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November 12, 2017

Is the Surface Book 2 a worthy sequel to the original? Here’s how it compares

by John_A

Microsoft introduced the Surface Book in October of 2015, expanding its 2-in-1 lineup with a clamshell notebook that can detach its display to be used as a tablet. A year later, the company updated the Surface Book with Performance Base, adding in a slightly more powerful GPU and more battery capacity. That wasn’t quite the upgrade that Microsoft fans craved, however, and now Microsoft has announced the Surface Book 2 and set to arrive on November 16, 2017.

Just how significant is the Surface Book 2? In this comparison, we compare the Surface Book 2 vs. Surface Book to see if the new machine was worth the wait.

 Surface Book  with
Performance Base

 Surface Book 2

Dimensions
12.30 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 (in)
11.60 x 8.54 x 0.53 (in) with keyboard
13.5-inch i5: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 (in)
13.5-inch i7: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.59-0.90 (in)
15-inch: 13.5 x 9.87 x 0.568-0.90 (in)
Weight
Starting at 3.63 pounds
2.4 pounds
Keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard
Processor
Up to sixth-generation Intel Core i7
Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7
RAM
8GB or 16GB RAM
8GB or 16GB
Graphics
Intel HD 520
Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M 2GB
Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (13.5-inch)
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (15-inch)
Display
13.5-inch PixelSense Display
13.5-inch PixelSense Display
15.0-inch PixelSense Display
Resolution
3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi)
13.5-inch: 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi)
15-inch: 3,240 x 2,160 (260 ppi)
Storage
Up to 1TB PCIe SSD
Up to 1TB PCIe SSE
Networking
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Connectivity
USB-A 3.0 (x2), mini-DisplayPort, Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack
USB-A 3.0 (x2), USB-C 3.1, Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack
15-inch only: Xbox Wireless built-in
Webcam
1080p webcam
1080p webcam
Operating System
Windows 10
Windows 10
Battery
60 watt-hour
70 watt-hour
Price
$2,400+
13.5-inch i5: $1,500
13.5-inch i7: $2,000+
15-inch: $2,500+
Availability
No longer available
Now (Microsoft Store)
Review
3.5 out of 5 stars
Hands-on

Design

The Surface Book 2 doesn’t look much different from the Performance Base version. It’s the same silver-grey magnesium chassis with the unique fulcrum hinge and the gap between the display and the keyboard. Look a little closer, and you’ll see that the keyboard is now flush with the deck while the older version’s keyboard was slightly inset. But otherwise, the iconic Surface Book design remains largely intact, at least aesthetically.

In terms of engineering, Microsoft only made a few changes to the new version. The biggest change came in the hinge design, making it stiffer to better support the 15-inch display when the Surface Book is used in a lap. While that might seem like a small change, this was a major pain point for owners of the older versions. By all accounts so far, Microsoft succeeded in fixing things.

In addition, Microsoft engineered the 13.5-inch version’s tablet portion to be completely fanless regardless of which CPU is installed, and that’s a real boon. The 15-inch version doesn’t enjoy the same benefit, but the cooling system has generally been improved, so fan noise should hopefully be held to a minimum.

The Surface Book 2 fixes one of the machine’s few design flaws and offers quieter performance in the smaller version, and so it deserves the win in this category.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Performance

The Surface Book with Performance Base came equipped with sixth-generation Intel Core processors and an Nvidia 965M GPU. That made it at least a generation behind in CPU power and not so significantly improved in terms of GPU power over the original Surface Book. It was a good performer, but it definitely punched below its weight class given its very high price.

The Surface Book 2 changes all that. Both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models now offer eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U processors, with a seventh-generation Core i5-7300 option in the 13.5-inch lowest-end configuration. That means that unless you choose the entry-level option, you’re guaranteed to get the fastest 15-watt processor available today. By our testing with some other eighth-generation machines, you’re guaranteed to get most of the performance advantages of quad-core processors with significantly more efficiency than the seventh-generation CPUs could offer.

In addition, the 13.5-inch model (other than the low-end configuration) offers the fast Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, meaning that it should serve as a decent entry-level gaming system and will provide good performance in advanced productivity tasks like video editing. The 15-inch model ups the ante even more, packing in the GTX 1060 and promising real performance for all but the most hardcore mobile gamers and even better performance for high-end applications like AutoCAD.

Clearly, the Surface Book 2 doubles down on the performance of the older models and elevates the machine into an entirely different class. This is definitely the kind of power increase that fans have been clamoring for, and Microsoft delivered.

Winner: Surface Book 2 by a mile

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

As far as we can tell from our short hands-on time with the Surface Book 2, you shouldn’t expect any major differences with the keyboard. It’s like the previous models only slightly better, with a bit deeper travel at 1.55mm and a feel that’s apparently been borrowed from the Surface Laptop. That means it will remain one of the better keyboards on the market. The touchpad was already excellent in the older models, and it’s likely to remain just as good in the new version.

