Microsoft Surface Book: Early impressions

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Before running our full review, we have some early thoughts on the Microsoft Surface Book(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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The Microsoft Surface Book is a new kind of Surface. While every other model has been a tablet with snap-on keyboard, the Surface Book is more like a laptop with a snap-off screen. Read on for Gizmag's early impressions.

It doesn't take long to see that Microsoft is swinging for the fence with the Surface Book. It has a high-end magnesium build that screams "premium," a razor-sharp screen that looks stunning in both laptop and tablet modes and by far the best keyboard and trackpad we've seen on any Surface.

If you ever wished you could have an Apple-quality laptop that wasn't made by Apple, then this may be your best option yet.

But the Surface Book is more than just a Retina MacBook Pro rival. Unlike Apple's high-end laptop, the Surface Book has a touchscreen, pen input and a new "Clipboard Mode" that offers a slightly different twist on the Windows 2-in-1.

Most convertibles fall into one of two categories: a) Surface-style tablets, with kickstands and keyboard accessories that turn them into laptops or b) Yoga-style laptops, with hinges that rotate 360 degrees for a fold-back tablet experience.

The Surface Book is much more laptop than tablet, but when you do want to switch, you can either long-press on a hardware key or click on a software button in the Windows taskbar and after hearing a subtle whirr-click! sound effect, you'll be able to slide the screen right off of the laptop.

Though the tablet, erm, "Clipboard" is huge (the Surface Book has a 13.5-inch display, 86 percent bigger than an iPad Air 2 display) it feels pleasantly light in hand. That's because the device has two batteries, and only the smaller one lives inside the tablet part of the device.

So the flip side to the tablet's ultra-light build is that you probably won't be able to use it without its keyboard base station for longer than an hour or two at a time (if that long). And in some models, there's a discrete Nvidia GPU living inside the keyboard as well – obviously that extra graphics punch will go away as well when you rip the screen off.

So the odd "Clipboard Mode" branding is there to remind you that, unlike "tablets" that you're used to, you can only use the Surface Book as a tablet in short bursts.

For someone like me, this form factor is ideal. When using 2-in-1s, I typically spend much more time in laptop mode than tablet mode – usually only losing the keyboard when diving into something like a long-form article, book or movie. The Surface Book still lets you do those things for short periods, but for the rest of the time you get a 100 percent uncompromised laptop (at least so far ... keep in mind these are our early impressions).

It's too early to comment on battery life or say much about performance. So far the entry-level model we're reviewing is blazing through everything we throw at it – though Adobe clearly wasn't prepared for launch, as both Photoshop and Lightroom are a little buggy right now on the new device.

In other areas, the Surface Book's optional facial recognition login has been working perfectly, its new Surface Pen feels a little more responsive compared to the one in the Surface Pro 3 and the large glass trackpad is almost exactly like Apple's pre-Force Touch MacBook trackpads – which is to say it's excellent, but does have that "diving board effect," where the top of the pad is harder to click than the bottom.

The Surface Book looks like it could be one of the most exciting new devices of the year. Microsoft's Surface lineup got off to a rocky start, but in the last year and a half the company has pushed things forward dramatically. This looks like another big step forward.

The Microsoft Surface Book is available starting today, though it's back-ordered everywhere. It starts at US$1,499 for the 128 GB SSD, Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM model we're handling.

Product page: Microsoft

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