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Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5" Review: Much Needed Refinement

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Microsoft
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Overview

2015 seems to have been a turning point for Microsoft's Surface hardware initiative. Despite the failure of Windows RT and the associated Surface RT, the Intel-powered Surface was beginning to gain some real traction and notoriety with the Surface Pro 3 in late 2014, but was still fairly niche.

In October of 2015, Microsoft signaled that they were taking this fledgling Surface thing seriously with the announcement of their second Surface device, the Surface Book. Fitting into a more traditional notebook-style form factor rather than the Surface's approach to the idea of a 2-in-1 design, the Surface Book introduced several radical design elements, both to Microsoft and the entire PC ecosystem at large.

The unique "dynamic fulcrum" hinge design, true detachable discrete graphics on a 2-in-1 device, and almost 10-hour battery life made the Surface Book stand out in the PC market.

But the original Surface Book wasn't without its faults. Hardware reliability became an issue as early adopters started to use these computers for extended amounts of time, and the lackluster of the available GPU option in the Surface Base mitigated some of the intended utility of the Surface Book Ecosystem.

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However, this didn't stop Microsoft from announcing a follow-up in Late 2017, the Surface Book 2. The Surface Book 2 aimed to address some of the hardware issues with the first generation while providing a more powerful unit and introducing a new 15" display option.

On my continued search for a new personal notebook, I decided to purchase a Surface Book 2 13.5" unit for evaluation. 

Continue reading our review of the Surface Book 2!

Surface Book 2
MSRP $1199 $1499 $1999 $2499 $2999
Screen 13.5” (3200 x 2000) PixelSense touch display
CPU Core i5-7300U Core i7-8650U
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 620 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050
RAM 8GB LPDDR3 16GB LPDDR3
Storage 128GB PCIe 256GB PCIe 512GB PCIe 1TB PCIe
Network Marvel AVASTAR 802.11ac (2x2)
Bluetooth 4.1LE
Display Output

1 x USB 3.1 Type-C (DisplayPort)
1 x Surface Connect port

Connectivity 1  x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
 2 x USB 3.0  Type-A
SDXC Card Reader (UHS-II)
2 x Surface Connect ports (one on tablet, one on base)
3.5mm headphone
Audio Dual Microphones
Front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
Weight 3.38 lbs ( 1.534 kg) including keyboard
Dimensions 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.59–0.90 in.
(312.0 x 232.00 x 15.00–23.00 mm)
Battery 75 Wh (18Wh tablet, 51Wh  base)
Operating System Windows 10 Pro

The particular SKU of Surface Book 2 that I bought is the lowest end configuration available with a quad-core processor, and subsequently a discrete GPU. While Microsoft currently has this configuration on sale for $1850 compared to the $2000 MSRP, at the time of writing this SKU is still available at Microcenter for $1650, which is where I purchased the device.

Instead of the "unnamed NVIDIA GPU" found in the original Surface Book, and the 940MX later introduced in the revised Surface Performance Base, this time we see a significantly more powerful discrete GPU, the GTX 1050. 

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The display seems to remain unchanged from the original Surface Book, which is not at all a negative. Display quality was one of the standout aspects of the Surface Book, and this continues with the Surface Book 2.

The 3:2 aspect ratio, 3000x2000 display is an ideal format for productivity, as opposed to 16:9 displays which seem better suited for media consumption.

Another standout aspect of the Surface Book 2 are the input devices. While these also seem to be the same as the original Surface Book, the keyboard and trackpad implementation are top notch.

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The keyboard has a nice solid feeling, partially provided by the extruded aluminum chassis it sits in and provides an excellent amount of tactility and key travel.

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The trackpad is, of course, a Microsoft Precision Touchpad device, allowing for the use of advanced gestures in Windows 10. Additionally, the palm rejection is the best I've used in a PC notebook and provides a similar experience to Apple's MacBook trackpads.

