Microsoft Surface Book 2 15” Review: Intel Core-i7, 1TB SSD, 16GB RAM, GTX 1060

At long last, our Microsoft Surface Book 2 review is here! I’ll start by admitting that I’m not a laptop person for several reasons, primarily because they cannot be seriously upgraded. However, Microsoft certainly deserves praise for creating perhaps the most sophisticated and capable laptop/tablet hybrid available on the market. While I still prefer Mini ITX desktops, if a few minor changes were made I would seriously consider abandoning the desktop platform that I’ve vowed never to betray!

surface book 2 review

Unboxing & Initial Impressions

Microsoft chose minimalistic packaging, much like Apple does with their products. Clean white boxes with vibrant, colorful depictions of the product on the front of the box. In this case, Microsoft shows off the Surface Book 2’s signature feature of being able to detach its screen from its metal base.

The back of the box displays some product information including the specs of our Surface Book 2 15-inch:

surface book 2 15 i7 review
  • Intel Core-i7 8650U Quad Core Processor
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GPU
  • 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • Windows 10 Pro

Upon removing the Surface Book 2 from the box, we are left with two small boxes. The top one has a quick setup guide and the bottom one has the included charging cable and power brick.

surface book 2 unboxing

The Surface Book 2 is tastefully minimal in design. The top has a mirror finish Microsoft logo in the middle and an 8-MP autofocus rear-facing camera is present in the bottom left corner.

surface book 2 15 1tb review

Moving to the right side there is a USB Type-C port which does not have Thunderbolt capability. Next to that is the proprietary Microsoft Surface Connect port which allows you to charge the device with the included power cable or connect the Microsoft Surface Dock (more on that later). A great feature with this special port is that it is magnetic so if you pull the Surface Book 2 away from whichever wire is plugged in, the wire simply detaches without damage to the port.

surface book 2 ports

The left side has an SD card reader which is excellent inclusion for photographers and videographers as it eliminates the need for a separate USB dongle or adapter to view footage on the go. Two USB 3.0 Type-A ports round out the I/O options on the keyboard section of the Surface Book 2.

microsoft surface book 2 review

The tablet section has the power button which doubles as a sleep/wake button; a volume rocker resides next to the power button. Additionally, a headset jack is located on the top right side of the tablet section.

surface book 2 power button

Like all modern laptops and ultrabooks, the standard layout keyboard is a low-profile chicklet style that you either love or hate. I personally prefer a quality mechanical keyboard and will never accept these low-profile laptop keys but for what it is, the Surface Book 2’s keyboard is more than adequate and as with the rest of the machine, appears to be very well made. The keys are backlit and there are special shortcut keys which double as function keys when the function button is pressed.

surface book 2 touchpad

The touchpad is fantastic! It is very large, and Windows 10 has several customizable touchpad gestures which allow you to create shortcuts based on input from 2, 3 or 4 fingers! The possibilities are endless, and I was thoroughly impressed with the functionality Microsoft included here. My last laptop was a Toshiba Satellite from the mid 2000’s and I had to use a USB-based wireless mouse as the touchpad was terribly frustrating to use. On the other hand, the Surface Book 2 touchpad is very fun to use, in addition to the multi-finger touch gestures, you can even pinch and zoom like you would on a smartphone. Needless to say, touchpads have come a long way!

Detaching The Screen

Easily the most unique and exciting feature of the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is its ability to detach the screen to use as a tablet. This ability is quite underrated especially when comparing Microsoft’s 2-in-1 to the Apple MacBook Pro.

You simply push a button on the keyboard and listen for a distinct click noise to indicate that the screen is ready to be removed. You can also initiate the detach process by clicking on a button in the notification area of the taskbar.

surface book 2 keyboard

Here you can see the air vents on the keyboard section as well as the contacts where the screen attaches to the keyboard via mechanical friction.

surface book 2 hinge

When removed, the tablet is very light especially considering how large it is. The stereo speakers are built in to the tablet section and are surprisingly good. Content shown on the 3:2 aspect ratio 4K resolution screen looks extremely pleasing to the eye. Colors look great and there is an sRGB mode. This screen is easily the best we’ve experienced on a laptop or tablet.

surface book 2 tablet mode

There is a fixed-focus 5-MP front facing camera which records in full 1080p. Microphones are also present for audio recording and voice calling.

