The Surface Book 2: In Search of the Perfect Laptop

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Laptops by nature are a compromise. A desktop computer doesn’t have to worry about its weight, power consumption, size, or even its appearance (most go under desks after all). But a laptop has to be light, small, it can’t consume a lot of power, and—because it goes with you—how it looks reflects on you and so you tend to end up with conflicted product.

Sexy, thin, portable laptops tend to have poor performance, poor battery life, and tend to be pretty fragile. Gaming laptops tend to be big, bulky, have horrid battery life, and weigh more than you’d really like to carry. Finding the laptop that has the near perfect balance of weight, battery life, appearance, and durability to both meet your entertainment and work needs may be an impossible task. Well, that is, until now. The new Surface Book 2 from Microsoft with the Performance Base may be the closest product yet to that perfect balance.

Let me explain.

Microsoft Surface Book

I was at the first Surface Book launch in New York and it was so much like an old Steve Jobs Apple event I was shocked. I’d been suggesting other PC OEMs execute like Jobs used to and had gotten zero traction and here was Microsoft basically doing an event that was tight, focused on the experience with a product rather than its plumbing and they even closed with Jobs’ famous “one more thing”—surprising us that this laptop was actually a 2-in-1. It was stunning and I had to have one. The only product I’d ever seen that was close to this was the Glass and Steel Dell Adamo, a very expensive short run halo product that looked like it belonged in the Smithsonian as an example of excellent design and not on a desktop.

I carried the first Surface Book for several months and was very pleased with it but for one thing. It sucked at playing games. In fact, some of my favorite titles wouldn’t even load even thought it had an NVIDIA GPU. They’d pushed hard on weight, design and battery life, and performance had taken the hit.

So, I went back to carrying laptops that either could game but were a pain to carry or were easy to carry but couldn’t game. But I really missed the sculpted lines of the Surface book and especially missed the magnetic coupler for the power supply, something that Apple—which pioneered it—was moving away from.

New Surface Book

Well I just got the new Surface Book 2 with the Performance Base and it is amazing. It looks as good as the old Surface book—it has a real discrete NVIDIA GPU so it actually plays my favorite game (Ashes of the Singularity) and it is only one-third of a pound heavier.

One big surprise is that Microsoft Hello facial recognition actually works incredibly well. A first in my experience, you basically just have to look at the screen and you are logged into the PC no more trying to find the right angle or always having to fall back to a PIN number or password.

The base configuration is an i7 with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of memory which is adequate for most but this does come at a price about $300 more than a similar load out without the Performance Base. The same build with Performance Base costs around $2,400—or about 3 times what most folks now pay for a laptop.

But when you move to a product with fewer physical compromises it comes at a cost. For instance, the Porsche Cayenne S at the high end you have a near perfect combination of style, performance, on and off road capability, and comfort but fully loaded that’ll set you back a whopping $134K vs what most might buy a mid-level Ford Explorer which isn’t as balance or pretty but costs closer to $40K.

Getting rid of compromises isn’t cheap.

Wrapping Up

One thing though, I don’t really use the 2-in-1 feature. This is like paying extra for a convertible because you like showing people how cool it is to put the top down but don’t really like the wind messing with your hair (I dated someone like that once). So, I wonder if an improvement might not be a version of this where it didn’t convert into a tablet.

By the way a couple other improvements in the Surface Book 2 with the Performance Base is that that one-third extra pound goes into the base making it more stable than the original Surface Book and the battery life increases by a third to 16 hours. Oh, and there is one advantage to the tablet part of this, you can reverse it turning the Surface Book into a decent small screen streaming media viewer and hiding the keyboard.

Overall I think the Surface Book 2 with the Performance Base is arguably the closest thing we get to a perfect balance of design, function, performance, battery life, and lust. This all comes at a price but the best usually does. You just have to ask yourself if you’re worth the best.

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About Author

As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

  • JCain

    How many times do people have to be reminded… The Surface Book with performance base is NOT the Surface Book 2; It’s just a mid-cycle hardware refresh. You’re going to end up confusing people when the Surface Book 2 is actually released.

    • It is not, “mid-cycle” even a little bit. It was released exactly one year after the first Surface Book. Mid-cycle would be if Microsoft offered a beefed up unit in May or June….in the middle of the cycle.

      To be fair, though–if Microsoft releases a device in the future and calls it the Surface Pro 2 it will be Microsoft that is confusing people. It would be like releasing two versions of a tablet and calling one a Surface and the other a Surface Pro where one has Windows and the other has Windows RT and then hoping my uncle or father-in-law can make sense of it. I get it. Microsoft didn’t officially call it the Surface Book 2. It is the second Surface Book still.

