Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch) review

A bigger Surface Book – but that’s not a bad thing

surface book 2

Our Verdict

As it turns out, one of the best 2-in-1 laptops to date is just a bigger Surface Book – one that can play the latest PC games and last for a helluva long time to boot. Not to mention that this is the best tablet for drawing that we’ve tested yet. We just wish Microsoft did a bit more with the extra space afforded by the new 15-inch form factor.

For

  • Crazy long battery life
  • Massively powerful
  • Lightweight yet large tablet
  • Excellent cooling

Against

  • No up-firing base speakers
  • Small trackpad
  • Very pricey
  • No Surface Pen included

Back in 2015, when the earliest Surface Book first landed, no one predicted that the follow-up would go on to make the MacBook Pro look second-rate in comparison. But, that’s exactly what happened. And, while the Surface Book 2 is pricier than its predecessor, it kind of needs to be – rather than just being a laptop that flips around, it really is two devices in one. 

Microsoft Surface news

Microsoft’s next Surface Pen could be a smart stylus usable across all devices

Microsoft quietly upgrades Surface Book 2 with 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor 

The Surface Book 2 does inherit the design of the original, changing things just enough to please the critics. The Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge, for instance, is more solid with the Surface Book 2. There’s also the compact 13.5-inch design that makes its return alongside the 15-inch Surface Book 2 we reviewed here.

In fact, the Surface Book 2 has improved on the original so much, that we cannot wait to see what Microsoft does with the Surface Book 3

Both sizes of the Surface Book 2 want to take over as your primary device, but is the new 15-inch model worth the staggering price? Well, yes, but the price may send fledgling creatives running for cover.

Spec Sheet

Here is the configuration for the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 4.2GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620; Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5 VRAM)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 (1866Mhz)
Screen: 15-inch, 3,240 x 2,160 (260 ppi) PixelSense display (3:2 aspect ratio; 1600:1 contrast ratio)
Storage: 1TB PCIe 3.0 SSD
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2 x Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac 2 x 2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, Xbox Wireless
Camera: Windows 8MP rear-facing autofocus camera (1080p), 5MP front-facing Hello face-authentication camera (1080p HD)
Weight: 4.2 pounds (1.9kg) with keyboard base
Size: 13.5 x 9.87 x 0.568 ~ 0.90 inches (343 x 251 x 15 ~ 23mm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but the Surface Book 2 is expensive. The configuration we reviewed, which is listed to the right, comes in at a whopping $3,299 in the US. Naturally, this is the highest end that the Surface Book 2 gets, with the entry-level 15-inch model coming in at $2,499 (£2,349, AU$3,649), which is still very steep. The only difference between the two is that the base Surface Book 2 configuration comes with a 256GB SSD.

In the UK, the larger Surface Book 2 can be configured to have twice the storage of the 256GB model for £2,749, or with a 1TB SSD for £3,149. Meanwhile, in Australia, the 512GB Surface Book 2 is $4,249, whereas the 1TB version sells for $4,849 including GST.

However, the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 starts at the relatively low price of $1,149 (£1,149, AU$1,599) in the US, with other countries likely to follow this pricing model. Unfortunately, you will have to compromise on storage to get this low price – you’ll be limited to 128GB of storage space accompanying the dual-core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM.

The Surface Book 2 is certainly an expensive device, and you should also consider that the price doesn’t even include the $99 (£99, AU$139) Surface Pen. And, yeah, we’re going to keep calling Microsoft out on this mistake until it start bundling this almost required accessory in with the price of its Surface devices again. 

For comparison’s sake, Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at $2,399 (£2,349, AU$3,499) for a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, an AMD Radeon Pro 555 graphics chip with 2GB of VRAM, 16GB of memory and a 256GB SSD – all powering a 2,880 x 1,800-pixel 15.4-inch display at 220 pixels per inch as well as an OLED Touch Bar.

The Surface Book 2 is just $100 more than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but you get a stronger processor and a beefier GPU, behind a sharper display with touch control, and can act as a tablet. Not accounting for taste, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Surface Book 2 is the better value here. Plus, a year later, you should be able to find some deals that up the value proposition of the Surface Book 2.

surface book 2

Design

When it comes to the look and feel of the Surface Book 2, it’s an understatement to say that Microsoft took the Surface Book and blew it up in every way to make the Surface Book 2 a 15-inch device in all its brushed aluminum glory. While Microsoft did clearly put a lot of effort into vastly increasing the Surface Book 2’s power profile and screen technology, this is, in many ways, a bigger Surface Book.

Not that we’re complaining – Microsoft learned some lessons from the Surface Book, and morphed the Surface Book 2 into a power-packed notebook that’s thin and light. What’s more, when you detach it from the base, the Surface Book 2 is the lightest 15-inch tablet we’ve ever tested – it feels smaller than it actually is.

That said, the Surface Book 2’s fulcrum hinge does make for a laptop that’s a little more unwieldy to cram into a backpack than most, and it’s now more pronounced than ever. Worse still, Microsoft didn’t do much design-wise with the extra space that 15 inches affords you.

For instance, the glass trackpad isn’t quite as wide or deep as, say, the 15-inch MacBook Pro when it really could have been, given the amount of room under the keyboard. The lack of up-firing stereo speakers in the base is also a major disadvantage, as there’s plenty of room on all three remaining sides of the keyboard for additional audio chambers.

surface book 2

Instead, we’re stuck with rather tinny, albeit front-firing, speakers on the tablet portion of the device. The bigger keyboard base should offer us bigger everything, frankly, not just bigger graphics. Worse yet is that the audio jack is still in the same odd, upper-right-edge location it’s always been, dangling over our hands and getting in the way of us typing.

Despite that, the typing experience with the Surface Book 2 is phenomenal, with a brightly backlit keyboard that has punchy feedback and satisfying travel. We would like to see a bit more force in the keyboard’s feedback, but that could just be down to personal taste.

All things considered, we like the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) design quite a bit – even its 1080p webcam and rear camera should get admiring looks at the next meeting or in your Instagram feed. However, we still can’t ignore the missed opportunities to refine the product that much further and make the experience that much bigger when it comes to how it feels, looks and sounds.

surface book 2

Display and Surface Pen

Of course, we’re just as in love with the Surface Book 2 (15-inch) display as we were with the previous two models. Text looks sharp on the screen as do photos and video, even if the 3:2 aspect ratio makes for some awfully thick black bars when viewing the latter.

The display’s resolution is nigh-unmatched short of 4K laptops, and Apple’s MacBook displays can’t hold a candle to it pixel for pixel. While Apple’s P3 color gamut might tower over Microsoft’s panel in the eyes of art and media pros, we don’t see much difference between the two in terms of color reproduction.

We’re told that Microsoft devoted quite a bit of effort to enhancing the touch response in its latest PixelSense display for the Surface Book 2, and it shows in testing. If any latency between drawing on the screen with the Surface Pen and its appearance on the screen was there before, it’s certainly indiscernible now.

surface book 2

In fact, if you scribble on a sticky note and run the Surface Pen off of the note window – you’ll see traces of ink appear on whatever is there, though it will almost immediately disappear. That’s a special processor rendering the ink before even Windows 10 does, we’re told, which should speak to the absence of latency in the touchscreen.

Additionally, attaching and detaching the display from the keyboard base is as quick and effortless as you’d expect from a wildly expensive computing device. Whether it’s going into tablet mode or back into a laptop, it’s less than a second before you’re successfully tapping or typing away.

At any rate, the Surface Book 2 screen just proves that Microsoft can craft displays that are worthy contenders against the technology world’s greatest in basically every metric.

Images Credit: TechRadar