Hardware Review: Quick Surface Book Test Drive
One day before leaving for a business trip to Nashville I decided to try out our demo Microsoft Surface Book. I was going to be there for four days at two different vendor events and figured this would be a good way to put the Surface Book through the paces.
Before I start — and for comparison purposes — I should mention that my current laptop in an HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1. It has a 12″ 2560 x 1440 touch display, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD drive and an Intel Core M proc. Very thin, very light and battery life in the 10 – 14 hour range. I like it quite a bit.
I should also mention that I used a Surface Pro 3 for several months last year. I really enjoyed my time with it, but I had a few struggles as well. And I never loved the clip on keyboard.
I spent a couple hours getting the Surface Book ready on a Saturday before leaving town the next day. Basically, I put a few different browsers and associated extensions, Office 2016 and then got Outlook and OneNote synced, some VPN connections and handful of typical utilities and such. I didn’t make note of all the specs, but it was an i5 model with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD drive.
First impressions after using it for a bit on Day 1 at the conference? The hinge is weird and bulky — and holds the display very firmly. Don’t love the bulk but it sure does a great job. The aluminum body feels great and solid. And perhaps the whole thing is just a bit heavier than I expected.
What else? Windows Hello is incredible. Working face recognition that worked 100% for all 4 days of use. Light rooms, dark rooms, profile and head-on views. I loved it. Note: Be careful when locking your screen though. If you’re still in front of the camera it will unlock itself almost immediately. Sort of defeats the intention.
I like the new stylus design. Having the end naturally act as an eraser is brilliant and the magnetic attachment is far more reliable than what I had on my Surface Pro 3 back in the day. And while I still want so desperately to do all of my note taking with the stylus, I am still not comfortable or accurate enough to make that feel natural. Rats. I didn’t really use the stylus much after the first hour of trying to take notes on day 1. I can type faster.
The touch pad is great. Solid and good response. I don’t care for the default direction of two-fingered drag scrolling but that was easily adjusted (the reverse of their default just feels more natural to me).
Battery life was good. I got a full day of use taking notes without much issue. (as I wrote that it was 2:45 PM and I had 47% battery remaining. It had been on all day except for a 45 minute lunch break).
Only odd issue was that with the sound. I had muted it right away, but it seemed to turn itself back on from time to time. I think related to waking from sleep or undocking/redocking the tablet Not sure which, never really narrowed that down.
Final thought on day one was that I really liked the keyboard. Great size, firm and easy to get comfortable with.
Day two brought another vendor conference and more chances to use the Surface Book.
First off, I was still loving Windows Hello. I know that’s more of an OS and Camera thing than a Surface Book thing, but I sure dig it. And while I still think the Surface Book seems large compared to my 12″ notebook, I still really like the keyboard.
On day two I was closing the lid to sleep and then waking back up more often. And as a result of that, noticed some odd inconsistencies with display brightness. Each time I woke it up it would be a bit of a mystery as to what the brightness was going to be. The actual brightness setting would always display as the same (the one labeled “Darker”) but the actual result was frequently different. Sometimes quite bright and sometimes barely usable. And sometimes, just like Goldilock’s porridge, it was just right.
Speaking of the screen, I do love the screen’s 3000 x 2000 resolution. After a couple days of use I settled on 175% magnification. 150 was just a wee bit too small and the default 200 makes things just too big. Aside from my brightness observations, the screen was always very sharp and clear and easy to read.
Battery life remained pleasantly solid. After reading some news about Chrome and battery life, I started day 2 with Opera in battery saver mode and things got even better. 3:50 PM in the afternoon and I was at 64%. It was on much of the day except for a long 1.5 hour lunch break.
I continued to use the Surface Book for the remaining days of the trip and the travel home. No complaints and I enjoyed it. And once I was back at the office I factory reset it and handed it off to the next person to try.
I had thought I would have a real issue with the lack of battery life when using it in tablet mode, but it turns out that I didn’t use it ever more than an hour or so in that mode so the battery was perfectly fine. Having additional battery in the keyboard base is pretty convenient, too.
Would I use one again? Sure.
Was it the best laptop / tablet/hybrid I have ever used? I don’t think so. But definitely in the top ranks. Turns out I like the 12″ display stuff much better for travel and portable use. But that’s must my opinion. If you like the 14″ size range, this is definitely something to try out.