Surface Book 2 review: Clean Looks, Clean Power, Dirty Secret
- Great aesthetics
- Solid battery life
- Battery drain issues
- Too big to realistically use as a tablet
The Surface Book 2 is a product for a very specific kind of person. The kind of person who digs the glamor of the Surface range but needs more grunt than is offered by the other options on the table.
In terms of aesthetics, material design and ergonomics, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 fits pretty seamlessly alongside the rest of this year’s Surface roster. As the name suggests, it’s a little on the larger side but, then again, that is arguably the entire point. It’s a little heavier than the original Surface Book - but not by much. Still, if you were to compare the Surface Book to a lot of the other 1050-touting notebooks out there, it easily trumps them for mobility, weight and noise.
The 13-inch Surface Book 2 is a fanless beast and while it isn’t silent, it certainly runs quieter than you’d expect. In sharp contrast, the Pixelsense display looks as gorgeous as you would expect. Colors look great, whether in videos, web-pages or images. Likewise, I’ve nothing but similar praise for the keyboard and trackpad. They’re pretty close to best in class for a mobile workstation and a delight to use for five minutes or five hours.
Like the first Surface Book, the Surface Book 2 can also be easily detached from its keyboard base and be used as a tablet. Given the size, dimensions and weight of the display itself (not to mention the cost to battery life) - this doesn’t really hold up as a particularly good option. However, it remains an option. You never know when the ability to shed some of the weight and form-factor of the unit could come in handy.
However, the design decisions made here do come with a pretty big caveat that you may have already heard about. When operating at peak performance (and set to Best Performance mode), the Surface Book 2 may draw more power than both its stock charger or Surface Dock are capable of delivering. Microsoft might insist this phenomenon is “a feature not a bug”, but it’s the kind of black mark that’s going to affect the way you think about and use this notebook. For gamers and power-users especially.
The only other part of the form-factor on the Surface Book 2 that irks me is the slightly curved design of the keyboard base. It’s sturdier than it look, to be sure. However, I still found myself worrying about whether or not it might bend over time. Even if, based on the absence of any long-term complaints about the original Surface Book’s hinge, that worry is probably unfounded.
In terms of performance, the the Surface Book 2 was as speedy as you’d expect an 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor-powered PC to be. Applications loaded fast. The machine went sleep-mode to fully-booted in seconds. The Windows Hello facial login worked like a charm.
While you can get similar results out of things like Dell’s XPS 13 and Acer’s Spin 5, the base-level of performance here left little to be desired. In fact, like all Surface products, it makes a surprisingly strong argument for keeping Microsoft’s first-party devices well at the top of your list for consideration the next time you’re shopping for a portable PC. Obviously, the Windows OS works fine on third-party notebooks but there’s a slick and smooth level of integration here gives a unique thrill of experiencing Windows 10 “the way it is meant to be” experienced.
Beyond the everyday, the Surface Book kept pace when it came to Benchmark scores. Compared to the performance-minded notebooks like Acer Spin 5 (which also touts 8th-gen Intel processors) or the ASUS Zenbook Flip S. However, the real difference over these devices was felt during Geekbench’s compute test, where the integration of a discrete graphics card propelled the Surface Book 2 far above the competition.
Meanwhile, when it comes to gaming, the Surface Book is absolutely better than most notebooks out there but - even when you take the power issues out of the picture - can’t quite swing it with the dedicated devices coming out of Razer, MSI and the rest of them.
In practice, the Surface Book 2 is only OK for gaming. Much like Lenovo’s Legion range, it’s good enough to get-by but not quite great. You can absolutely play some Overwatch or League of Legends on it. However, running something like Destiny 2 tends to be too much of a drag to be worth the trouble.
Microsoft tout a hefty 17 hours of battery life on the new Surface Book and, to their credit, our experience with the device got pretty close to that. It’s well above the average, usually delivering 12-16 hours of use - depending on how much video playback was involved and where we sat the brightness settings.
Playing with the power-saving settings on the thing let us push it even further. With mixed everyday usage, we’d usually get 2-3 days of out of it before we’d need to charge it up again. Suffice to say, this aspect of the product lived up to its potential.
The Bottom Line
The Surface Book 2 is a product for a very specific kind of person. The kind of person who digs the glamor of the Surface range but needs more grunt than is offered by the other options on the table. There’s not a whole lot to it apart from that.
If you’re looking for a gaming machine, this probably isn’t it. If you’re not a fan of the whole 2-in-1 optional tablet form-factor or don’t spring for the clean ceramic white sensibilities of the Surface range, this isn’t likely to win you over either. However, if you’re already a fan of the above and and want something comparable to (though not quite a match for) the Surface Studio with greater portability, this is the Book you’re looking for.
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