One aspect of the Surface Book 2 I'm not too keen on is the "on lap" experience. While the Surface Book 2 is fantastic to use on a solid surface, when I try to use it on my lap, the entire device feels a bit tall, mostly due to the 3:2 aspect ratio display. Overall this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker but has taken some time to adjust to compared to other 13-in class notebooks like the XPS 13.

Additionally, the construction of the Surface Book 2 means that it's significantly heavier than other notebooks in this class. At 3.38 lbs compared to the XPS 13's 2.7 pounds, this could be a deal breaker for users concerned about every possible ounce.

If you are into battery life though, the additional weight is worth it. At a total of 75 Wh (18Wh in the tablet itself, and 51Wh in the base), the Surface Book 2 has a significant advantage over machines like the aforementioned XPS 13 with its 52Wh battery.

Despite being a 2-in-1 device, I can't see a scenario where I would actually use the Surface Book 2 in a "tablet" configuration. It's simply too large and heavy of a device to effectively use a tablet for purposes like media consumption.

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However, the ability to detach the tablet and flip it around on the hinge it quite nice. For users looking to draw on the Surface Book 2 using the optional Surface Pen, or if you're on a cramped plane trying to watch a movie, this more compact configuration is very convenient. 

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One of the other significant changes is to the port configuration on the Surface Base. While you still have 2 USB 3.0 Type-A ports, a full-size SD card slot, and the proprietary Surface connector for charging and docking, the Surface Book 2 introduces a single USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C connector. 

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This USB-C port is capable of data transfer at 5 Gbps, video output, and charging. Instead of purchasing the expensive and proprietary Surface Dock, I've been using a generic USB type-c port expander from Anker with great results.

While it's disappointing not to see Thunderbolt 3 for more expansion capabilities, it's nice to see Microsoft finally begin to address the need of USB-C on their devices. Personally, I think it's time for the Surface Connector should go away in favor of a Thunderbolt 3 solution.

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One of my favorite small details of the Surface Book 2 actually deals with it's charger. The 100W power brick is compact compared to other high performance notebooks and provides a USB Type-A port for charging. While this USB port may not be something you use all the time, it's nice to have on a port-limited notebook.

Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
How product was obtained: The product has been purchased by the writer for the purpose of this review.
What happens to the product after review: The product remains the property of the writer, and the usage is at their discretion after the review.
Company involvement: Microsoft had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.
PC Perspective Compensation: Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Microsoft for this review.
Advertising Disclosure: Microsoft has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.
Affiliate links: This article contains affiliate links to online retailers. PC Perspective may receive compensation for purchases through those links.
Consulting Disclosure: Microsoft is not a current client of Shrout Research for products or services related to this review. 

April 30, 2018 | 12:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous1 (not verified)

Just a heads up, the title of the chart on the first page says "Dell XPS 13 2-in-1"

April 30, 2018 | 02:27 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks updated!

April 30, 2018 | 04:49 PM - Posted by remc86007

I know these are pricy for the specs, but they really make excellent laptops even if that's all you do with them. I have a first gen Surface Book that I bought refurbished in early 2017 for $1000 which I use as my business laptop. Nothing at that price range gave me anything close to the screen quality (and aspect ratio), the keyboard and trackpad quality, and the battery life that the Surface Book does. I regularly get 12+hours of usage out of it.

May 1, 2018 | 11:06 AM - Posted by Grumpy wolf (not verified)

I worked for customer support for surface for a couple years, and I own a couple myself. The book 2 (at least the i7 version with the 1060) was a very nice device, decent gaming performance and was quieter than my thicker Asus laptop with a 1060. It also had great battery life, I would often have one at my desk all day only running on battery.

May 1, 2018 | 04:40 PM - Posted by Kretschmer (not verified)

Since a 1050 can't expect to run 3000x2000 at any reasonable FPS, how is the scaling at 1080P and half resolution (1500x1000)? Is it a blurry mess, like on most 4K monitors running at 1080P?

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