 

When I tested the Surface Book last year, I liked it so much I wanted to give it a hug. I have the same feeling about the Surface Book 2. Oh yeah, it’s that good.

Here’s what you need to know about the Surface Book 2 and why I like it so much:


First and foremost, the thing to know about the Surface Book 2 is it’s laptop.

First and foremost, the thing to know about the Surface Book 2 is it's laptop.

Me with the Surface Book 2.Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

That may seem obvious, but it’s important to distinguish the Surface Book 2 from Microsoft’s flagship Surface Pro, which is a tablet that can be used like a laptop, but has trouble actually staying on your lap. 

It doesn’t look all that different from the original Surface Book.

It doesn't look all that different from the original Surface Book.

The original Surface Book.Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Could you tell the difference? Me either.

Still, I really, really loved the original Surface Book, so the fact that the new one looks like it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

There is one noticeable difference if you put the old and new side-by-side.

There is one noticeable difference if you put the old and new side-by-side.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

You can get the Surface Book 2 with a bigger screen. Microsoft is offering the new device with a 15-inch display. You can can also get it with a 13.5-inch screen, the same size that was in the original.

The company has also upgraded the screen. On the Surface Book 2’s display, colors are clear and crisp. It’s ideal for viewing photos, watching videos, or playing games.

The Surface Book 2 is a premium device.

The Surface Book 2 is a premium device.

Screenshot/Business Insider

It has premium specs — and a premium price. The Surface Book 2 starts at $1,499 for the base 13.5-inch model. But the fully tricked-out 15-inch version I tested costs a whopping $3,299.

Of course you get a highly capable machine for that. I didn’t get a chance to test this, but the Surface Book 2 I used is supposed to be powerful enough to support at least some virtual reality headsets. 

As a laptop, it’s pretty great.

As a laptop, it's pretty great.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

The keyboard is comfortable, and the trackpad is almost as responsive as those on Apple’s MacBook.

But its headline feature is its ability to turn into a tablet.

But its headline feature is its ability to turn into a tablet.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

Click a button, and POW, the screen separates from the keyboard. Just like with the original Surface Book, you can use the new device’s display by itself.

But this feature works a little bit better on the new device. The hinge on the new model seems just a little sturdier than that on the original, and the screen is a smidge faster to detach.

It’s crazy!

It's crazy!

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

That gives you three main ways to use the Surface Book 2. Like a regular laptop …

That gives you three main ways to use the Surface Book 2. Like a regular laptop ...

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

As a surprisingly lightweight and quiet tablet …

As a surprisingly lightweight and quiet tablet ...

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

The tablet mode is a nice perk, but it’s not the main reason to get a Surface Book 2. If you don’t already use a tablet in your daily routine, I’m not sure the Surface Book 2 will change your habits.

But if you need a scratchpad for notes, or if you’re in the middle of reading a really long article, that ability to turn it into a tablet can be useful.

Something that is kind of a bummer, though, is that the Surface Book 2 doesn’t come with the Surface Pen stylus that I’m using here, which can be helpful when you’re using the device as a tablet. You’ll have to spend another $99 to get a Surface Pen if you don’t already have one sitting around.

 

… or in a hybrid mode, with the screen folded back on itself.

... or in a hybrid mode, with the screen folded back on itself.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

The advantage to folding back the keyboard rather than detaching it is that it has an extra battery. Microsoft says that the tablet portion by itself will last five hours on a charge if what you are doing with it is streaming video through its Edge web browser. With the screen and keyboard connected, the whole system will last about 17 hours under the same conditions, according to the company.

Those numbers seem inflated, based on my experience. In my tests, the whole system together got around 7 hours of battery life. But I wasn’t just streaming videos in Edge, either. Instead, I was running Google’s Chrome browser — a notorious battery hog — with lots of tabs open, and I played some games on it.

Your mileage will vary depending on how you use the Surface Book 2. But if you actually get 17 hours of use out of the device, please let me know how you did it.

On higher-end versions of the Surface Book 2 — those with Intel’s i7 chip — you have another reason to keep the keyboard attached. It houses those models’ dedicated graphics chip.

 

The Surface Book 2 runs Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system.

The Surface Book 2 runs Windows 10, Microsoft's latest and greatest operating system.

Microsoft

That means that even if you’re using the Surface Book as a tablet, you can still run full Windows programs. Microsoft has done a lot of good work making Windows 10 work equally well whether you’re using it with a touchscreen tablet or with a traditional laptop. 

It was powerful enough to play modern games like “Cuphead.”

It was powerful enough to play modern games like "Cuphead."

Studio MDHR

And it even did a decent job of running the visually-stunning “Forza Motorsport 7.”

And it even did a decent job of running the visually-stunning "Forza Motorsport 7."

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Unfortunately, the Surface Book 2 didn’t improve my driving. As you can see, I’m about to go off the road in this screenshot. 

The Surface Book 2 comes with plenty of ports.

The Surface Book 2 comes with plenty of ports.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

It has two full-size USB ports, one of the newer, smaller USB-C ports, and an SD card slot, as well as a Surface charging port.

USB-C is a rising standard in tech. It’s reversible, meaning there’s no wrong way to plug it in, which is a big plus over standard USB. The Surface Book 2’s USB-C port is designed to allow you to plug in accessories such as monitors or projectors.

According to Microsoft, you can also use the Surface Book 2’s USB-C port to charge the device. But it will do so very slowly.

And it’s better than the competition, whether Apple’s MacBooks …

And it's better than the competition, whether Apple's MacBooks ...

Apple’s MacBook Pro with a touch bar.Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

While the Surface Book 2 is a tablet and a laptop all in one, Apple’s MacBooks are just laptops. They don’t have touchscreens and their displays can’t be separated from their keyboards.

The closest Apple has come to offering a touchscreen in its notebooks is the touch-sensitive bar it places above the keyboard on some models of the MacBook Pro.

… or its iPad Pros.

... or its iPad Pros.

Apple

The iPad Pro is great, but you’re limited to the apps you’ll find in Apple’s App Store. The Surface Book 2 is both more powerful and offers a wider range of software.

But the Surface Book 2 has a few drawbacks — most notably its size and weight.

But the Surface Book 2 has a few drawbacks — most notably its size and weight.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

The Surface Book 2 is kind of thick. That’s a pretty standard-sized coffee cup, for reference.

It’s also pretty hefty. At 4.2 pounds, it’s significantly heavier than both the MacBook Pro, which weighs in at 3.02 pounds, and the iPad Pro, which weighs just 1.05-pounds.

Those are the Surface Book 2’s biggest shortcomings. If you want something thin and light, it’s not for you.

It also has one annoying design feature.

It also has one annoying design feature.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

The magnets the Surface Book 2 uses to stay shut are positioned such that my metal watch band sometimes catches on them as I type.

Obviously, not everyone will have this problem. But for me, it was annoying.

It’s also pretty pricey, so you may want to look at another Surface device.

It's also pretty pricey, so you may want to look at another Surface device.

The Surface Laptop.Melia Robinson/Business Insider

If the Surface Book 2 is out of your price range, take a look at the Surface Laptop, which is a student-targeted computer that balances power and portability.

At $999, the Laptop’s base price is $500 less than the Surface Book 2. It’s also slimmer and lighter, but it’s built with the same attention to detail.

But overall, I love the Surface Book 2.

But overall, I love the Surface Book 2.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

It’s pricey, sure. But it’s also both a powerhouse and a joy to use. To quote the great sage Ferris Bueller, once again: If you have the means, I highly recommend it.

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