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.
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.