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Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch) review

Microsoft’s range of Surface devices have shown in the past that the software giant has mastered creating premium and desirable devices that can give Apple, Lenovo and other big name brands a run for their money. 

And now it looks like it’s done it once again with the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch, an incredibly powerful and versatile 2-in-1 laptop. These devices represent the pinnacle of 2-in-1 laptop design, offering power – and battery life – that we’ve not seen before in a convertible form factor.

Microsoft has branded the Surface Book 2 the most powerful Surface Book ever, which may not really be saying much seeing as there’s only been two previous Surface Books, but make no mistake, this is a powerful device with top-notch components.

Spec Sheet

Here is the configuration for the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 4.2GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620; Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (2GB GDDR5 VRAM)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 (1866Mhz)
Screen: 13.5-inch, 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) PixelSense display (3:2 aspect ratio; 1600:1 contrast ratio)
Storage: 512GB PCIe 3.0 SSD
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2 x Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac 2 x 2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: Windows 8MP rear-facing autofocus camera (1080p), 5MP front-facing Hello face-authentication camera (1080p HD)
Weight: 1.642kg with keyboard base
Size: 312 x 232 x 15 ~ 23mm; W x D x H

Price and availability

Although the Surface Book 2 has been available in the US and UK for a few months, it was released in the UAE in April. Also, only the 13.5-inch model has been released locally and if you’re looking for the 15-inch model, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks longer. 

Microsoft is offering the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch in a variety of configurations, though they all come with a high price tag. 

The base specifications of the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch model gets you a 7th Generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB and integrated GPU for AED 6,199. That’s the only model with a Core i5 processor with the rest powered by an Intel Core i7.

The model with an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB, 256GB, and GTX 1050 GPU with 2GB GDDR5 memory for AED 8,299. Meanwhile, the 8th Gen Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and GTX 1050 GPU config goes for AED 10,919 and upping the storage to 1TB on that model will set you back a whopping AED 12,999.

The Surface Book 2 is definitely an expensive proposition, even with the basic specs, which will make most people take pause. For comparison, Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at AED 5,459, though it’s worth noting that you only get 128GB of storage with that. Upgrading that to 256GB puts the price of the MacBook Pro at AED 6,299 which is the same as what you’d pay for the base model of Surface Book 2.

Another alternative is the Dell XPS 13 which currently resides at the top of our best laptops list. It’s a wonderful machine, and while it doesn’t pack the same high performance components as the Surface Book 2 in either size, it also costs a heck of a lot less, starting at around AED 4,699. 

Pricing the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch so high reflects Microsoft’s ambitions to sell it as a luxury device, but its competitors are offering alternatives that are just as desirable, and can cost a lot less, Microsoft has to prove that the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch is worth the hefty price tag.

Design

The design of the Surface Book 2 has barely changed from the original Surface Book. It has an identical screen size as the original, but is a bit thinner and lighter than the outgoing model. That being said, at 1.64kg, the Surface Book 2 isn’t the lightest laptop around.

The 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 is a fanless design which is a nice result of the less power-hungry components. By not having any fans, Microsoft could make the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 smaller and lighter, whilst also running practically silently.

As with the previous model, the screen of the Surface Book 2 detaches with a satisfying click, and Microsoft told us that the process of changing from laptop mode to tablet mode has been improved, making for a quick and easy process.

In the hand the Surface Book 2 in tablet mode feels fantastic, and is one of the lightest and thinnest Windows 10 tablets we’ve tried. When in this mode, the Surface Book 2 loses the additional graphics power and battery life. The process of detaching the screen is very easy, you just tap the detach button on the keyboard, then simply remove the screen. 

Windows 10 responds by turning into ‘Tablet’ mode, which brings back the Start Screen from Windows 8, with large icons that are easy to tap on. While the Start Screen isn’t much loved on Windows 8, here it works well, making Windows 10 easy to use in the tablet form factor – and it remains quick and responsive. 

Another nice touch is that if you’re using a demanding program or app that requires dedicated graphics, you’ll be warned to save your work before detaching the screen.

The iconic – and divisive – fulcrum hinge also returns with the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch. While it prevents the device from being as thin as possible when it’s closed (think of the hinge like the spine of a book), it allows you to angle the screen easily without the device tipping over. You will need both your hands to open the lid though.

As for the trackpad and keyboard, both feel comfortable to use, with the back-lit keyboard in particular feeling great to type on thanks to substantial key travel. The trackpad also felt smooth and responsive when used.

When turned into a tablet, the Surface Book 2’s 13.5-inch display is clearly the focus, and Microsoft knows this, providing a stunning PixelSense display with a resolution of 3,000 x 2,000, which equates to a 267ppi (pixels per inch) density. 

The screen looks fantastic thanks to a 1600:1 contrast ratio that makes colors appears vibrant, while also showing off deep blacks. The 3:2 aspect ratio gives you plenty of vertical space when using Windows 10 and its various apps, and it feels natural when used as a tablet. 

However, it also means that videos in the common 16:9 aspect ratio have bars above and below the action.

Along the sides are two full sized USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port (which we’re pleased to see), and a full size SD card reader, which is another welcome addition. The headphone jack port is on the top right corner of the screen, which is an odd place to put it when in laptop mode, as it means the headphone wire may get in your way when working, but it makes a bit more sense when the Surface Book 2 is used as a tablet.

Charging is done via a proprietary ‘Surface Connect’ port, and the charger magnetically attaches itself when inserted, which is quite satisfying in a MagSafe-less world. Overall, the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch is undoubtedly a premium product – nothing about it feels cheap.

Surface accessories

As you’d expect from a Surface device, the Surface Book 2 works with Microsoft’s Surface Pen and Surface Dial. The Surface Pen in particular feels like a natural companion for the Surface Book 2, responding smoothly and quickly to scribbles and notes. 

It’s such a nice experience that we can’t help but feel that Microsoft has missed a trick by not including a Surface Pen with the Surface Book 2. Instead, you’ll have to pay AED 375 for the stylus. Considering the high price of the Surface Book 2, it can feel a little cheeky that you’re asked to shell out some extra cash for the full experience.





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