Surface Book review: Microsoft's hybrid reversal pays off

By making the Surface Book a laptop first, some of the Surface Pro's issues have been avoided. Photo: Norman Ma / Twitter @darkhorse166
By making the Surface Book a laptop first, some of the Surface Pro's issues have been avoided. Photo: Norman Ma / Twitter @darkhorse166
Though not as thin as some laptops, the Surface Book is light enough and feels great. Photo: Norman MA / Twitter @darkhorse166

Though not as thin as some laptops, the Surface Book is light enough and feels great. Photo: Norman MA / Twitter @darkhorse166

The Surface Pen is included. Photo: Norman MA / Twitter @darkhorse166

The Surface Pen is included. Photo: Norman MA / Twitter @darkhorse166

Hybrid pays off: The Microsoft Surface Pro. Photo: Supplied

Hybrid pays off: The Microsoft Surface Pro. Photo: Supplied

With the Surface, Microsoft designed a tablet that could moonlight as a fully fledged desktop machine. The Surface Book flips that emphasis; this is a laptop that can convert to a tablet, but that small change makes for a completely new experience.

The size of the Surface Book is a little daunting. After watching the slick Microsoft promotional videos, I was expecting a product as thin and light as my Macbook Air. But there is far more power in the Surface Book, and that means a bigger, heavier laptop – the Surface Book is identical in weight to the 13-inch Macbook Pro, though it's a little thicker over all.

That's not to say the Surface Book feels bulky. The design of the machine is absolutely gorgeous. The keyboard is a pleasure to type on, and the sleek magnesium casing is stunning. The display is sharper than the Retina Macbook Pro, sporting 2 million more pixels and a wider colour gamut than Apple's laptop.

And thanks to the dynamic fulcrum hinge, there to evenly distribute the weight of the screen, the machine just feels perfectly well balanced at any angle – be it on a desk, lap, or as I write this, balanced on my chest while I lay on the couch. Try doing that with a Surface Pro.

Like the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book ships with a pen for quick scribbles or serious Photoshop work, whatever takes your fancy.

I continue to be impressed with Windows Hello, the built-in infrared camera that lets you unlock the Surface Book just by looking at it. Try as I might, I just couldn't get Hello to fail to recognise me, no matter how bad the lighting, or the faces I pulled.

On the software side, Windows 10 is Windows 10 – a well designed, mature and reliable OS in the traditional desktop setting. I ran into a few Surface Book specific bugs out of the box, but all were resolved with last Thursday's Windows 10 update. The lack of tablet-friendly Windows 10 apps is still an issue, but not as noticeable in this laptop-first device.

In the laptop configuration, I easily got a full work day's use from the battery. The bulk of the battery lives in the keyboard, so when you're using just the screen in tablet mode, battery life drops to just three to four hours. That sounds pretty bad if you're hoping to use the tablet to watch movies on a plane, but remember you can flip the keyboard backwards and use it as a stand for the screen.

The question remains, is it better to have the one device that can do it all, or would owning both a lightweight laptop and tablet serve you better? The gorgeous Dell XPS 13 and Galaxy Tab S2 have a combined weight that's less than the Surface Book, and swapping between them can be just as easy with the help of cloud services like Dropbox, Office 365, or Google Docs.

I can see arguments for both – there are definite advantages to having just one device to charge, pack, and look after, but on the other hand, you can get better battery life and more flexibility splitting the products.

Either way, if you're as dedicated to the all-in-one idea as Microsoft is, this is simply the best tablet-laptop hybrid available. And even if you're not that keen on the idea, this is probably the best Windows laptop I've ever used.

The Surface Book is Microsoft's most compelling argument for an all-in-one laptop and tablet machine. By making it a laptop first with the option to be an occasional tablet, the company has designed hardware that plays to the strengths of Windows, and strikes a better balance for most users.

The Surface Book starts at an RRP of $2299 for the base model 128GB Core i5, up to $4199 for 512GB Core i7.

This story Surface Book review: Microsoft's hybrid reversal pays off first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.