Surface Pen support is where the Surface Book 2 really stands out from its predecessors. The new version fully supports the latest and greatest Surface Pen, first seen with the 2017 Surface Pro, that increases pressure sensitivity to 4,096 levels, vastly improves latency, and adds in tilt support. The Surface Book 2 also supports the Surface Dial use on the display out of the box, and the 15-inch model offers significantly more space to work with that awesome peripheral.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Connectivity

One of the Surface Book’s major compromises has been the lack of built-in connectivity. The machine came with two USB-A 3.0 connections, a mini-DisplayPort, a Surface Connect port, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm combo jack. In a world where USB-C is becoming increasingly important, this connectivity suite was rather limiting.

Fast-forward to the Surface Book 2, and the connectivity has been slightly upgraded. Specifically, the mini-DisplayPort has been replaced with a USB-C 3.1 connection. Everything else remains the same, including the two USB-A 3.0 ports, the Surface Connect port, the SD card reader, and the 3.5mm combo jack. That still doesn’t make for the most connected device, and the lack of Thunderbolt 3 support is disappointing, but it’s nevertheless a welcome improvement over the previous version.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Display

The original Surface Book models offered up excellent 13.5-inch displays with the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio that’s a little taller than the ubiquitous 16:9 widescreen displays. The resolution was high at 3,000 x 2,000 (267 PPI), the contrast ratio was class-leading at over 1400:1, and brightness was excellent. Colors — while accurate — were bit lacking in terms of covering the AdobeRGB gamut.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Microsoft has promised that the Surface Book 2 display will be even better. It touts 1700:1 contrast and more dynamic colors, and if it’s indeed improved over the original then we’ll consider that a real achievement. The 13.5-inch model’s resolution remains the same, while the 15-inch model offers a 3,240 x 2,160 (260 PPI) resolution. That’s not quite 4K, but it’s a seriously high-resolution display nonetheless that should provide for sharp text and images.

We’ll need to see if Microsoft lives up to its promise of an even better display. On paper, it’s a win for the Surface Book 2, though, and so we’ll give a narrow victory to the new machine.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Portability and Battery Life

The Surface Book with Performance Base upped the battery capacity over the original model, from a total of 52 watt-hours to 60 watt-hours distributed between the tablet portion and the base. That was good for some of the best battery life we’ve seen in a notebook, although by itself the tablet was only good for around three hours when disconnected from the base.

The Surface Book 2 increases the battery life yet again, up to 70 watt-hours in both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models. Microsoft now estimates 17 hours total (over their 16-hour estimate for the previous version), and up to five hours for the tablet alone. We’re all for better battery life, and coupled with the more-efficient eighth-generation CPUs, the added battery capacity virtually guarantees more longevity — at least for general productivity work. Crank up those high-end GPUs, of course, and battery life will suffer.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Availability and Price

All of Microsoft’s Surface products maintain a place at the high end of the market in terms of pricing, particularly when you inch up into higher configurations. The Surface Book with Performance Base was no different, originally starting at $2,400 for a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). That went all the way up to $3,300 with a bump to 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Surface Book 2 changes this equation, but only slightly. For the 13.5-inch version, pricing starts at $1,500 for the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and discrete Intel UHD 620 GPU. Opt for the Core i7 and GTX 1050, and you’ll pay $2,000 for 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and a stunning $3,000 for 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD. The 15-inch model, naturally, is more expensive, starting at $2,500 for Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD and ramping up to $3,300 for 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

The 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 is actually a little less expensive than the previous version, and you’re getting more for your money (we’ll talk about value in a minute). The 15-inch Surface Book 2 now occupies the highest pricing level, but clearly, it’s a lot more machine. Either way, the original Surface Book and Surface Book with Performance Base are not longer officially available — so when the sequel arrives on November 16, 2017, it’ll be your only option.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Overall Winner: Surface Book 2 

Of course, the Surface Book 2 was always going to win this battle. The real question was whether or not this was another minor update or an iteration worthy of the lofty nomenclature. Given the dramatic increase in performance, particularly in the class-leading GPU selection, and with other lesser but still significant improvements tossed in, the Surface Book 2 has clearly earned its designation as more than just a simple refresh. In fact, we think it’s the first Surface Book that comes close to justifying its high price.

There are few machines on the market that offer such a compelling combination of innovative and flexible design, pure processing and graphics power, and long battery life. This is particularly true of the 15-inch model, which is perhaps the most compelling machine on the market equipped with a GTX 1060. Which other gaming-capable notebooks can boast of such incredible battery life, for example, even when running simple productivity tasks?

Don’t misunderstand. The Surface Book 2 is still an incredibly expensive machine, and its design isn’t for everyone. But this time around, we think Microsoft comes much closer to justifying the investment.




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