Microsoft Surface Book in-depth review - The head-turner

I have always struggled to imagine how a tablet – even a very powerful tablet – could replace a laptop for heavy office usage. I tried my hands on the early iPad mini and the Surface Pro – at best, they were handy devices to have on the train or on the sofa, while watching telly to check your last emails of the day. But number-crunching on excel or animation-heavy Power Point presentations cannot be sustained on the tablet for too long. So the concept of a “hybrid” intrigued me. In my world, the tablet would never become a laptop – but could a laptop afford me flexibility of the tablet? Short answer – yes.

 Microsoft Surface Book Review - The head-turner

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/26/2016 10:47:17 AM


out of 10



out of 5

Look and feel


out of 5

Ease of use


out of 5



out of 5

Battery life


Striking good looks | Windows 10 | fantastic processor | brilliant screen | very good battery life


functionality can be hit/miss | Super expensive | can be quite buggy at times

The Surface Book is a definite head-turner

It is definitely the best looking laptop I have seen in recently, and I have been around PC World a lot of times, pretending to buy cables and phone cases.

I have gotten used to colleagues stopping by my desk, the soft whistles and the 'Is it better than the Surface Pro?' kind of questions...

The real compliment was when I had a couple of the nerdy engineer/designer types asking to take the device away to spend 15 minutes checking it out in one of our labs I was visiting and their grudging admiration.

(The Microsoft Surface Book for this review was provided by Currys PC World)

The magnesium chassis can almost be mistaken for plastic but it looks very elegant up close. It is smooth to the touch and the black border on the screen plays off the silver keyboard base very well. The top is broken only by the Microsoft logo.

The dynamic fulcrum mechanism is unique to the Surface Book. With the lid down, it leaves a seemingly unbecoming gap between the base and the screen. It may be problematic if you have odds and ends in the same compartment of the laptop bag. However, when it opens, it extends out giving the user more depth.

It is a laptop and also a tablet and then a laptop again!

It provides the laptop more stability but also makes the unit stiffer. So if I want to push the screen down to improve the angle when I am standing up, I need to use both hands else the laptop will topple over. I also found the laptop a tad difficult to open – would have expected it to be a lot smoother than what it is.

The screen detaches to become a tablet – it helps that most of the technology is housed in the screen. The separation mechanism is smooth – there is, in fact, a separate detach button on the keyboard to initiate the process. Once pressed, there is a reassuring 'click' and the screen comes off the hinges smoothly. Putting it back is fairly simple: align the slots with the hinges and 'click'.

Here is the problem. The tablet is too big for comfortable use during commuting, unless you want to type in a few, rather terse responses to emails. Or read a book – but not for too long. You will need a seat on the train into London to do anything useful. But getting access to the tablet is a problem – when I leave for work (or leave work), it goes in as a laptop. It needs to be taken out, switched on, logged in, button pressed and then the screen detached – and only then does the base, with its protruding hinges, go back in the bag. Minor issues, but also mildly irritating.

At 1.51 kg, it is heavier than a usual 13.5-inch laptop but the difference is not palpable.

The super immersive screen on Surface Book draws you in...

The screen resolution at 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI) is brilliant and I have never thought boring corporate presentations could actually look good. Video playback is great – the greys of Line of Duty and the visceral red and blacks of Daredevil were rich and sharp at the same time.

The viewing angles are decent – as long as you are okay holding a 0.75kg tablet for a bit. It’s a pity that BBC iPlayer is not available on the Windows Store but that is a problem that Microsoft has to deal with, on a different level.

And it is great to work on...

The keyboard is of high quality – though it does take time to get used to the layout. There is an option of changing the backlight on the keyboard which is useful when you are trying to work quietly in bed with just the side light on. My partner, an avid Macbook user did say that the keys were as good as the MacBook. I will just take her word for it.

