Microsoft Surface Book 2 Review - Best Travel 2-in-1 Laptop?
Hi there, it's Lukasz for Tech Travel Geeks. I'm currently on a 6-week-long round-the-world trip, and I wanted to share my experience with the Microsoft Surface Book 2, the latest flagship laptop from Seattle released in the UK in November 2017.
Let's go through some of the key features of this laptop, touching on other available models as well.
There are two main versions of this laptop - one with a 13.5" screen, and the other with a bigger, 15" monitor. Both are top-of-the-class panels, with 3k 3:2 resolution (3000 x 2000 or 3240 x 2160 pixels), very bright screens, great colour reproduction and viewing angles. I have the smaller version of the laptop and I've had no problems using it in the bright daylight in Fiji and Australia, so I'm sure it will be good enough for any location.
The screen, as is common nowadays with most flagship laptops, is touch-sensitive. I've found it to be very responsive and easy to use when needed. In addition to that, as with other Surface products, it supports the Surface Pen, which is fantastic for anyone who uses it as a creative tool. Unfortunately, unlike the previous model, this one doesn't come with the pen included, so it's required to purchase it separately. Since I don't do much drawing or handwriting, I haven't purchased it yet, but based on reviews online, it looks like a good product.
The main selling point of the Surface Book 2 (and its predecessor) is the fact that the screen is detachable. In order to detach it, you have to press a button on the keyboard (the laptop has to be switched on for that though), and it removes very easily. The screen is connected to the rest of the device by a very interesting hinge, which has so far been great - after almost 6 months of use, it's very stable and convenient to use. The screen can go back to around 135 degrees, so it can't go flat, but you can turn the screen around and use it flat, or detach it completely and treat it as a large and powerful tablet.
What's very interesting is how the components are distributed. Everything that's needed for it to function is in the screen, including the hard drive, processor, built-in graphics card and all the other components. The keyboard part, on the other hand, has an additional battery and a dedicated Nvidia graphics card, so for more taxing purposes it's better to use it in the laptop mode, but for anything else, using just the screen is perfectly fine.
Furthermore, the build quality of the laptop is fantastic. The silver metallic look is great, with the hinge making it a very unique and easily-recognizeable laptop. The single Windows logo on the top adds to the premium look. The keyboard is very responsive and a pleasure to type on, I believe it's one of the most convenient ones available. The touchpad has been very good as well, allowing me to edit some videos without any problems. And it all easily fits into my bag, which has been fantastic for travels.
Performance and battery life
When it comes to performance, the laptop supports a number of CPU variants. It starts with the Dual Core M5 processor with an Intel HD Graphics 620 integrated graphics card, but it's quite low-end, so I wouldn't recommend it for content creation. There are also Intel Core i7 models available with the 8th generation Kaby Lake R processors. I picked the i7-8650U CPU clocked at 1.9GHz version to ensure the best performance, but the i5 should be good enough for most casual uses like browsing the internet or some basic gaming. It also comes with a few memory options, up to 16GB, and up to 1TB hard drive.
When it comes to graphics cards, this is where it differs between the 15" and 13.5" versions of the laptop. The bigger laptop supports a higher-end graphics card - Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 with 6GB of video memory, compared to GTX 1050 with 2GB of memory on the smaller model. However, Geforce 1050 is still one os the most powerful mobile graphics cards available, allowing you to play most games on medium to high settings, including popular games like Fortnite.
I personally don't play too many games, and my main focus is on content creation. It's here where the Surface Book 2 delivers - it's even capable of editing 4k video in Premiere Pro. This has been a key consideration for my purchase, and I have to say I'm very happy with it. I have so far edited a number of videos on this laptop, including the "What's in my bag" video and the one you're watching just now for this channel, as well as a "Shark Tale" video from Fiji on my personal channel, so feel free to check them out. This laptop has now replaced my older desktop with an Nvidia 1060 graphics card, and I've never looked back.
When talking about performance, I can't forget about the fantastic battery life. As mentioned earlier, there are two batteries included - one in the screen part, and the other in the keyboard part. The former, on its own, can last a few hours, so it's not that amazing, but when attached to the keyboard, the laptop is one of the best ones available, allowing you to use it without charge for a full day. This comes in handy especially during holidays, when you want to take it with you or just don't have an outlet around.
Connectivity and cameras
The laptop includes a number of very useful ports. The key one for me is full-size SD card reader, since I spend a lot of time downloading footage from my main camera. It also has two full-size USB 3.0 ports on the left, as well as a USB-C port on the right. The latter, however, is where one of my few issues with this laptop lies - it doesn't support Thunderbolt 3, so it's not possible to connect a separate dedicated graphics card to it, connect more than one 4k monitor or use other Thunderbolt accessories. And while it supports powering the laptop through this port, it's really slow and it will barely maintain the current battery status instead of actually charging it. Still, it's good that it's included in the first place.
For charging, instead, you should use the proprietary charging port. On the plus side, it's reversible and magnetic, similarly to what's found in MacBooks, so I've been very happy with it. And there's an extra bonus as well - two additional USB outs in the power brick itself, which allow me to charge my phone and camera without the need to bring additional USB chargers - small thing, but makes a big difference while travelling.
On the screen part, you will find the power button and the volume rocker at the top and the headphone jack on the side. At the front of the screen, there's a front-facing camera, which takes photos of up to 5 megapixels and records video in FullHD. The front facing camera is actually great and really clear, amazing for video calls with family while you're away, so it definitely deserves props for it. It's best feature, however, is that it supports Windows Hello, which is a very quick way to unlock your screen with the camera, using facial recognition and near-infrared imaging. I have to say I love it, it's very fast and just works every time, I can't praise it enough. There's also an 8MP back-facing camera which also records FullHD video, but let's be honest, who's going to use it as a camera?
So, is the Surface Book 2 worth it? As a premium device from Microsoft, it comes with great build quality and top specs, and has deservedly been called the best 2-in-1 laptop available by many reviews. However, it comes at a premium price. It's definitely not cheap, starting at £1500 for the dual-core version, and going to £3149 for the top-specked model. The model reviewed was 13.5" with Core i7-8650U CPU, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a 500GB SSD, priced at £2499. You will be able to get cheaper setups from Dell or HP, but you'll sacrifice either build quality or access to top specs.
What this laptop is meant to do is to compete with Apple and give an alternative to Macbook Pro. If you prefer to use Windows software or aren't a big fan of the closed system of Apple, then this is a fantastic alternative. I personally grew up with Microsoft software, starting with DOS and Windows 95, so using Windows 10 is second nature for me. If you're a fan of Apple, well, I guess you've made your choice.
To sum up, having been using this for almost 6 months, and being 4 weeks into a round-the-world trip, I couldn't be happier with my purchase. If you want one of the best laptops on the market, with great specs, fantastic battery life, excellent screen, build quality and a unique approach to 2-in-1, and you don't mind spending a bit more to get the best that's available, go for it!
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