Hardware, Specs & Performance

This is the part of the review where I can’t help but be frustrated with the pricing of the Surface Book 2 and all laptops for that matter. The available hardware is never as powerful as what you can purchase for a desktop computer and every little upgrade whether its additional RAM or a higher capacity SSD, is priced exorbitantly.

For example is you choose to purchase a 15” Surface Book 2, you are automatically locked in to 16GB of RAM and an Intel Core-i7 8650U Quad Core Processor which is fine, as a professional shouldn’t desire anything less. However, if you choose to upgrade the base 256GB SSD to 512GB, it costs an additional $400. $400! That is beyond insane. It’s another $400 to go from 512GB to 1TB. I can’t even begin to describe how irate this makes me.

By comparison, a 1TB Western Digital WD Black SN750 NVMe based M.2 SSD drive with exceptional read/write speeds is only $228… I’ll leave it at that.

The CPU and GPU are non-upgradable and as with most modern ultrabooks, the RAM is soldered to the motherboard meaning there’s no hope of an upgrade path down the road. Even if you wanted to upgrade the M.2 SSD (which is possible), you’d be hard pressed to avoid breaking something while attempting to disassemble a device that is specifically crafted to deter such behavior.

The moral of the story here is to configure your Surface Book as best you can based on how long you plan to use it and what software or games you will be running. There are no second chances here. In our case the 1TB NVMe SSD performed as expected. We would have preferred 32GB of RAM as that’s the minimum we use these days but 16GB is adequate if you keep less applications open. We haven’t put the quad-core processor through its paces quite yet and will update our review after we have done some video encoding in Adobe Premiere Pro with it.   

As you would expect, there is Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) as well as Bluetooth® 4.1 support for devices including mice, printers and headsets, etc. There are also several sensors including an ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer which just like the sensors in a smartphone, allow the Surface Book to detect location and track motion for enhanced effects.

Surface Book 2 Accessories

The most essential Surface accessory is easily the Surface Pen. The Surface Pen allows you to write on the screen with ease, so you can make handwritten notes in Microsoft OneNote, mark up images in Adobe Photoshop and accomplish many more tasks that benefit from a hands-on approach. It has two buttons, the bottom one is the equivalent of a right-click on a mouse and the top button has multiple functions from launching Windows Ink Workspace to Screen Sketch or Sticky Notes based on how long or how many times you press it.  

microsoft surface pen review

The Surface Pen can also be used in conjunction with the Surface Dial while you are sketching or drawing to access shortcuts, controls and drawing tools without interrupting your workflow. The Surface Pen’s buttons can be customized as can its pressure sensitivity. You can also purchase different style pen tips. Microsoft’s stylus feels great in the hand and magnetically attaches to either side of the Surface Book 2! I love this feature and it looks awesome when attached.

surface book 2 pen

Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse

The Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse is my favorite Surface accessory as it is an extremely comfortable, capable and very well-made productivity mouse. It has several customizable buttons which can be configured in the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center software. We’ll be writing an in-depth review on it next!

microsoft surface precision mouse review

Microsoft Surface Dock

Finally, the 3rd accessory we were given is the Surface Dock which is a multi-port adapter that essentially turns any Surface device into a desktop computer. It has DisplayPort connections, ethernet, USB 3.0, audio out and power. We used this device to connect to our Dell U3415W ultrawide monitor and it works flawlessly. It will also receive a more in-depth review.

microsoft surface dock review

Conclusion

The Microsoft Surface Book 2 is the best laptop/tablet hybrid on the market and it’s not even close. There is absolutely no reason to ever choose a MacBook Pro over the Surface Book, it simply is the superior product. The Surface Book 2 oozes quality and feels as if it was made to last a lifetime. If configured properly, it can even replace a desktop computer in most situations. Its one shortfall is a lack of an upgrade path which we understand is the norm nowadays and there’s no way around it.

If you need a solid laptop or a capable tablet, then the Surface Book 2 will more than suffice. Combined with the Surface Pen and Surface Dock and possibly even the Surface Dial, you have a powerful set of tools that will allow you to take your work on the go and create without compromise. Bring the Surface Book 2 home or to the office and connect it to the Surface Dock and an external display to get the full desktop experience.

We’d like to thank Microsoft for sending us this fantastic piece of hardware to review, we look forward to providing additional articles on the Surface Book 2 as well as in depth reviews of the Surface Precision Mouse and Surface Dock. The Surface Pen may also receive an additional article as well as we use it more and learn how to maximize its abilities.

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