Microsoft’s entry-level Surface Book quietly gets a discrete Nvidia graphics …

21 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Microsoft Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 Review: New Hope for Windows Hardware.

A few days after a $3,200 Surface Book with a 1TB hard drive and discrete Nvidia GPU (dGPU) appeared on the Microsoft Store, the company is adding another new dGPU-packing Surface, this time on the low end. Yet I expect lots of folks to drool over the beautiful and fast new Microsoft Surface Book, the company’s powerhouse of a notebook that aims to give Apple’s MacBook Pro a run for its money.

Lenovo made a whole line of products called Yoga, which are not to be confused with the Asus Taichi lineup. (No one made the “Ommmm,” which seems like a missed opportunity.) Just about every device anyone made somehow flipped, rotated, contorted, or sawed itself in half, Penn and Teller-style. At, you learn that the company isn’t expected to ship the entry level $1499 Surface Book configuration (Intel Core i5, 128GB of storage, 8GB of memory) for four to five weeks. Surface Book shares certain traits with its highly-regarded siblings, the Surface hybrid tablet computers of which there’s now a brand new Surface Pro 4.

As we cover in depth in PCWorld’s official review, Microsoft’s Surface Book is nothing short of a glorious reimagining of the laptop—a point of view that is sure to upset Microsoft’s PC maker partners even more. For the length of this review rumination, I will presume that you are at least mildly familiar with the Surface Pro line of devices. (If not, head here.) However, it’s key strength remains that it is a tablet-first device. There’s just one key difference: basically every other convertible has tried too hard to be all things to all people, doing everything under the sun and none of it well.

These companies reportedly aren’t pleased to see Microsoft advance into new territory yet again after Microsoft debuted the Surface tablet three years ago. The impact on you at home: If you were hoping for a dGPU-enabled Surface Book but couldn’t see yourself spending $1,900 to get it, well, it’s time to take a second look. It’s not a great tablet, and it’s a bad convertible—it’s really, really hard to make a device that is equally adept as both desk-bound workhorse and bag-friendly touchscreen. The fusion of productivity and mobility is a hard fucking intersection. (Proof of that ranges from the iPad Pro, to Google’s Pixel C.) Finding synthesis between go, and stop is not easy. That would have been fine, but I also forgot that I didn’t have a spare Surface Book charger at home, so my battery testing became a bit more real that day than I had hoped.

If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t even know the keyboard and gorgeous 13.5-inch touch screen can be detached from one another, which transforms Surface Book into a large display clipboard or slate that I suspect will invite comparisons with Apple’s yet to be released iPad Pro. Excuse me: the “dynamic fulcrum hinge.” There’s a cool development backstory to the “dynamic fulcrum hinge,” but essentially, it was made so the screen could have a battery and processor inside without being so heavy it would tip over backwards.

To release the keyboard, you must press a key on the upper row of keys and wait a moment or so for a green light, or an alert to appear on the screen. The hinge also gives the 3.34-pound laptop a really cool, unique look, like a folio or a rolled-up magazine that doesn’t quite come closed. (It’s a little less than an inch thick at the back.) Other than the worries I have about what might get in the crack where the hinge doesn’t quite let the two halves close, I love it.

But with improved hardware, and most importantly an improved Type Cover keyboard, the Pro 4 felt in testing that prior compromises were either fully abated, or mostly so. For now, there are a couple of distinct (and sometimes painful) sacrifices you must make for combining the tablet and the laptop. “Were they going for a Battleship board look?” “Ooof, is that a futuristic Trapper Keeper?” People either love or hate the Surface Book’s magnesium design, especially the polarizing bendy-straw-like hinge. Both want to straddle the divide between tablets and laptops, device categories sufficiently different that you would be forgiven if you miss the varying emphasis. Indeed, you might doodle in the OneNote note-taking program, sketch in Fresh Paint, or write on the Web inside the new Microsoft Edge browser, which comes along with Windows 10.

Microsoft says you’ll get about three hours of battery life when using Surface Book as a clipboard but up to 12 hours when everything is reattached. According to Microsoft, you’ll be able to exploit the new Windows Hello feature in Windows 10 and “unlock” the computer by having the front-facing 5-megapixel high definition camera recognize your mug. (There’s also a rear facing 8-megapixel HD camera.) But the feature was not enabled yet in time for this review. I spent a glorious two days missing keys by small fractions, and therefore closing tabs and programs, or, in reverse, doing nothing when I wanted to do something. Essentially, it kept the core design coupling features present in every Cover for Surface, but baked in chiclet keys, and improved stability for typing. That’s not to say that Microsoft should build one into the Book — that would be silly — but it does mean that if tablet-a-bility is your main focus, you might want to look at a different device.

The top half is lighter and easier to carry than a 13.5-inch tablet seems like it would be, and especially with the included Surface Pen is a nice panel to draw on. The huge screen is a battery suck, though: I only got about four hours of use in general, and a two-hour movie on 100 percent brightness (Tomorrowland, it was terrible) dropped it all the way to 16 percent. Microsoft doesn’t even call it “tablet mode,” it calls it “Clipboard mode.” If you want a tablet to use all day, every day, Microsoft has one of those.

My $1,500 entry-level model had an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of solid state drive storage. (For another $400, you get more powerful graphics.) It’s everything I need to juggle loads of applications and my basic video editing. If you’re a gamer, maybe look elsewhere; everyone else is covered here. (One thing I should note: I’ve spoken to a few other reviewers that have had serious issues with their Surface Book’s hard drives. I’m not sure if price deflation for the Book is a Microsoft priority, but perhaps once unit volume comes into play, and the company can leverage economics of scale, a lower sticker could emerge.

Then again, Microsoft did not set out to build an inexpensive computer in this case — if it did, it failed — so our quibble here is slightly unfair. For the most part, Microsoft’s new hardware succeeds at its main goal: It makes Windows 10 great, whether I’m leaping from app to app with a three-finger swipe, or smiling for the camera to log in without a password.

What will be interesting to watch is how the Book eats at the Pro 4’s dollar share; will the twin devices expand the Surface family’s aggregate revenue, or merely shift unit volume up the price chart? Normally I’d not bring it up, but as Microsoft has quite a lot of room in the lower half of the device to secure juice, I think it’s a fair complaint. They simply would not allow me back into Windows. “We discovered some of the units had solid state drives that were failing,” Panos Panay, corporate vice president of Microsoft Devices, told me. “This is an issue we’ve already addressed at the factory and something customers will not experience at launch.” The smaller $900-and-up device is a better tablet than laptop—but it’s still not as good a tablet as an iPad.

The Surface Book, in comparison, is designed for the person who wants to get the most out of Windows 10’s touch-focused features inside a package that can be both mobile and desktop-focused. Neither does the headphone jack, which dangles from the top right of the display and gets constantly in the way while I’m trying to use my computer. Rather than build a totally compromised device, a middling tablet mixed with a middling laptop, it built a kickass laptop and then sought to find ways it could add onto the experience.

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