Hands-on: Microsoft Surface Book 2 review

Despite being threatened by tablets for a while, laptops aren’t going away any time soon and Microsoft is back with a new version of the impressive Surface Book. We’ve been hands-on at Microsoft Future Decoded so here’s our Surface Book 2 review.

Surface Book 2 Price

The Surface Book 2 is undoubtedly an attractive laptop, but the big question here is whether you can afford it.

With prices starting at £1,499 not many laptop buyers are going to be willing to get even the cheapest model. At this level the Surface Book 2 is competing with some serious rivals including the MacBook Pro.

That starting price is for the smaller 13.5in model which goes all the way up to a whopping £2,999 if you want the top-spec model with a Core i7. We'll explain the different configurations later on.

There is a larger 15in Surface Book 2 but this won't be available in the UK until early next year - it's coming out in the US first.

You can order the Surface Book 2 right now from Microsoft, and it's also available from Currys PCWorld.

Surface Book 2 hinge

Surface Book 2 design and build

There’s little about the design of the Surface Book 2 that’s different compared to the original and we can hardly blame Microsoft for this.

Microsoft has once again opted for a silver casing made from magnesium and overall the device once again looks and feels very luxurious. Build quality is up there with the best laptops around and you’d hope so at these prices.

Surface Book 2 laptop

Clean lines and symmetry are on show here as is Microsoft’s clever Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge. Once again the Surface Book 2 is a 2-in-1 device so it’s a laptop and a tablet.

A clever electronic ‘muscle wire lock’ system is still in use to connect the two sections together rather than magnets. It’s solid and there are improvements like fewer parts to make it lighter and a more seamless disconnect. The release button must be held down so don’t do it accidentally.

You’ll need to release the tablet section if you want to use it without the keyboard or two spin it 180 degrees for other usage modes. The hinge doesn’t fold the screen all the way over like some 2-in-1 devices.

As with the original, the keyboard and trackpad feel great and the laptop is marginally lighter than its predecessor at 1.53kg.

Surface Book 2 design

Surface Book 2 specs and performance

The second-generation Surface Book might look pretty similar on the outside but there are a number of different upgrades on the inside. Let's take a look at what's on offer this time around.

Screen

Microsoft has stuck with essentially the same display as the original Surface Book. It’s still 13.5in with a 3:2 aspect ratio and as mentioned earlier, the 15in model won’t arrive in the UK until early next year so for now it’s this or nothing.

Surface Book 2 screen

The PixelSense display still uses a 3000x2000 resolution for a 271ppi pixel density. As with its predecessor, the screen on the Surface Book 2 is stunning and everything looks nice and crisp. Colours reproduction looks to be top-notch again, too, so it’s a great choice for those doing tasks such as photo editing.

You can use up to 10-point touch at the same time and as you’d expect, the Surface Book 2 is compatible with the Surface Pen and Surface Dial – both are sold separately. Microsoft told us that not enough customers used it with the first generation so decided to make it an optional extra this time.

With the Surface Book 2, the Dial accessory can now be used on-screen.

Surface Book 2 Dial

Processor, memory, storage and graphics

It’s no surprise that the Surface Book 2 gets some internal upgrades starting with the processor. It’s jumped from a 6th-gen Intel chip to at least a 7th-gen Core i5-7300U.

So at the cheapest price you’ll get the above chip, but all of the higher spec configurations have Intel’s newer 8th-gen chips, also based on Kaby Lake. It’s a Core i7-8650U so you jump from dual- to quad-core and 3.5GHz Max Turbo clock speed to 4.2Hz.

There’s another key difference if you get a Core i7 model because while the Core i5 relies on integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, the Core i7 means you get discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. That’s potentially a big difference depending on what you want to do on the Surface Book 2.

It’s worth pointing out that the discrete GPU is housed in the keyboard section so you don’t get access to that power with the display detached. For those wanting as much graphical power as possible, it’s going to be worth waiting for the 15in model which will come with an Nvidia GTX 1060 with 6GB of memory.

Surface Book 2 sizes

Performance is very slick based on hands-on time with the laptop but we’ll of course run various benchmarks when we get a final review sample.

Like the original Surface Book, there’s a choice of 8- or 16GB of RAM (1866MHz LPDDR3) and you get a choice of 256-, 512- and 1TB storage capacities for the SSD from the off. Microsoft held back the 1TB model of the original in the UK for a number of months.

Here are the four options when choosing Surface Book 2 configurations:

  • Core i5, 8GB, 256GB, Intel HD 620
  • Core i7, 8GB, 256GB, Nvidia GTX 150
  • Core i7, 16GB, 512GB, Nvidia GTX 150
  • Core i7, 16GB, 1TB, Nvidia GTX 150

Ports and other specs

Once again the Surface Book 2 has two full-size USB ports (3.1), a full-size SD card reader and a headphone port. There are some changes though, as the laptop no longer has Mini-DisplayPort but USB-C instead along with two Surface Connect ports – one on each section of the device.

There’s 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, stereo speakers, dual microphones and the same 5- and 8Mp front and rear cameras. The front one can be used for Window Hello facial authentication. It’s perhaps a shame not to see a fingerprint scanner as well at these prices.

Surface Book 2 ports

Battery life

We were a little bit blown away by the original Surface Book’s battery life, lasting a whopping 16 hours and 25 minutes in our usual video loop test. Microsoft claims 17 hours of video playback on the Surface Book 2 so we’re expecting a similar result.

As before, there’s a battery in both sections of the device so you’ll get five hours when using just the tablet and a further 12 from the larger one in the keyboard.

Microsoft Surface Book 2: Specs

  • Windows 10 Pro Creators Update
  • 13.5in screen with 3:2 aspect ratio. 3000x2000 pixel resolution
  • Intel Core i5 (7th-gen) or Core i7 (8th-gen) processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 620 (Core i5) or Nvidia GTX 1050 (Core i7)
  • 8/16GB RAM
  • 256GB/512GB/1TB SSD
  • 2x full-size USB 3.0 ports
  • USB-C
  • Full-size SD slot
  • 8Mp rear camera, 5Mp front camera
  • Dual microphones
  • Headphone port
  • Front-facing stereo speakers
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 1.53kg (Core i5) 1.64kg (Core i7)
  • Windows 10 Pro Creators Update
  • 13.5in screen with 3:2 aspect ratio. 3000x2000 pixel resolution
  • Intel Core i5 (7th-gen) or Core i7 (8th-gen) processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 620 (Core i5) or Nvidia GTX 1050 (Core i7)
  • 8/16GB RAM
  • 256GB/512GB/1TB SSD
  • 2x full-size USB 3.0 ports
  • USB-C
  • Full-size SD slot
  • 8Mp rear camera, 5Mp front camera
  • Dual microphones
  • Headphone port
  • Front-facing stereo speakers
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 1.53kg (Core i5) 1.64kg (Core i7)

OUR VERDICT

The Surface Book 2 looks to be a very accomplished laptop, taking the original and improving it. There's a lot to like here across all areas - unsurprising when we were very impressed with the first generation. The only real downside is the steep cost.