Hardware Laptops Reviews Surface

Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: what’s it like after a month?

There’s no shortage of Microsoft Surface Book 2 reviews online, but most only play with the laptop for a day or two before sending it back. While that’s enough time to run performance and battery-life benchmarks, it’s not long enough to know what it’s actually like to live with.

The upgraded Surface Book, with its USB-C port and ever-so-slightly-better processors, proved just enough to tempt me away from my Dell XPS 13 in late December. So, after a month together, including a work trip to Las Vegas, I felt it was time to share what’s great about it – and what’s downright annoying.

Things I love about the Microsoft Surface Book 2

The detachable screen

Surface Book 2 review
Can your laptop’s screen do this?

There’s no getting away from the Surface Book 2’s party trick: at the touch of a button, the electromagnets gripping the screen in place deactivate with a tiny clunk, allowing you to snatch it up and use it as a Windows 10 tablet.

That’s actually what made me buy the Surface Book 2 for work. I had a specific need – to annotate PDFs on-screen with a stylus – and didn’t want to sit in my chair holding a 1.5kg tablet. I wanted a true tablet when necessary, and this it does brilliantly (even if I felt like a pretentious schnozzle when undocking during a train journey).

It’s fast

I’m a demanding user, running software such as Adobe InDesign along with more mundane fare such as Microsoft Word and Chrome, although I’m not a video editor churning out 4K footage on the move.

That’s why I settled for the mid-range Core i7-8650U with 8GB of RAM. It comes with a GeForce 1050 graphics inside too, which means…

…it can run VR comfortably

To be precise, it can run the Windows Mixed Reality environment and Steam VR games without juddering or having fans whirr into excessive action. It struggles with the SteamVR environment itself. I’ll return to VR in a future post, but I wouldn’t buy a primary computer that didn’t support this feature.

The keyboard and screen are lovely

As a journalist, it’s no surprise that I have strong feelings about keyboards, and the Surface Book 2’s is one of the best I’ve used on a laptop. Right up there with old ThinkPad laptops.

For those interested in such details, its quality isn’t due to the travel of the keys – only a few millimetres – but their “positive” feel. Some keys are wishy-washy or the backplate droops under pressure; not the Surface Book’s.

Much has been written about the 13.5in 3,000 x 2,000-resolution screen elsewhere, but suffice it to say that movies look great (although the way it auto-adjusts brightness is irritating), as do photos. And Word, but that’s not important right now.

With the addition of the docking station, I don’t need a PC

Surface Book 2 review
Along with all these inputs and outputs – wired Ethernet, audio, two mini-DisplayPorts, two USB ports – there are a further two USB ports on the front

Microsoft charges a hefty £190 for a docking station, but it’s worth considering for the sheer convenience. I picked mine up from John Lewis for £133 during its Clearance sale, and the fact I can now permanently attach an external hard disk, 4K display, wired Ethernet and wireless keyboard and mouse (via a USB dongle) makes this investment worthwhile.

I also like the way the magnetic connector snaps into position as soon as I put the Surface Book 2 anywhere near it.

Things about the Microsoft Surface Book 2 that annoy me

So overall I’m a fan of the Surface Book 2. But that’s not to say it’s perfect…

The stylus should be bundled and better integrated

Microsoft Surface Book 2 review
The stylus works well – but it should come bundled, not cost an extra £100

Microsoft isn’t alone in charging £100 extra for a stylus, but I find it irritating to pay nigh-on £2,000 for a tablet-cum-laptop and then have to stump up another £100 for a stylus. Even the charming maroon stylus I chose.

It’s also irritating that there’s nowhere to house the stylus. It’s magnetic, as is the left-hand side of the screen, so you can pop it there – but it comes off as soon as you knock it or put the Surface into your bag. I’ve ended up just keeping the stylus in my pocket at all times.

The hinge design means the screen gets covered in dust

Microsoft Surface Book 2 review
Nice hinge, shame about the dust

Although Microsoft’s clever hinge is one reason the screen detaches so delicately, it also means there’s always a dust-welcoming gap when the laptop is closed. That means the screen gets covered in lint and dust when I transport it in my rucksack.

It’s a bit too big for a 13in laptop

I don’t mind the Surface Book 2 weighing 1.5kg – or 720g in tablet mode – but compared to my Dell XPS 13 it feels an inch too wide. I only just managed to squeeze it into my hand luggage for the flight, whereas this wasn’t even a factor with the Dell.

Battery life should be better (and the power supply smaller)

Microsoft claims a battery life of up to 17 hours, but I’ve already learned to carry the bulky power supply with me if I’m going to be using it all day. It doesn’t help that Microsoft uses a proprietary power connector, so you’ll be darn lucky to find another one on your travels.

The SD card reader is wobbly

This might be a quirk of the 16GB microSD card I use in my camera, or the microSD to SD adapter I use, but the Surface Book 2 refuses to acknowledge its presence. When I slip a 2GB card in, though, all is fine and rosy. Weird.

An HDMI port would have been nice

I ended up buying a USB-C to HDMI adapter, because you need this to make Mixed Reality headsets such as the Dell Visor work.

The miserly warranty

Hopefully I’ll never need to worry about such things, but Microsoft should show more confidence in its products than a shoddy one-year warranty. Especially when iFixit has given this machine such a low score for fixability, with virtually every component glued in place.

I would have bought from John Lewis – which provides a two-year warranty – but Microsoft lured me by bundling a Dell Visor VR headset.

So, there you go. I hope that helps if you’re thinking about buying the Surface Book 2 yourself. If you have any other queries about day-to-day life with Microsoft’s detachable tablet, feel free to post in the comments.

Overall
  • Features
  • Power
  • Battery life
4

Summary

The Surface Book 2 makes sacrifices to deliver its magical detachable screen, but overall this is still a winning design

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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