      • njoi

        This is, as the other guy said, not the surface book.. It is just the same surface book with a better graphics card and more battery life. Its still probably the best laptop out there, but the surface book 2, when it comes out this year with kaby lake cpu and hopefully a NVidia 1050 and probably an improved hinge and at least one ubs type c, will blow it out of the water.

      • JCain

        First, we don’t know what the cycle for the Surface Book even is. Secondly, SB1 release date was October 2015. Perf Base was released 1 yr, 1 month later. SB2 rumored release date is April 2017, which would be 1 yr, 6 months later. I’m not grasping at straws here. It’s not an exact mid cycle, but it IS close. 5 months away from the projected launch date of a new generation sounds like a mid-refresh to me.

        I agree that MS is ridiculous when it comes to naming schemes, but a name is a name and it’s important that we use the correct name, even if you may not like it.

        Some people chose to name their children with matching names as their own with a “II” or “Jr” suffix. Both mean nearly the same thing, but one will be right, and one will not. It’s important to reference the correct name, as not doing so could have an effect not seen within the confines of an instance, like this article.

        In my case, when I clicked the link in my news feed, I was expecting news about the Surface Book 2, not the Surface Book w/ Performance Base. Which resulted in my annoyance and finally spoke up after seeing a handful of other articles make the same mistake.

        • Or, conversely, since we all mostly get these notebooks from Microsoft and they come with a briefing it may be that a lot of us are calling these 2, because Microsoft is referring to them as a second generation product during the briefing and a complete refresh (Skylake had issues initially). Just saying…

          • JCain

            Alright, that’s fair enough. I’ll concede Microsoft’s silly lack of concrete naming conventions as the source of confusion. My apologies for getting a little too worked up over it.

  • This is a full refresh, the only thing that makes the “2” iffy is they used Silver Lake not Kaby Lake but that was because Intel had issues getting Kaby Lake to market timely had Intel been more timely Microsoft told me they would have used the newer processor as part of this product.. As Tony pointed out this isn’t a mid cycle refresh which typically is only done to fix some kind of problem, but a full product refresh.  In any case this is enough different in performance and capability to warrant versioning.

    • JCain

      You can call it a full refresh all you want, but it still is just a Surface Book. Nothing makes the ‘2’ iffy; it simply doesn’t exist yet. If you want to cite semantics, go for it. But it is still an inaccurate label. Undoubtedly the official second gen will feature significant hardware changes other than more power, if previous Surface product generation trends are followed.

      Spreading misinformation is just perpetuating the problem of the difficulty in finding reliable information on the web. I know it might sound like I’m blowing it out of proportion, but when a “Surface Book 2” headline pops up in my news feed, I expect to be reading new information about the actual Surface Book 2, not an erroneously labeled product.

      • Kevin

        I agree with JCAIN, firstly under no where in Microsoft’s marketing calls this a Surface Book 2, all you’ll ever in their marketing is The New Surface Book with Performance Base.

        Secondly, this is most likely just a tick-tock product cycle approach that Microsoft has undertaken with the Surface Book Line. Let’s take a simple example that we all know Apple’s iPhone product line …4,4S,5,5S,6,6S – I think you get the picture. You don’t call something a “full refresh” going by calendar year, a lot of products don’t work that way. By the way, Intel’s 6th generation processor is called “Skylake” not “Silver lake”, please stop misleading readers.

        • Agree, Skylake, sorry had Silverlake on my mind for another project. Microsoft is hardly consistent with naming, I’ve been working with them since the early 90s and they have been all over the map.  But they presented this to me as a full refresh and that makes it 2.0 version. Sorry you feel this is misleading but I had to use a term that made sense to me.

  • killermike2178

    Microsoft themselves isn’t calling the SBw/PB the SB2, so why is anybody else? Apple went nearly 18 months from March-May 2015 to October 2016 between 2 different iterations of the MacBook Pro, so it’s not as uncommon as one would think for a hardware manufacturer to go more than a year without an official refresh to a line-up. They still sell the original SB alongside the SBw/PB, so it’s not considered a full-fledged refresh.

    • Because they are calling it a 2nd generation product in briefings.  They have the right to use any name, including Bob’s Your Uncle, for a product but if the thing is a complete refresh and a 2nd generation we have the right to put a 2 on it. Honestly, given it is a full refresh I’m not sure anything else makes sense. I should add, given this was a full refresh, doing another refresh in April would seem to be a tad soon.  Realize that unlike the MacBook or Surface Pro, this is a very low volume halo offering so they may choose not to iterate the name and they likely don’t use the year because this is a 2016 product and they will likely refresh it again toward the end of year.

      • Terry

        Just google “surface book 2”. You are like the only person calling this the “surface book 2”. Everyone else is speculating on the next release.