The track pad is pretty reliable and I absolutely loved the 2-finger scrolling (yes, my regular work laptop is a Lenovo X240). Fortunately, it has retained the right click option has well – I cannot imagine a track pad without it!!

The performance is not as stable as you would expect in a laptop this expensive and ostensibly, this powerful.

Microsoft Hello is not very friendly...

The camera doubles up as a login tool – it scans the user’s retina during set up and each time the machine boots up, the user does not need to log in using the keyboard.

But after every 5 days or so, it stops working. Which means, the keyboard comes into play. A couple of times, it sorted out itself when updates were installed but in the last week or so of the test, updates didn’t help either.

Similarly, after a couple of weeks of regular office use, Outlook started to slow down and hang more regularly – which is what I expected from my old Lenovo. I had to cut down my PST sizes to reasonable chunks to transfer data so I know it wasn’t because of file sizes.

I am a FIFA addict – but I just couldn’t get it to work on the Surface Book. So no comments on how the CPU performs during heavy gaming.

The battery life is good – with constant usage at work, I was able to make it last about 7 to 8 hours. I had to get the charger plugged in by about 3pm if I started with a full charge early in the morning. It takes about 4.5 hours for the battery to charge to 100%.

However, the Book does heat up in sleep mode and discharges pretty rapidly. In fact, my 2-year-old Lenovo performs better while in sleep mode. In summary, the battery is pretty good but I had to shut down and restart if I was not plugged in and had to take a break for more than 30 minutes. It’s not too bad because the book starts up very quickly.

The Pen is one of the best and most powerful features of the Surface Book, though it may interest the creative / designer sorts more than a regular office user. I used it a couple of time to take notes – but it’s really a nice-to-have feature rather than a need-to-have and my 5-year-old loved it and used it more than I did. 

So, is the Microsoft Surface Book a 'take my money already' kind of a device?

In summary, this is a great looking laptop with all the features you need (and more!) for regular Office type of stuff.

The detachable tablet and the hinge makes it brilliant for presentations, meetings and working on the go (as long as you get a seat). But it is buggy - as you would expect a first generation kit to be – and Microsoft needs to iron out these issues quickly. And add to the store – if not anything, the BBC iPlayer for starters!!

However, the brilliant screen, the bundled-in Pen and absolutely stunning looks and above-average battery life make up for its flaws.

Will I pay £1,799 for the 256 GB memory with the i7 processor?

No, I won’t. Nothing is worth that kind of money. It’s cheaper to have a MacBook and an ipad mini instead. The £1,299 option (i5, 128 GB HD) is affordable – but I would wait for MS to sort out the performance bugs before investing in the Surface Book.

However, the real question is: will my Fortune 500 company buy it for me if I asked? Yes, they would. And that is why I think Microsoft will do really well with this device. It has the looks and mettle to be the main driver for upper management types who like the comfort of Windows and dont want the learning curve of an iOS device. 

Presentations look brilliant and the Pen comes into its own during high profile meetings and if someone else is swiping the card for it, there is really no excuse not to get one...

Microsoft SurfaceBook specifications

Price: From £1299

Operating System: Windows 10 Pro

Dimensions: 312.3mm x 232.1mm x 13.0 - 22.8mm

Weight: From 1,516 grams including keyboard

Resolution: 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI)

Display: 13.5” PixelSense™ display

Processor: 6th Gen Intel® Core™ i5 or i7; 8GB or 16GB RAM; i5: Intel® HD graphics 520 i5/i7: NVIDIA GeForce GPU with 1GB GDDR5 memory

Camera: 5.0-MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video; 8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video and stereo speakers with Dolby® audio

Memory: 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB.

Battery: Up to 12 hours of video playback

Fingerprint sensor: No, but it has a retina scanner

Misc: Two full-size USB 3.0 Full-size SD™ card reader SurfaceConnectTM Headset jack Mini DisplayPort

(The Microsoft Surface Book was reviewed by our business reviewer who puts devices that are more suited to enterprise customers, through their paces)